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Wicked Game

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Saturday, September 14th, 2019

SoHo

A soft groan echoed in the back of Carmilla’s throat as she finally let her eyes flutter open, the smooth beige ceiling of her dimly lit bedroom slowly coming into focus.

Damn, somehow it just gets better every fucking time.

She shifted ever so slightly to her left, reaching for one of the nearby down pillows, the deep red sheets rustling softly with her languid movements as she cushioned her head atop it. Every inch of her ached in the absolute best way possible and she really didn’t want this high to end.

And why should it? It was so amazing. So incredible. There was no reason to ruin this perfect moment.

“This has to be the last time!” Laura frantically cried, hopping around near the foot of the bed as she attempted to pull her jeans up her legs.

Well fuck, that’s nice and sobering.

“This again, cupcake?” she rasped, running a hand down her bare torso. “Really?”

“Yes, really!”

Carmilla closed her eyes for a long moment and sighed heavily, wanting to avoid this long, worn out road, if at all possible. After all, it was never anything but a bumpy and miserable ride.

“I mean it. We… we can’t keep doing this, Carmilla.”

“Yes, the mind-blowing orgasms are just terrible and must be stopped immediately,” Carmilla mumbled, turning her head as she watched the tiny brunette look around the floor for the rest of her clothes, the subtle muscles of her abdomen visibly flexing as she frantically twisted and turned. She smirked once more at the sight, Laura’s perfect skin still slightly flushed and so tempting. Smiling a little harder, she bit back a soft chuckle as she caught a glimpse of a faint bite mark peeking out beneath the waist of Laura’s jeans along her right hip. Not that Carmilla felt bad about causing that little blemish. It was only fair since she was pretty sure she was going to be bruised herself for a week thanks to Laura’s strong grip around her thighs.

So fucking worth it though.

She once again closed her eyes, as the visual of just how worth it the night had been rolled through her mind, and rested back against the messy bedding, the top sheet lying low across her waist.

“That’s not… I’m not saying… yes, the orgasms are incredible. And the sex is amazing, Carm, we both know that but… ugh, I know why we started this. And I appreciate what you did for me. I really do. You gave me something that no one else could. Something that I would only trust you with. But this was never… I mean… we shouldn’t still be doing it!”

And yet here we are, all these months later and still meeting three to four times a week to rip each other’s clothes off.

That had been the agreement though. It had been simple enough when they’d both nervously acquiesced to the proposition that chilly spring morning over their steaming mugs in the back room of Ground Central. She would offer up her services and distract Laura any time the smaller girl needed to shut down and, in turn, she got to have unbelievably amazing sex with a beautiful woman who understood that it would never be anything more than that.

How could such a great plan ever go wrong?

“I’m serious, Carmilla! This has been going on for far too long. And I know tonight was my fault.”

With a muffled ‘a ha!’, Laura finally located her lacy red push-up bra near the foot of the leather chair in the corner.

She totally wore that on purpose.

Slipping it onto incredibly soft skin, Laura clasped the hooks behind her over the slowly fading marks Carmilla’s blunt nails had left behind just the night before as Laura had fucked her into oblivion atop the blue linen sofa in the tiny brunette’s new, albeit temporary, apartment.

“You think? I don’t recall inviting you over,” Carmilla taunted, narrowing her eyes as she pretended to remember.

“I know, I know. I shouldn’t have just shown up here, unannounced. I know I’ve gotten into the habit of doing that, like all the time, and I’m sorry.”

“Honestly not complaining, cupcake,” she said as she stretched again, her overused muscles protesting ever so slightly.

“But it doesn’t matter! We… we can’t keep this up,” Laura continued undeterred, turning back towards the bed and running a shaky hand through messy brunette locks. She paused for a long moment, her voice coming out heavy and defeated when she finally continued. “What we’re doing… it’s… it’s just not right.”

Eyes narrowing as she gazed upward, ignoring Laura’s desperate stare, Carmilla swallowed hard at the words, feeling something pull uncomfortably in her chest.

‘It’s not right.’ Which is why it’s a secret.

‘It’s not right.’ It’s far too embarrassing for you to actually admit that you’ve been sleeping with me this whole time unless forced to.

‘It’s not right.’ Since apparently fucking you is all I’m really good for.

‘It’s not right.’ Because… because you’re in love with someone else and just biding your time with me.

It was the last thought that really smacked her in the face, the pain it brought palpable.

“Carm?” Laura pleaded before pausing for a long moment. “You understand that, don’t you? Like you know it too… right?”

But Carmilla just continued to stare up at the ceiling, focusing on the small dent left from a wayward cork on a popped bottle of champagne just a week ago.

Champagne wasn’t Laura’s normal drink of choice and Carmilla knew that. But as it was the younger girl’s birthday, Carmilla didn’t see any flaws in them toasting just once. Plus she’d also iced down a couple bottles of grape soda just in case. They had made a mess, but champagne and Laura in her bed was a combination she’d never be able to turn down. That night had been fun and playful, the picture of what this arrangement was supposed to be.

And very different from where she currently found herself, unsure of what she should say in this leaden moment. Unsure of what she could say! Her tongue suddenly felt heavy and sluggish in her mouth, completely uncooperative.

“I mean, we’re friends!” Laura finally blurted out, and from the corner of her eye Carmilla saw the smaller girl rocking side to side on the balls of her feet, hands nervously wringing in front of her.

Friends. Right.

She quirked an eyebrow, slowly turning her head, her eyes finding those of the younger girl and once again realizing just how absolutely beautiful they were. Realizing how easily she could get lost in their soft amber depths. And knowing damn well that she shouldn’t be thinking like that.

“You’re… you’re…” Laura trailed off, her voice so timid and soft that Carmilla barely heard her. “You’re my best friend, Carm.”

Best friend. Right. Not her lover. Not her girlfriend. Not the woman that she’s- Don’t! Don’t grab onto that. Don’t go stretching for something that’s never going to happen.

Clenching her jaw once, her eyes never leaving Laura’s, she watched as the tiny brunette repeatedly pulled at her left ring finger, the anxious gesture so familiar but uneasy. Worried.

Scared.

Carmilla had picked up on the habit fairly early into their relationship, using it to her advantage to offer Laura comfort any time she started, knowing the distress would only continue to grow otherwise. But was it really Carmilla’s job to alleviate the younger girl’s worry here, at this moment?

You still want to. You hate seeing her like this.

“You’re really scraping the bottom of the barrel if that’s true,” she quipped instead, her defenses rising, locking into place with a solid thud.

“Carmilla!” Laura huffed.

Rolling her eyes with a heavy sigh, she turned onto her side, propping her head up on her hand, not even bothering to pull the sheet up to cover her chest. She stared at Laura, eyes hard for a long moment, the tiny brunette refusing to look away from her scrutinizing gaze even as she started to fidget more and more near the foot of the mattress.

And Carmilla wanted to stop herself from saying something she shouldn’t. She didn’t want to turn this into something that it didn’t need to be. She didn’t want to drag it out. But like many times before, she just couldn’t seem to help it.

“So is this what you do with your other best friend?” she asked, hating the acidic taste of jealousy that leaked into her mouth.

Are you fucking Lawrence on the regular too? Does she get the days while I get the nights?

“What?!”

“Well, I’m just trying to understand what this really is, cutie,” she said, the nickname dripping with scorn. “I mean, if you do everything that we do together with Xena, then you really do have some… close friends.”

“Hey!”

“No, really,” she continued, brow furrowing as her frown deepened. “I mean, why not? She’s single now, right? You can have her all to yourself and you know she wouldn’t turn you down. I’ve seen the way she looks at you. And you’ve got the whole gang waiting for you to get together and live happily ever after. Honestly, I’m surprised that I’m even still in the rotation.”

“Screw you, Carmilla!”

“You already did that tonight, sweetheart,” she countered with a mocking smirk. “Twice.”

“Ugh, stop it!” Laura growled, tight fists forming at her sides. “Why are you being like this? Why do you push this crap? You know damn well that you are the only one that I’m… that you’re the only one I’m sleeping with. And you know that you’re my best friend! So knock it off!”

She held the tiny brunette’s fiery gaze for another long moment, challenging her to back down, and knowing damn well that Laura was far too stubborn to do so. Still, that didn’t mean she was just going to roll over and concede.

“Honestly wasn’t aware that’d I’d finally beat Lawrence out for the title after all these months,” she finally said with an over exaggerated sigh. “You should’ve brought me a celebratory present. A nice bottle of scotch. That new Saint Laurent leather jacket I’ve been meaning to buy. Or, hell, a blonde. A brunette. A redhead. Not sure who’s going to take up the load in your absence but if you have suggestions, that’ll save me a lot of time and energy. Finding a new unattached fuck buddy can be so tedious.”

“You can be such an unbelievable ass sometimes!” Laura ground out through clenched teeth.

“That’s not news. You’ve known that since day one,” Carmilla countered. “Hell, it was the reason you picked me to begin with. Because I would never actually care! Isn’t that right?”

She watched Laura flinch hard at the words, teeth grinding tight as she shook her head, clearly holding something back.

“Remember, this wasn’t my doing. I wasn’t the one who started this,” Carmilla growled. “You picked me. And you did it because it was easy. Because it was convenient.”

She paused for a moment, her own hard gaze holding Laura’s angry one, attempting to brace herself for the words that were about to come out of her mouth.

“Because you could always walk away without it ever mattering. Without it ever meaning anything.”

“Seriously?” Laura started, stepping to the edge of the bed, hands now on her hips, eyes narrowed in disbelief. “Are you just being an incredible jerk face right now because you feel like it or because you’re already bored? Because either way, it’s not fucking cute, Carmilla!”

And she saw the anger tipping into the red, nearly ready to boil over, the immense frustration sitting just beneath the surface, barely contained. It was in those soft brown eyes, just like always, simply waiting for one more misstep.

That and the swearing. Ugh, goddamnit.

She had two choices here, neither of which were appealing in the slightest. She could keep pushing and pushing until Laura got so pissed off that the smaller girl would just end up leaving in a huff and ignoring her for the next few days. Or she could relent and have to listen to that goddamn ‘F’ word be used over and over, each utterance more hurtful than the last.

Both horrible choices, but the only options she was being given. And honestly, she really didn’t want to watch Laura leave.

Not again.

I can’t.

“I’m sorry,” she finally mumbled, frown softening as she looked down at the rumpled sheets, pulling at one of the deep red satin wrinkles. “Yes. We’re… we’re best friends. I know.”

Goddamn fucking friends. It stung so bad, but she saw Laura sag a little at the admission out of the corner of her eye, the younger girl’s hands falling away from her hips. And while a small part of her felt relieved to see the tiny brunette relax, the idea that Laura was more comfortable with a friendship than anything else left Carmilla’s stomach rolling.

“We are. And I know we both agreed that the ‘with benefits’ part was fine. We both agreed that we could keep… doing this and still be okay, but… we have to stop,” Laura said, her tone holding not a single ounce of conviction by the end of her speech.

“So… you’re saying that, while you want to keep the friend part, the incredible sex has to end?”

She glanced up from the fabric pinched between her fingers and watched Laura’s eyes crinkle at the edges, the sadness creeping in just enough for her to spot it. But it wasn’t like she had to look that hard. She knew Laura. Better than she’d ever known anyone else.

All in the eyes. Always is.

“I… I care about you,” Laura said, gaze pleading. “I really do. And you know…”

Carmilla watched and waited once Laura trailed off, swallowing hard as the tiny brunette continued to fidget, her soft brown eyes never looking away.

“You know what you mean to me, Carm.”

Carmilla knew that the words weren’t meant to be hurtful, but they pierced through her just the same, hard and heavy, and somehow, without warning.

Because she didn’t mean enough. Not really.

But how was she to know that this was where they’d end up. It was never supposed to happen this way. She was never supposed to develop actual feelings for the younger girl. She was never supposed to want more. It was as simple as that.

Except, somewhere along the line, it stopped being simple. It stopped being easy. At some point, it wasn’t just about spending an hour or two together with the rest of the world blocked out and none the wiser. No, it had become something very different. And that was something that Carmilla had not expected, and therefore, never prepared for.

And it’s your fault. You’re the one who ruined it. You’re the one who went and- no. I fucking said don’t. You’re just in a post-sex haze. That’s all. You just need some space or… a distraction.

Pushing the confusing and terrifying feelings back down where they belonged and locking the door behind them, she looked back up and allowed her gaze to roam over the smaller girl, standing there in just her bra, jeans unbuttoned, hair still slightly mussed, looking thoroughly…

Fucked.

Yeah. A distraction.

Eyes growing heavy, she carefully sat up, moving to her knees and letting the sheet fall completely. She watched Laura’s gaze darken, eyes tracing the contours the younger girl had learned so thoroughly over the last few months, her own stare now charged and wanting. Needing.

Like it takes much.

Biting softly at her bottom lip as she slowly crawled to the edge of the bed, Carmilla reached for Laura’s belt loops, gently pulling their bodies together, warm skin meeting warm skin.

“Carm…” she sighed, the wantonness in her voice not lost on the dark-haired girl.

“Yeah?”

“I thought… I mean, I want to but…”

“Shh. If this is really the last time, we may as well enjoy it,” she said, her voice already an octave lower than her normal register. She leaned in, lips brushing against the tiny brunette’s, tongue teasing, tasting herself there, lingering, which only drove her on further.

“But… but we…” Laura trailed off, fingers already sliding into black tresses and gripping tightly as Carmilla’s mouth descended down her neck, right hand teasing at the waist of her lacy red bikinis as the left quickly unclasped her bra with practiced ease.

“We what, cupcake?” Carmilla teased, teeth now at that gorgeous collarbone. “Let me help you… just one more time.”

“O-Okay,” Laura sighed, pushing her bra off before pulling harder at the roots of Carmilla’s hair. She leaned forward, letting her weight fall into the dark-haired girl, the pair tumbling back onto the mattress, eyes never leaving each other. “But seriously, this is the last time.”

With Laura straddling her, weight welcome, hair curtaining around their faces, and overtaking all of her senses, Carmilla swallowed hard, realizing she may not have locked the door in her heart as tightly as she thought.

But it didn’t matter. It never would. Because this was all they’d ever have.

This is all we can ever be. She doesn’t want you like…

“Sure, Laura,” she whispered, leaning up, her lips tickling against the smaller girl’s, “last time.”

Thursday, September 19th, 2019

Los Angeles

Shoving her hands into the pockets of her fitted black Max Mara trousers, Carmilla looked out over the city from the forty-second story window on Wilshire Blvd as she waited, irritated and far moodier than normal. Though both of those emotions were easily explainable.

She really fucking hated Los Angeles. And every damn time Mattie sent her out here to deal with one of their more problematic clients, she spent every second counting down until she could get back on the plane and fly home.

And though she didn’t want to think about just how much she missed her apartment in Manhattan, this particular trip was no different.

It had been five days.

Five days of being truly pissed off.

Five days of feeling that stupid unfamiliar ache in her chest that she so despised.

And five days since she’d last seen Laura.

Carmilla had left New York the day after their last rendezvous, her early afternoon flight initially not able to get into the air quick enough for her taste despite her reluctance to even take the trip. She just had to get away though. She needed some time. She needed some space. And she needed to get as far away from Laura Hollis as she could. With close to three thousand miles between them, there would be no chance of the beautiful brunette showing up at her door. No chance of her getting lost in those soft brown eyes or that incredible smile or that adorable giggle. No chance of Laura standing in the middle of her apartment, looking gorgeous and amazing and like she was Carmilla’s last meal.

Fucking delicious meal at that, she thought before shaking her head to rid herself of the thought and hating that five days with no contact beyond one text to the smaller girl had only made her feel worse. No contact was supposed to get Laura out of her mind, right? It was supposed to make this easier. It was supposed to give her some time to think and figure out just what in the hell was she was going to do.

Really not fucking working.

Of course, it probably didn’t help that Laura hadn’t been as silent. No, the smaller girl had texted her no less than forty times in the first seventy-two hours she was gone about the most mundane things as if absolutely nothing was different between them.

Laura had seen that Carmilla’s favorite movie was on, and though the old black and white pictures weren’t her cup of tea, she’d watched it anyway because she couldn’t not. She’d met Mel for a quick cocoa while Sherman was at physical therapy, and they’d talked about the latest ad Opaque had put together, and how it was constantly playing during every commercial break on television and donning every other billboard in Manhattan. She’d had dinner with LaF and Perry at Carmilla’s favorite sushi place but it wasn’t as fun because the ginger duo weren’t nearly as adventurous when it came to their food.

The messages had only stopped after it became abundantly clear that Carmilla was not going to respond with a flirtatious quip or a sarcastic remark.

Every time she saw Laura’s name flash across her phone, she felt that sting grow, the pain pushing itself further into the center of her chest, unwilling to let go. And it was all because she’d gone and developed actual feelings for the smaller girl.

That’s what this was, right? That was why she couldn’t get Laura out of her mind, wasn’t it? That was why she missed her terribly every time the door closed behind her. That was why Carmilla was…

So fucked up!

She savored being with Laura, whether they were out for dinner, talking and teasing with ease or wrapped around each other, alone behind a locked door, taking advantage of whatever surface was closest.

She adored watching Laura, regardless of if the smaller girl was across the room at a crowded bar, laughing with their friends or sitting next to her on her leather couch, binging Netflix beneath a shared blanket.

She delighted in listening to the tiny brunette rant on and on about some obscure fact or reference, her passion never diminishing, regardless of the topic. And she relished those silent moments between them when Laura’s breath would even out to match hers, neither one needing to fill the quiet comfort around them as they simply laid together, lest they ruin the fantasy.

But what was really going on between them? And what in the hell was the horrible pain in her chest anyway? She’d never felt it before. But then again, she’d never felt about anyone the way she felt about Laura, a fact that she had adamantly denied for far longer than she wanted to admit to. No one had ever turned her world upside down the way Laura Hollis had. No one else had ever made her feel as safe and comfortable and… loved.

Not even Elle.

Staring out at the Los Angeles skyline, she thought about the last night she had with Laura. How after their minor disagreement, the night had changed. It became something so different than the frantic, hard pace they’d set earlier in the evening. It had been soft and slow and so damn… perfect. And afterward, Laura had curled into her, holding tight, her fingertips dancing along Carmilla’s side until she’d finally drifted off to sleep, so peaceful and quiet. Carmilla had watched her for far longer than she should’ve, taking in every inch of Laura’s beautiful features, memorizing every mark, every bump, every slight blemish that she could find.

Sleepovers weren’t part of the deal really. And even after all these months, they still weren’t that common. In fact, once a week was about the maximum. Anything beyond that, Laura would brush her off with a throwaway remark about having to ‘get back’ and a sweet smile, occasionally leaning in to leave a quick, bashful kiss against her cheek before practically running out the door like she couldn’t get away fast enough.

And then Carmilla would be left on her own once again, trying not to let the lonely silence crush her.

She had no intention of it ever getting to this point. She honestly never anticipated having any sort of relationship with Laura beyond the interactions she was forced into by Mel and the others. Sure, she’d heard the name a handful of times over the last decade or so, when she actually bothered to pay attention. But she’d never given the girl a thought beyond the fact that the incredibly annoying ginger-giant squad obviously missed having her around.

The first time they were properly introduced by their friends hadn’t quite gone as planned. Nor had the second. The third meeting, while initially seemed to go much smoother, turned into a complete disaster. But the fourth meeting, when Laura had unexpectedly been standing outside her apartment just seven months earlier, waiting for Carmilla to come home, had been the turning point. And while that evening still ended a tad messy, there was no turning back. There was no denying that they were supposed to be a part of each other’s lives. And a big part at that.

But that didn’t mean they would ever be more than friends.

Or friends who fuck.

So when had this happened? How had this happened? How had she gotten to this point?

She’d finally drifted off their last night together, Laura’s head cushioned on her shoulder, the scent of her vanilla almond shampoo surrounding Carmilla in a comforting bubble, unwilling to burst. And it had felt so amazing. So incredible. So…

Fucking perfect.

So short lived.

She woke up late that next morning, the sun already high in the sky, the beams just barely drifting through the black and gray curtains she’d hung in her bedroom as soon as she’d moved into the extremely expensive apartment just two years before.

Rubbing a hand across her face, she stretched, feeling her muscles complain as she did, and rolled to her left, instantly feeling the dread settle into the pit of her stomach.

The bed next to her was empty, the blankets neatly pulled back in place as if Laura had never been there. Propping herself up on her elbow, she looked around the empty room, her clothes from the night before neatly folded and sitting on the gray tufted chaise along the interior wall. Swallowing hard as she fully sat up, she strained to find any sound beyond the closed bedroom door. Laura wasn’t a quiet person after all. But there was only silence.

Slowly pushing herself from the bed, she padded across the chilled hardwood floor and grabbed the red silk robe that hung from the back of the bedroom door. Carefully pulling it on, she quietly left the room and made her way down the staircase and onto the main floor of the apartment. And standing at the foot of the stairs, she paused and swallowed hard, the silence around her almost deafening. The tiny brunette was gone. She knew.

You are such an idiot. This is a girl you can never have. A girl who is only using you because you help her forget all of her bullshit for a little while. A girl who will never want you for more than that. What do you expect?

Hearing her phone chime from its spot on the long heavy mahogany table in the middle of the Los Angeles conference room, Carmilla shook the memory from her head and made her way towards it, hoping it was Mattie telling her the meeting was canceled. Or Will checking in with another brilliant idea.  Or anyone really, except…

Her.

But of course, she wasn’t that lucky.

Laura (10:56 AM): Hey. Just checking in. Making sure you’re alright. You’ve been so quiet and it’s really starting to freak me out. I’m worried about you.

Worried. Sure. Wouldn’t want anything bad to happen to the goods.

With a sigh, she wrapped a frustrated fist against the table twice, the knock echoing louder than she’d anticipated.

“Ah, bored already, Ms. Karnstein?”

She looked up, quickly shoving the now silenced device into her leather attaché. Smoothly buttoning her suit jacket, she put on her most charming smile for the three older men that entered the room, the dull thud from the double doors shutting behind them sounding louder in her ears.

Ugh, Jesus.

“Not at all, Mr. Roberts,” she laughed, the sound fake and forced as she turned on her tried and true charm. “Just incredibly eager to hear what you thought of the latest mock-up Mr. Luce sent your way yesterday afternoon. Ms. Belmonde told me that you expect this to be your ‘it’ product for this year’s holiday season and we really want to push that as much as possible.”

“We do expect that. And, as such, we’re going to need a far better campaign than what you’ve already shown us,” he said, walking around the room and taking a seat at the head of the mahogany table, his partners following. “Frankly, Ms. Karnstein, if Opaque wants to keep our business, you and Mr. Luce may want to start from scratch.”

Fucking goddamn pain in my ass.

Her strained smile pushed up even further at the corners of her mouth as she took her own seat, preparing for hours of back and forth horseshit ideas from these men who had no idea how to sell their product and hadn’t for years.

This is going to be a long fucking day.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw her phone light up once more from the inside of her attaché and she purposely folded her hands together atop the table to keep herself from reaching for it. She knew who it was. She knew that with every minute that passed without a response she was only making the situation more complicated. She knew she was only making it harder, and not just on herself, but on Laura too.

Trapped between a rock and a hard place, she was at a loss. If she kept up with this whole charade in silence, it would only lead to getting her heart broken. But if she spoke up… if you actually admitted how you feel about her… well, that would just lead to heartbreak as well. It was a no-win situation, but what else could she do?

You know what you have to do. And she’d known it for a while now. Admitting it was just so completely and utterly terrifying that it made her heart beat faster, the resounding thuds climbing through her chest and quickly scattering across her skin, tight and painful.

But Laura was right.

You know she is, she thought, swallowing hard. This has to stop.

Friday, September 20th, 2019

Weehawken, NJ

She’d screwed up. Big time. She knew that. She’d known it for months. And now, not only did she have to face her own colossal mistake, but she had to deal with complete radio silence from Carmilla over the last five days, only making everything that much harder.

Well, it hasn’t been complete radio silence, Laura thought. She’d gotten a brusque ‘I landed’ late Sunday night that had left her wondering, but she chalked it up to the long flight. Plus Carmilla had been irritated about having to take the trip to begin with. She’d been complaining about it every day for the last week.

But then, there’d been nothing. Nothing the rest of Sunday night. No ‘hey, cutie’ for her to wake up to on Monday morning. No teasing or flirting on Tuesday. No incredible grouchiness on Wednesday.

She’d tried reaching out. She longed for any sort of response. A call, a text, a damn carrier pigeon.

But by Thursday, her desperation became something else entirely and she’d broken down, asking with very little hope of a response, if Carmilla was okay. Sure, she’d gone days before without hearing from the other girl. But something else was going on. There was something here that she couldn’t see. And she couldn’t help the worry that settled in her gut.

The worry still sat there now, more than twenty-four hours later, growing and changing. Pushing up into her chest and then her throat, screaming, unwilling to be ignored.

Had she done something wrong? Had she made the older girl angry or upset?

Did I screw up something else? Again? she internally huffed, tucking a wayward strand of hair behind her ear, the gentle breeze immediately unsettling it once more.

Carmilla Karnstein. The girl was a complete enigma. The most beautiful and incredible mystery that Laura had ever found. But dammit, would it be so hard for things to be just a little bit easier? Would it be so terrible for the dark-haired girl to…

Be an adult and stop sulking like a five-year-old? Even if she is super cute when she pouts.

The pout had been out in full force their last night together, Carmilla once again using those gorgeous dark eyes and enticing full lips against her, leaving Laura nothing more than a melted puddle of want and need and…

No. Knock it off!

The next morning, the first thing her eyes had found when they opened was the stunning sight of Carmilla, lying on her stomach, ebony hair cascading against the deep red of her pillow, a few rebellious strands creeping along her shoulder, the contrast to her ivory skin somehow making her even more gorgeous. And she was sleeping so peacefully. A peaceful Carmilla wasn’t exactly a normal sight, but it was one that Laura cherished on the rare occasion she’d been privileged enough to witness it. This was the only time she got to see Carmilla like this. No walls. No defenses. The older girl completely and utterly exposed.

Vulnerable.

Laura had smiled softly when she felt the weight from Carmilla’s arm across her waist, her hand wrapped around Laura’s hip securely keeping the tiny brunette in place. God, how wonderful it would be to have the luxury of waking up like that every day. To be able to fall asleep next to Carmilla. To have it be alright to rouse her with a long, slow kiss and watch those gorgeous dark eyes slowly flutter open.

To be able to sit with her afterward, sipping from steaming mugs as Laura read The Times and Carmilla went through her schedule for the day, their fingers brushing against arms and legs and anywhere there was skin.

A car horn in the distance caught her attention, pulling her back to her spot on her dad’s front porch where she’d parked herself with a book and a glass of lemonade earlier, hoping to take advantage of the downtime she’d been presented with.

Right. Relaxing. Sure, totally feasible when I can’t stop thinking about her.

Why had she left? Again? Why did she keep leaving Carmilla’s warm embrace in the wee hours of the morning when the light was still soft and purple on the horizon?

Why have you continued to sleep with her this whole time? she thought, running a frustrated hand through her hair.

But that was one question she already knew the answer to.

Because this is the only way you can actually have her. Because you are so completely and totally in lo- No! Stop.

Sure, they were friends and she knew that Carmilla cared about her. She knew she mattered to the older girl. She knew she was an important part of Carmilla’s life. But for Laura, to know that she had been in love with the other girl for months now and that beyond their late night rendezvous, they’d never have anything else that fell in the intimate or romantic category… it nearly broke her.

I never knew it could hurt this much.

Probably because it never had. No one else had ever made it feel this amazing and terrifying and heartbreaking all at the same time.

But… she’s different.

Laura kept telling herself that she had to stop. That she had quit. The longer she let it go on for, the more she was going to end up getting hurt. But no matter how many times she told herself that, like a good junkie, every second or third night, she’d find herself knocking on Carmilla’s door and spending the next few hours completely lost in the woman she was crazy about, pretending like it was more. Pretending like Carmilla actually loved her back.

You have to stop this. You… you have to get over her. She’s never going to see you as anything more than a friend she occasionally sleeps with. She’s doesn’t do relationships, you know this. And… you know she doesn’t want you, Hollis! Get it together.

But that was easier said than done, obviously, as she’d been telling herself this for months now. She needed to get out. She needed an escape. But where could she look? How could she make it happen?

Turning as her phone chirped beside her, her eyes went wide and, with a slight fumble, she grabbed the device up, her heart pounding painfully against her ribs.

Carmilla (1:06 PM): How’s your dad?

Okay, so it wasn’t a message answering any of her previous texts over the last few days, but it was something. And asking after Sherman wasn’t something new. She knew how much Carmilla actually liked the older Hollis and that Sherman absolutely adored the dark-haired girl. And, try as she might, she couldn’t hold back the smile knowing that Carmilla cared enough to ask about him, even after all these months.

Not exactly what I was hoping to hear from her but… I’ll take it.

Laura (1:07 PM): He’s okay. Had a rough day with the doctors poking and prodding so he’s asleep on the couch right now.

She waited, tapping at the edge of her phone, ignoring the sound of the neighborhood children laughing loudly as they chased each other around the front yard across the street.

Come on, Carm.

Carmilla (1:10 PM): Did everything go alright? With the doctors?

Breathing a sigh of relief, she quickly typed out an answer.

Laura (1:11 PM): Yeah. He’s still having those headaches but no other dizzy spells or anything else. Still on the right track.

And again, she waited, nervously biting at her bottom lip, the ring finger on left hand twitching with worry. She didn’t want to push but she so desperately didn’t want the dark-haired girl to vanish again.

It wouldn’t be the first time she’s pushed me away though.

Carmilla (1:16 PM): And how are you? Are you okay?

With a heavy sigh, Laura released the breath that she didn’t even realize she’d been holding in relief. Maybe it was alright. Maybe they were okay. Maybe she’d been worried for nothing.

Laura (1:17 PM): Yeah, I’m good.

Yes, Carmilla did care. That she knew.

I just wish she cared more.

Carmilla (1:18 PM): I just wanted to make sure. Sorry I haven’t really responded to your texts. Just had a busy week.

Laura (1:18 PM): That’s totally fair. I’m just glad you’re okay.

Still gnawing at her bottom lip, she’d paused for a long moment after typing another message, her thumb hovering over the send button, unsure if she should actually press it or not. The ‘I miss you’ she’d typed out glared back at her, loud and bold. And so completely terrifying.

But it was true. She did miss Carmilla.

So much.

Carmilla (1:20 PM): I’m fine. But there is something I’d like to talk to you about. Something we need to discuss.

Carmilla (1:20 PM): When I get back next week.

Oh god. Crap.

Laura knew it was coming. She’d been preparing herself for it for months now. Ever since she’d realized…

Don’t!

Quickly deleting the ‘I miss you’ , she struggled for a moment longer, her stomach rolling, breath quick, feeling like she was going to be sick.

Laura (1:26 PM): Of course. We’ll talk when you get back.

And then there had been nothing more.

They were done. Over. She knew it. There was no point in kidding herself anymore. They’d always had an expiration date and it seemed that they’d finally reached it.

Closing her eyes in the hope of alleviating the sudden burning sensation behind her lids, she sighed softly.

She knew better than this. She’d known all along.

Hell, you know her past! You know what happened with Elle. You know about all the other girls. You knew right from the start! You knew! And you are so incredibly stupid!

But it didn’t matter. She’d done it anyway. She’d fallen in love with Carmilla Karnstein and had carried those feelings, heavy and burdensome in her chest for months, quietly suffering, the older girl none the wiser.

Dammit. What am I going to do? I can’t… I don’t want to lose her. I can’t lose her. She means everything to me and… and even if that’s not what I mean to her, I need her.

“Hey, Laur? P-Pumpkin? You still here?”

Opening her eyes with a quiet gasp, she furiously wiped at her cheeks as she stood from the old wicker rocking chair, hating that a few tears had leaked out.

Beside her, her phone pinged once again and she quickly grabbed for it, hoping…

Dammit, she thought when she saw a different name than the one she wanted, the words ‘Hey, you busy tonight?’ flashing across her screen followed by 'I’d love to buy you dinner. I miss you.’ before it went black once again.

But she couldn’t focus on that now. On any of it. She never should have let the situation with Carmilla be front and center in her line of vision, never mind this new development outside of the dark-haired girl-

No.

She wasn’t here for that. She was here for her dad. And she needed to help him so that she could go back home, get back to her life, and not have to worry about any of this from her modest west coast apartment twenty-nine hundred miles away.

And she was so close.

Any day now.

“Yeah! Coming, dad!”

 

Chapter Text

Body Intoxicated

Feelings Comfortably Mixed

 

Friday, January 5th, 2018

Greenwich Village

And now, for some background

 The white cloud wafting from between her lips came out in a bigger puff and she rolled her eyes at a couple of tipsy co-eds bursting through the door and onto the sidewalk in a cacophony of giggles, draped over each other to keep steady. And, once again, she contemplated why in the hell she was forcing herself to do this. A night out with the Scooby squad wasn’t exactly her idea of a good time. Especially when she had a four-year-old Cabernet sitting at home, waiting for her. Where it was quiet and she could swap out her black tailored suit for a soft tank top and sweats without judgment. Where she could sink into her leather wingback chair with Mahler softly playing in the background and relax after an incredibly grueling week.

But Mel had insisted, going so far as threatening to seek out the incredibly tenacious blonde that Carmilla had successfully been dodging for the last three weeks with promises that the dark-haired girl actually did want to see her again.

‘I’ll just tell her that you’re super shy when you’re really interested in someone.’

Such a great friend.

Just go in, have a drink, and then you can head home and pretend like you don’t know any of these idiots for the next week.

Sighing once more as she took in the neon signs plastered to the windows, Carmilla stepped forward and pulled on the silver-plated handle, opening the door to the pub. It wasn’t the worst bar in Greenwich Village, but definitely not her first choice for a night to unwind. The blast of heat from inside wafted over her face, dulling the cold encasing her limbs as she stepped through the entrance, the sudden contrast almost uncomfortable. Releasing another sigh as the door closed behind her with a heavy clunk, she loosened her black cashmere scarf, noting that the bar was already crowded and far noisier than she would’ve liked.

I’m too old for this shit.

Letting her eyes adjust to the dimly lit space, she scanned through the numerous patrons standing in between the heavy oak booths that were filled to the brim with loud laughter and tipsy Manhattanites. She could probably just sneak back out, no one in the place any the wiser. But she really didn’t want to deal with the shit Mel was bound to give her for ditching.

Looking a little harder, she spotted fiery hair among one of the packed tables near the back corner. Grudgingly stepping forward, she narrowly avoided the throngs of overly excited bar goers out to unwind on this freezing Friday night as she made her way. Finally catching sight of Mel leaning against the back wall as she reached the halfway point, she rolled her eyes at her friend’s triumphant smirk aimed in her direction.

Why in the hell am I still friends with her?

“Hey, Druscilla,” she greeted as Carmilla finally reached their table.

“Why did you insist that I come?” Carmilla asked with a scowl, unbuttoning her coat and looking around the crowded space, less than interested in any of the clientele. “There’s not a single woman in here that I’d like to take home tonight.”

“Jesus, is that really all you can think about?”

“You’ve known me since we were eighteen. After a decade, does this honestly shock you?”

“I insisted because you need to get away from your office at a decent hour once in a while,” Mel answered, ignoring the dig. “And there actually is someone I want you to meet tonight. An old friend of mine.”

“But I hate your friends,” she sighed, not caring that it was loud enough to catch Perry’s attention.

“Now, no need to be rude, Carmilla,” the redhead huffed, crossing her arms as she sat up further in her seat. “We’re all incredibly fond of you.”

“Yeah, bad seed, we know deep, deep down, you really love us,” LaF tacked on with a toothy grin. “You just have to dig below that swamp you call a heart.”

“Why do you want me to meet this person?” she asked, tone irritated, ignoring the duo.

“Honestly, not sure how you haven’t met her yet,” LaF answered, despite the question not being directed at them.

Carmilla scowled deeper as she slowly turned her hardened stare onto the short-haired ginger, taking a small amount of pleasure as they sank further back into the booth, eyes widening ever so slightly in fear.

“Maybe try smiling when she comes around though?”

“You’ll totally dig her, angry hottie. She’s super awesome,” Kirsch said, tongue poked out in concentration from the other side of the booth where he was in the middle of folding a white bar napkin into a paper football.

“Just try not to hit on her,” Danny scoffed from next to him, frown firmly etched on her face. “I know it’ll be hard since flirting is your first language. But keep it in your damn pants tonight. I can guarantee she’s not interested.”

“Well, now we don’t exactly know if she-”

“I just fucking got here, Lawrence, how did I already piss you off?” Carmilla growled, completely cutting Perry off from whatever she’d been about to helpfully point out.

“You didn’t! You’re just… I know you. I know how you are around pretty women and… you’re annoying,” Danny stumbled, her brow furrowing even more.

“Hey, I can always leave,” Carmilla offered. “Didn’t particularly want to come in the first place.”

“No! Stay,” Perry insisted, her smile still a little too wide.

“Or go. Probably for the best,” Danny said earnestly with a nod as she leaned forward onto the table. “I’m sure you have better things to do. I’ll fill you in on everything tomorrow.”

Carmilla simply stared back, her head tilted ever so slightly to the side, brow furrowed.

“We’re still on for tomorrow, right?” Danny tried again. “Coffee date? Remember, you couldn’t make it earlier this week?”

“Yes, Xena, we’re still on for fucking coffee,” Carmilla sighed. “And it’s your turn to buy.”

“You guys are the weirdest friends ever,” LaF added.

“Look, everybody just shut up!” Mel jumped in. “We’re here to enjoy ourselves and show Hollis a good time. So everyone better start having fun right now!”

“Who in the hell is this girl anyway?” Carmilla asked, looking skeptically around the group.

“No one. It’s not important,” Danny said with an overly casual wave of her hand. “Really, don’t let us hold you up. Go, enjoy your night.”

“Jesus.”

“She’s a really good friend ours and we thought it would be a good idea for you to meet her,” Mel cut in before Carmilla could formulate another snarky comeback. “She’s a year younger but she grew up with us across the river. She hasn’t lived here since high school though, so beyond us and her dad, she doesn’t really know anyone around here anymore.”

“Again, why should I care about any of this?” Carmilla pressed with an indifferent shrug.

“Because I care about her and I said so. She could do with another friend or two. So just stand there and be nice,” Mel argued, clearly already irritated with the situation. “And no bullshit. From anyone! But especially you, Black Widow. I don’t want you scaring her away before she even gets through her first drink.”

“Fine,” Carmilla grumbled. “So where is she? Because I’d like to get this over with as quickly as possible.”

“Hot date with blonde number twenty-three?” Danny asked, laughing at her own joke.

“No, I dumped her last night. Tonight is brunette number thirty-four,” Carmilla sneered. “Keep up, would you?”

“She’s in the bathroom,” Mel interrupted, pushing off the wall and stepping between Carmilla and the booth, blocking her view of the group. “She should be out any minute.”

“Darling girl,” Perry added cheerfully with a smile, peering around Mel’s side, and if she wasn’t already tipping towards beyond irritated, Carmilla would’ve found the sight rather comical. “We’ve told you about her. Laura Hollis.”

“Sure you have,” she said, the name ringing a faint bell in the back of her mind but nothing of note surfacing. “Whatever. I’m getting a drink and I’m putting it on your tab, Sporty Spice.”

And with that, she turned and made her way through the crowd towards the worn oak bar, flagging down the busy bartender, and requesting a whiskey neat. She attempted to patiently wait, glancing around the space as she did, eyes rifling through the different faces, and she quickly deduced that her first assessment was correct. There wasn’t a single woman in the place that she was interested in.

What a waste of a good Friday night.

Pulling her coat off, she felt the vibration of her phone from within the right front pocket and quickly dug it out, curious to see if there was perhaps a better offer on the table than what this evening was bound to entail.

Dammit, she thought as she glanced at the device, rolling her eyes with a heavy sigh.

“What?” she answered as she pressed the phone to her ear.

“Where are you? It sounds like absolute hell.”

“Out. What do you want?”

“Now is that any way to talk to your boss?”

“Let’s be serious here. You aren’t my boss, even though you desperately want to be. You’re just my pain in the ass sister.”

“Don’t pull that attitude with me you little monster,” Mattie snipped through the phone and Carmilla could hear papers being shuffled in the background, no doubt against the ridiculously expensive desk Mattie expensed and had shipped from Prague two months earlier.

“Well, if you’re calling to drag me back into the office, forget about it. I’ve worked straight through for the last two weeks. I fucking slept there three nights ago. I’m done with that place until Monday.”

“I wasn’t calling to drag you back in. I was simply going to ask if you wanted to grab a drink. This week has been horrid and we both need to unwind.”

“That I will agree with but I’m going to have to take a raincheck on the drink. I’m with Mel and the band of idiots at a bar in the Village.”

“Well, that sounds less than promising,” Mattie sighed, and Carmilla could practically hear her eyes roll.

“I’m just here for a drink. And I honestly don’t even want to do that,” Carmilla said. “But she wants me to meet a friend of hers.”

“Oh really?” And instead of an irritated eye roll, Carmilla could now hear the smirk in Mattie’s voice. “What kind of friend, petite soeur?”

“It’s not like that,” she said, nodding her thanks to the bartender as he slid a glass of amber liquid towards her over the smooth wooden surface, and making sure she was good to her word and adding the mid-level liquor to Mel’s tab. “I definitely won’t be getting close to this woman. She doesn’t even live in New York.”

“Oh, so she flies in, flies out. Perfect for you,” Mattie chuckled.

“Shut up,” Carmilla grumbled as she turned on her heel, slowly walking back towards the group, paying no mind to anyone around her. “I’m not interested. Trust me.”

“Very well. Enjoy your swill and the ‘it’s not like that’ girl. I’m heading for a top-shelf martini. Ta!”

Carmilla rolled her eyes at the screen once more as she hung up before pocketing the device. A top-shelf martini did sound delicious.

Definitely better than this , she cringed, taking a sip of her drink.

Glancing up as she reached the group, she noticed the back of someone new, eagerly nodding along to whatever Danny was saying, the tall redhead smiling sweetly, eyes soft.

Ah. Great. That explains it. Lawrence has already lost her share of girls to me, Carmilla thought, grimacing as she took another small sip. Well, she can have this one.

“Oh, Carmilla! There you are! Laura, dear, this is our friend Carmilla,” Perry said, pulling at the woman’s elbow and trying her absolute best to show those impeccable manners, honed with years of practice.

Carmilla looked up and watched as the small, beautiful brunette in question fully turned towards her, the girl’s incredibly bright smile immediately falling from her face as her eyes widened almost comically.

“Carmilla?!”

Oh…

Backing up half a step, Carmilla’s stomach dropped heavy to her feet even as she felt her own lips quirk upwards at the corners, her heart racing a little faster in her chest.

“Hey… cutie.”

“You two know each other?” Mel asked, clearly already skeptical of the situation.

Carmilla smirked and opened her mouth to answer but found that nothing came out before the tiny brunette cut her off.

“No!” Laura all but yelled, her hands wringing together in front of her as she bounced on the balls of her feet. “No! Not at all. Don’t know each other. Never met!”

What the shit?

“It’s um… it’s lovely to meet you… Carmilla, was it?” she asked, anxious eyes now even wider, begging. Pleading.

Well, fuck.

 Wednesday, December 19th, 2018

Gramercy Park

And another piece of history

 Carmilla glanced around the room one final time, taking in the lightness. The luminescence. And just how pristine it all was. Which shouldn’t have surprised her in the slightest considering who had been in charge of decorating.

The pastel paintings all hung exactly at the same level. The beige camelback sofa was placed right in the middle of the main wall, cedar plank end tables precisely four inches from each side. And the sea blue area rug beneath her boots, braided at the edges, looked as though it had never been stepped on. Somehow the air even felt lighter, purer.

Turning back to her hosts, she attempted to hide her grin when she saw LaF and Perry staring at each other, soft smiles, eyes wide and shining. So proud.

And so gross, she thought, shaking her head.

How did people fall in love like that? Why did they even want to? It never led to anything good, so why subject yourself to the torture? Why take the risk of getting hurt?

Or worse. Hurting someone else.

And yet, she hadn’t deterred them. She hadn’t said no when LaF first came to her, asking for advice. She’d helped them. She’d spent hours with the short-haired ginger, talking them off of the ledge and offering what little and uncomfortable encouragement she could, her patience often stretched to within an inch of its breaking point.

But looking at them now, she knew. It was right. They were exactly what the other one needed. And they were happy.

I guess that’s what matters, she thought, trying to veer away from the rest of the story. Heading down that particular memory lane wasn’t something she needed, nor cared to do. Especially not in the presence of the two love birds still giving each other doe eyes.

A sudden knock from the front door brought them out of their trance though, Perry shaking her head and calling out sweetly as she made her way to greet the new guest that was waiting in the hallway. She wiped her hands on her yellow apron as she rounded the corner out of sight, the clink of a lock heard a few seconds later.

“Laura! How are you, dear?” Perry asked brightly. “We’re so thrilled you could make it.”

Laura?! Shit.

This was not something Carmilla had been looking forward to. Though she knew the younger girl was in town for a few weeks over the holidays, she’d successfully dodged any and all attempts her friends had made to get everyone together. So far she’d been ‘working with a client’ for two dinners and a lunch, meeting her mother during a cocktail hour, and just plain ignoring the text about taking in a movie that weekend.

As stupid and childish as it was, she had absolutely no interest in spending any time with or around Laura Hollis.

Laura Hollis, who she’d been ‘introduced’ to just earlier that year.

Laura Hollis, who refused to look at her for the rest of that night, rudely ignoring her even as Carmilla tried to meet her eye.

Laura Hollis, who despite pretending otherwise, damn sure knew who Carmilla was.

“Yeah, sorry I’m late,” the tiny brunette said, her voice sweet and cheerful.

“Nonsense, you’re right on time.”

Carmilla shoved her hands into the pockets of her leather jacket and attempted to look away, her jaw tense as Laura rounded the corner, coming into view. But it was a lost cause as their eyes instantly met.

And much as I don’t want her to be, she’s still so goddamn pretty, Carmilla thought, hating that it had even crossed her mind. Because she shouldn’t be thinking that. She shouldn’t be thinking about how adorable Laura looked all bundled up in her gray winter coat, her matching beanie hanging low off her head. She shouldn’t have been thinking about how gorgeous the tiny brunette’s smile was or how her eyes lit up in the most hypnotic way. No! That was not on the agenda!

“You know, it’s generally a good idea to be on time when you’re invited for a specific occasion,” Carmilla said, her tone edged with irritation.

There you go. Be an asshole.

“Um…” Laura stumbled, her mouth opening and closing a few times as her words stuck in her throat.

“Ah, yes, Laura you remember Carmilla,” Perry said, her voice rising ever so slightly as she stepped into the room, stopping between them.

“Yes. Right, of course. Um… hello, Carmilla,” she said in the quietest voice, holding Carmilla’s gaze for a moment longer before looking down at her feet, toes wiggling in her red Chucks. “Nice to um… see you again.”

“Again?” Carmilla asked, one eyebrow quirked just so, but giving nothing else away.

Might as well.

“Yes, don’t you remember, dear?” Perry asked, smiling wide. “You met early this year, just after the holidays.”

“Did we?” Carmilla pressed, taking a few slow steps forward, eyes intense, watching Laura squirm with every inch erased.

“Yes, we’ve… we’ve met,” Laura answered, finally looking up when Carmilla stopped only a foot away.

“Yeah, bad seed,” LaF answered. “At that pub in the Village. It was the night you left early and ended up meeting Mattie and Will after you ditched us.”

“I still don’t understand how the three of you just randomly ended up in Atlantic City with no memory of how you got there,” Perry added sternly, hands on her hips.

“Oh yeah,” Carmilla said, her eyes still boring into Laura’s, making the smaller girl gulp. “I remember waking up there. The entire mini-bar was empty, Will was asleep in the hotel hallway, sans pants, and the girl I’d picked up that night just happened to be from Midtown. Meaning I didn’t get to make a clean getaway.”

“Which one was that again?” LaF asked, scratching at their temple.

“Amy. Or was it Andi?” Carmilla smirked in their direction before turning back towards Laura, still standing dangerously close. “Maybe Alex? I don’t know, I’m terrible with names. I remember she was blonde.”

“Seriously?!” Laura squealed, brow furrowed as she all but stomped her right foot.

“Problem, cupcake?”

“I… I just…” Laura sighed heavily, rolling her eyes and looking away. “No. No problem.”

“Laura, dear, are you alright?”

“Yeah. I… yeah,” she huffed again.

“So articulate,” Carmilla said, watching the smaller girl gently bite her bottom lip before meeting her eyes again. “Anyway, she asked for my number. Pretty persistent too. But the last time I went down the number exchange route, it didn’t turn out too well.”

“You voluntarily gave a girl your number?” LaF asked, the surprise in their voice evident. “A girl that you were trying to… well, you know.”

“LaFontaine!”

“Once,” Carmilla answered anyway, her eyes never leaving Laura’s face. “She was kind of cool. And really fucking cute. Kind of wanted to get to know her better so I gave her my number. But I never heard from her. Guess she wasn’t interested in my… intellect.”

Laura’s brow furrowed as she frowned further, her mouth opening as if to argue, but nothing came out beyond a quiet huff, and the sudden silence in the room hung heavy and awkward around them. Finally shaking her head and sagging, Laura looked away, her cheeks blushing as she turned to Perry.

“Um, my dad sent his famous apple pie,” she said softly, holding up the aluminum covered tin in her hands. “So I’m just going to…”

Carmilla watched as she nodded towards the kitchen, moving into the other room without another word.

Okay, might’ve taken this a little too far. But… fuck. What’s new?

“Alright, well, the place looks great, guys. But I won’t keep you from your dinner,” Carmilla said with a glance at each redhead as she moved towards the door, feeling the need to leave growing stronger with each step.

Making it to the door, knob in hand, she turned, offering one last smile.

“And I’ll see you tomorrow,” she said, looking to Perry.

“Absolutely. I’ll have the Newfort contract on your desk by eight o’clock,” she said with a nod.

“Eh, you might have a late night here with this crazy crowd. Make it ten,” Carmilla said with a shrug, turning slightly and pretending to ignore the small grateful smile the curly-haired girl was sending her way.

“Alright, but are you sure you can’t stay, Carmilla?” Perry tried once more.

“Yeah, we’ve got plenty of food,” LaF added. “And it might be nice for there to be four of us. You know?”

“Yes, we’d love you stay and… perhaps spend some time?” Perry said, her tone a little too eager, but Carmilla ignored it.

She had to leave and she had to leave now.

“I’d love to but…” Carmilla trailed off, turning towards the kitchen where Laura stood against the counter, gripping the edge of the granite tight, those wide, nervous eyes on her. “I have other plans.”

Pulling the door open, she left without another word, slowly making her way down the hall towards the elevators. As she walked, she pulled her phone from her back pocket, ignoring the slew of text alerts from the few women she kept on standby, but didn’t particularly care to see that night in favor of one from Will telling her he was going to be fifteen minutes late for the drinks they’d planned that morning.

Fine by her. She could do with some time to decompress.

“Carmilla!” came a sweet voice behind her.

She stopped and turned, frowning when she saw Laura slip out of the apartment, coat and beanie now gone. The younger girl quickly made her way down the hall, stopping just a few feet away.

“You lost?” Carmilla asked, her voice cold.

“Not exactly. I just… I was hoping to talk to you,” she answered. “Before you left.”

“Well, you better make it quick,” she said as she took the last few steps down the hallway, reaching out and pressing the call button for the elevator.

“Carmilla,” Laura sighed, sagging in on herself.

“Yes?”

The tiny brunette opened her mouth in an attempt to force something out before clamming up, shaking her head, and trying again.

“Look, I… I’m sorry, okay?” she started.

“Sorry?”

“Yes, I…” The smaller girl floundered once more, her eyes wide and terrified, right hand frantically pulling at the fingers on her left. “Earlier this year, when we met at the bar… well, I didn’t know what to do. I panicked!”

“You panicked?”

“Yes!” Laura cried. “I just… it was weird. And I’ve never been in that position before?”

“What position is that?” Carmilla sighed, reaching out and forcefully stabbing at the already lit button again.

“Are you purposely trying to make this harder on me?” Laura scoffed.

“Now why in the world would I want to do that?” Carmilla asked, tipping her head to the side as she turned back to Laura, a sly smile pulling at her lips.

“Because you’re mad.”

“Not mad at all. And definitely not trying to do anything to make you uncomfortable.”

“Well, for not trying, you’re doing a bang up job,” Laura grumbled.

But instead of saying anything, Carmilla simply shrugged and stared, wishing the fucking elevator would move a little faster because this wasn’t a conversation she really wanted to have at this moment.

Or ever.

“I just…” Laura started again. “I don’t know. Seriously, I really never thought I’d find myself here.”

“Right,” Carmilla drawled.

“I mean, what’re the odds?” she asked, hands now moving rapidly through the air without any real direction.

“Not good?”

“Exactly!” Laura said, her voice going higher as she stepped closer. “I just… I guess I should’ve put two and two together. I mean, how many Carmilla’s are there in the world?”

“Probably not an exorbitant amount.”

“And, trust me, I thought at one time that it might be you, but then it didn’t make any sense. I mean, you live here!”

“I do.”

Where in the hell is the elevator!

“And it was in Chicago!”

“Good city. I’ve spent some time there. About a year or so.”

“Plus, all of our friends suck at social media,” Laura continued, running a frustrated hand through her hair. “So pictures were out of the question.”

“Sure,” she agreed, a hint of bite entering her tone.

“So…” Laura finally said, taking a deep breath, her eyes still wide and…

Hopeful. Why does she look hopeful?

“I just don’t want this to be awkward,” she said, taking another small step forward.

Carmilla stared, feeling her irritation growing, warring within her against the forgiveness creeping in. The forgiveness she didn’t particularly feel was deserved.

After all, this wasn’t her mess to fix. She wasn’t the one who had led them down this path to begin with.

Still, she waited a long moment, her eyes searching Laura’s eager and beautiful brown ones before she spoke, the words coming out before she could stop them.

“Yeah. Right,” she started, voice quiet. “Nothing like that.”

“Good,” Laura said, smiling nervously and bouncing on the balls of her feet. “So we’re okay then?”

“Yeah, great,” Carmilla nodded along.

And she could’ve let it go there. She should’ve dropped it and walked away, not worrying about it any further. But that just wouldn’t have been as satisfying.

Yep, irritation wins.

“So, can I just ask you one more thing… Laura?” she said, her voice frighteningly even.

“Sure, absolutely,” she said, nodding eagerly.

Don’t do it!

“What in the hell are you talking about?”

The smile fell and the bouncing stopped as Laura stared at her, wide-eyed for a long moment. Her mouth opened and closed before it finally slammed shut, her eyes narrowing angrily, though for a flash Carmilla thought she glimpsed something akin to hurt behind the ire.

“You’re unbelievable,” Laura said, swallowing hard, her voice now just above a whisper.

“I’ve been told that on many occasions too,” Carmilla said with a shrug, stepping forward as a ding echoed down the hall, the elevator finally arriving. “But again, I haven’t the slightest clue what you’re prattling on about right now.”

She stepped inside the lift, pressing the button for the ground floor, and steeling herself as she turned cooly, taking in the sight of a completely defeated Laura. Placing her hand against the door to keep it from closing, she lifted one eyebrow and cocked her head to the side, waiting.

“Well?” she pushed when Laura stayed silent.

“Nothing, we’re… we’re talking about nothing.”

Laura sighed once and turned around, heading back towards the apartment, head down as Carmilla stepped against the back wall of the lift, the doors closing just as Laura turned one last time, her eyes now sad.

And Carmilla hated it.

Fuck.

 Saturday, February 9th, 2019

NoHo

And where the story actually starts…

Sighing heavily, Laura looked up and glanced around the dark bar, happy that she’d chosen one that was miraculously less than crowded. She didn’t want to deal with a lot of people or noise or… anything really.

So coming to a bar was a really dumb idea, Laura, she chastised herself.

But where else was she supposed to go? It wasn’t like she could just head home and curl up with a cup of hot cocoa and a Netflix binge of documentaries on serial killers. And she couldn’t call up one of her friends and ask if she could crash for a few hours. They were all busy with dates or dinners or significant others.

With their actual lives. And… it’d be weird anyway.

So here she sat, feeling worse by the minute, the heavy burden she’d been carrying weighing her down further and further, pressing her into the barstool she was perched upon.

This wasn’t how her year was supposed to start out. She wasn’t even supposed to be on this side of the country. This wasn’t supposed to be her life.

And Sherman was too young for this. He was too good. He didn’t deserve what had happened!

And yet, despite all of that, you still can’t fix it.

She couldn’t really do anything to make it right. To make it what it was just a few months earlier when they’d spent the holidays together, the house warm and welcoming with songs and the smell of sweets and Sherman’s laugh echoing loudly against every wall.

No, things were not warm and welcoming now. And she hated it. She hated that she felt so powerless. She hated that she felt so overwhelmed.

And she hated that after a little over a month, she really, really just wanted to shut it all off for a while before it completely overwhelmed her. That she wanted to just stop worrying and taking on the responsibilities and… feelings. Selfish as it was, she just wanted a break. A bit of time where she could do something - anything - for herself and not worry about the hows or the whys. Not worry about the consequences. Not worry about anything but turning everything around her off and simply existing at that moment.

A distraction of sorts.

But where she would find such a thing left her at a loss. Her friends, as wonderful as they were, would only pry for more details on the current situation. Attempting to quarantine herself off at her dad’s house was impossible as any time there was silence, she panicked and ran to whatever room he was resting in, just to make sure he was okay. And it wasn’t like she knew anyone else around here anymore. Someone who she wasn’t as close to or who wouldn’t bother her about her actual life and what it had become. Someone who wouldn’t care.

“This seat taken?” came a smooth voice from beside her, causing her to jump, startled.

Turning to her left in surprise, her eyes widened ever so slightly and she gaped at the woman standing there, staring at her, disarmingly gorgeous, just like always.

Crap!

This was a new development and one she definitely wasn’t expecting. One she really wasn’t prepared for. But…

“Oh! Yeah, no, I mean…” she stumbled, taking a deep breath and swallowing hard as she attempted to gather herself. “Hi… Carmilla.”

Yeah. A distraction. Perfect.

That’s exactly what she needed.

Besides, we’ve already slept together once.

Chapter Text

I got way too much time to be this hurt

Somebody help, it's getting worse

 

Sunday, December 28th, 2016

2 years, 1 month, and 13 days earlier

North Lincoln Avenue, Chicago

 

“Chocolate swirl cupcake,” she heard the server say, her voice cheerful as she set the frosted treat down on the table in front of the brunette.

From her spot two booths away in the dated diner, Carmilla subtly glanced over the top of her worn paperback, watching the interaction with great interest.

“And another white hot chocolate.”

The woman seated at the table frowned as she looked up from her laptop and shook her head, brow furrowed in confusion.

“I… I didn’t order that,” she said, voice quiet and a little scratchy. Clearing her throat, she tried again. “I mean, thank you, but I didn’t order anything except the hot chocolate.”

“I know,” the server said with a patient smile, pointing in Carmilla’s direction. “The cupcake is from her.”

Carmilla smirked as the girl’s gaze shifted. The tiny brunette’s stare bounced from Carmilla’s own eyes to the cupcake and back again twice before she couldn’t silence the quiet chuckle that was pulled from her throat.

The girl was cute. More than cute really, but it was hard to describe her as anything else when she had a Gryffindor scarf still loosely knotted around her neck and Doctor Who and Buffy stickers adorning the laptop in front of her. Regardless, she had captured Carmilla’s attention. Or at least she had for the last half hour.

Carmilla didn’t notice the girl when she’d initially walked into the greasy spoon, nodding to the server for her regular black coffee. She didn’t notice her when she’d sat down and lost herself in the Kipling she’d brought along. And she didn’t notice her when the server refilled her mug ten minutes later. But then there had been a loud clamor from the kitchen that finally drew her attention away from the softly tattered pages in hand and when she looked back, she caught sight of a pair of curious eyes already on her. Carmilla smirked when the girl quickly looked away, her cheeks tinting pink as she realized she’d been caught, and took a moment to let her own gaze roam.

Staring a little longer, Carmilla took in the girl’s soft features. The way she bit her lip in concentration as she turned back towards her laptop, the space between her eyebrows slightly furrowed. The way her hands never seemed to settle, going from tapping anxiously on the table top to running through her soft brown hair and then back to her keyboard for a few quick sentences, the sounds of the keys clacking a little too loud in the quiet diner.

Finding her interest piqued, she’d kept subtly watching for the next few minutes, noticing that while the girl hadn’t returned her gaze again, the pink in her cheeks deepened any time she did glance around the empty space.

I think I might’ve just found something to do tonight, Carmilla thought as she shifted in the booth, preparing herself to approach. But then, she noticed something else that made her pause.

The lip bite was getting a little harder, the barest of trembles visible even from where Carmilla sat. The girl’s hands now balled into tight fists atop the table. And the furrow between her brows deepened as she squinted a little harder at the laptop screen, blinking faster as though she was trying to hold back tears.

Letting her weight fall back into her seat, Carmilla leaned forward onto the table, her nose buried in the book even as she continued to watch.

For a few minutes, nothing changed. The obvious distress flowed on and Carmilla found that she wasn’t even pretending to read anymore as she stared at the girl. But then the brunette’s throat bobbed as she swallowed hard and took a few deep breaths, her fists just barely unclenching. Closing her eyes for a long moment, the girl shook her head, a hint of determination entering her gaze when she refocused on her laptop.

Huh.

Carmilla watched as the server approached the table a moment later, the girl forcing a smile as she asked for a white hot chocolate, her voice so soft and sweet now.

And before she could even think about it, Carmilla stood and followed the server back to the counter, grabbing the older woman’s attention as she reached for a fresh mug.

“Hey,” she started quietly. “That girl with the hot chocolate. Has she ever come in here before?”

“Not on any of my shifts.”

“So… you have no idea if she would eat the cupcake I want to buy her?” Carmilla asked with the quirk of an eyebrow.

“What flavor, hon?” she asked with a quiet chuckle.

Two minutes later Carmilla slid back into her booth, book in hand, and pretended to be completely enraptured by the pages in front of her and not internally panicking about what she’d just done, worried her intentions would be misconstrued. This wasn’t exactly familiar territory as she didn’t seek women out for anything other than her own personal gain, but there was something about the brunette. Something that pulled her in. Something that made her want to help.

And now that the infamous cupcake had been delivered, Carmilla couldn’t help but chuckle once more at the girl’s still wide-eyed expression.

Tucking her paperback into her jacket pocket, she grabbed up her own chipped white mug of quickly cooling coffee and stood, never looking away as she did even as the tiny brunette seemed to sag a little under her gaze.

“I hate to be presumptions here but… you look like you might be up for some company,” she said as she stepped up to the booth where the nervous girl still sat.

She bit at the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing as the offer was contemplated, the beautiful brunette actually looking around as if this was some sort of joke or that perhaps Carmilla was speaking to someone else just over her shoulder.

“So, how about it, cutie?” Carmilla tried once again when their eyes met.

“Oh!” the girl squeaked. “Um… well…”

“I’m not hearing you say no,” Carmilla said with a smirk, setting her mug on the table and leaning forward.

“Well… I’m not saying I don’t need or even want company,” she finally said with a shrug. “But I’m probably not going to be the best company for anyone else, so…”

Carmilla chuckled and slid into the booth across from her, still smirking.

“I might be able to help with that,” she said.

“Um…”

She chuckled once more and sat back in her seat, relaxing.

“What’s your name, creampuff?” she asked, smiling harder when the girl’s blush moved up her cheeks again, the sight making her even more adorable.

“I… um… Laura,” she stuttered.

“It’s very nice to meet you… Laura,” she finally said, watching the smaller girl swallow hard as her name rolled off Carmilla’s tongue.

“Um… you too…?”

She smiled again as Laura waited.

“Carmilla,” she said, leaning forward once more, hands clasped around her mug atop the Formica table. And unable to help herself, she continued, “Remember that. You’ll be using it a lot later.”

She bit her tongue as she watched Laura’s eyes somehow go even wider, her mouth opening and closing rapidly for ten seconds before she broke, laughing heartily at the reaction.

“I’m fucking with you, cupcake,” she said, sagging back into the red vinyl booth. “I just thought maybe you might need a laugh or two. That’s all. Honest.”

Laura relaxed ever so slightly after a tense moment, even as her blush deepened.

“Oh. Really?”

“Look, if you want me to leave you alone, I will,” Carmilla said with a shrug. “But… it just seemed like you weren’t having the most fun sitting here. Thought maybe I could help.”

Laura stared back for a few seconds, eyes curious but cautious as she thought over the offer, obviously trying to figure out if Carmilla was serious or not.

Still smirking, Carmilla shrugged once more before reaching for one of the rolled packets of silverware that had been pushed to the side of the table. Quickly unwrapping it and grabbing up the knife that fell out, she pulled the dessert plate that had just been placed on the table towards her and began cutting the chocolate swirl cupcake into sections.

“Hey!” Laura said, finally snapping out of her thoughts. “I thought that was mine!”

“What, you don’t like to share?” Carmilla asked, popping a piece into her mouth.

“Well, something definitely tells me that you don’t.”

“This is true. Never been big on sharing,” Carmilla agreed with a nod as she licked a bit of frosting off of her thumb.

“And you are awfully presumptuous. Sending a cupcake over anyway, all suave and… charming,” Laura finally stammered, her tone lacking the bite her words carried.

“Well, it’s not like I could buy you a drink here. Unless you have a craving for a root beer float,” Carmilla pointed out. “But would you have preferred something else? A cookie? A piece of pie? An ice cream sundae?”

She cocked an eyebrow, waiting, trying to hold back her smile when she saw Laura seriously contemplating her suggestions.

Oh, this might actually be fun.

“All of the above?” she tried when Laura’s eyes finally met hers.

And Carmilla couldn’t stop the next thought loudly barging in when Laura finally smiled softly, her eyes lighting, as she eagerly nodded.

Beautiful.

“Be right back, cupcake,” she said, sliding out of the booth and making her way towards the counter where the lone server stood, popping her gum.

 

Saturday, February 9th, 2019

Back in the present

NoHo

It was early. Or at least early for a Saturday night. But for whatever reason, the strong desire that she’d had to go out and find some fun had quickly dimmed to a faint notion in the distance before burning out entirely. Maybe it was the utter exhaustion she was feeling from working all those extra hours as she tried to get ready for the next big step waiting for her. Maybe it was the fact that she hadn’t had a good night’s sleep in… well, she couldn’t remember how long. Maybe it was because she hadn’t had time to just sit and exist in the quiet that she loved, curled up with a book and a delicious cup of coffee. Maybe it was all of those things.

Regardless of the reason, Carmilla found herself walking up East 1st Street at nine-thirty that night, planning to stop for a quick drink where she knew she wouldn’t be bothered before slowly trekking towards home, her well-worn copy of The Stranger already waiting for her on her coffee table where she’d left it unfinished two weeks ago.

Unzipping her leather jacket as she stepped into the dimly lit space, she glanced around, noticing it was thankfully less crowded than she’d expected. Plenty of room for her to sit alone without bother.

But then she noticed a familiar face sitting at the bar. A face that she definitely wasn’t expecting. A face that should not be there.

Dammit.

She was at a loss. Should she approach? Should she turn around and walk out? Should she take a seat at the other end of the counter and pretend like she had no clue that it was Laura Hollis sitting only ten feet away?

Nothing good will come out of trying to talk to her, she thought, remembering the sting she’d felt after their last interaction. Just leave. Go home.

She knew that would be the right thing to do. There’d be no chance of a silly argument or a childish squabble. There would be no cold words or hurt egos. But, almost as if she couldn’t help it…

She swallowed hard and took a deep breath, finding herself already drawn in by the beautiful woman sitting there. Because there was just something about Laura that pulled at her. Something that called to her loudly, unwilling to quiet no matter how hard she fought it. She’d felt it that very first night a little over two years earlier in that little Chicago diner. And despite the less than ideal conditions they’d met under on the last few occasions - never mind how pissed she’d been at the smaller girl’s behavior - that pull hadn’t diminished in the slightest.

Slowly making her way across the room, her boots soft against the oak planks, she watched, noticing Laura never looked away from the drink in front of her, lips pouty, shoulders sagging. Clearly not expecting to be interrupted from whatever it was rolling through her brain.

Stopping as she reached her destination, Carmilla placed a hand on the back of the empty stool next to Laura, voice cool and collected as she spoke.

“This seat taken?”

She unsuccessfully tried not to smirk as the smaller girl jumped ever so slightly, apparently startled from her thoughts, and just barely hid it as Laura turned towards her, eyes wide.

Same as the first time.

“Oh! Yeah, no, I mean…” she stumbled. “Hi… Carmilla.”

“Oh, so you do remember me?” she asked, her tone dripping with sarcasm.

“I’m not exactly alone in pretending like we’ve never met before,” Laura countered, the surprise slipping from her face, her brow furrowing.

And different than the first time.

“Touché.”

Carmilla eyed her again for another long moment, pointing to the stool in question, and using those fancy manners Lilita had spent years forcing upon her as she waited.

At Laura’s soft nod a few seconds later, she pulled off her jacket and sat down, gracefully poised atop the high seat, guarded and careful. Watching the tiny brunette out of the corner of her eye, she wasn’t at all surprised to see Laura already avoiding her gaze, brow once again smooth, lips pushed out, staring down into her drink as it swirled around the glass.

“Wasn’t aware you were still in town,” Carmilla started, facing forward, focusing on the intricately lit liquor bottles along the wall. “Thought you flew back home to California weeks ago.”

“Yeah, I did, but…” Laura trailed off, her eyes never once rising.

“Well, no one warned me of your current visit,” Carmilla added. “Not necessarily surprising since we get along so well, but still.”

“And who’s fault is that,” Laura quietly grumbled as she finally glanced over, eyes narrowed.

“I’m thinking it’s yours since I’m an utter delight,” Carmilla said with a shrug.

“You know what?” Laura said, voice rising ever so slightly as she swiveled on her stool, tightly gripping at the edge of the bar.

Carmilla quirked an eyebrow at the sight, the tiny brunette’s eyes flashing for a moment in anger before dimming as she shook her head with a huff and turned away, staring back into her drink, the fight now completely gone.

“Sure. Whatever, Carmilla,” she mumbled. “It’s my fault. I’m to blame for all of this.”

She watched Laura hunch in a little further on herself, the seconds ticking by, and wondered what exactly she was witnessing at the moment. Sure, the attitude she’d expected to emerge from the smaller girl at her harsh words flared up but was gone just as quickly as it had appeared. And the silence that took over felt heavy, cold…

Wrong.

Despite not really knowing the girl that well, quiet was not a trait she associated with Laura Hollis. Something must’ve really been upsetting her. Something more than whatever little feud they’d created, and at the thought she felt more of her trademark snark retreating as she slightly twisted side to side on her stool.

“So… any particular reason you are in town?” Carmilla asked. “You miss it and have to immediately come back?”

“Not exactly,” Laura answered, tugging at her left ring finger but offering nothing more.

“How long are you staying?” she tried, the words leaving her mouth before she could stop them.

Laura just shrugged, still refusing to meet her gaze.

“Well, I take it you’ve been on this stool for a while,” she finally said anyway, motioning towards the drink in front of Laura, the ice already melted in the highball glass, the colors separated.

“About an hour or so, I guess,” Laura answered.

“Wow, your enthusiasm is beyond infectious,” Carmilla sighed, rolling her eyes.

And again, another shrug, the younger girl’s gaze locked on the bar in front of her.

Seriously?

“Macallan neat,” Carmilla said with a huff as the bartender approached before pointing towards the cocktail in front of the smaller girl. “And a uh…another whatever the hell that is for the lady.”

“Oh, you don’t have to do that,” Laura said, finally looking up and meeting her eyes for half a second before turning away. “Honestly, I’m not even going to finish this one. I only ordered it because I felt bad just sitting here asking for soda.”

“I’m well aware of my obligation to you, or lack thereof,” she said with a blasé shrug. “But that’s a sad looking drink. At least get a fresh one. It’ll be prettier to stare at since you apparently don’t want to look at me.”

Still nothing.

Fucking hell.

“So…” she drawled, still unsure of why she was continuing to bother. “What’re you doing here by yourself? Or are you not alone? Am I interrupting a hot date?”

“No, no date. I’m… it’s just me,” Laura answered quietly.

“You didn’t get ditched, right?”

“No,” she sighed, rolling her eyes. “No girl problems tonight.”

“Alright then,” Carmilla said, nodding to the bartender as he set their drinks down.

She slid over some cash, waving off the change, and wrapped her hands around the smooth glass tumbler in front of her, methodically tapping her right index finger against the rim, needing something to do as so far this entire interaction was nothing like she’d been expecting.

“What’s the occasion?”

“No occasion. I just… I guess I’m just taking a night away,” Laura shrugged, reaching for the straw in her new glass and slowly swirling the contents, the ice quietly clinking together as she did.

“A night away, huh? I suppose that’s as good of a reason as any other.”

But Laura just shrugged for the six millionth time and Carmilla felt the tension settling even heavier.

Okay, enough, she thought with a frustrated sigh. Why are you wasting your time?

Shaking her head, Carmilla picked up her drink and began to slide off her stool, intent on moving away and forgetting about Laura Hollis and her entire existence, chalking the whole encounter up to a fluke. But just as she was grabbing her jacket, a soft voice stopped her.

“Scared you away already?”

Carmilla turned back, seeing Laura’s eyes finally on her, a myriad of emotions battling within her irises.

“You were much more persistent in Chicago,” Laura said. “Or is that it?”

“Is what it?”

“That you just have absolutely no interest in sitting here with me since we’ve already… slept together?”

Carmilla stared back for a long, leaden moment, their gazes holding, and what she saw there had her pausing. Beneath all those warring emotions – the gloom and irritation and anger – Laura looked tired. The deep kind of tired that consumed your soul. The kind that took anything and everything you had to give and still greedily searched for more.

So? Why do you care? Why does it matter? She’s just… some girl.

But Carmilla couldn’t even properly lie to herself. Because despite how infuriating the tiny brunette could be, Carmilla knew better. Laura had stopped being just some girl in that diner in Chicago two years ago. Laura deserved more. Laura was…

Special, a discovery she made very early on during their first and only night together. And despite what had happened the last few times they’d met, Laura might not necessarily deserve whatever it was that was making her so sad.

So now, with that sudden bit of concern worming into her chest, Carmilla stepped closer, her expression softening.

“Neither,” she finally answered, the irritated tone completely gone. “It just seems like you kind of want some time to yourself. And though you’re adorable when you get flustered, which I hate to admit, I’m not quite sure that pushing your buttons in order to enjoy the view would be a good idea tonight.”

“You’re right about that. But… well…” Laura continued, a sudden bout of nerves entering her voice as it somehow grew even softer. “If you want… I mean, I know I’m not super fun right now. But I actually wouldn’t mind some… company.”

“Really?” Carmilla drawled, making no attempt to mask her surprise.

Laura shrugged, eyes downcast and looking…

Nervous. And sad. God, she looks so fucking sad.

She’d seen that sadness, years earlier. And it looked so wrong covering Laura’s soft, sweet features. Even more so now than before.

Why does this bother me?

But she already knew the answer to that too.

“Company? Well, I suppose- wait, you are talking about me, right?” Carmilla asked with a teasing grin, hoping to bring some levity to the moment. “You’re not asking me to find you a date for the evening? Because honestly, cutie, I know I’m good, but I draw the line at wrangling up a rendezvous for another woman.”

She relaxed a little when she saw the smallest of smiles crack across Laura’s face at the joke.

“I think your company will do for tonight,” she finally said, eyes softer when she looked up.

“Eh, not the nicest way to put it, but I’ve definitely stuck around for offers much worse than that,” Carmilla said with another shrug, setting her jacket down and hoisting herself back up onto the barstool, sitting comfortably this time.

“Well, maybe if you were a little nicer,” Laura started, “you’d find women to be far more receptive to your advances.”

Carmilla heard the hint of bite in the smaller girl’s voice but only shook her head, pushing past it.

“Romance tips? Really?” she teased. “I generally don’t have any trouble in that department, but I’ll take it under advisement.”

“No trouble?” Laura scoffed.

“I didn’t have any trouble with you,” she said, sipping her drink, still smirking softly.

“Yeah,” Laura said, looking away again as her face fell. “No trouble leaving before I woke up either.”

Fuck.

Carmilla swallowed hard, feeling the guilt settle into her stomach. The guilt that she normally had no trouble ignoring, if it even surfaced at all. That same guilt had been sitting in her chest that frosty morning in Chicago. Why it was there, she wasn’t sure. But it didn’t matter because staying and asking if Laura wanted to get brunch after she woke up was not an option.

“Look,” Carmilla started, running a hand through her hair. “It wasn’t anything personal.”

“It’s fine. I… I understand,” Laura agreed, still avoiding her gaze. “I knew… what that night was. I knew it wasn’t anything more than…”

“Oh, you know that, huh? Then why did I give you my number?” Carmilla tried.

“You gave me your number and then put in just enough time and effort to get an invitation into my hotel room,” Laura said. “I took the hint when I woke up alone. It was fairly obvious that the phone number was simply a formality.”

“It was not!” Carmilla argued, turning on her stool.

“Sure it wasn’t,” Laura sighed, obviously unconvinced. “Besides, it’s not like it mattered anyway. I was going back home the next day, which you knew. There was never going to be a chance of running into me again in Chicago after that night. Dodging a phone call is way easier than dodging a person.”

“Dodging?” Carmilla scoffed. “I’m sorry, did I somehow miss all the voicemails you left me?”

“Why would I have called, Carmilla?” Laura asked, a bit of fire now burning in her eyes. “What, just in case you somehow ended up on the west coast and needed to have some fun?”

“Yes, fun!” Carmilla started, shoulders tense. “Like getting to know you or spending the evening with you.”

“More formalities.”

“Dammit, Laura, no!” Carmilla bit out. “I was perfectly fine dropping you off and ending the evening, which again, was actually really nice, without sex. I wasn’t the one who started the kiss that night. I didn’t invite myself into your hotel room. And, regardless of how great it was, I wasn’t the one who was pushing for more.”

She saw the younger girl flinch at the words, biting softly at her lip as she once again anxiously pulled at her fingertips.

Ugh, fuck!

“Look, I don’t want to argue about this. We’ve done enough of that I think. And yes, when I first saw you that night, I was attracted to you and thought that maybe we could spend the night together.”

Laura huffed once again, a cutting smile pulling at her lips.

“But that was for like two minutes,” Carmilla continued, undeterred and wondering why this mattered.

Because you actually liked her, a soft voice whispered in the back of her mind, and try as she might, she couldn’t ignore it.

“Laura, I really did have a good time with you. That night… that’s one of my favorites from the entire time I was in Chicago. And maybe I should’ve stayed and waited for you to wake up. Maybe I should’ve made sure you understood. But… I fucked up, okay? And I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine,” Laura said, voice quiet.

“No, it’s not. I didn’t leave just because I got you into bed and had no use for you afterward. I just…”

She trailed off, rubbing at the back of her neck and trying to find the right words. The ones that wouldn’t make Laura sink in even further on herself.

“It wasn’t you, I just… I don’t typically do the morning after, okay?”

Nope. Wrong.

And she knew it as soon as Laura huffed and shook her head.

“Carmilla, I told you it doesn’t matter. None of it does. Just forget it.”

“What’s really going on with you tonight?” Carmilla asked, her irritation surfacing again. “Because while this mood is incredibly charming, it’s not your finest trait right now. And I don’t think it’s entirely my presence making you act like this.”

“It’s not! It’s…” Laura trailed off, sighing once more and sagging even further onto her seat in defeat. “It’s nothing.”

“Laura…” she pleaded.

“No, really, it’s not important,” Laura answered, shaking her head and tearing at the now damp cocktail napkin beneath her drink. “Look, I know I’m not super fun tonight. If you… if you don’t want to stick around… well, I wouldn’t fault you if decided to leave right now.”

And there was her out. Plain and simple. This was her chance to walk away and forget about Laura Hollis for good.

So why wasn’t she moving?

“But what if I don’t want to leave?” she found herself asking before she could really think about it.

Carmilla swallowed again and waited until Laura’s eyes met hers, their gazes holding for a long moment before she slowly shook her head.

“Look, I might not be your favorite person. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’m nowhere near the top of the list,” she said. “But I just… we’ve been here before. Maybe the place has changed and the circumstances are different but it doesn’t matter. There was a reason I wanted to help then, and now… I just want to make sure you’re okay.”

She waited for a long, nervous moment, studying Laura’s face, the younger girl’s brow slightly furrowed, bottom lip trapped between her teeth, eyes focused on the hands wringing together in her lap.

Maybe another little push?

“Hey, come on,” she tried again, bumping her elbow against the smaller girl’s. “You should know by now that I’m not that easy to get rid of.”

“That I do know,” Laura sighed, the barest of smiles crossing her face.

There was another long, silent moment as she studied Laura’s profile, watching as her expression softened with every second that ticked by. Finally, the tiny brunette turned to her, eyes wide and a little glassy, and Carmilla was gone.

“What’s going on with you, kid?”

“I… I’m here to help my dad,” Laura finally said, the threatening tears obvious in her voice. Sniffling, she took a deep breath and turned away. “He needs me after… well, he needs me.”

“Okay?”

“I’ve been here for about a month now and… I’m ready to go home,” she continued. “I miss my apartment, my job, my friends. I miss my life. And that’s terrible and selfish and… none of that stuff matters. I’m here for a reason. And that needs to be my priority. I just… I don’t know how to fix it.”

Carmilla waited for ten whole seconds, eyes never leaving the smaller girl until Laura finally looked over, those brown orbs distraught and worried. Troubled . And Carmilla couldn’t help it, finding the last of her armor completely evaporate.

“Are you… is everything okay?”

Carmilla wasn’t even sure where the question came from, but the sadness buried in Laura’s eyes found it in the depths of her chest and pulled it free before she could seal her lips to stop it from escaping.

“It will be,” Laura finally pushed out, her fingers now tapping out an irregular beat against the bar. “But… ugh, I’m terrible. He needs me and that’s what I should be worried about. That’s what I should be focused on. Not thinking about my career or my home or… anything besides him. And yet, every once in a while, I just can’t seem to help it.”

“That doesn’t make you a bad person, you know. Those things are important too. They’re a part of your life. If you gave them up or put them on hold, that means something.”

Carmilla watched those sad eyes stare back at her, something glimmering deep within, though she wasn’t sure what. But whatever it was, it squeezed her tight and kept her talking.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

The question came out cautiously as she reached across the bar and carefully set her hand atop Laura’s without a second thought, squeezing once. She watched Laura’s eyes flick to where their hands sat, wide and nervous, and attempted to calmly pull away, worried she’d overstepped.

Shit.

“Um, honestly?” Laura looked up, staring into Carmilla’s eyes as her fingers seem to chase after the dark-haired girl’s, their hands landing less than an inch apart on top of the bar. “Honestly, no. I really don’t want to talk about it right now.”

Code for she doesn’t want to talk to you about it.

“So that’s why you’re here at this bar?” Carmilla asked, attempting to ignore the faintest sting in her chest at the thought. “To turn off… whatever this is?”

“That was the idea. I thought just taking some time away on my own would help.”

“How’s it working out for you?” Carmilla smirked, already knowing the answer.

“It’s not exactly going as planned,” Laura finally said, the left side of her mouth just barely pulling up before quickly dropping. “Sitting here alone isn’t helping. I still have too much time to think. Nothing to really take my mind off of everything.”

“Well, I’m here now to bug you, so problem solved,” Carmilla pointed out. “And you could do much worse as far as company goes.”

She watched Laura attempt to fight another small smile, shaking her head when she caught Carmilla’s teasing smirk.

“Seriously though, I was only going to have one drink. But…” She paused for a moment, studying Laura’s face before proceeding. “Well, if you want the company, I can stay.”

“That’s really sweet of you, Carmilla,” she said. “But I’m sure you had plans after this. I don’t want to keep you.”

“Not really,” she shrugged. “I was actually heading home.”

“Early night for you?” Laura asked, voice light.

“I didn’t find anyone to keep my attention until now,” Carmilla said, pleased with the soft blush starting to bloom across the tiny brunette’s cheeks.

“Okay, I know we’ve been down this road, but out of general curiosity, how many lines do you get out on average before a woman actually agrees to go home with you?”

“Weekend or weekday?” Carmilla asked, raising a pointed eyebrow when Laura giggled, happy to have pushed on towards something a little easier. “Actually, the more important question here is, on a regular no frills, no fuss, no Chicago romance night, how many lines do you need before you go home with someone?”

“Depends on the person,” Laura challenged.

“Oh, I’d love to hear the criteria for this. Something tells me you have a laminated list somewhere.”

“I do not!” she giggled, shaking her head, eyes lit up.

Carmilla watched, taking in the sight and sound for a long moment as it slowly drifted past Laura’s lips.

“So a lighter topic and some company now. You feel any better?” she tried.

“A little,” Laura said with the faintest blush.

“Good. But I still have to ask. Why did you come here? You’re not the type to sit on a barstool by yourself. Hell, you’re not the type to be in a bar period.”

“You’re right, I’m not,” Laura shrugged. “Probably should’ve picked another location.”

“You do have a tendency to go out when you really should stay in,” Carmilla said with a gentle smile.

“I know. Bad habit I guess. I just… I didn’t know where else to go.”

“Well…” Carmilla started, wondering if she should actually offer or keep things simple and move past it.

You’re already a fucking lost cause, Karnstein.

“You maybe want to try another place? Maybe coffee or hot chocolate or something?”

“Really?” Laura asked, clearly surprised.

“Really. What, you no longer enjoy those things?”

“No, it’s just… well, thank you for the offer, but you really don’t have to do that,” Laura said, turning towards her, their knees brushing. “And while I appreciate the laughs, it’s more than that. I thought being out would help but I think the public part is only making it worse. It’s… it’s just making me feel more on edge.”

“Okay,” Carmilla started, not even pausing to think about it. “My place isn’t too far. I have an incredibly expensive couch that will perfectly mold to every inch of you in the best way. Good music. And a pretty impressive bar.”

“Oh! I mean… well… um…” Laura faltered as her posture stiffened. “Your place?”

“I do have an apartment, yes. Has four walls and everything. It’s miraculous.”

“Are you… sure?”

“Yeah, why?” Carmilla asked, curious at the smaller girl’s sudden nervousness.

“Because… I mean, I’m sure you could find someone else who wasn’t a stuttering spaz to spend your evening with.”

“What if, surprising as it is, I kind of like the stuttering spaz?” she asked with a shrug. “What if, despite the circumstances, I enjoyed her company so much a few years ago that I kind of want to try again? Spend more time with her?”

And it wasn’t a lie.

“Oh.” Laura’s blush somehow deepened again and Carmilla couldn’t help but smile at the visual. “Are you… are you seriously offering?”

“I wouldn’t have asked if I wasn’t.”

“So… your place then?” she asked, and Carmilla wondered at the slightly higher pitch suddenly invading her voice.

“Is there something wrong with that? Because honestly, cutie, I rarely have to work this hard to get a woman to go home with me,” she said, hoping teasing would help alleviate whatever worry had set up camp in Laura’s mind.

Laura searched her eyes, chewing at her bottom lip for a long moment, still fidgeting in her seat.

“I… it’s not…” she started before swallowing hard and squaring her shoulders. “No. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

“Good. Now you already know that I’m going to flirt with you shamelessly throughout the evening. It happens. I can’t stop it. But if being somewhere else will help you feel better for a little while, then why not?”

She waited for a long pause, watching Laura as she thought through the offer, the space between her brows furrowed for a few more seconds before evening out, her eyes suddenly determined.

“Alright,” she finally said, meeting Carmilla’s gaze again. “But just for a little while. I have to get back to my dad’s. Like… before the night is over.”

Before the night is over?

“Um, sure,” she said, nodding and wondering at the odd statement. “But, just so you know, the first lesson in taking your mind off of him is to actually take your mind off of him.”

“I know,” Laura said with a soft smile. “I’ll work on that.”

“I’ll help,” she offered with a wink, watching as Laura once again swallowed hard at the gesture. “You mind walking? It’s only a couple blocks.”

Carmilla drained the last of her glass as Laura shook her head and hopped off her stool, pulling on her jacket.

“Come on, cupcake. Now that you’ve found someone to spend time with, the next lesson in distracting yourself is to find something else to do.”

“And what will we be doing?” Laura asked, fidgeting as she followed Carmilla out of the bar.

“We’ll figure it out when we get there but I may have an idea or two,” Carmilla said with a shrug, pulling at the sleeve of Laura’s gray peacoat. “Just trust me.”

“Famous last words,” Laura grumbled and Carmilla couldn’t suppress her chuckle.


“What’s your poison, cutie?” Carmilla called from the wet bar on the far wall, having already kicked off her boots, shucked her jacket, and tossed it to the side as they made their way into her apartment.

“Oh, um… whatever you have, I’m sure is fine,” Laura nervously mumbled as she carefully hung her coat on the iron rack near the door and cautiously stepped into the dimly lit open space.

Uncorking one of the available bottles and pouring out two glasses of wine, Carmilla subtly watched as Laura’s eyes roamed over the room, her mouth slightly agape, clearly impressed. But for the exorbitant amount of money she paid in rent every month, it ought to be impressive.

She’d grabbed up the sought after location right after she’d moved back from Chicago a year and a half earlier. Honestly, it wasn’t like she really cared where she lived, given that she didn’t spend a whole lot of time at home anyway. But with a certain ‘ reputation’ to uphold as one of the future partners of Opaque, she was expected to live a certain lifestyle. Keeping up appearances was important. Besides, all the previous late night ‘guests’ she’d invited back, while impressed, were there for a reason besides enjoying the ambiance. But now…

Fuck, when was the last time I had a woman here that I wasn’t trying to sleep with?

She honestly couldn’t remember. It had been the status quo for so long. It had been the expectation. It had been the goal. That wasn’t something she planned on changing anytime soon. Especially since relationships were complete and utter bullshit.

But that wasn’t what this night was about. She hadn’t brought Laura back for any reason other than legitimately wanting to help if she could. Whatever was going on with her father was clearly enough to throw a wrench in the younger girl’s life. A big one. And it was obvious Laura didn’t need a paramour. She needed a confidant. Someone to rely on. Maybe even… a friend?

Carmilla wasn’t exactly sure if that type of arrangement would work between them given their past but she was willing to try. After all, that had been her original plan when they’d met a few years earlier. She remembered that heartbroken look in Laura’s eyes from a few booths away in the dingy diner, amplifying with each passing moment. She remembered how it tugged at something inside her, her own heart aching for the tiny brunette despite never having spoken to her.

And sure, Laura was incredibly beautiful. That was more than obvious, but that night in Chicago, Carmilla discovered there was so much more to her than a pretty face. She was smart and kind of quirky. Incredibly strong-willed and passionate. She made Carmilla smile and she’d let loose more genuine laughs that night with Laura than she had in years with any other woman.

Laura was different. She was unique. And as much as it had hurt for them to get off on the wrong foot after their friends ‘introduced’ them a year earlier in the rowdy Greenwich Village pub, Carmilla now understood why Laura had behaved the way she did. She’d clearly caused a bit of damage with her abrupt departure from Laura’s hotel room before sunrise.

But now… maybe it would be okay? Maybe they could try again and she could do what she’d set out to do in the first place all those years ago?

As long as I ignore the fact that she’s even more beautiful now than she was back then…

Shaking the thoughts of the past from her head, Carmilla carefully made her way across the room, wine glasses in hand. She stopped behind Laura where the smaller girl was studying one of her many heavy bookshelves, the tiny brunette’s fingers dancing across the vinyl records she kept there.

“Hope red’s alright,” she said, voice gentle.

Laura jumped and turned in surprise, smiling and nodding her thanks as Carmilla handed her one of the glasses, her fingers trembling the tiniest bit as she took it.

“You okay?”

“Yeah, fine. Just um…”

She waited as Laura trailed off, the smaller girl apparently trying to gather her thoughts, but seemingly unable to.

“You have quite a collection here,” Laura tried instead, pointing to the vinyl covers she’d been examining. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone who ranged from Stravinsky to the Stooges.”

“I appreciate all sorts of music. Though I do have a soft spot for the older stuff,” she said, tucking her free hand into the back pocket of her leather pants with a shrug.

“My grandparents were quite the classical aficionados,” Laura said, smiling softly. “They had one of those really old phonographs, that I never should’ve been allowed to touch by the way.”

Unable to help herself, Carmilla chuckled softly as she pictured a tiny, rambunctious Laura getting into all sorts of mischief.

“And I used to go from record to record whenever we’d visit them in Georgia during summer vacations. My grandpa would stand me on his feet and we’d dance around their sitting room for hours. We’d only take breaks when my grandma would bring us cookies or lemonade or… whatever she was making,” Laura said, smiling fondly at the memory.

Perfect.

“Mom or dad’s parents?” Carmilla asked, grabbing onto the topic to keep Laura talking as she motioned towards the black leather sofa on the other side of the room.

“Mom’s,” Laura answered, slowly moving forward around the heavy glass coffee table and taking a seat in the middle of the couch.

“That’s good that you got the chance to know them. Spend time with them,” Carmilla said as she sat next to her, their knees just barely brushing.

“They always liked us to visit since they didn’t get to see me on a regular basis. And after… well, they always said I looked just like my mom,” she said, her smile falling but not disappearing.

“Is she…?” Carmilla trailed off, already knowing the answer and feeling her own chest ache in understanding.

“Yeah. She passed when I was fourteen.”

“I’m sorry.”

Laura looked up and nodded before turning away again and continuing to glance around the room, quietly tapping her nails against the side of her glass as she did.

Carmilla watched the nervous gesture, wondering if the anxiety stemmed from the current situation she’d found herself in or if it was solely worrying about her dad and whatever he was going through. Though Laura had initially been slightly reserved the last time they’d been alone together, the nerves coming off the tiny brunette now were fifty times stronger. And they didn’t appear to be diminishing in the slightest.

“Cupcake? You sure you’re okay?”

“Yeah! Yes! I…” Her eyes flittering back and forth as she took another moment before taking a deep breath and nodding. “Yes, I’m fine. Just… nervous, I guess.”

“Nervous?”

“Well, yeah. Being here… tonight… with you.”

“Oh! No,” Carmilla started, shuffling forward on the couch and setting her glass down on the table, the soft clink sounding louder in the quiet room. “If being here is making you uncomfortable, I’m sorry. I just thought this might be a little better. Quieter. But if you don’t want to do this, that’s fine. It’s not going to hurt my feelings if you want to go somewhere else. Or if you want to bail entirely and call it a night.”

“No! I…” Laura sighed as she set her own glass down next to Carmilla’s and turned fully towards the older girl. “I’m sorry. This is just… I’m still not quite sure how to do this.”

How to do this? Be friendly with someone you once had an amazing one-night stand with?

Ugh, me either. Fuck, okay, just talk to her like you would Mel or Lawrence. Or… maybe not, that’ll probably scare her. Perry! Talk to her like you’d talk to Perry.

“Um, well, I don’t think there are any rules,” Carmilla offered, though she herself had no idea if that was true or not as this was uncharted territory.

“No rules, that’s… yeah, that sounds good,” Laura said, starting to fidget once again. “I just hadn’t planned for this tonight. I mean, I went out to try and relax a little. To just shut down a bit. But I thought I’d just spend a couple hours away by myself and that would be it. I didn’t think it would lead me here. And I definitely didn’t expect for you to be a part of the equation.”

“Lucky you.”

“Something like that,” Laura said with the barest of smiles. “But with everything going on… I just wish it was a little easier or that I could just turn it off, even if only for a minute or two.”

“You know, I did bring you here with that intention,” Carmilla pointed out.

“I’m… very aware of why you brought me here, Carmilla,” she said, looking away.

“So what’s the problem?”

“It’s just not that easy for me. It’s not something I regularly do!”

“Well, let me help then,” Carmilla offered with a shrug, smiling when Laura anxiously met her eyes. “I mean, I may not know how to turn off someone’s brain, but I do know how to turn on a beautiful woman.”

That is most certainly not how you talk to Perry!

Carmilla watched Laura’s eyes widened once more, her mouth opening and closing a few times as she attempted to gather herself, and Carmilla couldn’t stop the smile breaking across her face at the flustered sight.

“Sorry, that just came out,” Carmilla chuckled. “A pretty girl enters the equation and I can’t seem to help myself.”

“Should’ve known,” Laura said, sighing in relief and rolling her eyes as she relaxed back onto the couch and tried to hide the small smile pulling at the corners of her mouth. “I haven’t forgotten what a flirt you are.”

“Eh, I do okay,” Carmilla said leaning forward to take another sip of her wine. “But I got you to smile, didn’t I?”

“I suppose. So, thanks, I guess.”

“Anytime, cupcake. You know, honestly, after the last few meetings we’ve had, I’m so used to you refusing to look at me and keeping a blank face that I’d almost forgotten what a gorgeous smile you have.”

“Oh, are we back on to terrible lines?”

Laura giggled softly, turning back towards her, the black leather barely squeaking against her weight as her knee pressed into Carmilla’s thigh.

“I was being serious!” Carmilla huffed, turning as well and throwing her arm across the back of the sofa. “And while I don’t tend to see the use for pick-up lines myself because… well, look at me.”

“So cocky!” Laura continued giggling.

“I’ve heard much worse than complimenting a lady’s smile,” she continued, enjoying the melodic sound echoing from Laura’s throat.

Okay, maybe she could do this. Make a few jokes, have a few laughs, and then Laura would be on her way, hopefully, relaxed and better off. No pressure or promises or problems. Yeah, she could totally do the ‘simply being friendly with a girl you once slept with and still find incredibly attractive’ thing.

“Like what?” Laura asked, still smiling as she cushioned her head on her fist, her elbow settling against Carmilla’s arm along the back of the couch. “Tell me.”

“Do you need new material?” Carmilla teased.

“I do just fine, thank you,” Laura said, looking away with a blush.

“Hey, if you're feeling down about it, I can feel you up.”

“Oh my god, that one’s horrible!” Laura laughed, glancing back up.

“I heard some guy use it a few weekends ago,” Carmilla chuckled. “It wasn’t successful.”

“I imagine not,” Laura said, still smiling at her as the quiet settled over them once again. “Thanks, Carmilla. It’s… it’s nice to laugh. I haven’t been doing much of that lately.”

“You’re welcome,” she said with a nod. “And pick-up lines aside, you really do have a beautiful smile.”

“Thank you,” Laura said, blushing once again as her eyes found her lap.

Carmilla glanced over at the clock on the wall, noting it was almost eleven. Still plenty of time to have some fun, but Laura’s previous promise of needing to get back to her father surfaced in her mind.

“So… how much longer do you think your dad will be okay on his own?” she asked.

She watched as Laura’s smile fell, the light in her eyes noticeably dimming.

“Does that frown mean not for much longer?”

“He’s probably asleep,” Laura shrugged. “He was already nodding off in bed when I left.”

“So… you can stay for a little while?” Carmilla tried, leaning forward as she attempted to catch Laura’s downcast gaze. “Let me… entertain you for an hour or so?”

“Entertain me?” Laura said, voice quiet when she finally looked up. “I guess that’s one way of putting it.”

Carmilla stared for a moment, her brow furrowing as she tried to make sense out that statement.

“Well, maybe entertain is the wrong word,” she said with a shrug, still unsure. “I guess it’s more like… I’ll be happily distracting you.”

“I was looking for a distraction,” Laura admitted, squaring her shoulders, eyes suddenly determined. “And not that I’m complaining. I just didn’t expect sex to be the distraction.”

Sex?!

“Shit,” Carmilla started, trying to backpedal, “Laura, I wasn’t-”

But she was cut off, immediately stiffening in shock as Laura leaned in and firmly pressed their lips together.

Oh… fuck.

This wasn’t part of the plan. She was almost certain people who were legitimately trying to be friendly and helpful didn’t kiss like this. But…

Unable to help herself, she moved the hand on the back of the couch into Laura’s hair, the strands silky and soft against her fingertips. She sighed as she heard the smallest whimper leave Laura’s throat at the gesture, the tiny brunette pressing herself against Carmilla’s frame.

God, she still tastes the same, she thought as Laura shifted closer, hands on Carmilla’s ribcage, pulling her in. And how was she even able to remember that? Of all the other women she’d been with, there wasn’t a single one she could recall such an intimate detail about. But Laura…

She moved further into the kiss, feeling Laura’s body warm against hers, lips firm but tongue soft as she opened her mouth at Carmilla’s gentle nudging. And a quiet moan echoed from the smaller girl’s throat as Carmilla pulled her in tighter, her other hand finding Laura’s waist and the bit of skin exposed there from where her shirt had ridden up.

Who would’ve thought this was how her night would go? Who would’ve predicted that Laura Hollis, a woman she never thought she would see again, would be pressed against her, hands demanding as she practically tried to crawl into Carmilla’s lap?

“Should we…” Laura trailed off as they parted, the smaller girl’s lips immediately finding Carmilla’s jaw, leaving a nip here and there as she moved along. “Should we maybe go to your room?”

Fuck.

Suddenly it was like a bucket of ice water down her spine, chilling the heat that had consumed her limbs.

This wasn’t supposed to happen. They weren’t supposed to be doing this. And yes, Laura was beautiful and when she smiled the room brightened and when she laughed it was the most incredible sound. But…

Carmilla couldn’t do this. Laura was upset and hurting and needed a friend. Not a fuck.

“Wait, Laura, hang on a second,” she said, reaching up and softly cupping the smaller girl’s face. Guiding her back, she watched as soft brown eyes fluttered open, slightly lidded and fixated on her own mouth.

“Hang on why?”

“Because… I mean… this wasn’t…”

She paused, waiting a long moment as Laura finally met her own gaze, eyes widening ever so slightly as she seemed to realize herself.

“Oh god! You didn’t…” she trailed off as she leaned away from Carmilla, one hand coming up to cover her mouth.

“Didn’t what?”

“You didn’t invite me back here to… I mean, when you asked, I thought you were offering… oh god!”

Oh fuck.

Carmilla gently reached out, placing a comforting hand on her shoulder but Laura quickly shook it off as she rose from the couch and moved around the furniture towards the door.

“Wait, Laura, stop,” Carmilla said, voice eager as she stood and followed.

“I’m sorry, Carmilla, I can’t… I shouldn’t be here.”

She’d made it to the door, ripping her coat off the wrought iron rack so hard that it wobbled side to side, echoing in the entryway, and was unsuccessfully trying to shove her right arm in when Carmilla finally reached her.

“Hey, it’s fine,” she tried again. “I wasn’t… I mean, I didn’t ask you back for that but-”

“No! I shouldn’t have come here. When you asked, I thought… because I mean, why else…” she trailed off again, gesturing between the two of them. “This was a bad idea.”

“No, I’m sorry. I just thought maybe we could… I don’t know,” she said with a shrug, feeling a hint of panic in her stomach. “Talk I guess. I was honestly just trying to help.”

“I know. And you were. You actually were. You were being kind and funny and charming. Just like last time, so I thought… I thought it was because…” Again she trailed off, finally getting her coat on and reaching for the door. “I have to go.”

“Laura, wait,” she pleaded again, reaching for the smaller girl’s arm, stopping her just as she was about to step through the doorway. “I really am sorry.”

“This wasn’t you. This isn’t you. I just… thank you for the drink and… the company,” Laura said, staring down at her feet. “Now I really have to go.”

“Fine, but…” Carmilla trailed off with a sigh, wishing Laura would at least look at her.

They weren’t going to sleep together, no. But she was surprised to find she didn’t exactly want to just throw the night away. She’d actually enjoyed the time she’d spent with Laura after they’d stopped bickering. And it was clear the smaller girl was in need of something or someone to help her get through whatever it was that life had so callously thrown at her.

“I don’t know what’s going on but if there’s anything I can do…” Carmilla took a tentative step forward. “I mean, if you need to take a break or get away, if you want, you can call me and-”

“No!” Laura said, finally looking up, her cheeks flushed, eyes wide. Her mouth opened and closed twice before looking away with a quick shake of the head. “No.”

Oh.

And with that soft but incredibly loud ‘no’, Laura turned and stepped out of the apartment, the door quietly closing behind her.

Chapter Text

I ain't got many friends left to talk to

Nowhere to run when I'm in trouble

You know I'd do anything for you

Stay the night but keep it under cover

 

Sunday, December 28th, 2016

2 years, 1 month, and 17 days earlier

North Lincoln Avenue, Chicago

“Be right back, cupcake,” Carmilla said, sliding out of the red vinyl booth and making her way towards the counter of the aging diner.

Laura watched, curious not only at the interaction but with the other woman herself. Though she’d noticed when the dark-haired girl had first walked in through the frost covered doors, cool and unaffected, she definitely hadn’t expected to have any sort of interaction with her.

Well, beyond staring and trying not to get caught. Fail.

But how could she not look? Even in her heartbroken state, the other girl was so incredibly beautiful. And mysterious. Those dark eyes alone had almost completely drawn Laura in.

Almost.

She sighed and looked back down at her laptop, the page in front of her staring back, mocking her in all it's practically blank glory. She’d attempted to start her review over and over and over. But she couldn’t. She literally had nothing to say.

Because this entire trip has been the worst, she thought with a sigh as she once again deleted the few sentences that she’d managed to actually type out.

“Alright, ten minutes and you’ll have more sugar than your body can tolerate,” Carmilla said as she smoothly slid back into the booth.

“Then you clearly don’t know me,” Laura said with a small nervous smile, tapping at her keyboard with no real aim other than to appear busy and not end up lost in those beautiful dark eyes.

“Well, that’s part of the reason I’m sitting here, cupcake.”

“I thought you said it was because it looked like I needed cheering up?”

“Two things can be true,” Carmilla said with a shrug, her gaze never wavering. “Yes, you look like someone just kicked your puppy, which isn’t great. But after watching you for a bit, I think I might be interested in you.”

Of course. God, are all women complete jerks?!

“So you really are just trying to hit on me,” Laura sighed.

“Trust me, cupcake, if I was hitting on you, you’d know it.”

“You’re… incredibly charming,” Laura said, rolling her eyes, feeling the frustration rising in her chest.

“Oh, that I know,” Carmilla chuckled, leaning forward onto the table, her lips curving into a softer smile. “But I already told you, I’m not trying to take you home tonight.”

“Why not?” Laura scoffed, cocking her head to the side. “I mean, who wants to put out the effort to help a stranger without an ulterior motive?”

“Well, honestly, I have no idea,” Carmilla shrugged. “I’m not typically one for helping someone out just because I have nothing better to do.”

“And yet here you sit.”

“Here I sit,” Carmilla agreed, popping another piece of the quartered cupcake into her mouth.

With another frustrated sigh, Laura closed her laptop and pushed it aside, her hands forming into fists as she scowled at the dark-haired girl.

Women suck.

“You know what?” she started. “This is ridiculous. I’m telling you right now, I’m not going to fall for your crap. So why don’t you go find someone else to try and pick up for the night?”

“Because, again, I’m not trying to pick you up. I don’t know how many other ways I can explain this to you, cutie.”

“Okay, these nicknames have got to go.”

“They seemed fitting,” Carmilla said, handing over some cash as the server arrived with a load of sweets, the plates quietly clinking against the tabletop as they were set down.

“So I can call you jerk face then?”

“I don’t quite feel like that’s a good representation of my character.”

“But a cupcake is mine?!”

“Well, I don’t have much to go on here. You haven’t really told me anything about yourself,” Carmilla continued, completely calm. “If you let me get to know you a little better, I might come up with something different.”

“I’m good, thanks,” Laura huffed, moving to pack up her things.

How had this interaction gone so wrong so fast? She should’ve known better.

“Hey, I was just offering to help,” Carmilla chuckled. “And it looks like I did since now you look like you want to tear someone’s head off instead of having just had your heart ripped out.”

Laura stopped her struggle to fit her laptop into her shoulder bag and turned, watching as Carmilla continued to pick at the cupcake in the middle of the table, still unphased.

“So you wanted to piss me off?”

“No, I actually didn’t. But you have to admit, if I was trying to get you to sleep with me, that wouldn’t be the best strategy, now would it?”

“Well, no, but…”

Carmilla smiled softly at her once more, shrugging at nothing before taking a small sip from her coffee mug.

“You really aren’t trying to pick me up?” Laura asked, eyes narrowed in suspicion.

“I’m really not trying to pick you up,” Carmilla agreed. “I just wanted to help.”

“Why?” Laura challenged again, sitting back in the booth, arms crossed over her chest. “There has to be some reason.”

“Maybe I’m just bored. Maybe I don’t like seeing pretty women look so incredibly sad. Maybe because you, Laura…” Carmilla smirked, placing great emphasis on the smaller girl’s name. “Seem like you really might need some help. Maybe because-”

“But you’re not one to help someone out just because you have nothing better to do. You just said,” Laura pointed out.

“Nothing gets by you, huh, creampuff?” Carmilla continued with a small chuckle.

“What did I just say about the nicknames?” Laura growled. “God! You are infuriating!”

“And you’re stubborn.”

“You’re delusional!”

“And you’re judgmental.”

“Well, you’re-”

“Are we really doing the back and forth, ‘no, you are’ spiel?” Carmilla interrupted. “I mean, it’s a little juvenile, don’t you think? Especially for, what are you? Twenty-three? Twenty-four?”

“Twenty-six!”

“Huh, you’ve got a great complexion,” Carmilla nodded. “Actually, you look like you’ve been in the sun recently.”

“It’s sunny in California!”

“Oh, were you just there for a vacation?”

“What? No!”

“Work?”

“I live there!”

“Ah, so you’re just visiting then. Good to know,” Carmilla continued, waving the server down for more coffee. “How have you enjoyed your trip to Chicago so far?”

“It’s the worst trip ever! It’s…” Laura trailed off in sudden realization, sighing when she saw Carmilla’s lips curve up into a smile. “You did that on purpose!”

“What? Riled you up to get you talking about yourself?” Carmilla chuckled. “Maybe a little.”

“Well, that’s not fair!”

“Okay, fine. I’ll make it even. I’m twenty-seven. I live here. Been here for about six months now. Came here for work. I’m in advertising,” Carmilla rattled off before taking a sip from her steaming mug. “What do you do? I want to say teacher as you seem to enjoy lecturing.”

“I do not lecture! I’m a writer!”

Gah, stop playing into this, she chastised herself.

“Interesting. Anything I might’ve read?”

“Nope! No! I’m not going to keep doing this,” Laura said with a scowl.

“Why not?” Carmilla chuckled again. “Ten minutes ago, you were sitting here, sad and lonely, looking like you just lost the House Cup.”

“House Cup?”

“Yeah. It appears you’re a Gryffindor fan,” Carmilla said, pointing to the scarf still loosely knotted around Laura’s neck. “And now, yes, you seem a tad irritated and like you might want to punch me in the face, but you’re distracted from whatever was bothering you so much.”

“But that’s not… no, just because… I mean…” Laura stumbled, unsure of what to say and hating that Carmilla was right. “I don’t want to talk about that!”

“Okay, we don’t have to talk about whatever that is. But I did have you distracted for a good five minutes there. Let me try again,” she said, voice a tad softer.

And it was the softness that stuck, forcing its way into Laura’s chest where the anger and sadness were already battling.

“So you want to try to make me mad again?” Laura scoffed, attempting to ignore the slight calm that was slowly making its way through her limbs.

“No. Just let me try again,” Carmilla said, patiently.

Laura stared into the incredibly dark eyes across from her, searching for whatever it was that Carmilla really wanted, their depths sweet and patient.

Kind.

And Carmilla must’ve seen her resolve slipping as the smile on the dark-haired girl’s face grew ever so slightly.

“Hi,” she said, leaning forward onto the table. “I’m Carmilla and I’d very much like to sit here and talk to you. About whatever you want.”

“So now you’re going to be all nice and charming?” Laura said, her own tone much calmer as she sagged forward onto the table.

Carmilla merely lifted one of those amazing eyebrows and waited.

Laura hated that she felt the corners of her lips start to turn up.

Wednesday, February 13th, 2019

Back in the present

Midtown East

Thanking the barista with a nod, Laura politely stepped out of the way of the next customer, glancing around the small shop as she waited, the crowd around her just enough to cause a low din to hang over the café. She looked at the clock behind the counter, noting she still had about thirty minutes before she had to pick her dad up from his session. Plenty of time to finish the hot chocolate she’d just ordered, her second of the afternoon and fourth of the day.

She smiled her thanks as she was handed over a steaming cardboard cup a moment later, the smell of the rich chocolate assaulting her senses and making her feel a little lighter and happier. Which was something she hadn’t had the pleasure of indulging in all that often over the last month.

Should take whatever I can get.

And it was true. She’d hardly been able to find a moment of peace since she’d arrived on the east coast. She was always worrying about this or that. Taking care of this chore and running that errand. Honestly, the only time her mind had quieted had been a few nights earlier, the evening so odd and unexpected. It was the first that she’d spent away from her dad and the first that she’d spent alone. And while she missed having time to herself, it wasn’t doing anything except making her more anxious. Worried.

But then…

Carmilla.

She was the last person Laura had expected to see that night. The last person that Laura had even thought of. And, by far and away, the best distraction the tiny brunette could hope for.

Carmilla wouldn’t care about what Laura was going through. She wouldn’t press her to talk about anything or pry into her life beyond the bare surface. Carmilla would tease and flirt with her through their drinks, the dark-haired girl’s charm unmatchable and impossible to deny, just as it had been all those years ago in Chicago.

Or just like it was after we stopped arguing.

But unlike that particular night, Laura wouldn’t fall for it. She wouldn’t get her hopes up.

So when Carmilla had asked her to come back to her place, though nervous, Laura was prepared. She knew what would happen. She knew why Carmilla brought out the charm as they sat on the stools in the increasingly loud bar on Bowery. And since one night stands were kind of the dark-haired girl’s wheelhouse, no one would end up getting hurt and there’d be no expectations. No awkwardness. Carmilla wouldn’t care if they slept together and then Laura bolted. She’d probably be relieved to not have to ask the younger girl to leave afterward.

But sitting there on the black leather couch in the lavish apartment next to the most incredibly beautiful woman she’d ever seen, Carmilla gently pushing her away, Laura knew she’d read the signals all wrong. Carmilla really had been trying to be kind and supportive. There was no ulterior motive. And Laura had gone and screwed it up. Because her brain was a convoluted mush of chaos. Because she really thought Carmilla wouldn’t care.

Because you never in a million years thought that all of that charm wasn’t just a ploy to get what she wanted. That she’d actually be genuinely warm.

So warm.

And the warmth only made Laura feel that much worse about what she’d planned to do. About the way she’d planned to take advantage of the situation. The shame had been sitting in her chest ever since, corrosive and cruel, and unwilling to disappear.

Leaving Carmilla’s apartment that night had been a blur. The twenty-five-minute cab ride had gone by in the blink of an eye and when she’d arrived back at her dad’s, slumping heavily against the door as it closed behind her, the house was silent. She’d moved forward through the living room and down the hallway towards the guest room, which was where Sherman had been staying with his inability to get up the stairs. Her feet had halted on the threadbare blue rug, her toe poised at the stain from where she’d spilled grape Kool-aid when she was six, and gently pushed the unlatched door open, the hinges softly creaking in protest.

The sliver of light that had crept through the opening illuminated enough of the room to give her sight, and she’d sighed in relief, finding Sherman still there fast asleep, his soft snores echoing against the walls of the room. He was okay. In fact, it looked like he hadn’t moved at all since she’d left him a few hours earlier, his adamant insistence really the only reason she’d finally gone out.

Leaning against the doorframe, she’d gently bit at her lip, feeling her eyes well up. This. This was what she was here for. This had to be her priority.

Right. And nothing’s going to change that, she thought shaking the memory from her mind and stepping away from the coffee counter. So don’t think about it. Don’t think about her. You never have to see her again so it won’t matter. Just avoid any nighttime Manhattan trips and you’ll be good to go.

“Well, what do we have here?” came a smooth voice behind her and she immediately tensed.

Can my luck get any freaking worse?

“If it isn’t Laura Hollis, the girl who I just can’t seem to shake.”

Laura slowly turned, her eyes immediately finding the woman who’d been clouding her thoughts over the last few days standing there, a small, sweet smile pushing at her lips.

Her gorgeous lips. Ugh, dammit!

“Carmilla. Um… hi.”

“How are you, cutie?” Carmilla asked, her smile somehow softening even further.

Warm and soft? Where in the heck did this girl come from?

“Fine, good, everything is… okay,” she bumbled.

“Well, which is it?” Carmilla chuckled. “Fine, good, or okay? Because believe it or not, they are vastly different.”

There it was, the same kindness she’d seen the other night. The same kindness that she’d seen floating in Carmilla’s beautiful dark eyes just over two years earlier in Chicago. And making her feel about a million times worse. Because it was genuine. Because it was real. Because it was almost as if she actually…

Cares.

But it didn’t matter. It couldn’t matter. This whole thing was a terrible idea.

Don’t do it. This isn’t why you’re here. And as easy as you thought it would be, she doesn’t deserve you treating her as a convenience.

“I’m fine, thank you,” Laura said, straightening up, attempting to put on her most aloof demeanor. Maybe if she ripped the band-aid off, Carmilla would just leave her alone and she could avoid the dark-haired girl for the rest of the time she was on the east coast.

“Um… okay,” Carmilla said, clearly picking up on the change. “Are you here alone?”

Laura shook her head.

“Oh, with your dad or-”

“Mel and Danny, actually,” she said, pointing to the high-top table where the duo in question sat, eyeing them curiously.

Carmilla turned and smirked in their direction, receiving a single hard-eyed nod from each, and despite her anxiety, Laura wanted to laugh at the ‘tough’ bravado among the trio.

“Can’t say I’m impressed with your company, cupcake. I’m sure you could do better,” Carmilla said, looking back towards her, smile softening once again as their eyes met. “But also a little disappointed. I was hoping I could maybe buy you a cup of coffee if you sat with me for a few minutes. We seem to be pretty good at that whole keeping each other ‘company’ thing.”

Oh no…

“I’m all set,” she blurted out, watching as Carmilla’s smile quickly fell, making the guilt in her chest gnaw even harder.

“Oh. Alright.”

“And we… we really shouldn’t…” Laura trailed off, hating that it suddenly made her sad to think about completely severing ties with the older girl. “But thank you for the offer. That’s… that’s very nice of you.”

“Sure,” Carmilla said, her frown deepening, clearly not understanding what was happening.

“I’ll get out of your way then and let you get on with your afternoon,” she said as she moved to step aside, but Carmilla gently caught her elbow before she could pass, the warmth from her hand seeping through Laura’s soft blue sweater.

“Hey, are you sure you’re okay? You seem… I don’t know. Just seems like something’s off,” Carmilla said, pausing for just a moment, appearing to contemplate. “It’s not your dad or anything, is it?”

Asking after Sherman… seriously, where did this girl come from?

“No,” she finally answered, voice quiet.

You misjudged her so badly.

“Is it…” Carmilla trailed off for a moment, her eyes softening even more at the edges and Laura felt her stomach roll. “Look, if it’s because of the other night, don’t worry about it. It’s no big deal. We can pretend it never happened.”

Laura looked towards the table where her friends sat, still watching the interaction with great interest, knowing the longer she stood there, the harder this was going to be to explain.

Rip the band-aid off. Just rip it off.

“I said I’m fine,” Laura answered, finally turning back to Carmilla, meeting her hopeful stare for a split second before glancing down at where the other girl held her elbow, grip gentle. Carmilla’s eyes followed hers and let her hand drop almost instantly, the absence of warmth immediate.

“Guess we’re back to that, huh?” Carmilla huffed, eyes hardening as their gazes met.

Put the band-aid back on! Put the band-aid back on!

“Back to what?” Laura asked, her nerves fraying even more.

“Acting like you have absolutely no fucking clue who I am. Like you want absolutely nothing to do with me unless you’re getting something out of it. Or hell, like I’m just a complete and total asshole and not actually trying to be helpful,” she scoffed. “Take your pick.”

“Wha- no! No, I’m not…” Laura stumbled, “that’s not-”

“Hey, don’t sweat it, sweetheart. You got what you needed,” Carmilla said, pushing her sunglasses back onto her face, effectively hiding her eyes. “Clearly I’m good enough when no one else is around, but today you’ve got a captive audience. Wouldn’t want them to get the wrong idea, right?”

She didn’t even wait for a response. She simply shook her head in obvious disappointment and turned away, walking out without another glance back.

Dammit!

Yes, Laura deserved the backlash. She deserved the anger and jibes. But Carmilla didn’t deserve her coldness.

You are such a colossal idiot, she thought as she sent one last longing glance towards the café entrance before turning and shuffling back towards her table, knowing her friends were waiting with questions.

“What was that about?” Danny asked as Laura sat back down with a heavy sigh.

“Nothing,” Laura mumbled.

“You sure?” Danny tried again. “Because it didn’t look like nothing.”

“No, Danny, it’s fine,” Laura sighed again. “It wasn’t anything important. She said hi and offered to buy me a coffee and I just… I was a jerk.”

“When did you two even get friendly?” Danny asked, cocking her head to the side. “I thought you only met the one time. And as I recall, you avoided her the entire night like the plague.”

“Well… actually, we have met more than once,” she said with a shrug, her fingers circling around the rim of her cup, the rising steam dancing around her knuckles.

“Oh yeah, I heard about the LaF and Perry incident around Christmas,” Mel said, studying her closely. “They were hoping to have you both over for dinner that night but LaF said it was a little… uncomfortable.”

“Yes, then too. But I also ran into her last weekend,” she said, attempting to move them away from the past and the fact that she was intimately familiar with Carmilla Karnstein. “We talked and she was actually really sweet.”

“Sweet?” Mel laughed. “I feel like there’s a story there. What happened?”

“I took a night off of babysitting duty. My dad insisted. And I didn’t know where to go so I came into the city. She just happened to show up at the same bar while I was sitting there,” Laura shrugged. “We talked and… she was really great.”

“So why the sudden brush off today?”

“I just…” She trailed off as she glanced back and forth between her friends, their eyes still curious. But she couldn’t tell them the truth. They wouldn’t understand. “I kind of embarrassed myself that night,” she finally said. “And the complete and total humiliation hasn’t exactly let up.”

“How did you do that?” Danny asked, taking a sip of her latte. “You gracefully trip over your own feet at the bar or something?”

“I know I’m a klutz but you make it sound like I can’t even walk.”

“I’ve seen you trip on air at least a dozen times, Hollis,” Mel said with another chuckle, Danny joining her a second later.

“Very funny,” Laura sighed, staring down into her cup. “No, I didn’t trip and it wasn’t even at the bar. It was at her place.”

Their laughter ceased and the little shop suddenly sounded quieter with her admission.

Oops.

Stomach fluttering, she nervously looked up, unsurprised to see two sets of wide, surprised eyes staring back at her.

Oh, you’re just digging yourself in deeper and deeper, Laura.

“Her place?” Mel finally asked after the silence had stretched on for far too long.

“Well… I mean… yeah,” she stumbled. “Kind of.”

“Wait,” Danny said, frowning and leaning forward onto the table. “She took you back to her apartment?”

“Yes, but only because being in that bar was making me feel worse!” she argued, her head quickly swiveling back and forth between the pair as she attempted to remove her foot from her mouth. “So she asked me to come back for a drink. We sat there and talked and… that’s it.”

“You guys just talked?” Mel pushed. “Really?”

We talked. We laughed. There was some minor flirting and that’s all. I didn’t kiss her. I didn’t go there with the intention of ripping her clothes off. It was completely innocent, she thought as her head frantically bobbed up and down.

“Did she… I mean…” Danny nervously glanced over at Mel, their eyes meeting for a quick moment before finding Laura’s again. “She didn’t try anything, right?”

“Try anything like what?” she squeaked.

“Like… um…” Danny continued to flounder. “Something more than talking?”

“What are you getting at?” Laura asked, suddenly feeling something uncomfortable in her chest, though she wasn’t sure if it was irritation at her friends for continuing to push on a subject that she clearly wanted to avoid or anger at herself for doing exactly what they were accusing Carmilla of.

“Just… well, she’s not exactly known for taking girls back to her place for milk and cookies,” Danny finally answered with a huff.

“Lawrence, come on,” Mel tried. “I know she kind of does what she does and… who she does. But you don’t honestly think that she’d try that with Hollis.”

“No,” Danny finally sighed after a long moment. “I just…”

Laura watched intently as they shared another long look, unsure of what they were silently communicating and hating that she was so out of practice. But years away had left her at a disadvantage within the little group.

“Nothing happened,” Laura said, jaw clenched, forcing her friends to turn back to her. “Look, she was really great and she made my night better. She was… she was a friend.”

“You guys are friends now?” It was Mel’s turn to be skeptical.

“Well, maybe not in the traditional sense! But she was… she just let me talk. She let me shut down for a bit, which was the whole point of going out that night!” Laura said, growing louder with each word. “And just now, again, she was very sweet. And I was a total a-hole!”

“Okay,” Danny said, voice quiet, holding her gaze and studying her carefully. “Sure, she was helpful and nothing happened.”

“Karnstein can be a decent human. In fact, more than decent,” Mel said with a shrug. “At least most of the time.”

“So what’s the problem?” Laura pressed, looking back and forth between them. “You’re both friends with her so she can’t be that bad!”

“There’s not a problem,” Danny finally said, a tinge of worry still sitting in her eyes. “If you guys are going to try and… be friends, that’s great. She’s actually pretty good to have in your corner. As much as I hate to admit that.”

“Well, we didn’t exactly establish that we’re friends. Or… anything, for that matter.”

“But if you’re looking for more than friendship…” Mel continued as if Laura hadn’t spoken, glancing in Danny’s direction once again, eyes hard. “We just don’t want to see you get hurt.”

“I’m a big girl, I can take care of myself,” Laura argued firmly, hating that they were continuing their silent conversation right in front of her. “And besides, I never said anything about romance.”

“She doesn’t exactly do romance,” Danny said, softening a tad. “At least not anymore. Not after… well…”

“It’s just not in her, okay,” Mel finished, her own gaze no longer steely.

“Fine,” she said, finding herself curious at the exchange. “But regardless, romance or intimacy of any kind was nowhere in sight that night. I mean it, she was completely respectful.”

“She can do that too,” Danny agreed. “We’re just saying… be careful.”

Laura watched as they shared one last glance before seeming to move on from the subject.

“So did you see the game-”

“Would you say the same thing to her?” Laura interrupted, unable to help it. She looked back and forth between them taking in their suddenly confused expressions and shook her head. “Would you tell her to be careful around me?”

“Why would we warn her about you, Hollis?”

“Why wouldn’t you?” Laura asked, throwing her hands in the air. “I just told you that she was incredibly kind to me - someone she has no reason to care about - and I was a jerk to her.”

“I mean, that’s not super cool but-”

“And what if I tried something when she took me back to her apartment? What if I went with her for no other reason than to… well, you know?” Laura said, swallowing hard. “Would you be warning her off then?”

Because you should. That’s what I went there for. And I made the first move in Chicago! This is all my fault! I’m terrible!

“Laura.”

“No! Look, I know she’s had her share of… non-romantic encounters. I heard enough of those stories from when you roomed with her at Georgetown, Mel. And yeah, she’s probably broken a lot of hearts,” Laura argued. “You’re saying all of that’s not okay, but if I were to try and sleep with her for no other reason than to use her, she wouldn’t get a warning?”

“Are you trying to tell us something, Laur?”

Crap.

“No!” she all but yelled, shaking her head as she attempted to backpedal. “I’m just saying it’s none of your business who she sleeps with. It’s none of your business who I sleep with.”

“No offense, Hollis, but we are more than aware of everyone you’ve slept with considering the ‘girlfriends only’ policy that you hold yourself too,” Danny started. “You’re not a ‘one-night’ girl.”

“It’s still none of your business!” she growled, feeling her face flush.

“Unless someone we care about gets hurt,” Mel interjected, quietly.

“But what if no one got hurt? What if it was just two people, enjoying a night together with no strings attached?”

She looked back and forth between the two as they stared at each other for another long moment, their eyes nervous, shrugging.

“I mean… I guess it wouldn’t matter?” Mel finally muttered.

“You’re right, it wouldn’t! What or who she does is no one else’s business! And you guys really should back off!”

“Okay, okay,” Danny said, gently grabbing at one of the hands flailing in front of her before Laura poked an eye out. “It just… it sounds like maybe something happened between you two, and if it did, it’s al-”

“Well, it didn’t!” Laura cut her off with a shake of her head, feeling her cheeks heat up even more at the thought of Carmilla pushing her away on the leather sofa. “Besides I… I really don’t think she’d be interested.”

“Why’s that?” Mel asked.

“Just… because,” Laura answered, refusing to meet their stares. “Trust me, okay?”

“We do,” Danny said, briefly squeezing the hand she held before letting go.

“Well, then trust her. She’s your friend!”

“We know,” Mel agreed.

“You’re right,” Danny added, nodding once more and giving Mel one last long look. “Sorry, Hollis. We didn’t mean anything.”

She looked back and forth between them again before letting herself sag onto her stool, unclenching the fists she hadn’t even realized she’d been making, and pressing her hands flat onto the table, knuckles white.

“So…” Mel tried after a long moment of awkward silence. “Are you guys going to hang out again or…?”

“I doubt it,” Laura said, staring down into her cup before shaking her head. “The other night was just kind of a fluke and…”

Hanging out with Carmilla? Trying to be friends? Spending time with the beautiful and amazing woman?

No.

It was a bad idea. A terrible idea. It would only lead to trouble and to her causing more problems. It would only lead to making everything more complicated.

“No. No, I’m not going to see her again. That’s… that’s not why I’m here.”

You can’t worry about her. You’re here for a reason. Focus on that, she thought, swallowing the sudden lump in her throat.

Wednesday, January 9th, 2019

1 month and 5 days earlier

The Eighth Floor of Mount Sinai West

Laura glanced away from the window as Sherman grumbled from his hospital bed, pulling gently at the wires attached to half his body, but he stayed asleep. It had been a long day. For both of them. Between the additional tests the doctors kept running and the physical therapy that had started as soon as he’d woken up, it seemed that the days were only getting more intense.

At least he’s getting some rest now.

It was more than she could say for herself, having been unable to sleep for more than an hour at a time since her arrival. But that wasn’t exactly surprising.

Rubbing at her eyes, she settled back into the uncomfortable plastic chair she’d taken up residence in, the quiet around her sounding so much louder as the seconds ticked by, making her more and more anxious. And there was absolutely nothing she could do about it. This wasn’t something she could fix or make better. It was completely out of her control and she hated that. But…

He’s okay. He’s still here, she thought with a sigh, pulling her knees up to her chest and hugging tight, her eyes tracing over her dad’s form in the bed. He looked so small and frail lying there, two words that she’d never used to describe her dad. Two words she’d never want to use when it came to him.

It doesn’t matter. He’s going to be alright. He’ll be fine, she internally repeated for the umpteenth time that day.

Because he had to be. Without him… well, Laura didn’t dare go down that terrifying road. She couldn’t stomach it.

Rubbing at her eyes again with the heel of her hand, she let her gaze move back to the window, the moon just barely visible beyond the wisps of clouds rolling in. She was exhausted. Mentally, physically, emotionally. The anxiety, the constant worry… the fear. It had been sitting in her chest since she’d gotten the phone call just a few days earlier. Try as she might, she couldn’t get to Manhattan fast enough, the panic only increasing with each minute that ticked by on her journey east. And as she’d waited in the hospital for him to wake up, watching his every movement with bated breath, she’d been utterly terrified.

The doctors had cautioned her that with the severity of the stroke, there would likely be complications once her dad woke up and that he would possibly need assistance following his release.

“‘m f-i-i-ine,” he’d grumbled from behind Laura as she was delivered the news just a few hours after her arrival. With a gasp, she’d turned towards him, smiling brightly with tears in her eyes as Sherman lifted just the right side of his mouth, attempting a smile before he’d drifted back off. Laura had spent the rest of the afternoon, refusing to leave his side even for a moment.

That afternoon, more time and tests confirmed that while the elder Hollis didn’t seem to suffer any memory loss and only minor changes in temperament, the physical effects were much more significant.

“He’s not going into a home,” she’d later argued with the doctors. “I can take care of him!”

“Ms. Hollis, please understand that this will not be an easy or short road,” the doctor had said, trying his best to persuade her to consider other options.

“Fine. Then I’ll stay here for as long as he needs. And… and we’ll get some more help,” she’d said, tears in her eyes. “But I’m not leaving him in a home. I won’t!”

She knew her small stature wouldn’t exactly lend itself to all the physically demanding acts she would have to perform, but it didn’t matter.

She’d called a friend that afternoon to pack up some of her things to ship and then called her boss at The Star, letting them know about the situation and that her weekly contributions would have to be put on hold. And she’d spent the last few days going through her calendar to make sure everything was taken care of while Sherman napped on and off throughout the day.

The trip to Quebec for the Winter Carnival? Canceled.

The ticket to Vail at the end of February? Gifted to a friend.

The meeting with Warterton? Postponed. Hopefully not indefinitely.

None of that stuff mattered.

No. What mattered was the man lying four feet away, still slightly grumbling in his sleep, and Laura couldn’t help the small smile pulling at her lips any more than she could stop the teary giggle that escaped a moment later when she turned towards the bed to see Sherman’s nose twitching.

He’s what matters. As long as I have him…

She’d stay. She’d stay for as long as he needed her. She’d stay and take care of him, making sure he had anything and everything he wanted. He would be her complete and total focus.

Nothing was going to change that.

Thursday, February 14th, 2019

Back in the present

SoHo

You’re not stalking. You’re not being super creepy. This is totally normal, she thought, nodding to herself before looking through the window, meeting the same set of skeptical eyes that had been following her as she paced back and forth along the sidewalk for far longer than she should’ve. Yeah, not at all creepy. You are such a dummy, Laura.

Quickly turning away, she shoved her hands deeper into her coat pockets and blew out a deep breath, looking up and down the street once more, and sadly, coming up empty.

She’d been waiting outside the building for about thirty minutes at that point, the mix of cold and anxiety making her practically bounce out of her boots. But she had to do this. She had to make this right.

‘No. No, I’m not going to see her again.’

It had taken a full thirty minutes after uttering those words to Mel and Danny for Laura to change her mind. But what could she say to Carmilla to make it better? How could she fix the mess she’d made? And would it actually matter?

Laura had been unable to erase the brief flicker of hurt that had flashed across Carmilla’s face from the day before at her brusqueness. It was a hurt the older girl didn’t deserve, yet Laura had doled it out just the same, unable to stop herself. She’d spent the rest of the day thinking about how horribly she’d acted, her regret stretching on as she lay in her high school bedroom that night, the worn mattress squeaking beneath her weight at every slight movement. She hated what she’d done to Carmilla. She hated the way she’d behaved that afternoon at the coffee shop. She hated how cold she’d been. And she hated that she’d gotten herself into this mess in the first place.

“You lost?”

Oh god!

Laura froze in the middle of the sidewalk, jarred from her thoughts, frustrated that the voice had surprised her. After all, this was why she was here.

Taking one final deep breath of courage, she turned towards an obviously irritated Carmilla, standing there, clearly on her way home from work, and looking so incredibly beautiful that the tiny brunette actually faltered for a moment, the words stuck in her throat.

You can do this, Laura.

“Hey,” she said, the nervous tone in her voice beyond obvious.

“What’re you doing here?” Carmilla asked gruffly.

I’m here to apologize for being an incredible jerk.

I’m here to ask if you can possibly forget about yesterday.

I’m here because I was so wrong about you and I want to fix this.

“I… I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have just shown up here like this, it’s so rude,” she said, looking down at her feet, toes nervously dancing in her boots, hands pressed together in front of her, fingers twitching. “And apparently being rude to you is a pattern for me. But… I need to talk to you.”

“About what?”

“A few things. I… I just… can we maybe go upstairs? Your doorman has been staring at me for a while now,” she said, nervously biting her bottom lip. “I’m pretty sure he thinks I’m crazy.”

“He’s not exactly wrong.” Carmilla’s brow furrowed softly, head tilting slightly, her lips firm.

Fair enough. I don’t deserve for this to be easy.

“I know, but just… can we…” she trailed off as she nodded towards the red brick building, waiting a long tense moment.

“Fine,” Carmilla finally sighed, heaving one last glance at Laura before moving towards the entrance.

Laura stepped through the door, trailing behind the older girl through the lobby of the building towards the elevator banks, ignoring the questioning gaze the doorman was still sending her way.

Following Carmilla into the newly arrived lift a moment later, she swallowed hard, attempting to calm herself even as she continued to rock on the balls of her feet, her stomach dropping further once they slowly began to ascend.

She could do this. She could be a responsible adult and apologize without causing any more damage. She could make this better.

At least I hope I can.

“You’re cold,” Carmilla mumbled, face blank as she stared straight ahead at the buttons on the reflective panel.

“A little I guess,” she answered, turning towards the other girl, studying the sharp angles of her profile. “I’ve been waiting for a while.”

“Hmm.”

And she’s going to end up giving me frostbite. Great.

Laura glanced over at the soft ding from the elevator as they arrived on Carmilla’s floor, doors smoothly sliding open with a quiet whoosh. Swallowing down her fear, she silently followed the older girl out, Carmilla’s heels clicking against the immaculate gray marble floors as they made their way towards her apartment.

“Is… is your dad okay?” Carmilla quietly asked as she unlocked the door, her back to Laura.

“Yeah! Yeah, he’s alright,” she answered, smiling softly. “He’s kind of wiped out today but he’s at home resting. A neighbor offered to stay with him.”

“While you came here?”

“Um… yeah,” she squeaked.

You are such a jerk, Laura!

She followed Carmilla into the apartment, waiting near the entryway as the dark-haired girl dropped her coat and attaché, and gracefully moved through the space, disappearing into the kitchen without another word. Turning away, Laura pulled her own jacket and beanie off, carefully placing them on the coat rack near the door before making her way further into apartment.

It was just as impressive as the first time she’d been there. Dark wood floors and high ceilings held aloft by elaborate columns. Obscure and beautiful art displayed above the low lying leather couches and chairs. The gorgeous piano in the corner, which had caught her attention last time, gleamed from the bit of sunlight filtering through the tall windows along the far wall.

She’d always believed you could tell a lot about a person just by looking around their space, and she had to admit, Carmilla’s apartment had surprised her. It was obvious by how Carmilla presented herself just how posh and polished she could be. But despite its beauty, the apartment didn’t actually scream snobby or pretentious. Sure, Laura would never be able to afford a place like this in her wildest dreams, but the actual contents hidden among the fancy furniture – the old books, the dusty records, the slightly battered chess table to the side – all told the story of someone very different than the high-class, upscale tenant she would expect to live here.

Not to mention it could use a hardcore spring cleaning, she thought, eyeing the specks of dust that floated through the air.

She stopped beside one of the heavy shelves along the wall, eyes roaming over the leather-bound books that, upon closer inspection, had been handled many times over the years if the minor cracks in the binding were any indication. Russell. Kant. Nietzsche. Camus.

I never would’ve pegged her for a philosophy lover, Laura thought with a small smile. Full of surprises, this one.

She turned at the sound of Carmilla’s heels clicking along the floor as she walked back towards her, the older girl’s face still irritated.

“Here. Coffee to warm up,” Carmilla said, handing her a steaming mug, the ceramic instantly warming the pads of her fingers.

Of course, she’s going to be thoughtful even now. Kind of.

“Now what do you want, Laura?”

“Right,” she said, nervously staring down at her hands as her fingertips tapped against the sides of the black mug. Finally looking back up, she took in those intense dark eyes and swallowed hard. “I just… I need to apologize.”

“Oh?”

Yeah, she’s definitely not going to make this easy, she thought, absorbing Carmilla’s clipped tone.

“Yes. I… I’m so sorry, Carmilla. I was so incredibly rude to you yesterday,” she started, eyes earnest.

“Yes, you were,” Carmilla said, gaze still hard. “ Incredibly rude.”

“And it was for absolutely no reason.”

“Always the best motivator.”

“It was really dumb. I just…” Laura trailed off, eyes holding the dark gaze in front of her, unsure that this even mattered.

“You had an audience,” Carmilla said, and Laura saw that flash of hurt dance across her eyes for a brief second before disappearing into the void again. “I get it.”

Maybe this did matter.

“No! That’s not it at all!”

“You know, I was actually kind of happy to see you yesterday. I didn’t have a way to get ahold of you. I couldn’t check in and see if you were okay after you bolted the other night,” Carmilla argued. “Or… if you needed anything or if your dad…”

She trailed off for a long moment, running a hand through her hair with a huff, a slight flush creeping across her cheeks that had Laura immediately captivated.

“You wanted to check on me?” Laura asked softly.

“Forget it,” Carmilla said, shaking her head and looking away. “It’s not my place.”

“No, I’m not forgetting anything,” Laura tried again as she stepped closer, voice earnest. “That’s very kind of you.”

“Kind. Yes. Imagine that,” Carmilla snarked.

“I know,” Laura sighed. “And you didn’t deserve my attitude yesterday. Please believe me, it had nothing to do with you.”

“Sure, whatever,” she said with a sigh, crossing her arms over her chest, her face now resigned. “It’s fine.”

Dammit!

“No it’s not!” she tried again, hating that she’d somehow made an even bigger mess. “I just… I wasn’t expecting to see you yesterday. And… after the other night… I was embarrassed. The way I acted… well, I owe you an apology for that too.”

“Oh?” Carmilla asked, sagging a little, eyes still hard. Guarded.

“You were so nice to me, Carmilla,” Laura said with a shrug. “You were just being… well, a decent person and I totally screwed everything up! I just kissed you and… that’s not okay!”

“Why did you then?”

“Because…” she trailed off, failing to keep herself from nervously rocking side to side. “Because I thought you were inviting me back for the night. I thought that was the whole point of us even talking at the bar. And even though I don’t really do the whole one-night-stand kind of thing… I was going to go along with it because I thought you wouldn’t care. I thought it would be easy and when it was over, it was over. That it wouldn’t hurt your feelings when I left and I wouldn’t be sad to go.”

“You were going to use me,” Carmilla said, matter-of-factly.

“Yes,” she said, looking away, feeling her own face heat up.

“Oh,” Carmilla sighed.

It was silent for a long moment, drawn out and heavy, and Laura felt the shame. She felt the remorse, harsh and bitter. Chancing a glance up, she saw Carmilla sag a little further, her hands now jammed into her dress pants, eyes glued to the floor.

“Carmilla, I’m so sorry.”

“So you really think that’s who I am, huh?” Carmilla mumbled, still refusing to meet her eyes.

“I… no, I just… it’s not…”

Why couldn’t she get her mouth to work?

“You know, I actually asked you back here the other night because I legitimately wanted to help,” Carmilla started. “Same as in Chicago. I had no ulterior motive. And I know that maybe you didn’t believe that the other night. You thought that was me just trying to get into your pants again.”

“I did,” Laura admitted, voice quiet. “And I’m sorry. It was just… well, after last time…”

She swallowed hard, feeling the dip in her stomach that always came when she thought of that night just two years earlier.

“Carmilla, when I first woke up in Chicago, I didn’t regret our night together. In fact, as stupid as it was, I was actually hoping to see you again. But then you just left. You were gone. So I thought maybe that was just how you did it. You made yourself incredibly likable and then when you got what you were after, it was done.”

“That’s not it at all. Sure, I’ll pull out the charm when I’m trying to get a girl into bed,” Carmilla scoffed finally looking up. “But I’m not genuine or patient or… honestly, I’m actually just enough of an asshole when a night of fucking is the goal. It works better so girls won’t want to stick around. But…” She paused for a long moment, the barest hint of sadness warring with the anger in her eyes. “That wasn’t what I was doing with you.”

Laura stared back for another moment, feeling smaller and smaller as the seconds ticked by and having absolutely no idea what to say.

“Look, I understand that you thought there might’ve been an offer on the table the other night. And… I get it,” Carmilla said, glancing away for a moment. “I fucked up in Chicago, just leaving like that without saying anything or whatever the hell it is that you’re supposed to do when you wake up next to someone after one night. And I didn’t mean to hurt you. But after yesterday, I realized that, for you, there was never anything more. That sex was really all you wanted from me.”

Jesus.

“So I understand what this is,” Carmilla said with a sigh.

“What this is?”

“Yes,” she sighed again, obviously frustrated. “You say you don’t do the one-night thing but during the few times we’ve spent together… well, that seems to be all I’m good for, so-”

“No!” Laura argued, feeling her heart sink at the thought that Carmilla truly believed all the time they’d spent together really was for nothing more than sex. “The other night… I just… I thought…”

You’re such a terrible person.

“I am so sorry, Carmilla,” she said, that sick feeling in her stomach returning and raging stronger than ever.

“Wouldn’t be the first time that a woman’s used me,” she said with a shrug and a quiet huff. “Probably won’t be the last. And normally I don’t care.”

Normally?

“But that’s not me !” Laura pushed on, sidestepping the implication. “And you don’t deserve that!”

“Maybe not but I still get it,” Carmilla said, shaking her head. “I mean, I thought…”

She trailed off for a long moment and Laura found herself holding her breath as she waited once more.

“When we were sitting at the bar the other night, I stupidly thought you might actually want a do-over,” she finally said with a shrug. “And even though that night didn’t matter to you, I actually liked…”

Another long pause and Laura thought her heart was going to fall out of her chest.

“Never mind.” Carmilla shook her head once more and turned away, walking towards the staircase. “I accept your apology. You can see yourself out.”

Oh god!

This was not at all what she was expecting. Sure, she’d been prepared for an icy treatment. And perhaps a decent amount of groveling. But she never would’ve guessed that it would actually sting to know that Carmilla had been hurt by the whole charade.

Fix this. Fix this now.

“Carmilla, wait!” she cried, striding after the dark-haired girl and reaching for her elbow.

Carmilla stopped in her tracks but didn’t turn, body taut beneath Laura’s palm.

“The other night was a mess. And I hate how I treated you. I hate how I acted. But… being with you…”

Carmilla turned, still closed off but meeting her eyes, and Laura forced herself to continue.

“I actually liked being with you. That night was the first time I’ve smiled in weeks. It was the first time I let myself relax since I’ve been here,” she said, eyes wide. “I don’t know why. I don’t know what it is about you. Because that wasn’t the first time you made things better.”

She paused, eyes boring into Carmilla’s hard stare even as the older girl relaxed a little under her touch.

“Again, I don’t know why. But that night, for a few minutes here and there, being with you… everything else just shut off and it was easy and comfortable. I knew that but I didn’t… I didn’t exactly realize just how good it felt until later after I left. I didn’t realize just how much I actually liked spending the evening with you.”

“You’ve got a hell of a way of showing it,” Carmilla said, and though the words were harsh, her voice was not.

“I know. I screwed up. I thought it was all an act. I really thought you were just trying to get me into bed again. But I was wrong. So wrong.”

Carmilla looked away again but to Laura’s relief, turned a little more towards her, her intention of leaving the room apparently gone.

“Carmilla, again, I’m sorry. So sorry. I…”

Laura paused when Carmilla’s eyes found hers, still sad and angry and about a dozen other emotions, but still just as beautiful as the first time she saw them. Swallowing hard, she forced herself to press on.

“I actually do like you. I know we got off on the wrong foot in Chicago but I had so much fun with you. And then again, sitting with you at the bar the other night. Or at least once we stopped bickering, which we’re very good at by the way.”

She felt her heart speed up as the right side of Carmilla’s lips curved up the tiniest bit for half a second. Almost unnoticeable, but she saw it and it kept her talking, hope flowing through her limbs in waves.

“And then, I had a nice time here, with you, before I completely screwed the whole night up. You… you made things better somehow. You always do, which makes no sense, but it’s true. And I know this is really stupid of me to ask but…”

She paused for another moment, searching Carmilla’s eyes, their dark depths softer than she ever could’ve imagined and…

Kind.

The kindness was still there, just as it always had been.

She waited as Carmilla turned fully turned to her, letting her hand trail down the other girl’s arm, skin soft and smooth below her bunched up dress shirt, before dropping to her side.

“I want to fix this. I want to make this right. So… is there any way that we could maybe… try one more time? The whole… friend thing?”

It was quiet, most likely only for a few seconds but it felt like hours. Laura held Carmilla’s intense gaze, the older girl’s brow furrowed, her face resigned. And Laura knew it was a lost cause. But as soon as she opened her mouth to apologize again, Carmilla shocked her once more.

“Do you maybe want to have coffee with me sometime?” she asked, still guarded and quiet.

“Really?” Laura couldn’t contain her smile if she tried.

Seriously, where did this girl come from?

“Yeah,” Carmilla shrugged, stuffing her hands back into her pockets. “That is if you think you can get away for an hour or so.”

“I’d…” Laura felt herself start to bounce in her shoes again. “I’d like that. Maybe next week?”

“What did you have in mind, cutie?”

Wow, I…

“Are you maybe free on Monday?” Laura asked, the nickname bringing the faintest blush to her cheeks and a small smile to her face again. “My dad has physical therapy in the city. At one?”

She felt her smile fall as Carmilla paused, the dark-haired girl clearly thinking through something.

Second guessing herself.

“Hey, if not, it’s fine,” she tried.

“No, I can make that work,” Carmilla said, shaking her head. “I just have to rearrange a few things.”

“If you already have plans-”

“I can make it work,” Carmilla said, finally letting the right corner of her lips just barely turn up. “How about you let me give you my number one more time.”

Laura tried to suppress her own nervous grin as she pulled her phone from her back pocket, unlocking it and handing it over. She waited a long moment as Carmilla fiddled with the device, finally hearing the older girl’s phone chirp from the other side of the room.

“Where is your dad’s physical therapy session at?”

“On 56th, near Lexington.”

“Alright,” Carmilla said after a moment of thought, typing something else into her phone before handing it back. “I’ll meet you there at one.”

Laura glanced down, recognizing the location Carmilla had typed out from her visit there the week before. Their chocolate chip biscotti was delicious.

“Okay.”

Laura nodded as she pocketed the device, staring at the other girl for a long moment, taking in every inch of her beautiful features before forcing her eyes away, meeting Carmilla’s gaze.

Don’t push your luck. If you guys are going to actually try the friend thing, you need to get out of here now before you embarrass yourself again. Or stick your incredibly rude foot into your equally rude mouth.

“Well, thank you for letting me up, but… I’ll let you get on with your evening,” she said, setting her mug on a nearby end table and turning to step away towards the door.

“Well, wait!”

Stopping and glancing over her shoulder, she took in the small smile on Carmilla’s face, her dark eyes now holding the slightest hint of hope.

“Do you need to rush off right away?” she asked, her fingers visibly fidgeting in her pants pockets.

“Um… well, my dad...”

“You said he has company right now. And I’m sure he’s enjoying a little bit of freedom,” Carmilla chuckled, and Laura had to smile. “You want to hang out for a bit? Maybe take your mind off of everything?”

“Here?”

“Well, yeah,” Carmilla chuckled again, her eyes dancing. “I know it’s the scene of the most recent crime but I promise not to be super tempting or sexy.”

Yeah, like that’ll ever happen, Laura thought with a roll of her eyes.

She shouldn’t stay. She knew she should head back to her dad’s where it was safe. Where she wouldn’t say or do something stupid and set them right back to square one.

“Okay,” Laura finally answered, her mouth completely betraying her thoughts.

Dammit, Hollis.

“Alright. Well, make yourself comfortable,” Carmilla said, motioning towards the room behind her. “I’m just going to change really quick.”

Laura took a nervous breath and nodded. She watched the older girl leave the room, haphazardly kicking her heels off at the foot of the staircase before making her way up them and disappearing from sight. Grabbing at the now lukewarm mug and taking a slow sip, she looked around the room before making her way to the other side, staring out the window.

Even with all the buildings in her view, it was still beautiful. So bustling and loud, a stark contrast to the quiet that had enveloped her as soon as she’d entered the apartment. She guessed Carmilla probably liked it that way. She probably enjoyed the peace and stillness. And though Laura herself was usually described as anything but quiet, the calm she found in the space descended upon her heavily, comforting her in a way she hadn’t experienced in months. It was a calm that she missed, desperately.

Just one more thing about her…

“Can I get you anything else?” Carmilla quietly asked from behind her, startling her slightly as she hadn’t even heard the other girl return or realized a few minutes had passed. “Fresh cup of coffee maybe?”

“No, I’m fine. I…” she trailed off as she turned around, unprepared for the sight of Carmilla, slowly walking towards her, haired pulled back, casual in a pair of worn jeans and a fitted tank top. And a pair of black, thick framed glasses.

Wow, even nerdy she looks so- oh crap!

“You hungry?” Carmilla tried again, her head tipping to the side in the most adorable way and Laura couldn’t help but smile as she softly nodded.


“That is by far the unhealthiest thing I’ve eaten since I’ve been back,” Laura said, wiping the last of the red sauce from her lips and tossing her napkin down onto her messy wrapper. Reaching for the last chip at the corner of the brown wax paper, she sighed happily and sagged onto the stool below her. “So worth it.”

“It was eggplant,” Carmilla chuckled, wrapping up her own mess from the kitchen island before quickly grabbing Laura’s as well.

“Deep fried eggplant,” Laura argued around a loud crunch. “With an exorbitant amount of cheese and sauce. On a hoagie roll!”

“It’s still a fucking plant.”

Laura giggled, shaking her head.

“The Hollis home on a healthy kick?” Carmilla asked, glancing up as she finished throwing everything out.

“Kind of,” Laura shrugged, looking down as she traced patterns across the countertop. “With everything that’s happened, my dad’s diet definitely needed an overhaul.”

“How’s he taking that?”

“He hates it,” Laura giggled, looking up and watching Carmilla’s mouth twitch into a smile. “Trading in his bacon for lean poultry and fish hasn’t been without its complaints.”

“Well, I get it, bacon’s delicious,” she pointed out.

“He tends to agree.”

Surprisingly, the last hour had been light. Free. Exactly as it should have been all along. And Laura was so thankful that she’d shown up unannounced, even though the initial greeting had been sub-temperate. Sure, it had been an awkward apology, but being with Carmilla she found, really did make things a little brighter.

But even with the welcome distraction, she’d still called Sherman twice since she’d been there, the first time just to let him know she’d be a little longer than anticipated and to make sure he was alright. And the second time, again, just to make sure he was still in one piece.

“Y-Yes, Laur, I’m f-f-fine. J-Just like I was thirty minutes ago,” he sighed.

She swallowed hard, still not used to the stutter, but grateful that she could even still talk to him.

He’s getting better.

“Well, I just wanted to make sure,” she said, standing in the living room as Carmilla was paying the delivery boy for their food that had just arrived.

“Pump-kin, I’m not alone. If I need somethin’, I can m-m-manage, but I have help. S-Stop worrying, enjoy your ti-i-ime away, and if you call again, I’m sendin’ you to v-voicemail. If I can f-fig-gure out how,” he grumbled.

She giggled as they hung up, joining Carmilla at the kitchen island a moment later, and surprisingly, even though he never completely left her mind, she had to admit that it had been nice to spend some time away. Some time decompressing and laughing and… actually having a bit of fun.

Again. What is it about her that makes it better? It’s not like this with anyone else. And we hardly know each other.

“So besides the diet changes, how’s he doing?” Carmilla asked, rounding the corner and leaning forward onto the counter, her hands resting just a few inches from where Laura’s continued to draw random patterns against the smooth granite surface.

“Oh, um, okay,” she shrugged, shaking her thoughts away.

“If you don’t want to talk about it, we don’t have to,” Carmilla said, voice gentle and Laura couldn’t help but smile.

“No, I appreciate you asking.” She waited a long moment, staring into Carmilla’s dark eyes, the kindness there still so unexpected.

I never thought she’d genuinely be like this.

“Why are you being so nice to me?” Laura unexpectedly blurted out, even as her voice stayed quiet.

“What?” Carmilla scoffed. “Is that not allowed?”

“No, it is. I just… I never thought that you’d really be like this. I never thought the kindness you showed me was real.”

She waited, watching Carmilla shrug and glance away, offering no other explanation.

“I’m sorry. I mean, I know you’ve helped our friends a lot over the years and stuff. I’ve heard the stories. And even though we’re practically strangers, you were there for me when I was on the verge of tears in that crappy diner in Chicago. And then again a week ago. But… I honestly didn’t think it was real. I thought it was just to… I’m just surprised.”

“That I’m not a total asshole?” Carmilla said, staring down at the counter.

“You’re not.”

“Well, you’ve had a few bad encounters with me in between,” she shrugged, glancing up. “So I kind of get it. But that’s kind of the projected persona. I mean, honestly, other than the nitwit squad, the only time I talk to women is when I’m trying to get their money or get into their pants.”

“Charming as always.”

“I am who I am,” Carmilla chuckled. “But… that’s never been the intention with you, Laura. Or, at least not after the first five minutes when I saw you in Chicago. I actually just like being around you. I… I like spending time with you. Honestly not sure why but…”

Carmilla paused and Laura had to bite her tongue to keep from interrupting, the admission still surprising.

“Well, it’s obvious that with whatever it is that’s going on with your dad right now, that you might need an extra shoulder to lean on. So…”

“You’re offering?” she asked quietly.

“I don’t mind doing it,” Carmilla said, holding her gaze. “Seriously. Whatever’s going on with him, if there’s something I can do or help with…”

This was the girl she’d heard about for all those years from her friends. The generous Carmilla. The one who quietly helped. The one that took care of them even when they didn’t ask. And then denied it, threatening violence if they tried to thank her.

“He had a stroke,” Laura finally said, quiet and swallowing down the emotion in her chest at the thought of her dad. “It was bad.”

“Makes sense why you’re sticking around then,” Carmilla said, voice gentle.

“Yeah. It’s just kind of slow going, I guess,” she said, looking back down at the counter. “But he’s lucky. I mean, physically, he’s definitely going to need a lot of help recovering. And time. But… it could’ve been so much worse. He’s… he’s still here. And… that’s all that matters.”

“Well, he’s got you now, right?” Carmilla pointed out. “To help him and stuff.”

“Oh yeah, I’m a great candy striper,” she said, shaking her head.

“I wouldn’t mind having you for one.”

“You’re terrible,” she giggled.

“Come on, I’m here to help take your mind off of it. And flirting with you, I’ve found, seems to throw you off enough that it works,” Carmilla shrugged. “Plus that’s kind of my thing. Flirting with pretty girls.”

Laura smiled harder, feeling her face heat up, even as she stared into Carmilla’s eyes, her glasses somehow making them even more amazing. Not like she needed the help though.

She’s gorgeous. Ugh, dammit!

Why did she have to be so incredibly attracted to the older girl? If they were really going to start over and do this whole friend thing, she couldn’t keep looking at and thinking about Carmilla that way. That wasn’t how she looked at her other friends.

Think about Kirsch! Think about Kirsch in his underwear!

“You find that works for you, huh?” Laura asked instead, her mouth a little drier than it should be.

Dammit, even Kirsch isn’t working!

“Hasn’t failed me yet,” she smirked again, wiggling her eyebrows.

Laura smiled at the adorable expression on Carmilla’s face, her stomach continuing to flutter, taking in the vision before her. Carmilla’s smooth pale skin. Her beautiful eyes. Her soft lips covered with the barest hint of shine. And as the silent seconds ticked by, the two of them just staring, it wasn’t just her stomach fluttering.

Crap, no, stop! You’re not going to get another chance.

“I should go,” she mumbled, suddenly looking away, not wanting to mess up what had actually been a really great night.

“Already?” Carmilla asked, clearly thrown.

“Yeah!”

“But I thought you said your dad was fine when you called?”

“He was! He is!” Laura stumbled, staring down at her hands in her lap, her right worrying her left. “But… still, I should go.”

“Is something else wrong?” Carmilla tried again.

“Yes! I mean no! I mean… I can’t,” she said quietly as she pushed herself up of her stool and stepped away.

“Can’t what?”

“I just… I can’t be here anymore,” she said, stepping through the kitchen archway.

“Did I… did I do something wrong?” Carmilla asked, stepping after her. “Was it the candy striper comment? Because, as beautiful as you are, I really was just teasing.”

Beautiful?

“No,” she said, stopping and finally looking up. “No, you didn’t do anything. You’ve been great.”

More than great. More than amazing. More than… everything.

“But I really should go.”

“I mean… okay. If you really want to,” Carmilla said, staring back at her, eyes intense and standing close enough now that Laura could smell the sandalwood soap the older girl must’ve used that morning.

If she wanted to?

No. No, she definitely didn’t want to. She wanted to stay. She wanted to continue to bask in Carmilla’s presence. She wanted to sit and enjoy and pretend everything was normal.

But at that moment, more than anything, she wanted to grab onto the dark-haired girl and kiss her, hard. She wanted to slowly peel off every stitch of clothing and spend the next hour ignoring everything except the woman in front of her.

And that was something she most definitely could not do! Because they weren’t going down that road. And she wasn’t going to screw this up again.

“I’ll um… I’ll walk you out,” Carmilla offered, moving to step past her.

You idiot, Laura!

Carmilla didn’t get any further as the smaller girl grabbed her and pressed their lips together in a fast and bruising kiss that had Carmilla stiffening in surprise before sinking into it with a quiet sigh. Fisting the sides of Carmilla’s tank top, Laura pulled her close, moaning softly as she felt Carmilla’s hands moving into her hair. Shivering at the feeling of Carmilla’s tongue sweeping along her bottom lip, Laura turned and slowly shuffled them into the sitting room and towards the closest leather chair, gently pushing Carmilla into it with a soft grunt before climbing into her lap, pulling her glasses off, and tossing them aside.

This girl…

“Fuck, cutie, not that this isn’t fucking awesome but are you… are you sure that…”

Carmilla trailed off with a sigh as Laura’s lips pulled away and danced along the side of her neck, nibbling at the spot where Carmilla’s neck met her shoulder, remembering from all those years ago how that had garnered a rather pleasant reaction.

But am I sure that…? registered in Laura’s foggy brain.

Sure that they shouldn’t stop?

Sure that this wasn’t a bad idea?

Sure that they had too many clothes on?

Definitely that last one.

Apparently whatever she’d been about to say didn’t matter though as Carmilla pulled their mouths back together, the kiss just as passionate as the first. It was exciting and hot and… so damn good.

Beyond the sandalwood, Carmilla smelled like mahogany and leather, and she tasted like coffee and mint chapstick and… yeah, the meatball sub that she’d just eaten, but something lingered below all of that. Something Laura remembered from that chilly Chicago night. Something so delicious and addicting, and it only made her want more. It had her hooked. And it certainly didn’t make pulling away or stopping any easier.

Laura released a soft whimper as she felt Carmilla’s mouth shift away from hers, smoothly sliding along her jaw and down her neck, finding places that hadn’t been touched in…

Way too long. Oh, this is such a bad idea. But dear god, she is so good with her mouth, Laura thought as Carmilla found that spot just below her ear, making her tremble.

It had been so long since she’d been in this position. So long since she’d felt someone else against her, warm and inviting. So long since she’d felt that excitement ready to burst.

So long since you’ve even been this attracted to someone… oh to hell with it!

Without even thinking about it, she reached for the hem of Carmilla’s black tank top and tugged, their lips coming apart as she quickly pulled it over Carmilla’s head. And just when she thought there was no way Carmilla could get any sexier…

“Holy…” she sighed at the sight that greeted her, skin so soft and pale, the contrast of the girl’s black bra somehow making it even better. Reaching out, her hands met the warm skin of Carmilla’s torso, mapping the subtle curves and slowly sliding up her rib cage, stopping just below her incredible breasts, her thumbs teasing at the lace of her bra.

“God, you’re even hotter than I remember.”

Carmilla chuckled and leaned forward, kissing her again. Her hands slid away, fingers desperately finding the buttons on Laura’s shirt and blindly making quick work of them as the kiss escalated. Pushing it from Laura’s shoulders, it fell halfway down her back, stuck at her elbows as she refused to let go of Carmilla.

This is so freaking hot. So freaking perfect! And it’s exactly what you need to-

The sound of her phone ringing from her back pocket had them both freezing, lips still whispering against each other, eyes heavy and dark as they fluttered open and stared.

“Crap,” she mumbled, leaning back and reaching for the device, fumbling it a little with shaky hands when she saw who it was.

“Dad? Is everything okay? What’s wrong?” she fired off as she put the phone to her ear.

“Yes, ev-verythin’ is f-fine,” he quietly chuckled from the other side. “J-Just need to know where you put my medicine wh-when you picked it up-p this mornin’.”

“Oh, crap, I’m sorry, dad!” she sighed, running a hand through her hair. “It’s on top of the fridge. I meant to sort it all out for you but… I forgot.”

“Don’t wor-ry, pumpkin,” he said and she could hear the smile in his voice. “Now, get back t-t-to your night.”

“No, but-”

It was too late. He’d already hung up and she sighed again, staring down at the device in her hand, chewing her bottom lip as she felt the guilt return, smacking her in the center of her chest.

“Everything okay?” Carmilla asked, voice quiet as she reached up and gently pushed at Laura’s chin, forcing their eyes to meet.

And what Laura saw there made her fall even lower. That same damn kindness. And worry. And support.

Dammit, what is wrong with you?!

“Um… yeah,” she mumbled as she pushed herself up and pulled her shirt back onto her shoulders, her eyes glued to the floor.

You’ve ruined it. She’s never going to give you another chance. And she shouldn’t!

“I should go,” Laura said, quickly buttoning up the red flannel as she turned and moved towards the front door without a glance back.

“Laura, wait! It’s okay.”

“No it’s not!” she argued as she scrambled away.

“Yes, it is,” Carmilla said, voice insistent and now close. She reached out for the smaller girl, grip gentle on her arm, stopping her in her tracks.

“No,” she repeated, turning to the older girl, eyes wide. “I’m a terrible daughter. I’m supposed to be there. With him. And not… god, I am so sorry, Carmilla.”

“Laura, you’re not a terrible daughter,” Carmilla said, shaking her head. “You’re doing the right thing for him. And all of this… it’s weighing down on you. It would weigh down on anyone. And it’s making things more… complicated, but I understand.”

“That doesn’t give me the right to just keep kissing you though! Or to try for more,” she said, staring back and finding the gentle understanding in Carmilla’s eyes crushing. “I do like you Carmilla and I don’t want to use you like that. I’m so sor-”

“No, don’t apologize,” she said, dropping her hand. “I… I get it. And I’m not upset, okay. You need help and… if this is how I can help…”

She trailed off with a shrug and Laura couldn’t help but step closer.

“Making out with me whenever I get completely overwhelmed?” Laura scoffed.

“No, not that. But… I can be here,” she started. “For you.”

“You just… god, Carmilla, you’re so nice and sweet! Which I really thought was just an act. I never expected…” Laura sputtered. “And… you make things better and I just…”

But she didn’t finish, reaching out, unable to help herself, and grabbing onto the older girl again. She sighed as her hands met the warm, soft skin of Carmilla’s torso, feeling the barest hint of muscle flex, pressing their lips together once more in another fast and fiery kiss.

And for another long moment, everything shut off. Everything just floated away and all that was left was her and Carmilla. But then…

“Okay, no, I have to go!” she said, pulling away and grabbing for her jacket. “I’m sorry. So sorry. I… god, I have to leave. Now!”

Turning before Carmilla could argue, she yanked the door open and ran down the hallway.


Sitting in the back of a cab as the driver turned on to Sherman’s street, Laura sighed heavily in frustration, digging a nail into the knuckle on her left ring finger as she watched the neighborhood pass.

The night had gone so horribly wrong so very quickly, and again, it was all her fault. Carmilla had just been trying to help and Laura’s stupid hormones had gotten in the way.

Again! And it has to stop!

She wasn’t here for that. She wasn’t nearly three thousand miles away from home to have fun and relax and enjoy herself! And now the guilt settling into the pit of her stomach was doubling with each passing second. She was supposed to be with her dad. She was supposed to be taking care of him! And instead, she was gallivanting around the city, kissing an incredibly gorgeous woman and having to restrain herself from ripping her clothes off.

You need to stay away from her, she thought as the cab stopped in front of the off white two-story craftsman. She handed the driver some cash and slid out of the car, closing the door and slowly trudging up the well-manicured walkway towards the front porch. In the soft moonlight, the entire house practically gleamed from Sherman’s constant efforts to take care of the upkeep.

Come spring I’m going to need to figure out how to keep it that way until he’s up and around again.

She unlocked the door, pushing it open and letting it close a little louder than normal, just to alert Sherman of her presence.

“Laur?” he called from the direction of the living room.

“Yeah, it’s me, dad,” she said as she made her way into the next room, catching sight of him propped up on the couch.

“Thought you were goin’ to b-be gone a wh-hile longer,” Sherman said slowly as he looked away from the television, the game on not containing any of his teams but obviously keeping his attention.

“I was gone long enough,” she said, pulling off her coat and moving to hang it in the hallway closet, sighing in frustration when the knob once again got stuck. She’d have to add that to her ‘to-do’ list. Kicking off her boots, she shuffled further into the living room, plopping down heavily in the middle of the sofa next to him. “Where’s Dave?”

“Sent-t him home.”

“Dad!”

“I’m fine, Laur,” he sighed.

“But your medicine! Dad, I’m so sorry,” she said, words tumbling over each other in her rush to apologize. “I meant to divide everything up for you and leave it where you could-”

“I s-said I’m fine, p-pumpkin,” he said, voice gentle as he reached out and awkwardly patted her knee twice with his right hand, the left one still limp at his side.

“Are you sure?” she asked, taking hold of his fingers and squeezing.

“P-Positive,” he smiled. “You have a good time with your f-friend?”

My friend…

“Um… yeah. Yeah, it was nice,” she said with a small nod, turning away as she felt her cheeks heat up.

“What d-did you do?”

“Just had dinner at her place,” she shrugged.

Totally didn’t make out with her and definitely can’t still taste her.

“Who’s this g-girl?”

“She’s a friend of Mel’s. They went to school together and it just so happens that she’s from Manhattan.” Laura paused for a moment, tugging at the tips of his fingers before she continued. “Her name’s Carmilla and she’s… she’s great. Really great.”

“Oh r-really?” he asked, his voice teasing. “Sh-She a friend or a ‘friend’ ?”

“Dad!”

And she couldn’t help but smile as he chuckled loudly, giving her hand the barest of squeezes.

“Did you eat dinner?” she asked, hoping to move the conversation along.

“Mm-hmm.”

She turned, eyeing him curiously, his gaze focused on the television once again.

“You ate something you weren’t supposed to,” she said, eyes narrowing. “Didn’t you?”

“No, I ate that w-weird carrot and g-gourd soup you made last n-night,” he grumbled.

“It was carrots and squash,” she giggled.

“Eh. P-Potato, potahto,” he said, still clearly unhappy with the meals Laura had been making. “Still awful hungry th-though.”

“I’ll get you a snack,” she said, gently kissing his cheek, his slight stubble scratchy before making her way into the kitchen.

Pulling some blueberries from the fridge, she set about washing them, knowing it wouldn’t be something her dad would’ve voluntarily picked, but that he’d eat them just the same. And he’d do it if for no other reason than she’d put the bowl together for him. Because he’d literally do anything for her. And she would do the same for him.

He was why she was here. And sure, Carmilla might’ve made it a little easier. She might’ve distracted her from the overwhelming worry. But that didn’t make any of this okay. It didn’t make leaving her dad alone alright.

She needed to focus on him. Not on Carmilla.

Monday, February 18th, 2019

Midtown East

Attempting to get more comfortable in the orange plastic chair she’d chosen just a moment earlier, she flipped through the magazine in hand, the pages wrinkled and worn with use. Sighing, she once again cursed herself for having forgotten to bring something to entertain herself with.

It’s going to be a long hour, she thought as she tossed the dated copy of Time to the side and sat back.

Maybe she could go grab a coffee or something sweet while she waited. She’d been getting pretty well acquainted with this area after having visited three times a week for over a month now. And she’d make sure she was back in time. Even on the off chance that Sherman finished early, which had only happened once before, he’d know what she was up to and wait the few extra minutes it would take for her to return and collect him.

‘It was l-like a l-little vacation for me,’ he’d said with a smile as she’d continued to apologize the whole way back to the house the week before when she’d been late getting back from grabbing a hot cocoa.

‘A vacation?’ she’d balked, only making him laugh harder, the sound lightening the heavy load bearing down on her for a few delightful seconds.

Yeah, coffee it is, she thought with a nod as her phone pinged from her coat pocket. Expecting it to be one of her friends checking in, she nearly dropped it in surprise when she saw the display.

Carmilla (1:06 PM): You’re late.

Late?

Carmilla (1:06 PM): I look pretty pathetic with a steaming cup of hot chocolate and a pain au chocolat croissant sitting across from me and no one here to enjoy it.

“Do you maybe want to have coffee with me sometime?” Carmilla’s words from a few days earlier echoed in her mind and she felt her heart speed up and her eyes go wide.

“Oh crap!” she squeaked, even as she grabbed up her coat. She pulled it on as she ran out of the building, dodging people left and right as she scrambled down 56th Street.

Laura (1:08 PM): I didn’t think you’d still wanted to meet.

She hung a quick right on Lexington, glancing down as her phone chirped in her hand.

Carmilla (1:09 PM): Now why wouldn’t I want to spend an hour with you?

She felt the small smile pull at her lips and pocketed her phone as she turned left on 52nd, her short strides only slowing when her destination came into view. Taking a calming breath, she opened the door and stepped inside, searching through the decent crowd that had already amassed in the small shop for their afternoon pick-me-up.

Not spotting Carmilla in the front, she squeezed through, making her way towards the back, her stomach fluttering when she rounded the corner and saw Carmilla sitting there at a small table along the wall, sipping from a pristine white mug in one hand, her phone in the other, and looking incredible, all business-y and beautiful.

She shouldn’t be able to pull off posh adult and grungy leather so easily. It’s just not fair.

Stepping forward as she pulled off her beanie, she smiled shyly when Carmilla glanced up, a welcoming glint in her dark eyes.

“You know I really didn’t peg you for someone who runs perpetually late,” Carmilla said, quirking a teasing eyebrow.

“I’m generally not,” she answered quietly as she carefully slid into the chair across from her, their knees brushing under the small table. “Sorry.”

“You’re lucky I’m incredibly forgiving,” she said with a smirk.

“I thought you asked me for coffee,” Laura said, ignoring the bait and wrapping her chilled hands around the mug, a bit of steam still rising. “Not hot chocolate.”

“Well, if I remember correctly, you have a bit of a sweet tooth,” Carmilla said, setting her phone face down on the table and leaning forward. “And friends tend to remember things about each other.”

Laura smiled softly, glancing down at the table and nodding.

Friends. Yes. That’s what they were supposed to be. And she was more than grateful that Carmilla was still willing to give her that chance.

“Yes, they do,” she said, still smiling as she looked up. “Thank you.”

“You are very welcome,” Carmilla said, the right side of her mouth tipping up just so, knowing darn well that Laura wasn’t just talking about the hot beverage. “Now… hi.”

“Hi.”

Chapter Text

I remember finding out about you
Every day, my mind is all around you
Looking out from my lonely room, day after day
Bring it home, baby, make it soon
I give my love to you

Monday, February 25th, 2019

Midtown East

Laura pulled her jacket tighter around herself as she made her way through the bustling three o’clock foot traffic, sidestepping a rather angry couple arguing in the middle of the sidewalk, and ducked into Brooklyn Diamond Coffee for the first time that week. She sighed in relief despite the slight sting as the warmth from the shop hit her face. Pulling her wool mittens off, she made her way to the counter, hoping that the hot cocoa she’d been craving would do even more to warm her now stiff joints. Even with the temperature hovering around 40 degrees that day, her blood had long ago adapted to the much milder California weather.

I really didn’t miss east coast winters, she thought as she placed her order and waited, rubbing her hands together and bouncing on the balls of her feet, eager to get back to the rehab center. Her dad still had an hour left on his appointment, but she’d once again forgotten to bring something to entertain herself with and sitting alone in a coffee shop with nothing to do didn’t sound particularly appealing. She needed something to keep her company. At least at the center, there were people she knew who would say hello. It wasn’t so…

Lonely.

Smiling at the server as he handed her a large paper cup, she turned to make her way out of the shop, a shiver already creeping up her spine as she took in the passing clouds above the city.

“Hollis!”

At the sound of her name, she turned, eyes widening just a tad as she caught sight of Danny waving to her, smiling brightly. How she’d missed the tall redhead in the first place was a mystery. But what was even more puzzling was the fact that Danny was sitting next to none other than Carmilla Karnstein.

Who you’ve been avoiding for the last week.

Though it wasn’t exactly that hard. Carmilla hadn’t reached out to her after their coffee date either, which despite her initial awkwardness, had actually been a rather enjoyable hour. They’d talked and laughed and… yes, Carmilla had shamelessly flirted from time to time. But when they’d said goodbye, Carmilla had once again offered her time up for whenever Laura may find herself in need. It was… perfect.

Except every day since, Laura had frozen and scolded herself each time she picked up her phone, thumbs poised to text the older girl. She really had nothing of significance to say. Just a quick hi or to ask how she was or… if she might want to repeat their little coffee date. But she couldn’t help the worry creeping into her gut. What if Carmilla was only doing this because they had the same friends and she felt obligated? What if her main motivator was because she wanted to make amends for what had happened all those years ago in Chicago? Or worse, what if she simply felt sorry for Laura and her current situation?

It was that last one that really made her cringe because Carmilla’s pity was not something she wanted. If they were actually going to see each other on a regular basis, Laura wanted it to be because Carmilla genuinely enjoyed the time as much as she did. And since Carmilla hadn’t reached out, it seemed more and more likely that pity might very well be reason number one for the kindness the older girl had shown over their last few meetings.

Sighing nervously, she walked towards the table, anxiously licking her lips and feeling how the skin had already chapped on her short trek to the shop.

“Hey,” she said, voice cautious as she landed next to their high-top table, fingers tightly wrapped around her hot cocoa.

“What’re you doing here this time of day?” Danny asked with a warm smile.

“Oh, my dad’s PT got pushed back to a little later than normal,” she said with a shrug, her eyes glued to Danny’s even as she caught Carmilla staring at her, the older girl’s expression unreadable.

“Well, that works out well then. Take a seat,” Danny said, nudging the free stool in front of Laura, the sudden jolt kicking Carmilla’s feet off of the seat and making her almost fall off of her own chair.

“Hey!” she groused as she steadied herself on the edge of the table.

“What?” Danny said innocently. “I’m just being polite. Don’t you know that you’re supposed to offer up a seat to a lady when she agrees to have coffee with you.”

“Why would I do that?” Carmilla said with a smirk. “I have a much better seat for those ladies than an uncomfortable stool.”

“What’s that,” Danny started, rolling her eyes, “your face?”

“I was going to say my lap but…” Carmilla turned, smirking at Laura, raising one of those perfect eyebrows. “That’s a pretty good place too.”

Oh god, she thought as she felt her face flush.

“You’re disgusting, Karnstein. Behave,” Danny laughed before turning back. “And, Hollis, are you joining us or not?

“Oh, I don’t want to interrupt.”

Or embarrass myself again.

“Trust me. You’re not,” Danny said, nudging the stool once more and smiling wide when Laura finally relented.

Perched on the edge of the seat, she pulled her coat off, deciding to keep her scarf loosely wrapped around her neck. Out of the corner of her eye, Laura caught Carmilla staring at her, still smug, and Laura once again attempted to pep-talk herself into acting like a normal person.

“It’s nice to see you out,” Danny said once she’d settled, the redhead smiling gently and reaching a hand out, her skin warm as she squeezed Laura’s cold fingers.

“Yeah, well, I was going to head back and wait for my dad but I figured I needed a sugar boost. And this has kind of become my new go-to place,” Laura shrugged.

“That’s good. It’s good that you’re taking a little break,” Danny said, squeezing her fingers once more before standing, and Laura swore she saw Carmilla’s own gaze flick to their hands as Danny let go. “And your timing is impeccable. You can keep Karnstein out of trouble for a few minutes while I grab a refill.”

Carmilla cleared her throat, giving Danny a pointed look and nudging her own mug forward.

“Seriously?” Danny whined.

“It’s your week to buy,” Carmilla said with a shrug. “You made up that rule, not me.”

Danny sighed once more, snatching up Carmilla’s cup and moving towards the front of the shop, grumbling the whole way.

And then, once again, she was alone. With Carmilla.

Try not to make a fool of yourself.

“So… nice to finally see you again, cutie,” Carmilla said, leaning forward onto the table.

“Yeah, I… yeah,” Laura said, fiddling with the rim of her cup, her eyes slowly moving up to meet Carmilla’s. She felt the smallest smile pull up the corner of her lips at the sight of the soft grin on Carmilla’s own face.

So sweet.

“How is your dad this week?” Carmilla asked, all traces of that signature cocky attitude completely gone.

“He’s doing okay,” Laura said, relaxing a little onto her seat. “We’re managing. How… how are you?”

“Much better now. Your company is infinitely superior to Lawrence’s.”

“Is this a normal thing for you two?” she asked, ignoring the teasing lilt in Carmilla’s voice.

“Unfortunately, yes, when time permits. Today I had the choice of either meeting her here or going with my brother to an awful meeting for a less than pleasant client,” Carmilla shrugged. “Xena just barely edged them out.”

“What was the meeting for?” Laura asked, trying not to smile.

“You want to hear about a stupid corporate advertising meeting?” Carmilla chuckled, apparently amused at the smaller girl.

“Well, yeah,” Laura said like it was the obvious thing in the world. “Why not?”

“Because it’s boring.”

“Maybe so, but…” she shrugged, glancing over her shoulder to where Danny still stood in line, waiting. “I just… well, last week, I told you lots about me. About California and my friends there. I told you about my blog and the little article I contribute to The Star most weeks. I even gave you some really great and embarrassing stories about our little squad.”

“Totally bringing up the drunken park run story when Lawrence gets back to the table,” she snickered.

“See? I told you lots of stuff about me and I… well, I just thought it might be nice to know a little about you too,” she said, her voice almost shy. “That’s… that’s what friends do, right?”

Carmilla studied the tiny brunette for a minute longer, those dark eyes searching for something, boring into her and causing her heart to thud faster, but making no attempt to answer Laura’s question.

“I mean, obviously you don’t have to share anything about yourself,” Laura stumbled, looking away as she felt that slight drop in her chest.

So I was right. She really does just feel sorry for me.

“Just… just forget I asked.”

She brought the cup of cocoa to her lips, taking a hefty gulp and trying to ignore the burn it instantly left on her tongue.

It doesn’t matter. We just won’t be friends. Just because she’s the one person outside of dad that you actually enjoy spending time with-

“I think you’re right, cupcake,” Carmilla said, interrupting Laura’s thoughts.

Glancing up at the dark-haired girl, she felt a little of that disappointment recede as she stared into Carmilla’s incredibly dark eyes, so kind and sweet and…

I really do like her.

“You’ll have to forgive me though since I’m not that great at this whole friend thing,” Carmilla continued with the tiniest grin. “So cut me a little slack, okay?”

“Sure,” Laura answered quietly, feeling more of that sadness float away. “Okay.”

“And to answer your question, it’s for a terrible product,” she finally said, her gaze softening even more. “I mean, I enjoy fresh breath as much as the next person, but I’m not super excited about trying to find a way to sell a new toothpaste that smells like oranges mixed with ammonia.”

“Oral hygiene is vital though,” Laura said with an overly serious nod, hoping a little lightheartedness would help. “And what you come up with will influence whether or not someone buys said toothpaste. So really, it’s very important. You’re saving enamel everywhere.”

“That might be a bit of a stretch, but I like that you think so highly of me.” She smiled at the smaller girl for a moment. Soft. Sweet.

Genuine.

“I never said that,” Laura laughed quietly, feeling the rest of her panic vanish.

“You didn’t have to, cupcake,” Carmilla teased, leaning forward onto the table, letting one of her hands land only an inch from where Laura’s fingers unconsciously drummed out a beat. “And while I wasn’t super eager to be here today with Lawrence, things are definitely looking up. Staring at your pretty face and taking advantage of your impeccable oral hygiene sure as hell beats sitting in a stuffy conference room with a dozen sixty-year-old men who have gingivitis.”

“If we’re really going to be friends, you’ve got to stop flirting so much,” Laura giggled again.

“How was that flirting? It was a compliment. Two in fact,” she argued, letting her index finger tap twice against Laura’s pinky.

“Hidden in suggestion,” Laura said, blushing and wrapping her hands around her cup again.

Just in case.

“What’s your point?”

Laura just shook her head and giggled once more, her eyes never leaving Carmilla’s.

“Alright, fine,” Carmilla relented. “Since Lawrence is third-wheeling on our rendezvous today, I’ll keep the flirting dialed down the rest of the time. Disappointing, I know, but I think it’s necessary in the grand scheme of things.”

“Probably wise,” Laura agreed with a sage nod.

“Plus, I don’t want to overinflate your ego. I mean, just because you’re gorgeous doesn’t mean you deserve an endless amount of compliments on how beautiful your eyes are.”

“Is this how you talk to the rest of our friends?” Laura asked, fighting her smile as her blush spread. It was a losing battle.

“Just Kirsch.”

And Laura couldn’t keep the loud whimsical laugh inside, feeling it grow even more as Carmilla chuckled with her, and finally sat back in her seat, relaxed.

“What’s so funny?” Danny asked as she arrived back at the table, sliding a steaming mug to Carmilla as she sat.

“Nothing really,” Carmilla said with a shrug, her smirk growing. “Just discussing the merits of late night running. Especially after having consumed half a bottle of tequila on an empty stomach and tossing your clothes into the closest pond in protest of the patriarchy. Tell me, Lawrence, do you still have a mark from where you tripped and skidded on your ass across the pavement?”

“You didn’t,” Danny said, turning to Laura, eyes narrowing.

Laura glanced to Carmilla, the older girl sending her a quick, playful wink that had her stomach fluttering. Turning back to Danny, she just shrugged and lifted her cup to her lips, attempting to hide her own gleeful smile.

Thursday, February 28th, 2019

Midtown East

For as big as Manhattan is, you wouldn’t think this would be too likely, Laura thought, feeling the smallest of smiles form on her lips as she grabbed the brown paper bag from the cashier and stepped further into the shop.

She’d noticed the dark-haired beauty the moment she’d walked in, her eyes automatically landing on the woman as they scanned the shop while she waited in line. Carmilla looked incredible in another of those fitted suits Laura so frequently saw her in - this one a black and gray pinstripe - focused intensely on her laptop as she worked, a half-eaten sandwich sitting to the right. And Laura didn’t want to bother her. But she at least wanted to say hello.

She still hadn’t reached out to Carmilla, despite the fact that the older girl had, once again, discreetly offered her company a few days earlier as they’d parted ways. Laura had to admit she was a little disappointed that it was Danny walking her back to the rehab facility and Carmilla heading in the opposite direction. But it was the discreet part that still had her pausing. Because did Carmilla not want Danny to know that they’d actually spent time together? And on the other hand, did Laura want to keep her new relationship with Carmilla a secret from her friends? Considering their past, it may have been the best to keep quiet.

Doesn’t really matter right now though, she thought as she cautiously approached, second-guessing her decision with every step she took.

Because Carmilla was alone today, so there was no one else to worry about. And Laura could easily just throw out a quick greeting before leaving her alone. No worries about how or why. Just getting to maybe – hopefully – see that beautiful smile.

“Hey,” she said quietly, nervously grinning when Carmilla looked up, the scowl on the dark-haired girl’s face instantly melting into the most adorable grin.

I haven’t seen her smile at anyone else like that. Not that I’ve seen her with our friends that often when we’re being nice to each other, but- oh my god, shut up!

“Wow, Laura Hollis, twice in one week. How lucky am I?”

“Sorry to bug you,” Laura said, bouncing on the balls of her feet. “I stopped in to grab something to eat and… I just wanted to say hi.”

“I’ll never object to being interrupted by a beautiful woman,” Carmilla said, motioning to the chair across from her. “Take a seat.”

“Oh!” she squeaked, surprised at the reaction. After all, Carmilla was obviously working. “Well, I mean-”

“Somewhere else to be?” Carmilla asked, glancing back at her laptop, her eyes narrowing in concentration once again.

“No, I just… you’re clearly busy.”

“Not that busy, cutie,” she answered, running her fingers across the touchpad and pushing the free chair out with her red Prada heel.

Nodding a few times to herself, Laura nervously took the chair, poised on the very edge, just in case.

“So what’re you doing down here today?” Carmilla asked, typing out something else on her laptop and then closing it, turning her full attention to Laura.

“Dad had an appointment and I skipped breakfast, so… figured I’d step out and grab something quick,” she said, holding up the bag in her hand, the paper crinkling quietly between her fingers.

“He still doing okay?” Carmilla asked.

“Yeah,” she shrugged, sagging a little. “I mean, as well as can be expected, I guess.”

“And how about you, cupcake?” she asked in a softer voice. “How are you doing?”

“Oh! Well, I’m… um…”

She trailed off, honestly surprised by the question. Because sure, asking how her dad was had become the norm for anyone she talked to for more than thirty seconds. But asking how she was doing…

“I’m okay. Thanks,” she finally answered, the start of a smile pulling at her lips. “That… that was nice of you to ask.”

“Well, despite all evidence of the contrary, I do have manners,” Carmilla said with a grin, reaching for her roasted turkey club and taking a big bite, a small piece of romaine sticking to her bottom lip as she sat it back down beside her mostly empty water bottle.

“Sure you do,” Laura giggled.

“Hey, are you going to eat with me or not?” Carmilla said, swiping at the green with a crumpled napkin and smirking around the half-chewed mouthful of bread.

Shaking her head, Laura dropped her bag onto the table and pulled out her own hummus and veggie sandwich, giggling again when Carmilla’s nose wrinkled at the sight.

“Seriously?”

“Trying to be healthy,” she shrugged. “Since my dad has to, I might as well.”

“You’re missing out,” Carmilla said, finally swallowing. “So, any big plans for the weekend?”

The growing smile stopped and Laura cocked her head to the side, curious at the odd question.

“Um… dad duties?” she answered, leaning forward. “Just like every other day.”

“I’m aware that those are top priority on the agenda,” Carmilla chuckled. “But outside of dad duties, what else do you have going on?”

Oh.

Laura quickly glanced down at the table in front of her and shrugged.

“There is no outside of that. I told you, I don’t really like leaving him alone.”

“Yeah, but you must get out sometime, right?” Carmilla pressed. “To go to a movie? Grab a bite to eat? Hell, for a walk around the block?”

Again Laura shrugged, softly shaking her head.

“So the only time you get out is when he has an appointment of some sort?” Carmilla asked.

“Or if he needs something,” Laura quickly pointed out as she glanced up. “His medicine or groceries or… well, anything he wants.”

“Okay… so you don’t really get out or ever take a break from this,” Carmilla started, brow furrowed. “Do you have people that visit? So you at least get some sort of interaction beyond the two of you?”

“The neighbors stop in a lot. They’re nice. And he has a few friends that come by regularly,” Laura said, finally taking a small bite of her sandwich, finding that she wasn’t that hungry anymore but she needed something else to focus on besides the concerned look on Carmilla’s face. “Plus, there’s an aid that visits a couple of times a week and… helps.”

“Cupcake,” she started, sighing softly. “That’s great, but what about our friends?”

“Oh, well, I had coffee with you and Danny this week, so…” she said with a shrug.

“Really, that’s it?” The surprise in Carmilla’s voice was evident, her pitch rising just enough for Laura to know that more was coming. “You mean they aren’t banging down your door every day, bugging the absolute crap out of you?”

“Not exactly.”

“Laura… that’s really shitty. I’m… I’m sorry. I didn’t know that they were just blowing this whole thing off.”

“It’s not that. They’ve… they’ve been great,” Laura jumped in, feeling her stomach roll. “They’ve offered to stop by. With food or movies or games. Or just to hang out. Numerous times actually. But… I don’t know. It feels kind of weird… spending too much time with them.”

Please just drop it.

“Why’s that?” Carmilla asked, her eyes soft and curious.

Dammit.

“Things are just different,” she shrugged.

“How so?”

“I guess because we’re different now. I mean, I know it was my choice to go to college out of state,” she continued with a defeated sigh, pushing her sandwich away and setting her elbows on the table. “And then to permanently stay on the other side of the country but… well… when I did, they all stayed here and kept being friends. Best friends. And it’s great that they’re all still so close.”

“This is true,” Carmilla gently urged.

“But… being a friend from thousands of miles away isn’t as easy. I just… I kind of feel like an outsider if I’m around any of them for too long. Especially when they’re all together,” she said with a small pout, hating how childish all of this felt. “Things have just… changed.”

“I mean, you have been gone for a while. So that makes sense,” Carmilla said. “But, you know, for as much shit as I give all of them, I’m sure if you talked to them about it, they’d understand.”

“I know they’d understand and that makes it even worse. So I’d just prefer not to. It’s not something they should have to feel bad about or even concern themselves with. It’s… it’s my dumb problem.”

Carmilla just stared for a moment, seeming to consider this before her eyes softened ever so slightly and she shoved her own sandwich away, leaning in closer.

“Alright, I’ll cut you some slack on that, for now. But, cupcake, you still have to find something to focus on besides your dad,” she said, smiling a little. Reassuring and calm.

So different.

“What about hobbies? What about writing?” Carmilla continued.

“What would I write?” she asked, gratefully taking the out.

“Your blog?”

“Doesn’t exactly work like that, Carmilla,” she said with a shake of her head. “It’s a travel blog. And I’m not exactly adventuring around the world right now.”

“But there are all sorts of places to explore in Manhattan. Take a few hours, go out, and see what you find.”

“I mean, I’ve written little snippets about places around here but it’s not the same,” she started. “Plus, that still puts me in a position of leaving my dad.”

“From what you’ve just told me, he’d probably enjoy a bit of freedom,” Carmilla said with a teasing smirk.

“I’m not holding him hostage!” Laura huffed.

“Eh, that’s debatable but regardless, he needs time away and so do you, cutie,” Carmilla said, suddenly turning serious. “If you don’t give yourself that, you’ll go crazy.”

“Well, I am giving myself that!” Laura argued. “Right now! I’m here and he’s not.”

“Somehow I doubt he’d agree that this is enough time away. And while, yes, I’m amazing and wonderful to be around, you need something more. Something to actually take your mind off of everything.”

“I mean I tried writing some other stuff but I’m just not in the right mindset,” she shrugged.

“What’re you writing?”

“Just bits here and there about whatever,” Laura said, looking away. “Nothing important,” 

“Somehow I doubt that,” Carmilla said, quirking an eyebrow. “You know, you’re actually a really good writer.”

“How do you know?” Laura asked, taking another bite of her lunch as her stomach quietly growled.

“Despite the fact that over the last few years we never connected the fact that you’re ‘Laura – gorgeous girl from Chicago’ and I’m ‘Carmilla – best sex Laura’s ever had’-”

“Oh my god,” Laura grumbled around her sandwich as she rolled her eyes.

“You’re actually not that hard to find online,” Carmilla continued without so much as a blink. “I mean, you have a blog for fuck’s sake. You put up a post about the coffee shop the other day.”

Wait.

“You… you read my blog?” she asked slowly.

“Maybe,” Carmilla shrugged, holding Laura’s still blushing but surprised stare. “Might’ve also found a few old editorial pieces you did for that paper you occasionally contribute too.”

So different.

“I… that’s really sweet of you, Carmilla,” she said, letting the barest of grateful smiles pull at the corners of her lips. “I can’t believe you did that.”

“Why not?” Carmilla said, smiling a little harder. “Again, I’m not a complete asshole.”

“Oh yeah, you could write a book on how to make friends,” Laura teased with a giggle.

“Alright, so it might not be my strong suit. But at least I’m trying here,” she argued. “I just don’t have much practice.”

“You have friends!” Laura laughed again.

“That’s different. Becoming friends with the gingers and the giants was all Mel’s fault. In fact, I didn’t have a lot of say in the matter.”

“Mel had many a horror story about you during your freshman year. The phrase ‘roommate from the tenth circle of hell’ was used quite frequently.”

“There are only nine circles.”

“Precisely,” Laura said, laughing when Carmilla rolled her eyes.

“Whatever, I’ll deal with all the lies Everdeen told you later. But for now,” Carmilla said, pausing for a moment, the teasing leaving her eyes. “Just trying this whole friend thing with you… well, I actually want to.”

“Really?” Laura asked, her smile softening at the sentiment. Because she could only imagine that Carmilla wasn’t the type to ever admit something like that.

“Yeah. I just… like I said before, cut me some slack. Being just friends with women isn’t exactly easy for me. Especially the really pretty brunettes.”

“That’s because you never stop flirting with them.”

“That’s probably true, but friends can flirt. Especially friends who find each other attractive.”

“And you think that’s us?” Laura scoffed, her cheeks starting to hurt from fighting off a huge grin.

“I tell you you’re beautiful every time I see you and you have a habit of pressing your lips against mine at any chance you get.”

“Not anymore!”

“And besides,” Carmilla continued, undeterred. “You have to admit, you kind of like it when I flirt with you.”

“I do not!” Laura blushed, now smiling widely, unable to stop herself.

“Sure you don’t,” Carmilla said with a smirk. “You know, if you actually texted me from time to time, you might even get more flirting.”

“Such a hard offer to pass up,” Laura giggled. “Guess I’ll have to start reaching out more.”

“I’ll be waiting, creampuff.”

Tuesday, March 5th, 2019

Lower Midtown

She unconsciously bobbed her head from side to side, the melodic music filling the elevator around her as she rode up to the twenty-second floor where the nice lady at the front desk had directed her to. And she could proudly say that she’d only gotten lost twice along the way.

This hadn’t originally been part of her plan but she just kept hearing the same words echo in her mind, over and over on a loop: ‘cupcake, you still have to find something to focus on besides your dad.’

She knew Carmilla was right. She had to cut herself a little slack and step away once in a while. And she knew more than anyone else that her dad agreed with her on that front. Didn’t mean it was easy, but it was something she had to do. So when Perry called to check in over the weekend, Laura seized the opportunity, figuring it was something small. Something easy. And Perry would be the perfect person to start with.

Stepping out of the elevator a moment later into an incredibly elegant space, Laura sighed and pulled her coat tighter around her middle, attempting to hide the worn blue plaid she’d chosen for that day. There was nothing she could do about the mustard stain on her jeans. Between the immaculate marble floor, the lavish columns, and the no doubt, ridiculously expensive art along the walls, she felt more than a little out of place.

Quickly walking down the hallway, attempting to be as quiet as possible, she swore her sneakers were purposefully extra squeaky, alerting multiple workers of her presence, their eyes confused when they saw her.

And here I thought this was a good idea, she grumbled, finding the door she was looking for and sighing in relief as she stepped inside.

“This place is so darn fancy,” she hissed, staring pointedly at the redhead on the other side of the office.

“Laura, dear!” Perry said with a smile as she rose from behind a large oak desk, her own outfit pressed and professional. “I’m so thrilled you decided to come today.”

“Yeah, well, it’s… it’s good for me to get out,” she said with a shrug, stepping further into the room.

“It really is,” Perry agreed, rounding the desk and stepping towards her. “Taking care of yourself is just as important as taking care of your father. I’m sure he’s more than happy that you’ve decided to take a little break.”

“He was… incredibly understanding,” Laura said, rolling her eyes as she saw her dad’s face from that morning, his half smile bright when she told him he’d be on his own for a couple of hours. She knew it was the right thing to do. Still didn’t mean it was easy or that she wouldn’t spend the entire time worrying about him.

“Well, we’ll just grab a quick bite and then you can head back,” Perry said in understanding.

Because of course, she understood. Because Laura really did have amazing friends, regardless of the miles between them.

“Just give me a few minutes to finish up a couple of things.”

“Take your time,” Laura said. “I know I’m early.”

Perry nodded and picked up a few files from the corner of her desk before moving into the next office, the name Matska Belmonde prominently displayed on the door as it closed behind her.

Loosening her scarf, Laura looked around the room again, taking in just how expensive everything looked. More amazing art along the walls, the fancy seating area in the corner, the ornate desk that probably cost more than a month’s rent on her apartment. It was beautiful and posh and Laura felt so incredibly out of place that she feared if she moved, she might end up accidentally breaking something.

Wouldn’t be the first time.

“Cupcake?”

Oh god!

“Carmilla! Wha- what are you doing here?” she asked, her face a mask of surprise as she turned to see the dark-haired girl standing in the doorway of the office, head tilted to the side and looking…

Amazing. God, how does she make those suits look so good?

“Working,” she said with a smirk as she strode past her to Perry’s desk, setting down some paperwork.

“Oh. Right. Yeah.”

You’re bound and determined to be an idiot around her, aren’t you?

“What are you doing here?” Carmilla asked as she turned back towards Laura, taking a few steps forward. “You miss me?”

“Terribly,” she deadpanned.

“I’m having a hard time believing it,” Carmilla continued with a teasing smile. “I mean, you have yet to actually call or text or anything. I’m beginning to think you don’t enjoy my company.”

“I… I’m having lunch with Perry,” she said, avoiding the fact that she very much did enjoy the older girl’s company.

“Your dad have an appointment somewhere?” Carmilla asked, the teasing leaving her voice.

“No, I… well, I realized that I really do need to take some time for myself.”

“Oh?” Carmilla said, raising one of those perfect eyebrows.

“And… well, you’re right. Our friends are good people. They just want to help.”

“I’m glad you’re getting out and giving yourself some freedom,” Carmilla said, taking another step closer. “You deserve it. And it’s the right thing to do.”

“I know, I just-”

“Alright, Laura, I’m ready to- oh! Carmilla, I was looking for you earlier,” Perry said as she stepped back into the office, moving towards her desk. “Your mother called. She has a reservation at Marea for eight o’clock tonight. Your presence is requested.”

“Of course it is,” she sighed, rolling her eyes and shoving her hands into her pants pockets. “Don’t suppose I could pretend you never gave me the message?”

“She knows better,” Perry continued as she pulled on her coat from the rack behind her desk. “So I’ll not be taking any complaints from her if you don’t show up.”

“It’s almost like you forget who you work for,” Carmilla said, smirking a little when Perry merely smiled back, victorious. “Fine, fine, you gave me the message.”

“Yes, and with that being said, I’ll be back shortly,” Perry said, stepping towards the door but turning suddenly, eyes bright. “Carmilla, if Laura doesn’t mind, would you care to join us for lunch?”

“If Laura doesn’t mind?” she said, teasing. “Huh, personally, I’m not sure Laura enjoys having me around.”

“No! I… you should come,” Laura said, hoping the older girl would agree.

“Well, as much as I’d love to entertain you two, I’ll have to decline,” she said, looking almost sad about it.

“Next time then,” Perry said, still chipper.

“Only if Laura really doesn’t mind,” Carmilla teased once again.

“She definitely doesn’t,” Laura said with a small, bashful smile.

“Well then,” Perry started, the smallest of grins on her face, eyes bright as if holding something back. “Shall we, Laura? I don’t want to keep you out any longer than you’re comfortable with.”

Laura simply nodded, smiling once more at Carmilla as the older girl moved past her, close enough that she brushed Laura’s arm with her own, stepping into the office that Perry had just left.

Turning back, she quickly followed Perry out and down the hallway, stepping into the elevator that was already waiting for them.

“So, is it weird working for Carmilla?” Laura asked as Perry pressed the button for the first floor.

“Well, technically I’m Mattie’s assistant, so no, not in the slightest. Why do you ask?” Perry said.

“Just because you guys are friends,” Laura shrugged.

“We are. And she’s a very good friend to have. She’s the whole reason I even got the job.”

“Yeah, I know she helped you out with that after the accounting fiasco,” Laura cringed.

“She won’t take the much deserved credit, but yes, she did help,” Perry said, that same knowing look in her eyes, but Laura couldn’t place it. “I heard you’ve met up with her a few times now.”

“How did you hear that?” Laura asked, honestly surprised.

“Danny mentioned it the other night when she stopped by. Said the three of you had coffee together and that you’d also spent some time with Carmilla on your own.”

“Well… yeah, we’ve met up a few times,” Laura said, swallowing hard. “Not really on purpose, but…”

“Will you be meeting up more then?” Perry asked. “Intentionally?”

“I… I don’t know,” Laura shrugged, knowing she wanted to.

“Hmm, something to think about then,” Perry said with one last knowing smile before stepping out of the elevator as the doors opened, her heels clicking against the white marble floor as she walked.

Curiously, Laura followed, still unsure of what Perry was getting at but unwilling to ask. Besides, the redhead had already started talking about the trip she and LaF were planning later in the year as they stepped out into the cold, winter unwilling to release its grasp on the city.

Nodding along to details about tours and restaurants, Laura attempted to pay attention, even as she quickly pulled her suddenly vibrating phone from her pocket, worried it might be her dad.

Carmilla (12:15 PM): You looked really cute today. Mustard stain and all.

Feeling her face flush as she smiled, unable to help herself, Laura quickly typed out an appropriate response.

Laura (12:16 PM): Once again, that’s not how you talk to friends.

Carmilla (12:16 PM): Fine. You looked really cute today, my lovely friend, Laura. Mustard stain and all.

Giggling softly, she moved away from the teasing.

Laura (12:17 PM): It really would have been nice if you’d have come with us.

She attempted to refocus on Perry who was still in the middle of the trip itinerary, not really sure if she would receive a response or not.  But just as they walked into one of the local sandwich shops, her phone buzzed once again, bringing another smile to her face.

Carmilla (12:24 PM): I’ll anxiously be awaiting your text for the next time you want to see me.

Laura (12:25 PM): You asked for it.

Friday, March 8th, 2019

East Village

Feeling the sharp edges of the bricks behind her dig uncomfortably into her back, she readjusted herself and looked up 1st Street once again, her jaw tensed in frustration.

She’d known Kirsch would be late. He always was. In all their years as friends, that was one thing that had never changed. Which was exactly why she’d arrived ten minutes late herself. But now that fifteen more minutes had passed, she was starting to lose her patience.

Watching the people walk by, she was surprised to find the foot traffic a little lighter than expected. She glanced through the sea of faces, one blending into another, nothing really sticking out or catching her attention. And it wasn’t like she really had to look for him. He’d most likely yell for her as soon as he was in shouting distance.

Another thing that hasn’t changed, she thought with a small smile.

No, it was no use looking anymore. Nothing was catching her attention at this point as her stomach started to protest louder and louder. Or at least nothing caught her eye until…

“Carmilla?”

The dark-haired girl was just about to pass her on the far side of the sidewalk, paying no mind to her surroundings. She quickly glanced up from the phone in her hand, the distinct furrow in her brow evening out as soon as she saw Laura. She smiled softly, pocketing the device, and dodged a few other pedestrians as she made her way back. And Laura felt her mouth go dry as she waited, her eyes really taking Carmilla in because she looked…

Wow.

The fitted leather pants, the leather jacket hanging open over a red shirt, tight and dipping a little lower than necessary, her hair down, makeup soft...

Yeah, wow. No, stop! Do not ogle your friend!

Because that’s what they were now. New friends, but friends.

True to her word, Laura had texted Carmilla every day since running into her before her lunch with Perry. Sometimes with something to actually say:

Laura (6:45 PM): Hey, how are you?

Carmilla (6:56 PM): Up to my eyes in paperwork and exhausted. How are you?

Laura (6:58 PM): Okay. Fine. Sorry, you’re busy, I’ll talk to you later.

Carmilla (7:00 PM): Is it your dad?

Laura (7:01 PM): Yeah.

Carmilla (7:03 PM): What happened?

Laura (7:04 PM): Just a bad day. Bad doctor’s appointment. He’s getting frustrated and I don’t know what to do.

Carmilla (7:05 PM): How can I help?

Laura (7:06 PM): No, this isn’t your problem.

Carmilla (7:07 PM): Again, how can I help?

Laura (7:08 PM): Can we just maybe talk? About something mundane and stupid.

Laura (7:08 PM): When you’re not busy!

Carmilla had called her thirty seconds later and spent the next hour telling Laura as many ridiculous and embarrassing college stories as she could remember about her and Mel. Laura couldn’t have been more grateful for the older girl.

But sometimes, she texted about nothing at all. And regardless of the time of day, Carmilla responded.

Laura (1:46 AM): Why is there nothing on television but infomercials after midnight?

Carmilla (1:54 AM): Because that’s when normal people sleep.

Laura (1:55 AM): I can’t.

Carmilla (1:57 AM): Why’s that?

Laura (1:57 AM): Busy brain. Won’t be quiet.

Carmilla (1:59 AM): What’s your favorite cookie?

Laura (2:00 AM): That’s a super random question.

Carmilla (2:01 AM): No it’s not. You’re overthinking and can’t sleep. So tell me, what’s your favorite cookie?

Laura (2:01 AM): No, Carmilla, it’s super late and you have to work and I’m so sorry I bothered you.

Carmilla (2:04 AM): What’s your favorite cookie, creampuff?

Laura (2:05 AM): Chocolate chip.

Laura (2:05 AM): Thank you.

Carmilla (2:06 AM): You don’t have to thank me.

Carmilla (2:07 AM): I’m partial to snickerdoodles myself, by the way.

Carmilla (2:07 AM): Favorite movie?

They’d spent the next few hours until Carmilla had to go to work playing an odd game of twenty questions. Laura hadn’t been able to stop smiling for the entire next day.

Again, so different, she thought as she continued to watch Carmilla move closer on the sidewalk from her spot in front of the restaurant.

“Hey, what’re you doing down here, cutie?” Carmilla asked as she finally reached Laura, shoving her hands deep into her jacket pockets.

“Oh, well, Kirsch said to meet him here and we’d get a pizza,” Laura said, forcing her eyes to find Carmilla’s and not the amount of soft, incredible skin showing.

Friend! Friend! Friend!

“Ah, so still following my very wise advice?” Carmilla said with a smug smirk.

“I’m trying,” Laura shrugged. “It’s not always easy but it’s been better. And it’s definitely easier when it’s just one of them I’m seeing versus the whole gang.”

“Makes sense.”

“Do you… do you want to have pizza with us?” she asked, her smile hopeful, the question falling from her lips before she could stop it.

“I thought you wanted it to be a one on one thing?” Carmilla said, stepping a little closer to avoid a large group passing.

“I mean, it’s easier yeah, but…” she nervously trailed off. “It’s just… well… you’re different, Carmilla.”

Laura felt her face heat up at the admission, hoping Carmilla wouldn’t get the wrong idea. She really didn’t want to ruin what they’d been slowly building with a stupid misunderstanding about what their relationship actually was. Still. Carmilla was the one exception. Maybe it was because she hadn’t been a part of their little group as they were growing up. Maybe it was because she was new in Laura’s life. Maybe it was because…

Because she’s just her.

“Oh, well, as much as I’d love to, cutie, I… I actually have plans,” Carmilla answered, the smile falling as an expression Laura had never seen took over.

What was it? Regret? Shame? Guilt?

Laura once again took in just how incredible Carmilla looked and suddenly it all clicked.

Oh.

“Yeah, sorry, duh,” she said, wishing she could stop herself from blushing every five seconds. “It’s Friday night, of course, you have… plans.”

“I do. Though had I known you’d be offering, I would’ve kept my calendar open,” she said, the right side of her lips just barely curving upward. “Probably would have a much better time with you.”

“Oh, is that so?” Laura asked, feeling her smile slowly return.

“Let’s think about this,” she started. “Drinks with some random girl I met last weekend who I’ll likely never see again after I leave her place tonight…”

“You are utterly ridiculous.”

“Or pizza with the most beautiful woman in Manhattan, whose company I happen to enjoy very much. Even in a non-sexy way,” she said, both her hands outstretched in front of her as she pretended to weigh each option. “Even with Kirsch crashing, you still win.”

“I think you’re stretching the pros just a little,” Laura said, glancing down at her boots for a quick moment, hoping her smile wasn’t going to completely take over her face. “But you have a point. I’m clearly the better choice.”

“That you are, cupcake,” she said as her phone pinged from her pocket.

Laura watched her pull it out, the teasing smile on her face fading to a sort of grimace as she put the device back and looked up.

“I really have to go though. Already late.”

“Oh, yeah! Of course!” Laura said, swallowing down her disappointment. “I didn’t mean to keep you.”

“Trust me, you didn’t,” Carmilla started, smiling gently. “I’m glad I ran into you though. It’s… it’s nice to actually see you.”

“You too,” Laura nodded. “Really nice.”

“So… since you’re actually leaving your dad’s from time to time now, i s it too early for me to book you next Friday night?”

Laura’s eyes widened in surprise.

“We can hang out at my place and just… watch a movie or something? Super casual. I’ll even spring for dinner.”

“I’d… yeah,” Laura said, her voice quiet.

Because that sounded amazing. Yes, getting out to see her friends helped a little. But the being out part still wasn’t the most comfortable. It was too busy and loud and, honestly, she would’ve much rather curled up on one of their couches and just relaxed for a bit.

“That actually sounds really nice,” she nodded again.

“Perfect, then pencil me in.”

“Yeah because my social calendar is just so busy,” she giggled.

Carmilla merely raised one of those perfect eyebrows, still grinning softly as she shrugged. It was short-lived though as once again her phone chimed from her pocket.

“Ugh, Jesus, okay,” she grumbled, stepping even closer and reaching out, her hand landing on Laura’s bicep and squeezing once. “I’ll see you later, cutie.”

Laura just nodded, trying to focus on the fact that she’d be spending the next Friday night with Carmilla and not on where the dark-haired girl was currently headed.

You have no reason to be jealous. She’s allowed to do what she wants, she thought as she watched Carmilla walk away, blending into the masses a moment later.

“Was that angry hottie?” a deep voice suddenly came from behind her.

Slowly turning, brow furrowed she sighed heavily, giving Kirsch a pointed stare.

“Really? That’s what you call her?” she asked with a huff.

“Well, I mean it makes sense. Pretty angry. Super hot,” he explained with a shrug.

Rolling her eyes, Laura turned and made her way into the pizza shop she’d been waiting in front of without another word, the delicious smells immediately assaulting her senses and making her stomach growl once again.

“You know, she could’ve joined us,” he said from behind her. “The more, the merrier, right?”

“I asked, but she had other plans,” Laura said with a shrug as they got in line to order. “A date.”

“Oh, that sucks,” he said with a genuinely sorrowful look. “Sorry, little nerd.”

“Sorry, why?” she asked, turning and looking up at him.

“Well, aren’t you two like… you know?” he started, looking a little embarrassed. “Kind of… into each other?”

“What? No!” she squealed. “Where did you get that idea?”

“Well, Danny and Mel said something about you going to her place. And Perry said that she thought maybe there was something there. Like between you two.”

“No! No to all of that. For one, why are you all talking about this? And secondly, Carmilla and I… we’re just friends. I… she’s really nice and I like her. A lot. But no other feelings going on there, Kirsch.”

Oh god, I really hope she doesn’t think that I’m interested! I mean, attracted to her, yes. But hoping she’ll be my girlfriend, no!

“You can have a crush on a friend, you know,” he said with a smile. “You’ve had a crush on a friend.”

“That’s not the point here, Kirsch,” she said, rolling her eyes and stepping up in line.

“Don’t be embarrassed. You know I’ve been there too,” he shrugged, and Laura saw the barest hint of sadness that still lingered in his eyes. “Doesn’t necessarily mean anything will happen. Or that it should. Sometimes people are just better as friends and they should stay that way.”

“That may very well be true, but trust me, we really are just friends. I do not have feelings for Carmilla,” she said, voice adamant.

“Yeah, I’ve heard that from you before,” he chuckled, the laugh turning into a grumble a moment later when Laura socked in him the arm.

Wednesday, August 10th, 2011

7 years, 6 months, and 30 days earlier

Agoura Hills, California

“I’m already dreading how quiet it’s going to be around here after tomorrow,” Laura said, handing over another orange soda and taking back her seat on the couch.

“You make enough noise for ten people,” Danny said with a laugh. She reached for the remote, turning off the television as the credits from the movie they’d just finished rolled and sat back on the second-hand sofa. “I’m sure you’ll be fine.”

“I know. It’s just… I mean, you’ve been here for almost a month,” Laura said with a shrug. “I’m… well, I’m just used to you being here now.”

“I’m sure you’ll be happy to not trip over my luggage every morning.”

“I’ve been navigating just fine over the last week,” she said with a pout, rubbing at her still bruised shin from where she’d tripped over Danny’s duffle bag at three in the morning on her way to the kitchen for some water. “And luggage or not, all I’m saying is… well, it’s been nice having you here.”

“It’s been nice being here,” Danny agreed, leaning forward to rest her elbows on her knees, wrapping both hands around the aluminum can Laura had just given her. “Taking a little break before things get crazy.”

“So Mel and Kirsch have everything ready to go then for when you get back?”

“Yeah. Things are moving along and a friend of Mel’s even offered to draw up some relatively inexpensive ads for us. Apparently, they’re doing the trick though because Kirsch said they’ve already got a list of people ready to join.”

“That’s great!” Laura said, gently shoving her shoulder. “You guys are going to be the premier gym of Chelsea in no time.”

“That’d be great but we still have a long way to go,” Danny said, smiling softly as she stared down at the can of soda. “And Mel and Kirsch have been working so hard. I definitely owe them some time off when I get back.”

“I’m sure they’ll make you pay,” Laura giggled.

“Worth it,” Danny shrugged. “I just… well, I hadn’t seen you in a really long time and…”

Laura tipped her head to the side when Danny trailed off, refusing to meet her stare. She watched as the tall girl nervously chewed at her bottom lip, picking at the tab on the can in her hands, the quiet ping from the aluminum springing back into place the only sound in the small apartment.

“And what?” Laura finally asked.

“And… I miss you, Hollis,” she said, finally looking up, her eyes hopeful.

“Well, I miss you too,” Laura agreed. Because she did. “A lot. I miss all of you.”

Danny’s eyes dropped just the tiniest bit and Laura watched her throat bob twice before she spoke again.

“I know there’s still a year between then and now, but have you thought any more about my offer?”

Laura’s stomach churned, a mix of worry and something else that she couldn’t quite name rolling together and building.

Danny had flown in four weeks earlier and the ‘offer’ had come just two days after her plane had landed. They’d been sitting cross-legged in this same spot, facing each other and sharing a bowl of popcorn, both nervous. Which was… odd. Laura had never been nervous around Danny.

Though she hadn’t had the time to dissect that nervous feeling then as she was too stunned by the words that left her friend’s mouth. The offer was actually pretty simple. With only a year of school left, Laura had to figure out her next steps. And Danny was offering her a launching pad for that. Laura would move back to the east coast and stay at Danny’s crappy apartment for as long as she needed to, no strings attached, while she figured out what she was going to do.

It seemed easy enough. It seemed like a no-brainer. But that night, even as she’d opened her mouth to agree, she heard herself say that she wanted to think about it. Danny, of course, had just nodded and smiled at her, agreeing that she should take her time before changing the subject back to the lab that LaF had caught on fire the week before.

“Laur?”

Laura shook her head to rid herself of the cobwebs and swallowed hard, hoping a few steady breaths would even out the feeling in her stomach.

“Sorry. Yes, I have been thinking about it and… I’m still not sure,” she said with a shrug. “I mean, it’s a huge decision.”

“I know it is. But…” Danny paused, searching her eyes. “Is there something else? Holding you back?”

“No,” she said, even as she nodded, making the tall redhead quietly laugh. “Sorry. I mean, yes. I have other concerns.”

“Like what?” Danny asked, setting her soda can down on the beaten coffee table and turning towards her, attentive as ever.

“It’s stupid but… what if a year from now, you’ve changed your mind? Or what if… what if you’re seeing someone and it might cause problems that you’ve already got me shackin’ up with you?”

“Trust me,” Danny started with a soft laugh. “With all the extra stress and shit going on right now, and for the foreseeable future, meeting someone new that I’m interested in is the last thing I’m worried about.”

Someone new?

“So… you already have someone fitting that bill?”

“Not the point,” Danny answered, glancing at her hands for a moment. “And as far as me changing my mind, Hollis, you’re my best friend. I would love for you to be back and… to be close.”

Laura swallowed hard, the words sending even more nerves scattering through her chest.

“Well… what if things between us change?”

“Change isn’t always so bad, Laura,” she said, her own gaze searching the smaller girl’s.

Oh boy.

“I… I still want some more time. To think.”

“I understand. Take all the time you need,” Danny said, setting a careful hand atop her knee and squeezing.

“Thanks. But in the meantime, I should let you get some sleep,” she rushed out, standing and taking a few steps away. Distance. She needed distance.

“Yeah, I have to be up early for my flight,” Danny said.

Laura nodded as she turned, catching the tail end of a frown passing across Danny’s features.

“Okay, I’ll um… I’ll see you in the morning,” she said, her voice just a tad higher than normal.

Danny simply smiled and nodded.

Turning and quickly moving into her bedroom, she quietly closed the door behind her and collapsed back onto the bed, the springs squeaking in protest.

Yes, she’d had a crush on Danny Lawrence before. She’d had one on and off for a few years, but had resigned herself to the fact that they were friends, and it was better that way. After all, what they already had mattered. And Danny was Danny. She was the same girl that Laura had been friends with since she was six. The same girl who’d punched Sarah Kenderson in the face after the little blonde had shoved Laura off the swings in second grade. The same girl who had crawled into Laura’s second-floor bedroom window and sat next to her on her twin mattress, holding her hand as she’d cried for weeks after losing her mother. The same girl who’d spent hours tutoring her in Algebra, smiling and stealing cookies from her until Laura finally understood that week’s concept. The same girl who’d sat with her on the phone into the early morning hours just the year before when Cally Wheeler had broken Laura’s heart.

They were best friends!

So when Danny had called her at the end of June, asking if she wanted some company for part of the summer, Laura had jumped at the chance. They’d get to spend time together, just the two of them, doing the things only they liked to do. Doctor Who marathons and hours of Scrabble and Boggle and more pie dates than she could keep track of.

And that’s how the month had started, and it was great. But then… something changed. Something was different. Danny was different.

She still stared into Laura’s eyes, mouth closed, listening to anything and everything Laura had to say, regardless of the topic, but when it was Danny’s turn to talk, she teased more. She… flirted?

She still brought Laura hot cocoa when she was working on an article, adding extra marshmallows, just the way Laura liked it. But she would stay close afterward, watching. Waiting.

She still wrapped an arm around Laura’s shoulders as they walked, laughing at whatever ridiculous topic they were on. But she’d keep her pulled close when they reached their destination, sometimes reaching for her hand instead just to keep the contact.

It was almost as if…

Oh, crap.

Grabbing for her phone, Laura quickly opened her texts and typed out a quick message to the first person on the list.

Laura (10:57 PM): You know that whole on again, off again crush thing I’ve had on Danny for a while. Well, I think it might have just turned on.

Laura (10:57 PM): And I think she likes me too.

She chewed her thumbnail as she watched the little dots on the other end come up, waiting for a reply.

LaF (10:58 PM): You’re seriously figuring this out just now, Frosh?

Friday, March 15th, 2019

Back in the present

SoHo

She slowly walked into the building, nodding and nervously smiling at the doorman who still eyed her warily as she moved towards the elevator. She’d have to remember to ask Carmilla if perhaps the older girl could maybe mention to him that Laura wasn’t actually crazy or a stalker.

Well, if this is going to be a regular thing that is.

Stepping into the newly arrived elevator, she pressed the button for Carmilla’s floor, and stood in the middle of the lift, bouncing on the balls of her feet as it slowly ascended. She pulled her phone from her back pocket, just to check, and smiled when she only saw two text notifications.

The first was from Danny proclaiming that dating in New York was the worst thing ever.

Danny (8:06 PM): I’ve got a bad one, Hollis. The girl from Chelsea. Maybe we can grab a slice this week while you’re dad’s in PT and I can give you a laugh?

That girl has more dating horror stories than anyone I know, she thought with a giggle.

The second message was from one of her closest friends and neighbor back home.

Elsie (8:10 PM): So are you on your way to Makes Me Carm So Hard’s yet? Lol.

Ugh, god. Why did I tell her about Carmilla? she thought, pocketing the device again without responding and stepping out of the lift as it arrived on the twelfth floor.

And not only had she told Elsie that she was meeting up with Carmilla that night, who she’d already kissed twice in the last month while attempting to take her clothes off. But she’d actually told her the story of Chicago. According to Elsie, if Carmilla really was willing to help, Laura might as well take advantage of her ‘good intentions.’

There’s a reason I don’t listen to her.

It was the same reason she hadn’t listened to Kirsch when he’d once again hinted at her ‘crush’ on Carmilla the week before. Because she and Carmilla were friends now. And trying anything romantic with a friend was a terrible idea, she knew that. It was bad enough that they’d already slept together.

And sure, Carmilla was incredibly sweet. She was smart and funny and Laura loved talking with her and spending time in her presence. More than she loved spending time with any of her other friends, to be honest. But that didn’t mean anything. That didn’t mean she had feelings for the dark-haired girl.

Carmilla is just… different, she thought for the six thousandth time.

Shaking her head, she wrapped her knuckles against the apartment door, a little louder than normal to be heard over the music floating from within.

Ten seconds later, she found her smile blooming as Carmilla greeted her with her own soft grin.

“I honestly was waiting for you to call and cancel,” she chuckled. “Your dad kick you out?”

“Is this how you greet all of your guests?”

“No, because I’m usually busy doing other things with my mouth,” she said, pushing the door open.

“Classy,” Laura giggled as she stepped inside. Dropping jacket onto the coatrack, she followed Carmilla through the space and into the kitchen, propping herself up onto one of the stools at the island. “And no, he didn’t kick me out. I’m actually looking forward to this.”

“Surprisingly, I am too,” Carmilla said, voice muffled as she stood on her tiptoes and rummaged through one of the cupboards. “Can I get you something to drink?”

“Nope, I’m all set,” Laura said, setting the plastic bag she still held onto on top of the counter.

“What’s in there?” Carmilla asked, closing the cupboard and turning towards her, adjusting the fitted black t-shirt that had ridden up along her side.

Friend, Laura once again reminded herself, trying to ignore how soft the skin along Carmilla’s hip looked. Or the way her tattered jeans fit just right.

“Oh. Well, I know it’s Friday night and, you know, people tend to let loose and stuff but…” she trailed off, shrugging as she pulled a bottle of grape soda from the bag. “This is more my speed.”

“Oh, so my hospitality isn’t good enough?” Carmilla said, eyebrow raised. She turned her back to Laura, rooting through the fridge for a few seconds before looking back at the younger girl, a different brand of grape soda in each hand. “I asked Perry and she said grape was a good choice. But I wasn’t sure which one you’d like better.”

So different. And so good, Laura thought, absolutely beaming.

No, it wasn’t a crush. She just really, really liked Carmilla Karnstein.

Chapter Text

 

Girl, I think about you every day now

Was a time when I wasn't sure

But you set my mind at ease

There is no doubt you're in my heart now

Monday, April 1st, 2019

Midtown East

“Seriously, how do you not bounce out of your seat with the amount of sugar you consume on a daily basis?” Carmilla asked as Laura took the last sip of her caffè mocha, the third one she’d bought that afternoon, and chased it with a bite from her chocolate croissant.

“I’m naturally energetic,” Laura said around the pastry with a shrug and a smile.

“My little ball of sunshine,” Carmilla teased, smiling at the faint shade of pink that immediately dusted across Laura’s cheeks, a sight that she never got tired of causing.

“Well, you got part of that right,” Laura argued, fighting back own grin.

“Oh, I know I did, cutie,” she chuckled lightly, taking the last sip of her own coffee and standing to pull her coat on over her fitted black blazer. “And as sunshine-y as you are, the simple truth is that you’re mine.”

“You’re so full of it,” Laura grumbled, rolling her eyes and popping the last piece of her croissant into her mouth as she stood to follow.

This was the third Monday in a row that they’d met at the little café, the unspoken routine they’d fallen into now one that Carmilla was actually enjoying very much.

Way better than the standing coffee date that I’ve had with Lawrence since I moved back.

And it had started in this very shop just a few days after their first Friday night movie binge. Carmilla had just happened to be in the area for an appointment that afternoon and had rushed in to grab a quick pick me up before running to her next meeting. Which she never actually made it to because as she turned to leave, she caught sight of Laura sitting there, reading a book, thoughtfully chewing her bottom lip. Suddenly, work wasn’t all that important.

They’d spent almost an hour together that afternoon before Laura had to leave to pick her dad up from his PT session, talking and laughing and teasing. And every Monday afternoon since, when Carmilla walked into the little shop to find Laura in her standard seat, there was already a black coffee sitting on the other side of the table, the steam still rising from the cup as it waited for her. She hadn’t actually asked Laura about it though since the extreme blush that covered the smaller girl’s face on that first Monday when Laura treated was enough to keep her quiet. But she appreciated the gesture just the same.

After their coffee date, they would spend the rest of the week texting and calling, the discussions usually consisting of Laura catching Carmilla up on whatever was happening with Sherman and Carmilla filling Laura in on her workday before digressing to something light and easy. That first week was more back and forth on favorite books and TV shows, Carmilla having more to say on the former than the latter. But the conversation never veered toward anything super substantial or life-altering. The second week moved on to worst dates and terrible exes, where Laura had far more input on both subjects.

‘I’m probably the star of many a woman’s worst date story, cupcake,’ was the answer Carmilla had given when Laura prodded her to contribute more.

‘Well, what about ex-girlfriends?’ Laura had asked, the tone in her voice genuinely curious.

‘That list is pretty short,’ Carmilla had slowly admitted. ‘There’s really only one worth mentioning. And… I broke her heart.’

‘Oh.’

It had been a loud, echoing ‘Oh’ and Carmilla felt that shame that always seemed to rush to the surface when she thought of Elle. But she deserved it. She’d brought it on herself.

‘You know, that doesn’t mean you’re a bad girlfriend,’ Laura had finally said, the sweetest lilt in her voice and Carmilla couldn’t help but smile. The smile turned into a grateful laugh a few seconds later when Laura immediately switched gears and started talking about her travels for her blog, the latest being a trip to San Francisco where the brakes on her rented bicycle weren’t exactly up to snuff, leading to a rather embarrassing explanation to the paramedics that picked her up after a literal run-in with a trolley.

So as the amount of time talking and texting increased, and she’d learned more about the amazing younger girl, Carmilla found that she actually wanted to see her more. Sure, coffee Mondays at ‘their shop’ were great. But surprisingly, not enough.

And since their first Friday night movie had gone so well, she’d asked Laura to come back the week after for round two. On the most recent Friday, she may have simply sent a teasing text to the tiny brunette instead of an explicit invite. Something along the lines of ‘So you said I was missing out on Lord of the Rings. Not sure I’ll be able to keep myself awake to watch it on Friday night if I’m alone.’ Laura had shown up at 7:30 with a large extra cheese pizza and the most adorable smile. Carmilla didn’t exactly know what had happened by the end of the movie considering they’d spent the better half of it talking, but that wasn’t something she even thought to complain about with Laura leaning into her side, munching on peanut M&M's.

It was easy and fun and… it mattered.

Matters a lot, she thought as she held the coffee shop door open for the smaller girl and followed her out, the cold instantly biting at her face.

“Thank you for meeting me today,” Laura said with a sweet smile as she pulled her gray mittens on.

And Carmilla rolled her eyes, having heard this from Laura more than once now.

“You know, you don’t have to thank me for doing something I actually want to do,” Carmilla said with a shake of her head and a patient grin.

“I know, I just… well, it’s nice to have someone to talk to while I wait for my dad. It’s… it’s nice to laugh and pretend like everything is normal for a few minutes. And even though the others have offered to keep me company… well, I appreciate that it’s you here. It’s…”

Carmilla stopped and stared for a moment, taking in how Laura’s voice was just a little higher and seeing the nerves in the smaller girl’s gaze as she took a deep breath and nodded.

“I mean, you know I love our friends,” she added.

“I do but Lawrence makes cringe-worthy jokes, Kirsch breaks things, and the ginger twins have been acting weirder than normal lately.”

“And they’re all great,” Laura continued with a quiet giggle, ignoring the digs. “But I’m just not as comfortable with them as I once was.”

“So I win by default?”

“Honestly…” Laura trailed off for a moment, briefly glancing away before meeting Carmilla’s stare with a soft smile. “It’s not even a contest.”

Oh.

She knew what Laura was trying to say. She knew how much the smaller girl was enjoying their time spent together and their still somewhat new friendship. And somehow, that made it a harder pill to swallow. Because she’d never had someone come into her life and care about her the way Laura had. Sure, she’d gotten close to Mel in college and subsequently, the ginger squad later on. But that was different and at the start, it felt more like a friendship of convenience than something she would’ve chosen. But with Laura… the tiny brunette had chosen Carmilla.

She smiled softly and shook her head, slightly uncomfortable with the gratitude she saw shining in Laura’s eyes, appreciative but wanting to move past the topic before she inadvertently said something that would make Laura change her mind about the whole thing.

“So after you grab your dad, what’re you two up to for the rest of the day?” she tried, placing her hand on the small of Laura’s back for a moment to guide her down the sidewalk and out of the way of the heavy afternoon foot traffic.

“Well, actually the aid will be there this afternoon. And tonight some of his buddies are stopping by to hang out for a bit.”

“Wow, so you’ve got lots of free time today, huh? Want to put it to good use?” Carmilla teased.

“Oh, I plan to,” Laura said, lowering her voice just a tad as she looped her arm through Carmilla’s and tugged, slowly moving them toward the corner on the way back to the rehab center.

“Oh yeah?” Carmilla pressed, wiggling her eyebrows.

“Yep. The attic is in desperate need of a good cleaning.”

“Ouch,” Carmilla chuckled. “But fair. You uh… you need any help?”

“That’s really sweet of you but I’m okay,” Laura said, her smile softening as she squeezed Carmilla’s arm. “Danny’s going to come by with dinner and we’re going to go at it for a few hours. So all set on help.”

“Oh. Right.”

The disappointment hit harder than it should’ve. After all, why in the hell would she be upset about not having to spend her evening in a dusty attic? And why would she care that Laura would be spending that time with Lawrence instead?

“Well, I’m glad I got to steal you away for a bit,” she said, brushing the minor ache aside.

“Really?” Laura pressed with a teasing grin. “Tell me more.”

“Yes, really,” she chuckled again. “And, I mean, sure the weekly coffee is great and it’s nice to get away for an hour. But I actually just like spending time with you, cutie. You should know that by now.”

“I do,” Laura said shyly. “I just….”

“You love seeing me too, I know,” Carmilla said with a shrug.

“Heaven forbid you ever be modest.”

“Not my style.”

“Well, I enjoy our weekly coffee date too. A lot.”

“Date, huh?” Carmilla said, smirking and hoping some more banter would take away the slightly uncomfortable feeling still sitting in her chest. “Do you always date girls without their knowledge.”

“Shut up! You know what I mean,” Laura giggled freely. “Besides if I was going to date someone, I could do so much better.”

Still really love that sound, Carmilla thought as the laugh continued to float around her, drowning out the rest of the busy Manhattan sidewalk. And when paired with Laura’s incredible smile, it was even more beautiful.

“Oh really? You could do better than me?”

“Yeah. Don’t you know I just keep you around for random kisses and… other extracurricular activities?”

Yeah, we’ve definitely enjoyed those, she thought even as she stayed quiet, shaking her head and just barely smirking at the jab.

“Really?” Laura continued. “No snarky comeback?”

“Why would I have a snarky comeback to a beautiful woman throwing herself at me?”

“I did not throw myself at you!” Laura cried.

“Yeah, well if you ever want to change that…”

“Carmilla!”

“What? Kissing me seems to take your mind off of things. Imagine what sleeping with me again would do.”

“I love how you jump from kissing straight to sex,” Laura said, loudly whispering the last word.

“What, you want to test out second or third base first, like we’re still in fucking high school?”

“Oh my god! No!”

“I’m just making a valid point,” Carmilla continued, smiling harder at the blush rising up Laura’s neck. “I mean, we both know it’s good.”

“You get more and more conceited with each day, I swear.”

“That was a compliment to you too, you know?” she chuckled. “Besides, friends can sleep together.”

“You’re not going to let this go, are you?” Laura said with a soft smile.

“Depends. I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we-”

“What’re you doing out here?” Laura suddenly cried, completely cutting her off as she released Carmilla’s arm and rushed up the sidewalk to a man sitting there in a wheelchair in front of the building where they normally parted ways, looking a little lost.

Slightly thrown by the interruption, Carmilla cautiously walked after her, arriving just as Laura reached out, fussing over the man’s green down jacket and scarf.

“I’m j-just g-getting some air,” the man answered, his eyes brightening as he unsuccessfully tried to bat her hands away.

“You should’ve waited inside!” she chastised with a hard frown, now messing with his black wool cap. “It’s cold and the last thing you need is-”

“I’m fine, L-Laur,” he interrupted, holding her gaze for a long moment, eyes soft as he finally got ahold of one of her hands.

Laura finally stopped and Carmilla watched as they shared a long look, eyes soft. And whatever they’d been silently communicating seemed to be just enough to settle the younger girl.

“Are you sure?” Laura asked, her posture sagging just a bit.

“Yes. Just got done a f-few minutes early, thought I’d w-wait out here. G-Get some air,” he said. “But I’m f-fine. I p-promise.”

Laura smiled softly and nodded, leaning over to leave a quick kiss on his forehead.

“Okay, but we should get you home.”

“Fine. But f-first you should p-probably use those manners that your mother and I t-taught you and intro-duce me to the young l-lady standing here, waitin’ for you,” he said, turning towards Carmilla and eyeing her curiously.

“Oh! Shoot, I’m sorry! Dad, this is my… um… friend, Carmilla,” Laura said, turning back to the dark-haired girl. “Carm, this is my dad, Sherman Hollis.”

Carmilla internally chuckled at the slight bumble on the ‘F’ word but brushed past it, knowing that it was neither the time nor place to continue with her teasing.

“Nice to meet you,” Carmilla said, stepping forward and taking the shaky hand Sherman was slowly offering, his grip loose. “And thank you for letting me borrow some time with your daughter. Makes my days infinitely better.”

“Oh, trying t-to ch-charm me already?” he said, still not giving anything away.

“I rarely have to try,” she said before she could stop herself, cringing a little when she saw Sherman’s eyes harden ever so slightly.

Fuck.

She glanced over, watching Laura roll her eyes as she clearly attempted to fight off the giggle bubbling in her throat.

“I mean, um…” she started again, nerves from nowhere suddenly settling in her chest. “Hi, yes… nice to meet you, sir.”

“Alr-ready said that.”

Dammit.

“But s-sure. You t-too,” he said, clearly unimpressed as he turned back to Laura. “Let’s go home, pum-pkin.”

Laura just shook her head, still fighting her laughter as she moved behind him to push his chair toward the curb.

Carmilla stood stock still, useless, as she watched the younger girl hail a cab and then slowly help Sherman into the backseat, taking great care to get him settled. Finally shaking herself out of her stupor, she moved to help put his chair into the trunk, avoiding Laura’s gaze the entire time.

“I wish I would’ve gotten that on video,” Laura giggled after everything was situated. “That was easily the smoothest you’ve ever been.”

“Yeah, well, don’t worry, cutie,” Carmilla said, pushing past her embarrassment. “I’m going to be around for a while, you know. He’ll fall for my charm in no time.”

“Doubtful since you’re still working on me,” Laura said with a cheeky grin, reaching out and bopping Carmilla on the nose with a mittened hand.

“You know, I think I’ve had enough of you for the day,” she said, moving to open the back door behind the driver for the smaller girl and fighting her own smile as Laura practically skipped after her.

“You’ll never have enough of me,” she said with a giggle.

“Yeah, but you’re not supposed to know that,” Carmilla said, eyes narrowed, making Laura laugh once more.

“I’ll pretend to be oblivious when I text you later tonight.”

“Maybe I won’t answer.”

“But I know you will,” she said stepping closer.

Dammit, she thought once more, shaking her head at the younger girl’s antics.

“Thanks again, Carm,” she said, still almost giddy. “For everything today.”

And then in a move so quick that Carmilla didn’t even register it was happening, Laura leaned in and left a soft, warm kiss against her cheek before climbing into the car and shutting the door. She waved with that same beautiful smile as they drove off and Carmilla could do nothing but stare, her own cheeks heating up at the unusual turn of events.

But was it really that unusual? 

Even with Carmilla’s continuous teasing about her lack of self-control, Laura had kept her lips to herself over the last few weeks. There’d been no further incidents of impromptu lip-locking.

Her hands, however, seemed to constantly be reaching for Carmilla, be it for a quick touch or for an entire movie, as Laura had a habit of playing with Carmilla’s fingers while they attempted to watch whatever was on the screen. And while Carmilla wasn’t as quick to initiate contact, she had to admit that she definitely didn’t mind their constant close proximity. Laura’s hands were always soft and warm, her fingers gentle. And she fit so perfectly when she’d press herself into Carmilla’s side from time to time.

So maybe a kiss on the cheek wasn’t that farfetched. Maybe it was just Laura being Laura. Being warm and sweet. Regardless of the reason Carmilla really didn’t mind.

Not even a little bit, she thought, her lips slowly pulling up into a lopsided grin.

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2019

Weehawken, NJ

“We’re so happy to see you both looking so well,” Perry said, her voice chipper as she stepped back into the living room, carefully handing Sherman the cup of tea he’d finally agreed to.

Laura knew he was still bitter about being denied his regular coffee doused with cream but he’d at least remembered to say thank you when Perry offered to make it for him.

“Well, we’re hap-py you’re b-both here,” he said with a smile and a nod. “G-Gives Laur something else to f-focus on.”

“Dad!”

“What?” he asked, taking a small sip with a grimace. “You h-hover.”

“I do not!” she argued. “You better watch it or you’re not going to be allowed to have any of the delicious cookies Perry’s making you today.”

“Those aren’t c-cookies,” he grumbled, pouting once again. “They’re goddamn pieces of c-cardb-board.”

“Dad!” Laura chastised again, internally sagging at the words now hanging in the room, heavy and so unlike Sherman. 

Before this whole mess, he would’ve been nothing but grateful, regardless. But his polite and proper filter wasn’t fully turned back on just yet and sometimes the outbursts still startled her.

“She offered to do this for you. She doesn’t have to.”

“I know,” he said a few seconds later, seeming to realize himself. “Th-Thank you, P-Perry.”

“Happy to help,” she said, her smile never falling.

“So go. B-Bake and visit in the k-kitchen while I w-watch the game.”

“That sounds like a dismissal,” Laura said with narrowed eyes.

“It was,” he said with a quiet chuckle and Laura couldn’t help but smile softly at him. “Now g-go. Let these t-two enter-tain you for a bit.”

“Entertain me?” she asked as she stood to follow the two redheads into the kitchen, the smell of the first batch of soft-baked vegan sugar cookies wafting around her.

“Yes. You n-need it. Heck, the only t-time you smile anymore is after you c-come home f-from Carmilla’s,” he said before turning back to the television. “And I d-don’t want to think ab-bout why.”

Carmilla.

Laura felt her stomach flutter at the older girl’s name even as her eyes rolled at his last comment. But she didn’t bother scolding him about inappropriate conversation topics. And she definitely didn’t want to open a discussion on either her past or present relationship with the older girl.

Which at times was still hard to fathom. She found herself occasionally trying to wrap her head around the fact that not only had they become friends - and good ones at that - but also, just how much she actually liked Carmilla. Spending time with the other girl over the last few weeks had been like a breath of fresh air. It didn’t matter what they were actually doing, so long as Laura was with her. When they were together Laura smiled. She laughed. She stopped worrying about every little thing.

Somehow.

And sure, there was still teasing and a seemingly endless amount of innuendos, but even those had somehow become more fun and Laura couldn’t stop herself from playing along.

Even if you really shouldn’t.

“What’s he talking about?” Laf asked with a grin from the other side of the kitchen, bringing Laura out of her head as she finally stepped into the room, the heat from the oven leaving it toasty and snug.

“Nothing,” she quickly said, waving them off and moving around the counter to try and help with the next batch of cookies Perry was already starting.

“No way, you’re not getting out of this one, L. You’ve been hanging out with Karnstein?” they pushed with a toothy grin, moving toward the old wooden dining set in the corner, the chair quietly creaking beneath them as they sat. “Like regularly?”

“Well, yeah, kind of,” Laura mumbled, looking down at the counter. “ We’ve been meeting up for coffee during the week while dad’s in physical therapy.”

“She’s meeting you in the middle of the day?”

“Well, yeah,” Laura repeated.

“Did you know about this?” LaF asked, turning to Perry.

“No,” she answered, her curls bouncing as her head shook, eyes wider than they should be. “But I did notice that she’s been rearranging some things on her schedule lately without reason.”

“It’s not like… causing a problem, right?” Laura asked, suddenly nervous.

Because the last thing she wanted was for Carmilla to be pushing things aside so that they could spend time together in the name of ‘helping.’

“I didn’t say that, dear. It’s just been a little… well, odd.”

“Odd how?”

“For as devil may care as she comes off, Carmilla is actually rather invested in the business. She works incredibly hard. Far harder than Will. And surprisingly, sometimes even harder than Mattie. There’s a reason that Lilita entrusts her with the most lucrative clients.”

“So maybe meeting me when she should be working is a bad idea,” Laura mumbled, feeling the guilt bubble up even further in her chest.

“On the contrary, I think it’s an excellent idea,” Perry said with a small smile. “For both of you.”

Laura opened her mouth to respond but didn’t get her question out in time.

“Okay, back to the start. So coffee in the city,” LaF led with, leaning forward onto the table, eyes eager. “But Sherman didn’t mention the city.”

Laura glanced between her friends, both staring expectantly at her as she attempted to gather herself.

Crap. Dad said ‘from Carmilla’s.’

She’d just have to bite the bullet.

“And… we’ve been hanging out on Friday nights,” she finally said with a shrug.

“Oh?”

“But just to watch movies! We just… hang out.”

“You want to elaborate on that some more?” LaF pushed.

“Elaborate on what? Monday afternoon coffee in the city and Friday night movie at her place. That’s it!”

“Well, that’s wonderful, dear,” Perry said, that same knowing smile still stretching her features. “Gives you a little break. I think it’s fantastic.”

“I mean, it has been nice to kind of step away once in a while,” Laura agreed. “Lets me regroup, I guess.”

“I think you’re both missing the bigger picture here,” LaF said, still just as excited. “How in the hell did you end up nabbing Karnstein, not only for middle of the day meetups, but on Friday nights when she’s usually out looking for… well, you know?”

And Laura did know. The thought had crossed her mind more than once during their evenings together, always followed by the vision of Carmilla looking beyond incredible and ready for her date just a few weeks earlier. 

Of course, Carmilla normally would’ve been out looking for something or someone to entertain her. But instead, she’d spent the last three weeks at home, sitting next to Laura, watching whatever the smaller girl chose, and making sure to keep her giggling and happy for the entire evening.

The problem was, even if Laura felt bad for taking away time from Carmilla’s work, she couldn’t bring herself to feel that guilty about keeping the older girl in when she’d normally be out prowling for someone to spend the night with.

“I… I don’t know,” Laura finally shrugged, still avoiding their curious gazes.

“Frosh! How did this even start?”

“We ran into each other one night, a few weeks ago,” Laura sighed. “She asked me to come over for a movie and we’ve been hanging out ever since.”

“She asked you?”

“Yeah.”

“And just for a movie?” LaF said with a teasing grin as they rose from their seat and moved closer. “You sure about that? You sure there hasn’t been anything more?”

“Yes! I mean, no! I mean…” she trailed off, running a hand through her hair and attempting to stop the blush from covering her cheeks. “We aren’t doing anything that friends don’t do.”

“Hey, friends can be a pretty broad definition.”

Which, okay was true. And yes, Carmilla was gorgeous and Laura couldn’t even begin to convince herself, let alone anyone else, that she wasn’t incredibly attracted to the older girl. She’d caught herself on more than one occasion letting her eyes roam to places that they shouldn’t and holding herself back from pouncing on Carmilla and kissing her senseless.

Or more.

But she’d refrained. Because that wasn’t going to happen. It didn’t matter that Carmilla was an amazing kisser or that her hands always seemed to find places on Laura’s body that left her shivering and aching for more.

And it didn’t matter that more than once now she’d caught Carmilla’s own eyes on her, a flicker of heat dancing within her dark gaze.

“There’s nothing… physical going on,” she finally stammered.

Which wasn’t exactly a lie. Just because she couldn’t seem to stop herself from constantly reaching for the dark-haired girl, consciously or not, didn’t mean they were doing anything wrong. Friends were allowed to touch!

“Well, what about the fact that per Sherman in there, she makes you smile?”

“She does, but really, it’s not like that you guys. We’re just friends,” Laura argued, shaking the thoughts from her head. “We’re close but… nothing more.”

“Friends are wonderful, dear. Especially close ones.”

“Wait! Is that why you asked us to host dinner this Thursday instead of Friday? Because you’re seeing Karnstein?”

Laura looked away and shrugged, closing her eyes as LaF burst into giggles.

“Way to go, Hollis.”

“It’s not like that!” she argued once more.

“Not like what?”

“We’re not… I mean, we aren’t…”

“Aren’t hooking up? Sure, whatever you say,” LaF said with a smile before turning to an equally giddy Perry and surprisingly dropping the subject. “So please tell me we’re making some real cookies too and not just these imitation ones.”

“I’m not making anything Sherman can’t have,” Perry said before reaching into one of the cloth bags they’d brought with them and pulling a container out. “But I may have made some brownies and double fudge cookies for Laura last night.”

“Nice!” LaF grinned, opening the lid and grabbing for one.

Laura smiled when Perry swatted their hands away and the two began to bicker over the batter Perry was in the middle of mixing.

Grateful for the distraction, she reached for her phone that lay on the counter, a few text messages waiting for her. But with a smile, she bypassed all the ones from earlier that afternoon - Danny, Kirsch, and Elsie could wait - in favor of the most recent one she’d received.

Laura (10:20 AM): You’ll be pleased to know LaF and Perry are stopping by to entertain me today. I’ll be less demanding of your attention during Friday movie night.

Carmilla (6:31 PM): Sorry, cupcake, totally swamped today. But come on, you know I like to entertain you. And I love it when you get all demanding. It’s hot.

Laura (6:42 PM): I swear to god…

It had only been two days, but for whatever reason she missed Carmilla. A lot. She missed her smile and her teasing. Her softness. She missed those dark eyes that could turn from mischievous to gentle on a dime. And the careful touches that seemed to linger against Carmilla’s warm skin. Heck, she even missed the flirting. A little.

You’ll see her Friday night, she thought with a quiet sigh, staring at her phone for a moment before glancing up. And though she shouldn’t have been surprised, the sudden question that left her mouth still caught her slightly off guard.

“Hey, would you guys be okay with Carmilla coming to dinner tomorrow night too?”

“Oh, absolutely!” Perry quickly answered, eyes wide once again. “We’d love to have you both.”

Laura quirked an eyebrow at Perry’s overeager tone, finding herself even more confused when LaF sent the curly haired girl a warning look and a subtle jab to her elbow.

“The more the merrier,” they said, their own smile bordering on manic.

Um…

“Carm’s right, you two are being weirder than normal,” she said as she picked up her phone.

“Hey!”

Sunday, December 28th, 2016

2 years, 3 months, and 7 days earlier

North Lincoln Avenue, Chicago

“I still don’t know why you’re wasting your time sitting here,” Laura said as she bit into the still warm cookie that had just been placed on the table, the server having dropped off another batch of sweets at Carmilla’s insistence.

They’d been sitting there for the last half hour, Laura still skeptical of Carmilla’s true intentions but unable to deny the incredible charm the dark-haired girl seemed to naturally exude. For the majority of that time, Carmilla had used the vacation angle, telling Laura about different places she’d traveled and the things she’d seen. And the tiny brunette had to admit, it was an impressive list. But for the last few minutes, Carmilla had been attempting to shift the conversation away from herself, apparently hoping Laura would open up a bit.

“Why do you think this is a waste of my time?” Carmilla asked, tipping her head to the side. “Personally, I’m having a blast.”

“Oh yeah, this is great fun,” Laura said, unable to stop the amused smile pulling at the corners of her mouth.

“Well, I suggested we go somewhere else, but you said no.”

“Because after I leave here, I plan to go back to my hotel room and spend the rest of my evening there, eating all the overpriced chocolate and watching whatever murder documentary series I can find.”

“I mean, not necessarily my taste, but if you insist,” Carmilla started with a teasing smirk, “we can head there now.”

“That wasn’t an invitation,” Laura giggled. “I’ll be spending the night there by myself.”

“So you’re all alone for the holiday?”

“Yeah,” Laura sighed, her smile falling fast as her stomach churned. She looked down at the table, picking at one of the many scratches embedded in the beige Formica, her brow furrowed, eyes starting to burn.

You are not going to cry again!

“Are we approaching the topic that shall not be named?” Carmilla asked, her voice softening.

Laura looked up, taking in the dark-haired girl’s features, all traces of teasing gone.

“I… yeah,” she finally said, swallowing down the sadness that had reared its ugly head. “It just wasn’t exactly the trip I had planned. But I still-”

“Don’t want to talk about it,” Carmilla interrupted, leaning a little closer, her hands landing just a few inches from where Laura’s continued to fidget. “Okay.”

Laura stared for a moment, watching as somehow Carmilla’s eyes became even softer. Kinder. More patient.

If I had met her under different circumstances…

“So, how much longer do I get to enjoy your company?” Carmilla asked.

“I think you’re time’s about up,” Laura shrugged. “I came here to try and write but… clearly, that’s a lost cause.”

“Well, then how about we go somewhere else?” Carmilla offered, holding her hands up in surrender when Laura’s eyes immediately narrowed. “I didn’t mean that as a come on. I just thought… well, maybe we can go somewhere fun. Somewhere that might give you a tiny bright spot to this apparently very shitty trip.”

“You want me to just trust you, a woman who I know nothing about, to take me somewhere in a city I’m unfamiliar with for the night?” Laura scoffed.

“Well, when you say it that way, it sounds bad,” Carmilla said, cringing slightly even as the corners of her lips turned up.

Laura just shook her head, once again fighting a small grin, Carmilla’s smile apparently contagious.

“How about this then? I think I know a place you might like.”

“Because you know me so well.”

“It’s a ten-minute cab ride and very open and public,” Carmilla continued. “If you hate it, you can leave and I won’t bother you again.”

“Likely story,” Laura said, taking another bite of her cookie. “You are incredibly persistent.”

“I swear, I’ll leave you alone. Scouts honor.”

“And there’s no way in hell you were ever a scout,” Laura said, giggling quietly as the exasperated look on Carmilla’s face slowly morphed into a small smile, the other girl looking down at her hands and shrugging.

“Just wanted to help,” she said, glancing back up. “But okay.”

Laura watched as Carmilla nodded once more, suddenly resigned. She pointed at the pen sitting near Laura’s left hand, grabbing it as Laura pushed it toward her. Reaching for one of the spare napkins from the dented silver dispenser at the edge of the table, she quickly scribbled something and folded it into quarters before handing the pen back and pushing the napkin across the table as she stood.

“It was really nice to meet you, Laura,” she said, eyes gentle and kind.

She hesitated for just a split second before smiling and nodding once more as she turned and walked away and out of the diner, hands shoved into the pockets of her leather jacket.

Laura watched, puzzled at the sudden departure, but what did she expect? She’d made no effort. Why would Carmilla want to stick around? Why would anyone want to stick around?

And why did Laura suddenly regret her behavior?

Curious, she turned back to the table and grabbed up the napkin, quickly unfolding it and sagging a little when she read what Carmilla had written.

‘Really did just want to help…’ followed by the dark-haired girl’s phone number.

Had she really read the entire scenario wrong? Had she really just pushed away the first kindness she’d been shown in the last week?

Crap.

Laura turned back towards the door as the little bell above it rang, feeling the hope that had unknowingly surfaced in her chest quickly dashed when she saw it was an older couple entering and shaking off the cold.

Maybe she’d been wrong. Maybe Carmilla really had been offering her genuine kindness. Maybe…

She quickly stood from the booth, her feet tripping over each other in her haste. Righting herself, she wrestled on her coat, reached for her bag, and shoved the napkin into her pants pocket before running out of the diner.

Thursday, April 4th, 2019

Back in the present

Gramercy Park

“Oh my god! I forgot that part!” LaF said, laughing so hard that their cheeks nearly matched the color of their hair.

“So, he just ran back home… naked?” Laura asked, swallowing the last bite of her lemon pepper chicken and carefully setting her fork down on the exquisite china Perry had chosen for the occasion.

“No,” Carmilla chuckled, playing with the stem of her empty wine glass. “In a very ‘Kirsch the cartoon’ moment, he found two trash can lids to cover himself with. And then he ran back home.”

“What is it with this group and running drunk and naked through the city?” Laura giggled.

“Oh, he wasn’t drunk,” LaF added, still breathless from their fit, tears in their eyes.

“You would think that we’d all be responsible enough for such antics not to occur at this point,” Perry chided as she continued to clear the table of the empty dishes. “Alas, it doesn’t seem we’ve gotten there just yet.”

“What’s a little nudity among friends?” LaF giggled.

“Something I don’t particularly want to participate in,” Perry said, turning and making her way into the kitchen with the rest of their dinner plates. “LaFontaine, can you come in here, please? I need your assistance.”

Laura smiled harder, watching a still snickering LaF stand and shuffle into the kitchen before turning to Carmilla seated to her left, the older girl’s grin still infectious.

Has been since day one, though.

“So how many times have you done that?” Laura teased, resting her elbows on the table and leaning forward.

“Run naked through the city?”

Laura simply nodded, smiling harder when Carmilla lifted one of those perfect eyebrows.

“Why?” she asked, moving closer to the smaller girl.

Laura bit her lip and swallowed hard as the soft scent of Carmilla’s soap surrounded her, warming and leaving her a little lightheaded.

“You sorry you missed out on the sight, cutie?”

“Oh, I’ve seen it,” Laura answered quietly, releasing a quiet giggle when Carmilla chuckled heartily.

As the laughter faded, Laura watched Carmilla as the older girl looked away for a long moment before meeting her gaze, her eyes still playful but soft. Sweet.

Because beneath that projected hard exterior, that really was Carmilla.

“Hey,” Laura started, voice quiet. “Thank you for coming tonight. I love LaF and Per, really. But… it’s better with you here.”

“I aim to please, cupcake,” she said, studying her for a long moment before glancing down at the table with an amused smile.

Laura followed her gaze, feeling her face heat up when she noticed that at some point she’d reached out and grabbed onto Carmilla’s fingers, gently squeezing them.

Uh oh.

But instead of pulling away in embarrassment, she smiled softly, meeting Carmilla’s stare even as she locked their fingers together. And her smile grew when she felt Carmilla’s grip tighten ever so slightly.

“You do a really good job,” Laura said, voice still soft.

She smiled harder when Carmilla’s eyebrows lifted ever so slightly in surprise but didn’t press the issue. Embarrassing Carmilla might’ve been a little fun and extremely rare. But at that moment, sitting there in LaF and Perry’s dining room with their friends just a few feet away in the next room…

“Hey, you want to grab a coffee after this?” she asked, a sudden bout of nervousness entering her voice, though she wasn’t sure why or where it had come from.

“Don’t you have to get back to your dad?”

“I checked on him mid-dinner. He’s okay. Said he’d be fine for a while longer and promised to call if he needed me.”

“Oh.”

It was quiet for a long moment, Carmilla saying nothing more as she looked away and Laura felt her stomach drop.

You’re asking for too much, she chastised herself.

“I mean, if you don’t want to, I understand,” Laura said, moving her hand out of Carmilla’s grasp.

“I didn’t say that.”

“But I’m sure you have better things to do. I mean… I already take up enough of your time,” she continued, LaF’s shocked words from the day before suddenly floating in her head as she slipped into a tailspin.

‘How in the hell did you end up nabbing Karnstein, not only for middle of the day meet-ups, but on Friday nights when she’s usually out looking for… well, you know?’

“You know, if you want, we can just skip tomorrow night and catch up on Monday.”

“But-”

“If you’re free, that is!” Laura quickly backpedaled. “I don’t want you rearranging your schedule because of me. So if you want to skip Monday too, that’s fine. I understand.”

“Okay, stop,” Carmilla said, voice firm even as she reached out and gently grabbed Laura’s fingers with one hand and cupped her chin with the other, forcing their eyes to meet. “What’s wrong?”

I’m getting too attached to you.

“Nothing,” Laura answered, her voice far higher than normal.

“Then do you want to explain to me why you’d ever think I wouldn’t want to spend more time with you?” she asked as she let go of Laura’s chin and sandwiched the smaller girl’s hand between hers. “Or that I have better things to do? Or that you are inconveniencing me in any way?”

“I… I just…” She took a deep breath, staring into the dark depths of Carmilla’s eyes for a long moment, attempting to choose her words carefully. “We haven’t been friends for very long. But you’ve been so good to me, taking my mind off of things and making me laugh and feel better about… everything. And…”

She paused again, glancing down at where Carmilla’s hands were still wrapped around hers, grip gentle, her own words now clawing open more worries that she’d tried to ignore.

“Carm, what do you get out of this?” Laura asked, finally looking up. “You do so much for me but…”

“Cupcake,” she started with a patient smile.

Carmilla briefly glanced over her shoulder toward the kitchen before returning her gaze and Laura remembered that they weren’t alone and that this probably wasn’t the best place to have started this conversation.

Can you do anything right?

“Never mi-”

“No, stop. I don’t do this out of some weird obligation or because I feel bad for you or… some other really fucking dumb reason,” Carmilla chuckled lightly, her eyes never leaving Laura’s. “I spend time with you because I want to. I try to be nice because I like you. And I try to make you smile and laugh because… well, because you have the most beautiful smile and the brightest laugh in the entire world.”

Laura felt her cheeks heat up at the admission, swallowing hard as Carmilla grinned at her.

“And I don’t do any of this because I want or expect something from you in return,” she continued.

“You don’t?” Laura asked quietly.

“No. I do it because I care about you,” she answered slowly. “I do it… because we’re friends.”

“We are,” Laura slowly agreed, the barest of smiles forming on her mouth.

“And I would love to have coffee with you tonight. Just say when and we’ll ditch this place. Happily.”

“Okay,” Laura nodded again, relaxing slightly and pushing the worry back down. For now. “Yeah.”

“Chocolate cake?” came a chipper voice behind them and Laura turned, seeing an awkward LaF and a widely smiling Perry standing there, holding dessert plates and fresh coffee.

Laura turned towards Carmilla, meeting the older girl’s questioning gaze before smiling and turning back to her friends.

“Definitely,” she agreed. “But I think we’ll skip the coffee. Since it’s already late.”

Catching Carmilla’s eye, she smiled harder when the dark-haired girl quirked an eyebrow at her, squeezing her hand once before letting go and settling in to finish dinner with their friends.

Friday, April 5th, 2019

SoHo

“Are you sure you’re okay with staying in tonight?” Laura asked with a soft smile. “Because we don’t have to.”

“Are we still doing this, cupcake?” Carmilla sighed as she handed the tiny brunette another can of soda and fell heavily onto the couch beside her, propping her bare feet up on the coffee table. “We do movies here on Friday night.”

“I know but… this is the fourth one in a row. And the third time you’ve seen me this week.”

“Hey, you can count,” Carmilla teased, chuckling at the loud sigh Laura released.

“Yes, surprisingly I can,” Laura said, bumping her shoulder into Carmilla’s as they both settled further back into the couch.

After they’d left LaF and Perry’s apartment the night before, Carmilla had insisted on taking Laura for coffee somewhere closer to Sherman’s house, just to be safe. She’d noticed the tiny brunette squirming in her seat as dessert had gone on for longer than it should’ve. But even after they’d left, Laura had still wanted to spend a little more time together, so Carmilla figured proximity to the Hollis house was a good compromise.

This, of course, left them with limited options and late night Dunkin Donuts definitely left something to be desired. But they’d sat together, laughing over shitty coffee and a couple of donut holes - Carmilla still had no idea where the smaller girl put all the sugar she consumed on a daily basis - and had ended the night outside of Sherman’s house, Carmilla promising to tip the cabbie extra if he waited a few minutes longer for them to say their goodbyes.

She wasn’t sure why she did it, but after she’d walked Laura to the front door and the younger girl had smiled up at her, so gorgeous and amazing, Carmilla had leaned in and left a soft kiss against her forehead. But when she’d pulled back, the smile was gone and in its place was a look Carmilla couldn’t quite place. In fact, for as good as she had gotten at reading the younger girl, at that moment, she was at a loss. Worried she’d crossed a line, her mouth opened to apologize but before she could get the words out, Laura wrapped her arms around her waist and pulled their bodies flush, burying her face in Carmilla’s neck with a muffled ‘thank you.’ Unable to help herself, Carmilla had barely let her lips graze Laura’s hairline once more as she held the younger girl close for a few seconds longer than was probably appropriate.

She’d attempted to dissect the interaction the entire way back to her apartment but kept arriving at the same conclusion. Laura needed someone in her life to take her away. She needed a friend. And apparently, Carmilla was taking that role very seriously.

That’s it right? There isn’t another logical reason.

“I just thought maybe you’d want to go out one of these nights,” Laura continued from her spot on the black leather sofa, moving an inch closer to Carmilla’s side as if drawn in.

“Are you bored, creampuff?” Carmilla asked without even glancing in her direction.

“I didn’t say that. I was just offering a suggestion. That if you wanted to, we could do something besides sitting here. I mean… if I wasn’t here, you wouldn’t be either.”

“Well, we can go out if you want but…” Carmilla started, staring at the television, the movie still paused, though she had no clue what was happening as she’d been distracted by Laura the entire evening. “I just know you still have a hard time being out. So I thought keeping up with a movie night here might be better.”

“Such a giant softy,” Laura teased.

“I am not a softy!”

“Okay,” Laura giggled. “By the way, thank you for picking up more of my favorite grape soda. And chocolate chip cookies. And ordering from the Chinese place that I like best. All without me asking in your hard, edginess.”

“It’s not a big deal,” she said, shaking her head. “I’m just… trying to help. Trying to be a good friend.”

“I’ve already told you. You’re an amazing friend, Carm,” she said, reaching over and grabbing at one of Carmilla’s hands, her fingers cold from the aluminum can now lying beside her that she’d yet to open. “Which, I have to admit, is still a little surprising. Even after all this time. Especially as I’m the main benefactor.”

Carmilla shrugged and sagged further back into the sofa, unpausing the movie.

“Don’t do that,” Laura said, poking her in the side. “You can’t fool me with the cool and disaffected shtick.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Oh, come on! Granted, I’ve only seen you with our friends two or three times, but when you’re with them…”

Carmilla waited, still staring across the room, feeling Laura’s soft gaze on her even as the smaller girl’s fingers now tickled along her palm.

“The way you act around them… I just don’t understand. Because you’re different with me,” Laura finally said.

“Just watch the movie, cupcake.”

“No!” Laura said, reaching for the remote and stopping the picture once again. “I’m being serious. If I was any of our other friends, you wouldn’t be sitting here right now. I’m just trying to understand why.”

“I thought we put this discussion to bed last night,” she whined.

“Well, I just woke it up again,” Laura continued, undeterred and clearly on a mission. “So you’re going to tell me that you’re not bored of sitting here every Friday night with me? That you don’t have something else you’d rather be doing?”

“Like what?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Laura said with a roll of her eyes. “Going out. Meeting people.”

There was a long pause and Carmilla turned to the smaller girl, curious at the slight flush slowly climbing up Laura’s neck.

“Dating,” she finally said, glancing up and meeting Carmilla’s gaze.

“Because that was what I always did before?” Carmilla scoffed, brow furrowed.

“Well… yeah,” Laura shrugged.

“Hate to break it to you, cutie,” she started, looking away. “But I don’t date.”

“No, you just sleep with every girl you come across,” Laura grumbled.

Whoa. What the fu-

Slowly turning back towards the younger girl, Carmilla saw her cringe as the words hung in the air between them, harsh and hard.

Painful.

“Crap,” Laura mumbled, covering her eyes with one hand as she shook her head. “Carm, I didn’t mean that.”

“Sure you didn’t,” Carmilla said, eyes narrowed as she moved to stand, wanting to get away from Laura at that moment.

“No, I really didn’t!” Laura said, reaching for her and keeping her seated, gaze now on her and desperate. “That was way out of line and… I’m sorry.”

Carmilla turned to her, taking in the panicked look, the fear now in Laura’s eyes plain as day.

“Honestly, that was terrible of me to say and…”

“Do you really think that I just bed hop from woman to woman?” Carmilla asked when Laura didn’t continue. “I mean, I know I’m not exactly a saint and the number might be up there, but I don’t have a new girl here every night. Do you really not know that by now?”

“I do know that,” Laura said, her fingers gently squeezing at Carmilla’s, unwilling to let go. “I don’t… I don’t why I said that.”

“Well, there has to be some reason because that was far too pointed to come out of nowhere.”

“It was, I know.”

“And after last night with the whole, ‘why aren’t you a complete and total asshole to me, Carmilla?’... what’s going on? Do you really think I’m that shitty?”

“No!”

”Then what?”

“I just…” Laura started as she slowly braided their fingers together, her gaze cautious.

And Carmilla allowed it because one look in those soft brown eyes, sad and nervous and about a dozen other emotions, and, dammit, she melted.

“Tell me,” she gently pushed, turning more toward the smaller girl.

Another few seconds of weighted silence passed, Laura’s eyes on their hands and Carmilla’s watching Laura.

“There is something, I just… Carm, I was mad at you for so long after we first met,” Laura finally said, voice soft when she finally looked up. “I had so much fun with you that night and it was the first and only time I’d ever done anything like that. So when you left before I woke up, I was… well, it’s stupid when you think this way about a one-night-stand but I was hurt.”

Fuck.

“I wasn’t trying to hurt you-”

“No, I know,” Laura interrupted, eyes eager. “I mean, I know that now. But before… for the longest time, I did think you had a new girl every night. I really believed that until the first time you brought me back here. And that’s when I realized I was so wrong. But still, I guess… I guess sometimes the past bites at me. And…”

She took a deep breath, searching Carmilla’s eyes for a moment before turning sideways on the sofa, feet tucked under her, still gently squeezing at Carmilla’s fingertips.

“I know you’re not big on relationships. I know you don’t actually date in the traditional sense. I… I know you’ve got at least a dozen women ready to drop anything and everything the moment you call.”

Carmilla opened her mouth to argue but Laura stopped her with a shake of her head and a gentle finger to her lips.

“I’m not judging. And now, yes, I know that’s not who you are,” she said, letting her fingers move from Carmilla’s lips and trace along her jaw before dropping back to her lap. “But it is what you do.”

Okay, so you can’t really argue that, she thought, having already dismissed a couple of texts and silenced her phone as soon as Laura walked into the apartment that night.

“And I’m not asking you to change or stop. But you still have, kind of,” Laura shrugged, suddenly blushing once again. “I mean, no, we don’t see each other every night but we talk and text constantly. You’re always working or with one of our friends or with your brother and sister or your mother or… with me. You’re here with me every Friday night.”

“Laura, I’m okay with that,” she said, shaking her head. “I already told you. I’m making that choice. I… I actually like being here with you every Friday night.”

“You would rather be sitting here, eating junk food, and watching movies you have no interest in than going out and… finding someone to spend the night with?”

“Yes,” she said, without even thinking about it.

She watched Laura’s face fall, disappointment filling her eyes as she looked away.

“I’m not lying,” Carmilla said, reaching out and tipping the tiny brunette’s chin back toward her. “And, yeah, you’re right. If it weren’t for you, I’d probably be out. But honestly, Laura, I hadn’t even thought about that fact until now.”

“But if it was LaF or Mel or Kirsch sitting here every Friday, you would be thinking about it. So again, why am I different?”

“I already told you. You…” Carmilla sighed and sagged back against the arm of the couch with a shrug. “You just are.”

“Because you feel sorry for me?” Laura pushed, disbelief still sitting in her eyes.

“No!”

“Or because you want to make amends for what happened?”

“Laura…”

“What? Carm, if that’s the reason, you don’t have to do this. I mean, it wasn’t like what happened between us was anything special,” Laura huffed, keeping her eyes lowered as she pulled her hands away.

“Laura…” she sighed again.

“No, I just mean that it was a one-time thing, you know? So you don’t need to do all of this.”

“I’m not doing it for that. I don’t even look at like I’m ‘doing’ something,” Carmilla argued, taking her turn to reach for Laura’s hands. “I’m here with you because I actually care about you. Because I want to be around you. Because… because you’re you. And I really , really like you.”

They sat quietly for a long moment, Laura staring down at their hands braided together in her lap and Carmilla once again watching Laura, her eyes taking in every inch of the younger girl’s face, the silence getting heavier by the second.

“What’s got you so quiet all of a sudden?” she finally ventured.

“Can I ask you something else?” Laura asked, voice quiet, but eyes intense as she slowly glanced up.

“Of course.”

“We’ve gotten really close, kind of fast. And I genuinely like you, Carmilla. And… well, you actually like me too.”

“Very much,” Carmilla added.

“But since I’ve been here… well, we’ve kissed twice.”

“I think you mean you’ve kissed me twice.”

“I initiated it, yes,” Laura agreed, gaze still penetrating. “But if neither one of us is here right now because we have to be… why did you kiss me back?”

Carmilla swallowed hard at the question, feeling something flutter in her chest at the words. It wasn’t a question she was expecting. And it definitely wasn’t one she’d put much thought into. When Laura had kissed her, Carmilla kissed her back because…

“I…” she started, swallowing once again. “I kissed you back because I wanted to.” She waited a long moment, searching Laura’s eyes as the smaller girl absorbed the words. “I kissed you back because, as taboo as this probably is… well, I actually like kissing you.”

“Oh,” Laura said, so quiet Carmilla almost didn’t hear her.

“Was that the wrong answer?” she asked. “Did I just…”

Screw everything up?

“No,” Laura answered anyway, shaking her head ever so slightly.

“Then… can I ask you something?”

Laura simply nodded.

“Why did you sleep with me in the first place? That’s the only time you’ve ever done anything like that. So why me?”

Laura glanced down for a moment, the fingers from one hand sliding along Carmilla’s wrist as the other weaved in and out of Carmilla’s own fingers. Carmilla watched for a moment and when she looked back up, Laura’s eyes were on her once again.

“For the same reason I keep kissing you,” she started. “Because I wanted to.” Laura bit at her bottom lip, her eyes holding. “Honestly, I don’t know what it is about you, Carmilla. I’ve tried to figure it out but… you’re different. You push everything into the background. Whether it was at the diner in Chicago or last week sitting with you for coffee or being with you now, it doesn’t matter. When I’m with you, other things aren’t as important. And when I slept with you that night… when I kiss you… it’s not just that other things aren’t as important.”

Laura paused for another moment, her gaze slowly roaming over Carmilla’s face before meeting her eyes again, and Carmilla tried to wrap her head around the fact that Laura had switched from the past to the present during her explanation.

“When I kiss you… nothing else exists. It’s just us.”

Laura’s eyes fell, staring down at their hands in her lap, seemingly unsure and nervous, but Carmilla couldn’t look away, swallowing hard at the words and uttering the question that had been sitting in the back of her mind for months now.

“Do you regret it?”

“Kissing you?”

“Sleeping with me.”

Laura looked back up, pausing for what felt like ages before answering.

“No.”

Carmilla waited.

“I was sad that night and you made it all not matter. Spending the evening running around Chicago with you was the most fun I’d had in a really long time. And then later, when I kissed you and when we… there was nothing else. It was just you and me.”

“Then maybe that’s it,” Carmilla sighed, moving closer.

Unable to stop herself, she reached up, gently brushing a strand of hair behind Laura’s ear. Carmilla’s fingertips lingered as Laura leaned into the touch for a moment before she shuffled closer, soft brown eyes never faltering.

“Maybe what’s it?”

“The answer to your first question,” Carmilla said, her own voice quiet, the words slow and now so close to the tiny brunette that she could feel Laura’s breath tickling across her own lips. “Maybe that’s why I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything by being here with you.”

“Because it’s just us?” Laura tried, just barely above a whisper, slowly reaching up and cupping Carmilla’s cheek.

“Because it’s just us.”

Chapter Text

 

 

Something's happening

Happening to me

My friends say I'm acting peculiarly

C'mon baby

We better make a start

You better make it soon before you break my heart

 

Saturday, April 6th, 2019

TriBeCa

Dodging the heavy foot traffic that came with the typical Saturday night, Carmilla sighed in frustration, not really in the mood to be out but found she’d been unable to say no when Mel had sent her the invite that morning.

Well, actually she’d said no three times at first, not wanting to spend her Saturday night with the band of misfits that were her friends. But then Mel had thrown out the fact that she’d also invited Laura and Carmilla had only texted back asking for a time and place before she could talk herself out of it.

She pulled her phone from her pocket as she walked toward the restaurant, briefly glancing over a new text from Mel and outright ignoring one from Will in favor of pulling up Laura’s name and their exchange from earlier that day.

Laura (3:45 PM): Are you going to dinner with everyone tonight?

Carmilla (3:47 PM): I was planning on it.

Carmilla (4:02 PM): Is that alright?

Laura (4:11 PM): You better be there! I’m not suffering through this alone.

There’d been nothing after that but she’d found herself the tiniest bit anxious for the rest of the afternoon. Were they just going to ignore the elephant in the room? Sweep it under the rug and pretend that nothing had happened?

I mean, would kind of make sense for us.

Pocketing her phone once she reached the restaurant that had been chosen for the night, she pulled her leather jacket off as she stepped inside. Glancing around the space, she quickly spotted the group, their laughter just barely heard over the din of clanking silverware and the hum of a packed dining room. It was the usual suspects. Perry and LaF sitting as close as possible without actually touching. Mel shoving at Kirsch’s shoulder as he attempted to argue whatever useless point he was trying to make. Danny laughing at the exchange from a few seats away. And then…

Laura.

Laura sitting there between Lawrence and an empty chair, looking incredibly beautiful in a fitted gray sweater, hair down in soft waves, and staring right at her.

Carmilla’s feet halted on the sandstone tile and suddenly she was more nervous than she could ever remember being. Because Laura looked amazing. Because despite the short amount of time that had passed, she’d missed the smaller girl. But mainly, because the night before…

Friday, April 5th, 2019

The day before

SoHo

“Do you regret it?”

“Kissing you?”

“Sleeping with me.”

Laura looked back up, pausing for what felt like ages before answering.

“No.”

Carmilla waited.

“I was sad that night and you made it all not matter. Spending the evening running around Chicago with you was the most fun I’d had in a really long time. And then later, when I kissed you and when we… there was nothing else. It was just you and me.”

“Then maybe that’s it,” Carmilla sighed, moving closer.

Unable to stop herself, she reached up, gently brushing a strand of hair behind Laura’s ear. Carmilla’s fingertips lingered as Laura leaned into the touch for a moment before she shuffled closer, soft brown eyes never faltering.

“Maybe what’s it?”

“The answer to your first question,” Carmilla said, her own voice quiet, the words slow, and now so close to the tiny brunette that she could feel Laura’s breath tickling across her own lips. “Maybe that’s why I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything by being here with you.”

“Because it’s just us?” Laura tried, just barely above a whisper, slowly reaching up and cupping Carmilla’s cheek.

“Because it’s just us.”

She watched Laura’s eyes flick down to her mouth and Carmilla found herself doing the same, the tiny brunette’s lips so full and tempting. And it would be so easy to just give in. To stop fighting. But…

She swallowed hard as her gaze moved back to Laura’s and she waited, wanting nothing more than to lean in, but holding back, letting the smaller girl set the pace.

“Okay,” Laura finally mumbled, her voice just barely audible. 

Her thumb gently grazed Carmilla’s cheek once before she closed her eyes, taking a deep breath. And when her eyes opened again, she simply nodded and turned away, one hand falling heavily into her lap and the other letting go of Carmilla’s fingers to unpause the movie.

Fuck.

Had she read this entire situation so completely wrong? Was she really that far off base?

“Are you…” she started quietly. “I mean, I thought…”

“Thought what?” Laura asked, back now rigid, eyes wide, not even bothering to glance in her direction.

Fuck.

“Nothing,” she quickly answered, turning and moving just the slightest to her left, wedging herself up against the arm of the couch, unsure of what else to do. Because clearly a line had been crossed. A rule had been broken.

Probably telling the girl that you’re just supposed to be friends with that you actually like kissing her.

It didn’t matter that Laura had echoed the sentiment, Carmilla had started it. She’d opened the door.

They sat there in silence, Laura staring at the screen across the room, apparently enthralled in whatever the hell they were watching, and Carmilla looking at her from the corner of her eye, her stomach rolling, completely at a loss on what to do.

Should she apologize? Should she pretend like the last twenty minutes had never happened? Should she ask just what in the hell Laura’s problem was? Or maybe she should-

Her thoughts immediately quieted as she felt Laura reach for her right hand, tugging to lift Carmilla’s arm up and around her shoulders as the smaller girl pressed herself into Carmilla’s side once more.

Should you stop overthinking everything and remember that she’s going through a lot and sometimes needs a minute?

Carmilla squeezed her once before relaxing back into the sofa, content to watch the rest of the movie in peace with Laura sagged against her, warm and comforting.

“Are you ever going to let me pick something for us to watch?” she asked as she walked Laura to the door to say goodnight after the credits had rolled a while later.

“Hmm…” Laura pretending to think, smiling softly. “Nope. I’ve seen your viewing history. You’ll end up picking something that’s like a billion years old.”

“I don’t think moving pictures were invented until the late nineteenth century, so you’re math is a little off,” she teased.

Laura giggled softly for a moment before looking up at Carmilla with those big brown eyes, so unbelievably beautiful.

“Thank you,” she said, voice once again quiet. “For… everything.”

“Laura…”

“No, I know, I don’t have to thank you for doing something you want to do. But… I do want to thank you for being honest with me.”

“Well, why would I lie to you?”

“You wouldn’t.”

She nodded once, shoving her hands into her back pockets and glancing down at her bare feet for a moment, the black polish on her big toe almost completely chipped off.

“You’re worth more than that,” Carmilla shrugged. “You know that, right?”

Glancing back up, she immediately felt her heart thumping loudly in her chest as Laura stared back at her for a long moment of silence, her expression completely unreadable and giving nothing away. Then slowly, she stepped closer, her gaze never leaving Carmilla’s. And when she stopped mere inches away, Carmilla audibly swallowed, unable to help it. Because the look in Laura’s eyes was suddenly so incredibly intense.

And without a word uttered, Laura slowly leaned in and kissed her.

Fuck, she thought as she found herself already responding, her hands moving into Laura’s hair at the same time she felt the younger girl’s fingertips on her hips, pulling their bodies completely together.

The kiss was slow and soft, full of… something. But with Laura lightly nibbling at her bottom lip, Carmilla didn’t have the brainpower to figure out what it was. And even if she knew that they probably shouldn’t be doing this, it felt like a weight being lifted. Like a desperate thirst being quenched. Like they should’ve been doing this all along.

The way Laura held her close with the gentlest of touches. The way the tiny brunette sighed into her mouth. The way she could still taste the peanut M&M’s the younger girl had eaten half an hour earlier. All of it was just…

“You’re worth more too,” Laura just barely whispered against her lips as she finally pulled away and Carmilla had to use all of her self-control to keep from closing the gap between their mouths once more.

Laura moved just an inch to the right, leaving another lingering kiss at the corner of Carmilla’s lips before letting her hands drop and turning away to slowly walk down the hall. Carmilla stared after her, gripping the doorframe hard, unable to look away even as Laura stepped into the elevator. And when the younger girl slowly turned, her eyes somehow even more intense than a moment earlier, Carmilla just barely restrained herself from chasing after her. 

But she couldn’t look away. She didn’t break from Laura’s stare until the doors finally slid shut a few seconds later. It was then that Carmilla realized she’d stopped breathing.

Saturday, April 6th, 2019

Back in the present

TriBeCa

“Shit,” she mumbled, swallowing hard once more and finally getting her feet to move, noticing Laura’s eyes never left hers as she came closer.

“Finally!” Kirsch called as he noticed Carmilla once she reached the halfway point. “I’m starving.”

“You didn’t have to wait to order,” Carmilla argued as she stepped to the side of the table.

“Of course we did,” Perry said with a little huff. “It’s called being polite. You should try it once in a while and possibly be on time for a change.”

“I’m only a few minutes late, Curly Sue, so calm down.”

“Well, then sit down so we can order!” Kirsch whined. “My protein powder exploded in my bag this morning before I could make my shake and I’m about to keel over.”

Carmilla rolled her eyes at the dramatics and eyed the table once more before moving to the last vacant seat. The one next to the moaning man child. The one next to Laura.

“Hey,” she said as she sat, voice quiet, just barely glancing at the smaller girl before picking up her menu.

“Hey, Carm,” Laura said, just as soft.

Oh god, this is going to be awkward now, isn’t i-

Her thoughts derailed and Carmilla couldn’t help the small grin that surfaced when Laura purposely bumped their shoulders together with a quiet giggle a moment later.


“How long have you been seeing this girl again?” Mel asked, taking a sip of her caffè macchiato.

“Just a couple weeks,” Danny answered. “But she’s fun. I like her enough.”

“Such warm sentiment,” LaF added with a chuckle.

Carmilla sighed, only half paying attention to the interaction and completely bored. They’d just finished the longest dinner in the history of dinners and she was just about to grab her jacket and bolt when the group decided they wanted to order dessert too.

“Hey, dating in Manhattan sucks,” Danny said with a shrug. “All the good ones are taken or live too far away.”

“Or you’re just too picky.”

“I am not picky, Karnstein. I’m selective.”

“Either way, your bed’s empty so…”

The group chuckled as Danny rolled her eyes and went back to finishing her panna cotta.

“So what about you, Frosh? What have you been up to lately?”

“Nothing really,” Laura shrugged, taking a bite of her tiramisu and smiling down at it, happily.

Adorable.

“You must have a bit more free time now, dear,” Perry said. “Since your father is doing a little better.”

“He is. But we still have a long way to go,” she said, sagging in on herself and dropping her fork.

“Still, that’s something,” Kirsch nodded encouragingly, the smallest glob of chocolate on his lip.

“It is, you’re right. But I still worry, so I spend a lot of time fussing over him.”

“You need to find yourself a distraction,” LaF suggested with a grin.

“Like what?”

“A redhead,” Mel immediately answered, earning laughter from around the table and an obscene blush from Laura.

Rolling her eyes, Carmilla reached out, her fingers wrapping a little too tightly around the stem of her wine glass as she lifted it to her lips for a hefty gulp. There was a reason she kept these group outings to a minimum.

“Hey, I’m just pointing out the obvious,” Mel continued. “You’ve been here for three months now. And since you don’t know how much longer you’ll have to stay, you might as well have some fun while you can. I’m sure it’ll definitely take your mind off of everything if you find the right lady friend.”

“I’m not doing that,” Laura said, her blush somehow increasing.

“Why not?” Kirsch added with a devilish grin. “You probably won’t have to look very far.”

Carmilla’s brow furrowed at the odd statement, glancing around the table but all eyes were on a very red-faced Laura.

“Guys, I’m really not interested in picking up some random girl for the night. That’s… it’s just not my thing.”

“Who said she has to be random?” LaF chuckled. “Pretty sure there’s a known contender.”

A known… Carmilla wondered, curious and immediately turning to the girl at her left.

“Alright, enough, leave her alone you guys,” Danny firmly cut in.

The taller girl reached for the hand Laura had resting atop the table, holding tight, and Carmilla took in how Laura didn’t shy away from the contact. How their fingers naturally wove together. How the younger girl seemed to relax under the touch.

Oh. Right. Lawrence.

Who was Laura’s best friend. Who’d known the younger girl since they were kids. Who had a history with the tiny brunette. Sure, over the last few years, Carmilla had never connected the fact that Danny’s ‘Laura’ was the one sitting next to her, but she was no stranger to hearing about how the tall girl felt. She’d even caught the ‘L’ word used once or twice during some of the more inebriated moments.

Carmilla hated how her stomach suddenly rolled at the thought of Laura and the tall redhead. She hated that she suddenly felt like she couldn’t breathe. And she really hated the thought that suddenly popped into her head.

So if Danny had been available all this time, would Laura have been with her instead of me?

“It’s all in good fun,” Mel chuckled. “Plus, it really is fun.”

“Guys, seriously, no thanks. Even if… even if there was someone, I… I couldn’t do that..”

She couldn’t do that?!

Shifting away in her chair, Carmilla quickly looked toward the other side of the restaurant, taking a deep breath and attempting to calm herself and push the sudden burning sensation in her chest back down where it belonged as she tuned the group out.

So using some random girl at a bar was wrong? Going out and having some fun with whatever woman caught her eye was immoral? But if it was Carmilla…

Well, I guess I’m fair game for her.

Swallowing down the sickly feeling edged with anger as she turned back to the table, Carmilla realized the group had moved on from what was soon to be a Lawrence and Laura love-fest to discussing possibly meeting up again in a week or two.

No thanks.

“You up for it, Karnstein?” Danny asked, suddenly smiling in her direction.

Glancing down at the table she saw Laura’s hand still wrapped in Danny’s, their fingers together. Comfortable and safe. Meaningful.

“Yeah, I’ll pass,” Carmilla said, rising from her seat and pulling on her jacket.

“You’re leaving, dear?” Perry asked, leaning forward onto the table, wide-eyed. “Already?”

Carmilla merely nodded.

“Hot date?” LaF asked curiously.

“Does it matter?” Carmilla replied, voice gruff as she reached for her wallet and threw some cash down onto the table.

“Well, we’re thinking about grabbing a drink up the block,” Danny tried, her smile just barely faltering. “You sure you can’t stay? Just for a little longer?”

“Yeah, Karnstein, come on. It’s nice having everyone together,” Mel added. “Come.”

Glancing to her left, she saw Laura’s fingers tighten in Danny’s grasp and felt her stomach roll once more. And looking up, she felt even worse when she saw the smaller girl staring up at her, eyes confused and sad.

But why? Laura had what she needed here. She had her friends. Carmilla wasn’t a necessity at this moment to entertain her or keep her thoughts away from her dad.

She’s got other distractions now.

“No thanks,” she mumbled before turning and walking away, not even bothering to say anything to the rest of the group.

She quickly weaved in and out of the crowded tables as she moved toward the exit, her eyes never leaving the door ahead. And as she stepped out into the night air, taking in a deep breath, she felt her jaw clench, her fists tighten.

“Fuck,” she grumbled as she immediately turned and stomped down the street, hands shoved deep into her jacket pockets.

Why had she let herself get this upset? Why did it matter? So what if Laura had just been using her this entire time? So what if she would’ve rather preferred Lawrence’s company? It wasn’t a big deal to Carmilla. 

She’s just another girl. She’s just like all the others.

“Carm!”

“Fuck!” she sighed, feeling her stomach drop once again as the voice reached her ears above all the other noise on the busy street.

She stopped and turned, finding Laura quickly walking toward her, pulling her own jacket on as she did.

“What’re you doing out here?”

“Trying to catch up to you.”

“What for?” she snipped.

“What’s wrong with you?” Laura asked.

“Nothing. Just had enough bonding time with the pep squad.”

“Okay, fine but… I was going to ask if you wanted to go have coffee with me. Or hot cocoa. Maybe a cookie or two.”

“Yeah, well, you clearly have a better offer on the table,” she grumbled. “You should keep your eye out for those.”

“What do mean?”

“Nothing, just go, have fun with your friends.”

“Their your friends too for the hundred and fiftieth time!” Laura giggled.

“Whatever, just… go. Enjoy your night with them,” she said turning away and attempting to walk off.

“I already did,” Laura said, carefully reaching for her arm to stop her. “I agreed to meet them for dinner and I did that. Obligation fulfilled.”

“So go somewhere else. Go look for someone to entertain you for a bit. Or why not head back to your dad’s?” she continued. “Hell, take Lawrence with you. I’m sure you’ll have a great time with your redheaded distraction.”

Fuck, she sighed, hating the jealously that had leaked into her voice at the words that she hadn’t meant to utter.

“Oh my god, you are not insinuating what I think you are!” Laura gasped, wide-eyed.

And that was her chance to take it back. To make it better. To avoid what would undoubtedly turn into a rather unpleasant argument.

Yeah, screw that, she thought with a shrug, her face now blank.

“No! No to all of that,” Laura said, eyes narrowed. “You didn’t seriously just suggest that I go pick up some random girl-”

“Why not?” Carmilla angrily interrupted, stepping closer. “I’m sure a pretty girl will definitely take your mind off of things. You don’t even have to exchange names if you don’t want to.”

“No! I would never do that!”

“You did it to me!” she practically yelled.

“What are you- ugh, Carmilla, no,” Laura sighed, running a frustrated hand through her hair.

“You can’t seriously stand there and deny it.”

“I’m not denying anything. When I kissed you a few months ago, yes, it was because I thought sleeping with you would take my mind off of things and that you wouldn’t care. And then, again a few days later, there was still a part of me that wanted to shut down. I was completely in the wrong on both of those occasions and I’m sorry. But that was before!”

“Before what?” Carmilla growled.

“Before we became friends. Before I started caring about you as much as I do!”

“You fucking kissed me last night!”

“That was completely different!” Laura cried.

“How? How is it different?”

“It just is!”

“Top notch answer, Hollis. Your debating skills are impeccable,” she snarked, rolling her eyes. “Just leave me alone and go find your known contender.”

“Carmilla, they’re idiots! They were just being stupid in the restaurant and trying to get a rile out of me. It had nothing to do with you and I. Or with anyone at that table!” Laura argued, rolling her eyes. “There is no known contender!”

“Pretty sure that’s not the consensus. Pretty sure it’s the giant redheaded pain in my ass!”

“Okay, for one, she’s your friend! Quit being all ambivalent and… jerk face-y!” Laura bumbled. “And secondly, I have no interest in sleeping with Danny!”

“Sure, that’s convincing.”

“Carmilla, what the hell?” Laura sagged and Carmilla knew she had gotten under the smaller girl’s skin. “Again, they were being stupid and teasing me. Why are you listening to them? And why are you so set on it being Danny that I choose? Since I’ve been back, when have I ever given you any indication that I want her?”

“I’m just pointing out the obvious, cutie,” she said, glancing away, looking as bored as she could while her insides raged. “I mean, I’m glad I could be there for you in your time of need but… you know what, no, I’m not. Because that’s bullshit!”

“You are being such an ass! Yes, I kissed you last night. And maybe I shouldn’t have. So I’m sorry. But I didn’t do it because I didn’t have anyone else. You…” 

She trailed off for a long moment, looking away and taking a deep breath.

“I what?” Carmilla pressed. “I was closest?”

“No!” Laura cried, looking back up, her eyes fiery. “You weren’t the only option but you were the one I chose! The one I would still choose. Okay?”

Carmilla merely rolled her eyes again and looked away.

“Look, I told you last night that you’re worth more and I meant it! Dammit, Carmilla! Did it ever occur to you that if we were in that situation now, it wouldn’t just be because I wanted to use you? That it wouldn’t be just because I was bored or I needed to shut everything out or some other crappy reason?”

“So you would never sleep with me for those reasons?” she scoffed. “Ever?”

“You know what, you’re right. I have done that. I have used you to try and forget. To feel better. And there was nothing more to it. Those were my only motivators.”

“Oh, so you do remember?”

“And people sleep together for those reasons all the time,” Laura continued, shaking her head, disbelief in her eyes. “But with you, with where we are now, that’s not how it would be. And if you don’t know that…”

“What? What other shitty excuse do you have?”

“You know what? Forget it,” Laura scoffed. “Yes, I’ve screwed up in the past. And apparently in the present. I shouldn’t have kissed you, be it two months ago or last night. But those scenarios are completely different and if you can’t see that…”

Laura sighed, sagging in on herself and looking away, defeated.

“It doesn’t matter,” she finally mumbled. “We’re obviously not understanding each other so there’s no point in continuing to argue with you. You’re not going to listen because you’re being a stubborn jerk but I’m telling you now, I have no interest in sleeping with some random girl or Danny. And last night was very different. Because last night mattered!”

And with that, Laura turned and stormed off, walking back toward where their friends were standing in a cluster just outside the restaurant, laughing and paying no attention to anything but each other.

Yep, that’s it, run back to them, Carmilla thought as she turned and walked off, her fists now so tight that her nails painfully bit into her palms.

Monday, April 8th, 2019

Midtown

Laura (1:06 PM): It’s swamped so I’m waiting for you outside.

She bounced on the balls of her feet, staring down the sidewalk through the hordes of pedestrians in the direction she knew Carmilla would most likely be coming from. Her hands wrapped tighter around two paper cups, a hot chocolate for her and a black coffee for Carmilla.

If she ever shows up, that is.

She sighed and balanced the two cups against her chest as she reached for her phone, noting that it was now quarter after one and that Carmilla still hadn’t texted her back.

Carmilla, who she hadn’t actually talked to since a few days earlier when she’d stormed off, furious with the older girl’s behavior. Furious and hurt and all the other emotions that only Carmilla seemed to be able to so easily bring to the surface all at once.

She couldn’t deny, Carmilla had every right to be upset. Laura had used her in the past. Yes, kissing the dark-haired girl just a few months earlier when they’d run into each other that first night had been a complete and total mistake, and she still felt guilty for attempting to get Carmilla into bed with the sole purpose of shutting down. The second kiss, while not exactly the same, still held that hope of wanting to forget everything, if only for a little while. 

But their last kiss…

‘Because it’s just us.’

The words had set her heart alight because she knew it was the truth. And at that moment, staring into Carmilla’s eyes, she saw just how much she meant to the dark-haired girl. She saw the gentle, kind, wonderful Carmilla that she’d met the very first night in Chicago. Laura saw the girl that she had genuinely liked. The one she’d once thought she could develop feelings for if given the chance.

Turning away when Carmilla had uttered those words had been torture, but she had to. Because this was a girl that she really did care about. A girl that meant more than a simple roll in the hay, regardless of how much Laura wanted her. A girl who she never wanted to use.

Not again.

But later on, as they’d stood in the doorway of Carmilla’s apartment and she’d stared up at the most beautiful woman she’d ever seen, it wasn’t about comfort or forgetting. It wasn’t about stupid hormones or distractions. It was something else entirely.

The next morning in the harsh light of day, she knew, regardless of her reasons, that kissing Carmilla may not have been the best idea. She realized that not only was she putting them in a position where she might get hurt. But Carmilla too. The way Carmilla was looking at her that night made Laura realize just how much power she really had over the other girl. And that wasn’t something she wanted to take advantage of. It wasn’t something she ever wanted to lose Carmilla over.

But that didn’t mean that she was sorry. That kiss was so different than all the others they’d shared. Different from any she’d ever had with any other woman. Because it was Carmilla.

Because she means so much to me.

And even if those feelings weren’t exactly romantic, they were powerful. They meant something.

But then they’d fought. And after she’d stormed off, she’d quickly hailed a cab, ignoring her friend’s pleas to join them for a while longer, and made her way back to her dad’s house. Once there, she’d made sure he was still asleep in the guest room before setting off to clean every inch of the house, her anger showcasing itself in the form of the whitest grout the bathroom had ever seen. It was nearly three in the morning before she collapsed in her own bed, still upset and hurt, but also exhausted, physically and emotionally.

When she woke up after just a few hours of sleep, she immediately reached for her phone, fingers fast as she typed out one message after another to Carmilla, unable to send any of them because they came across as too angry or petty or not remorseful enough. In the end, she decided to give the older girl a little space, hoping some time on their own would be beneficial for the undoubtedly uncomfortable talk they were going to have to have.

She thought that talk would come today over their coffee but now…

Sighing once again and keeping the cups snug against her chest, she pulled her still silent phone from her pocket, her frustration getting the better of her.

Laura (1:18 PM): Carm, please. Can we be adults about this?

She sent the text but kept the phone in hand, staring down at it and waiting. Carmilla rarely didn’t answer her right away and she really hoped that the older girl wasn’t just completely blowing her off. Granted Laura wasn’t positive Carmilla would show up for their standing coffee date, but she really believed that if she did, regardless of how grumpy, they’d have the chance to talk things through. She could listen to Carmilla’s side and, hopefully, Carmilla would understand hers.

Carmilla (1:20 PM): I can’t make it.

The brusqueness of the message hit her in the center of her chest and she immediately felt the anger from Saturday night rising to the surface once more.

Laura (1:21 PM): You can’t or you won’t?

And, again, she waited.

And waited.

And waited.

What the hell?

Yes, Carmilla’s anger was justified for Laura’s past behavior, but the tiny brunette really believed they’d moved past all of that. And if the older girl needed more time or apologies, Laura was more than willing to offer them. But this whole fight was stemming from something that had nothing to do with their past. 

Laura (1:33 PM): Well?

Carmilla (1:35 PM): Does it matter?

Laura (1:36 PM): It does! Can we please talk?

She sighed heavily, finally taking a sip of her now lukewarm cocoa with a slight grimace.

Carmilla (1:38 PM): What about?

“About how big of a jerk you’re being,” she grumbled.

Taking a deep breath, she paused, attempting to calm herself.

Laura (1:39 PM): You know what about.

Guess we’re taking the childish route.

Carmilla (1:42 PM): Sorry, I’m at a loss, cupcake. Can’t help you.

“You’ve got to be kidding me!” she said through clenched teeth. 

This was not what she was hoping for. It wasn’t at all what she was expecting. Carmilla could be cruel. She’d seen it. Hell, she’d experienced it. But so much had changed since then. Were they really going to throw away all the ground they’d gained over a misunderstanding that they hadn’t even tried to talk through?

She hurriedly pocketed her phone so that she wouldn’t respond with something to make the situation worse. Because clearly Carmilla wasn’t ready to listen. And Laura couldn’t force her to do so. But this…

This is complete crap,  she thought as she tossed both cups into a nearby trash bin and tramped down the street.

Thursday, April 10th, 2019

Lower Midtown

Staring at the screen in front of, she sighed and slouched back into her black leather chair, not really taking in anything around her. Which probably wasn’t the best idea with the meetings she had scheduled for the coming week, but she couldn’t seem to force herself to focus. Or at least to focus on work. No, her mind was completely consumed by one Laura Hollis.

She hadn’t heard from the tiny brunette since she’d blown off their Monday coffee date, which was both surprising and a relief. Surprising because Laura was incredibly persistent and stubborn. She rarely gave up when she had her mind set on something. And a relief because Carmilla honestly didn’t know what to say to the smaller girl.

After the dinner with their friends and the argument in the middle of the busy W Broadway sidewalk, she’d been angry. Furious. Completely enraged.

Laura had no right to treat her the way she had. She’d used Carmilla, plain and simple. No matter how she spun it, the younger girl couldn’t argue her way around the facts.

Carmilla had stormed home, slamming things left and right in the apartment for the rest of the night, on a mission. But for what she didn’t know.

The next day, she found herself even more irate and had spent the better part of the day with Kirsch, watching one horror movie after the next until he could no longer stomach the guts and gore.

When Monday rolled around, she’d calmed a little. Or at least enough that she didn’t completely rip anyone’s head off every time they knocked on her office door. But then she’d gotten a text from Laura and she realized that the tiny brunette had actually shown up for their coffee date. Somehow, this pissed her off all over again. Laura just expected to sweep all of this under the rug like nothing had happened and keep going on with the way things were? Spending time with Carmilla when she wanted to and using her whenever she pleased?

When her first choice isn’t available!?

She knew she’d been snarky in her replies but Laura deserved it! She deserved far worse!

And honestly, what could the younger girl possibly have to say? It was quite obvious how little Carmilla actually meant to her. How she was purely just a convenient go-to.

She’d held onto that for the rest of the day, leaving work late and heading straight home, a tumbler of scotch in her hand within two minutes of opening the front door. This was ridiculous. She needed to just forget the whole thing. She needed to just forget about Laura.

But standing there, drink in hand, staring out into the Manhattan night, she’d thought back to the nights they’d spent together in the apartment, laughing and talking. Sometimes about frivolous things and sometimes moving on to much more serious topics. She thought about how Laura would always reach for her, the touches never bordering on inappropriate or over the line. They were comforting and safe. Loving. She thought about how Laura looked at her in those innocuous moments in between, soft and sweet. Like she cared. Like she cared so much.

Then Carmilla thought about their fight. About the words that had been slung out. And suddenly, she realized that she might not have truly been listening to what Laura was saying.

‘No! You weren’t the only option but you were the one I chose! The one I would still choose. Okay?’

‘Look, I told you last night that you’re worth more and I meant it! Dammit, Carmilla! Did it ever occur to you that if we were in that situation, it wouldn’t just be because I wanted to use you? That it wouldn’t be just because I was bored or I needed to shut everything out or some other crappy reason?’

 ‘Yes, I’ve screwed up in the past. And apparently in the present. I shouldn’t have kissed you, be it two months ago or last night. But those scenarios are completely different and if you can’t see that…’

‘Because last night mattered!’

The problem was, Carmilla knew these things. She’d known them all along. She just had let her anger rule because it was easier than really looking at what was actually happening.

She knew Laura’s motives for everything the smaller girl had done over the course of their relationship. She knew things had changed between them and that what they were had completely morphed into something else – something better – over the last month.

And during that month, before their last night alone together, there had been no kissing. No sex. No anything of any sort that could be construed as Laura taking advantage of Carmilla in any way. They spent time together because they wanted to. Because they genuinely liked each other. 

Because Laura actually cared about her and she felt the same.

So what had happened their last night alone together? Why did Laura choose her if it wasn’t for a distraction or comfort? What did that kiss really mean? Because Laura was right about that. It was completely different than all of their previous ones.

“Carm!”

“Jesus!” she jumped, startled from her thoughts as she turned to find an impeccably dressed and obviously irritated Mattie standing in the middle of her office, hands on her hips, head slightly cocked to the side. “Fuck, Mattie, what the hell is wrong with you?”

“Well, what’s wrong with you? I’ve been standing here for the last two minutes trying to get your attention!”

“Ugh, nothing,” Carmilla grumbled as she straightened in her chair and attempted to focus on her computer screen once more. “I’m just busy.”

“Busy with what?” Mattie scowled.

“Work. So what do you want?”

“I came to speak with you about changing one of the dinners next week. Klefcan can’t make it on Wednesday night so we’ll need to double book on Thursday.”

“Fine. Whatever. Do what you want.”

“What I want?”

“Yes. Just tell me where to be and when.”

“Alright, enough!” Mattie said, her voice leaving no room for arguments as she moved forward and gracefully sat in one of the high-back leather chairs on the opposite side of the desk. “What is wrong with you? You’re being far too agreeable and you’ve been moping around here all week.”

“I am not moping,” Carmilla argued.

“Oh yes, your mood is so wonderfully refreshing and contagious,” Mattie said, smoothly crossing her legs. “So come now. What’s going on?”

“I told you. Nothing,” she said, not looking away from her computer screen.

“Ah, I see we’re going to have to play the incredibly childish guessing game. Fine,” she sighed. “Problem with an account?”

“No.”

“Fight with the band of do-gooders?”

“No!”

There was a long pause and Carmilla wondered if Mattie would give up out of boredom and move on. But she knew there was no way in hell she could be that lucky.

“It’s a girl, isn’t it?” she finally said.

Carmilla sighed and rolled her eyes.

God, I hate how well she knows me.

“Is it the one you’ve been skipping work for every Monday afternoon?”

“How do you know about that?” she huffed, eyes angry as they met Mattie’s. “What, you got Betty Crocker spying on me or something?”

“On the contrary, Lola has been unable to account for your whereabouts. But you’ve been missing in action at the same time every week for a month now and you always come back smiling and happy. I’m assuming it’s some sort of afternoon delight situation,” Mattie shrugged. “And apparently, this week’s rendezvous was canceled.”

“I had work to do.”

“That hasn’t stopped you before.”

“Well, it stopped me this time. Now do you actually need something else or are you just here to irritate me?”

“I like you better when you’re sleeping with whatever little number it is that’s got you on the hook.”

“Fuck off, Mattie.”

“Come now, Carm,” she tried again with a quiet chuckle. “What’s going on?”

“It’s… it’s nothing.”

She watched as Mattie merely lifted an eyebrow and waited, clearly with no intention of letting this go.

“It’s not like that. I’m not sleeping with her,” she said quietly. “No afternoon delight situation, just coffee.”

“You have feelings for her?”

“No,” she shook her head. “Or at least not like that. We’re just friends.”

“Okay, now I’m lost,” Mattie said, eyes narrowed. “You hate your friends.”

“I don’t hate her,” Carmilla said as she sagged back in her chair with a shrug. “I… she’s different.”

She waited, knowing there would likely be mocking next after an admission like that. Teasing and taunting for the rest of the afternoon. But Mattie stayed silent. 

Turning toward her and taking in her neutral expression, Carmilla’s brow furrowed curiously.

“I’m listening,” Mattie pushed.

“There’s nothing to talk about.”

“But there obviously is. You have a… friend,” Mattie cringed on the word. “And something obviously unpleasant happened between the two of you.”

Carmilla looked away again, staring out the office windows that looked out over the city.

“Carmilla…?”

Goddamnit.

“We had a fight,” she sighed.

“About what?”

“Nothing. It’s not a big deal. It was stupid and… it doesn’t matter.”

“So if it doesn’t matter,” Mattie started, “then when are you seeing her again?”

Carmilla shrugged and turned back to her computer, her plethora of unopened emails no more appealing now than they were twenty minutes ago.

“Ah, I see. The little button got under your skin. And now you’re using this spat or whatever it is to push her away.”

Carmilla’s head snapped to Mattie, her sister’s eyes knowing.

“I am not!”

“When was the last time you saw her? Spoke to her?”

Carmilla stayed silent, shaking her head again and looking away.

“As I suspected,” Mattie laughed. “You know, eventually, dear sister, you’re going to have to let someone completely in. Be it friend, lover, or something much more.”

“Because you’re so open?” she scoffed.

“We’re different.”

“Thank god,” Carmilla grumbled. “And that has nothing to do with anything because again, I’m just friends with her. Or I was or… it doesn’t matter. Letting someone in or not has no bearing here.”

“On the contrary, it has a great deal of influence. Maybe you aren’t in love with this woman. But she’s important to you. And because you care about her, you’re going to do everything you can to push her away.”

“Yeah, that makes sense,” Carmilla huffed.

“It does,” Mattie said, still cool as ever. “Because it leaves you with the power. With the control.” She paused for a long moment, her eyes never leaving Carmilla’s. “Because hurting others is easier than being hurt.”

Goddamnit!

She slumped back in her chair once more, her eyes drawn to her hands, anxiously spinning the thin, white gold ring she’d put on that morning. A gift from her mother from long ago.

“I don’t want to hurt her,” she finally said.

“Then you’d better fix this. Whatever happened, you need to suck it up . Give the girl a chance. Let her peek behind the curtain.”

“Mattie, you are the poster child of concrete walls and barbed wire fencing. You don’t let anyone in.”

“Again, we’re different. And you know it. We’re all different. Will falls in and out of love at the drop of a hat. A sudden shift in the wind and suddenly it’s the blonde that owns his heart instead of the brunette. I, on the other hand, have a heart of stone and see no need for such frivolities. Why waste time on love when you can just be and enjoy? But you…” Mattie paused and smiled, her voice softer when she spoke again. “You’re just like they were. Hard as a rock until someone comes along and starts chipping away. And inside, you’re a true romantic. You just haven’t let anyone completely demolish you yet.”

“That’s not true,” she argued but it didn’t even sound convincing to her own ears.

“Oh, but it is. You’ve never fully let anyone in. Even her.” Mattie paused for a long moment, letting the words be absorbed before continuing. “You tried. Valiantly. But she wasn’t the one and you held back. She never got all of you.”

“So what is your point, Mattie? This is completely different,” she sighed.

“You said this woman is just a friend.”

“She is.”

“Well, if she’s got you this bent out of shape over nothing, there must be something special about her,” Mattie said, gracefully rising from her chair and slowly walking toward the door. “And if she’s willing to put up with you, you might not want to let her go so easily.”

“Fuck you, Mattie.”

Mattie simply chuckled and walked out of her office without a glance back.

No, Mattie had no clue what she was talking about. This situation was completely different. Because Laura was just a friend. Nothing more. She wasn’t Carmilla’s girlfriend. She wasn’t someone Carmilla was in love with. And she most definitely was not her.

Saturday, August 30th, 2014

4 years, 7 months, and 12 days earlier

Lower Midtown

Shuffling toward the door in a tired haze, she swore she was going to gruesomely murder whoever it was that was pounding loudly on the other side. It was far too early for this shit. She struggled to read the clock on the opposite wall, but it was a lost cause and, unfortunately, she didn’t turn back in time to avoid stubbing her toe against one of the end tables.

“Son of a bitch!” she cried, the throbbing quickly moving through her foot and up her shin.

Cringing as she limped on, her anger escalating with each step, she pulled her hands into tight fists, ready to absolutely pummel the crap out of whoever was continuing to incessantly bang on her front door. Reaching the solid steel, she glanced through the peephole, her anger now fighting with confusion.

“LaF?” she grumbled, voice still scratchy with sleep as she slid the door open. “What the hell are you doing?”

“I did it! It happened!” they cried as they barreled past her and into the apartment, running their hands through their wild hair. “Holy crap! What did I do? Why did I do this? What was I thinking?”

“What the fuck is wrong with you?” she pressed, stumbling as she followed them into the sitting room where they were already pacing between the sofa and the kitchen island, feet quickly carrying them back and forth across the open space.

“Exactly! What is wrong with me? That is a great question!”

“Okay, enough,” she sighed, plopping down into the wingback chair near the window, finally able to read the hands on the clock now that it was only a few feet away. “It’s nine in the damn morning, on a Saturday. My first Saturday off in months, mind you. What crisis have you already had?”

“Perry!”

She waited for more, but apparently, that was all she was going to get without further probing.

“What about Perry?” she sighed, rubbing at her eyes once more.

“We had coffee today,” they said, finally releasing the hair they’d been tugging at, the strands sticking up at odd angles.

“You have coffee with her like every day,” she pointed out.

“No. We have it… every other day!” they argued.

“LaF! I’m going to lose my patience very soon.”

“We were having coffee. A-And we were just sitting there, talking. Just catching up about our weeks. And she was telling me about the project she’s been working on with Mattie. And how much she was enjoying it but that it didn’t leave much time for a social life. And she said she missed that and she missed the group and… that she missed dating! And then… then… I just blurted it out!”

“You blurted out what?”

“I asked her to go out with me. Like on a date! Like a date with me! Tonight!” they cried, eyes wide.

Jesus, about damn time.

“Well, that’s better than asking her to go on a date with someone else.”

“Carmilla!”

“Why are you panicking?” she chuckled, finally breaking. “You’ve wanted to do this for a long time now. It’s been, what? Six months of prep work? And you finally did it.”

“But she said yes!”

“Again, not seeing the problem here, Einstein,” Carmilla sighed. “You’ve had feelings for her since you were kids and the last time we practiced, you sounded pretty good. And she’s obviously also interested if she said yes, so where’s the dilemma?”

“That’s the problem! She is interested. She… she smiled when I asked and she was so pretty,” they said, sagging a little. “She immediately said she’d love to.”

“Okay…?”

“And when she did… I panicked!” they said, tensing up again, suddenly terrified.

“What did you do?” Carmilla asked, leery eyes narrowing.

“I… I told her it would be a double date,” they said, voice now meek.

“Why in the hell would you want your first date with Perry to be a double date?” Carmilla asked, rubbing a hand across her face. “We went over this more times than I can count, LaF. It’s supposed to just be the two of you. That way, it really will feel like a date and you’ll be more comfortable since there’ll be no one else there to pressure you.”

“But if we go to dinner, just the two of us, it’s very likely that I’m going to screw something up. I’ll say something stupid.”

“You do that on the daily.”

“Or I’ll go mute!”

“Which would be such a travesty?”

“If we have someone else there, we have a buffer. We have someone else to pick up the conversation. Or to steer it back if I go way off script,” they said, carefully sitting down on one of the stools at the island.

“I completely disagree with that entire statement, but that’s up to you,” Carmilla shrugged. “So you have a date, you have a plan, why are you here? What does that have to do with me? I got you this far, it’s time for you to fly on your own.”

“I need you to come,” they mumbled, eyes pleading.

You’ve got to be kidding me.

“Nope. Not happening, lab rat.”

“But-”

“No,” she said, standing up and moving into the kitchen to start some much-needed coffee. “Get one of your other friends to do it.”

“You know I can’t do that,” they sighed.

“Why not?”

“Because you’re the only one who knows about all of this. You’re the only one who knows how I feel about her and you’re the one who’s been coaching me through this for the last few months.”

“LaF…” Carmilla sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose and hating that she was actually considering this. Why did she have to go and develop a soft spot for these idiots?

“Besides…” they trailed off for a long moment, their eyes falling to the floor as their sneaker-clad feet kicked at the legs of the stool. “If this doesn’t work out, I don’t want everyone else to be involved.”

“But it’s okay that I’m involved?”

“You won’t give me crap if it doesn’t work,” LaF said, meeting her eyes again. “You won’t bother Per about it. You’ll just let it lie. But they won’t.”

“LaF, I might be really good at getting a girl’s attention and getting what I want from her. But I don’t date. You know this.”

“I do. But can’t you bend the rules? Just this once?”

“You’re having dinner with her tonight. Where am I supposed to find this date of mine in the next eight hours? I’m not sleeping with anyone right now and I’m not going to run out and find some random girl to scare into some weird double date.”

“You don’t have to worry about that part! I already asked a girl that lives in my building and she agreed,” they piped up.

“What did you do, bang on all your neighbor’s doors?” Carmilla scoffed.

“No! She was actually at the same coffee shop as me and Per. And I’ve hung out with her a few times. She just moved here and she’s really nice and I already told her that it was just going to be a one-time thing because you were doing this as a favor. So she knows that you’re not going to call her after tonight.”

Fuck.

“Please, Carmilla,” they pleaded.

She stared at them for a long moment, eyes narrowed, jaw set. 

When LaF had first approached her about this whole fiasco, she’d been unsurprised to find it was Perry they had feelings for, but a bit gobsmacked about why they’d asked for her help. Apparently, they weren’t done with the requests.

You’re going to regret this.

“Fine,” she sighed.

“Thank you!” they cried, hopping off the stool and rounding the island, only stopping when Carmilla put a hand out to keep them at bay. “You are the absolute best! I’m going to get you something. Something nice.”

“Just get out of here before I change my mind,” she grumbled, turning back to her coffee. “Text me the details. But I’m serious, LaF. This is it. One time. And after tonight, this whole thing is done. I’m out.”

“Deal!”

She didn’t even bother to turn and watch them scramble out of the apartment. This was going to be miserable.


Walking into the restaurant later on, she scanned the crowd waiting, easily finding LaF and Perry in the corner, the two redheads dressed a little nicer than normal and nervously smiling at each other. Swallowing down the impulse to immediately vomit or bolt, she lazily pushed her way through the two dozen people waiting for a table.

“Hey,” she greeted unenthusiastically as she met them.

“Oh, Carmilla! What a pleasure. So nice of you to join us,” Perry said, her smile refusing to fall.

“Uh, yeah. Sure.”

“And you’re right on time,” LaF said as they stepped around her with a bounce in their step and moved to greet a woman in the middle of the crowd.

“Thank you,” she heard Perry mumble quietly behind her. Eyebrow arched as she turned, she saw the curly-haired girl’s smile softening as their gazes met. “I don’t know how or why, but I know you’re the one behind all of this.”

“All of what?”

“This whole date,” she continued. “I’ve been waiting and hoping for it for a long time now. But I didn’t want to push them. I wanted to wait until they were ready.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Carmilla said with a shrug, face bored. “I just came because LaF didn’t want to ask the others, and I get it. I mean, I’m way more fun.”

“Absolutely,” Perry nodded with a knowing smile, her eyes glancing just over Carmilla’s shoulder as she waved.

Carmilla turned as well and suddenly found herself intrigued as LaF made their way back with the woman in question. And she was beautiful. Long dark blonde hair, soft features, pretty smile.

Maybe this won’t be such a bad night after all.

“Okay, we’re all here now,” LaF said as they moved back to Perry’s side, still a little bouncy. “So, you already know Perry, but this is Carmilla.”

“Pleasure to meet you, Carmilla,” the woman said in a soft British accent. “I’m Elle.”

Good going, lab rat, Carmilla thought as she took the soft, warm hand being extended toward her.

“The pleasure is all mine.”

Friday, April 11th, 2019

Back in the present

Weehawken, New Jersey

“This is nice of you guys,” Laura started as she settled back into the beige recliner to the side, cold soda can clasped tightly in her hands. “To stop by tonight. It’s nice to have the company.”

“We’re always happy to spend time with you, dear,” Perry said as she walked into the living room, setting down the tray of contraband sweets she’d assembled and taking her spot next to LaF on the couch. “That’s what friends are for.”

“But just out of curiosity, don’t you usually hang out at Karnstein’s on Friday nights?”

“Yeah, well…”

But what could she say? That Carmilla didn’t want to talk to her anymore? That the dark-haired girl was upset about something that had happened before they’d fallen into the Friday night routine and wouldn’t allow Laura to apologize properly? That, while yes, she’d made mistakes, being friends and caring about Carmilla was not one of them but the older girl didn’t see it that way?

“Is everything all right, dear? With Carmilla.”

“I… I don’t know. We aren’t really speaking at the moment.”

“Oh, no! What happened?”

“We just… I mean… um, nothing,” Laura sighed. “I screwed up, she misunderstood, and we’re both idiots. So now she’s avoiding me.”

“Oh, I’m sure that’s not the case, Laura. Perhaps she’s just busy.”

“I don’t think so, Per. I haven’t seen her since we all had dinner together. She blew off meeting me on Monday and I haven’t talked to her since. She acts like… never mind, it doesn’t matter.”

“But it does,” Perry pressed as she shifted forward on the couch. “Perhaps you should try talking to her again. Explain yourself and let her know that her silence is hurting you.”

“Yeah. I’m sure she’s not trying to do anything to upset you, but she’d want to know if she was.”

“I can’t do that when she won’t talk to me,” Laura said again, her eyes starting to burn but she bit her bottom lip to keep the tears in check.

She’d cried more than enough over this the last few days. At first, she was just angry. And frustrated. Carmilla refused to listen to her that night after dinner and the anger at the older girl’s dismissal sat in her stomach for the rest of the weekend and erupted all over again when Carmilla didn’t show up on Monday. It wasn’t until late Tuesday night, as she laid in her worn twin bed, staring up at the ceiling, that the first tears had pricked her eyes. Because Carmilla was hurt. Because Laura so desperately didn’t want to lose the older girl. And because, in her refusal to listen, Carmilla had hurt her back. 

Was Laura really the only one who felt like what they had now was more important? That it was special? That it wasn’t simply a friendship of convenience?

“Have you tried reaching out to her again, L?”

“Yes, I tried calling last night but she didn’t answer or call me back. I texted her too but she’s ignoring those. She… she clearly doesn’t want me around and… on the one hand, I can’t say I blame her.”

“What about the other hand?” LaF asked around a mouthful of chocolate chip cookie.

She huffed and shook her head. An excellent question. What about the other hand?

“She’s stubborn! And obstinate! And… and I miss her,” Laura said, looking down and picking at an invisible thread on her jeans, the burning sensation beneath her eyelids growing stronger.

“You two got close pretty quick,” LaF shrugged. “Makes sense why you would. And I bet she misses you too.”

“I doubt it.”

“Well, why don’t you try-”

“Guys, can we not talk about this right now?” she pleaded, swallowing down as much of the emotion as she could. “It’s all I’ve been thinking about for days and I… I just want to hang out with you two, okay?”

“Sure.”

“Of course, dear.”

She forced a small smile to her face as she glanced between them and turned back toward the television, not really caring what was on the screen.

LaF and Perry, of course, tried to make small talk here and there over the next hour. They talked about LaF’s work in the lab and some more about their upcoming vacation that fall. They talked about Perry’s grandparents coming to visit for a few days and what they planned to show them around the city. And Laura listened. She nodded when she was supposed to and contributed a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ when required. But her heart just wasn’t in it. Sitting there in her dad’s living room, the worn recliner beneath her creaking with every little movement, she wished that she was with Carmilla. That they were curled up together on the dark-haired girl’s leather sofa, laughing and talking about nothing and everything. That she could look over and see the older girl’s soft smile and warm eyes.

What if I never have that again? What if I really hurt her too much?

A sudden soft knock on the front door caught her ear and had her brow furrowing in confusion. Glancing at the clock on the far wall she saw it was already after ten and for a visitor to show up at the Hollis house any time after eight meant trouble.

“You expecting more company, L?”

“No.”

Cautiously she stood and moved out of the room and down the short hallway toward the stained oak door where another knock sounded, this one a little louder. Carefully glancing through the peephole, she felt her heart plummet to her feet even as it began to pound harder. Slowly opening the door, she swallowed hard and cleared her throat.

“Carm.”

The dark-haired girl stood on the porch, hands shoved deep into the pockets of her torn, fitted jeans, looking beautiful and amazing and… nervous.

“Hey.”

“What… what’re you doing here?”

“I um… well, it’s Friday… right?”

Laura immediately felt her eyes start to burn again, this time in gratitude, the smallest smile coming to her lips.

“It is,” she answered quietly. “But… I didn’t think…”

“I probably should’ve called,” she said with a shrug. “Or texted you back. Or even shown up on Monday when I was supposed to.”

“You were upset.”

“Yeah, but I also wasn’t listening And…” She sighed heavily and took a few steps back, leaning against the porch railing that had just been painted last fall, the white still pristine. “I’m sorry, Laura.”

“No, I get it,” she said, closing the door and following, her bare feet cold against the wood planks. “I messed up before.”

“Yeah, but so did I. We’ve both made mistakes, I know. But…” Carmilla glanced up, eyebrows pulled together.

“Carmilla, I didn’t mean to make things weird between us. I didn’t want to cause a fight. And I’m so sorry.”

“I know,” she said, staring down at her feet. “And with everything that’s happened between us… I mean, we’ve both apologized so many times. So-”

“If you’re still hurting, that doesn’t matter,” Laura interrupted, eyes wide.

“But I’m okay,” she shrugged.

“Carm…”

“No, I am,” she said, finally looking up. “I understand what happened in the past. And I know that things have changed. I know that you aren’t using me to make yourself feel better. I know… I know that our friends are idiots.”

Laura let a slight giggle escape from between her lips and nodded.

“But, Laura, I do need to understand something.”

“Of course.”

“Last week, what happened?” she asked, eyes searching Laura’s own. “Why did you kiss me?”

Laura glanced down at her hands, fingers from her right pulling on her left, the sleeves of her oversized sweater nearly covering them. This was what she’d been trying to tell Carmilla after the worst dinner in the world. This was what she was worried Carmilla didn’t understand.

That she won’t feel the same, Laura thought as she looked back up.

“I kissed you… because I had to,” she said, voice barely above a whisper.

“Had to?”

“In that moment, yeah. I… you are beautiful and amazing and kind and…” She paused, staring into Carmilla’s dark eyes for a long moment before taking a small step closer. “I care about you so much. And at that moment, I wasn’t looking to stop thinking or shut down. That’s why I didn’t kiss you when we were sitting on the couch. Because I don’t want it to only happen when I need you. I kissed you that night… because I wanted to.”

“It wasn’t just because I was the one there?”

“No.”

They stared at each other for a long moment, neither saying anything, the quiet completely encompassing them before Carmilla pushed off the railing and took a step forward, her boots heavy against the porch.

“Are you going to kiss me again?”

The million-dollar question.

“I… I don’t know,” Laura stuttered.

The older girl arched one of those perfect eyebrows and waited, silent, her gaze never leaving Laura’s.

“Carm, you have to understand, you aren’t a distraction in the way Mel and Kirsch and everyone was saying. You’re not just someone I look at and think, ‘yeah, she’ll make me forget everything for a while.’ But you are distracting. Because…”

She faltered for a moment, her stomach a mass of nervous butterflies. But she had to be honest.

“You’re distracting because I am attracted to you. I mean, yes we’re friends and we care about each other. But I can’t deny that sometimes when I look at you, all I want to do is kiss you. All I want to do is… more.”

Once again, she paused, Carmilla still staring at her, her dark eyes softening just a tad in understanding and Laura attempted to steel herself against the kindness there. Just in case.

“So I can’t say that I’ll never try it again because I really like kissing you.”

“And…?” Carmilla just barely smirked and Laura couldn’t help but smile.

“There is no and. Just a but.”

“Oh?”

“But no matter what happens, I don’t want to lose you.”

Laura stared at the older girl, hopeful but terrified of what was going to come next. Terrified that she may have already pushed away the best of what they had.

But then, Carmilla slowly shook her head and took another step forward.

“I’m not going anywhere, cupcake,” she said, smiling softly. “You could kiss me a hundred times and I’ll still be here.”

“Yeah?” Laura squeaked, a slight hiccup escaping at the thought of not losing someone that she’d grown to care so deeply for.

“Yeah,” Carmilla nodded. “I know what I mean to you and you know what you mean to me. That’s what matters.”

Laura nodded, a lone tear leaking out as she did and Carmilla took the last step between them and caught it on her thumb before pulling the smaller girl in. Laura sighed as her arms wrapped around the slightly taller girl’s waist and she buried her face into leather and warmth and soft scents. Into Carmilla.

“So then…” she started, voice slightly muffled, but unable to stop herself. “Are you ever going to even it out and kiss me?”

“I don’t know,” Carmilla parroted back with a chuckle, fingers softly tracing circles across Laura’s back.

“That’s fair,” Laura giggled once more, squeezing slightly before stepping back, her arms falling limp at her sides. “But either way, I’m really glad you’re here.”

“Me too,” Carmilla said, reaching for her left hand and braiding their fingers together.

“How did you know I was here though? I mean, it was a safe bet that I would be but…”

Carmilla smiled and looked over Laura’s shoulder, one eyebrow quirked just so. Laura turned, looking in the same direction and catching sight of two sets of eyes watching from behind the sheer curtains in the living room.

“I had a couple hints.”



Chapter Text

So move me, baby
Shake like the bough of a willow tree
You do it naturally
Move me, baby

 

Friday, April 26th, 2019

Midtown

“Oh, come on! It wasn’t that bad,” Laura giggled as she locked her arms around Carmilla’s and pulled her along toward 5th Street, the older girl sighing and practically dragging her feet.

“Cupcake, were we at the same movie just now?” she grumbled, pulling her arm free and wrapping it around Laura’s shoulders instead.

She tried to hide her grin as Laura molded herself into her side, the smaller girl laying her own arm around Carmilla’s waist and squeezing. Inhaling, she caught the slightest hint of Laura’s coconut almond shampoo as a few strands of wayward hair caught in the breeze, tickling her face, and making her smile even harder to conceal.

It had been two weeks since she’d shown up at Sherman’s house, hopeful that she hadn’t thrown everything away. Two weeks since they’d both apologized to each other over things that had happened long ago. And two weeks since she’d realized that when it came to their physical relationship, it wasn’t a question of if, but a question of when they would end up crossing that line.

‘Are you going to kiss me again?’

‘I… I don’t know.’

‘Are you ever going to even it out and kiss me?’

‘I don’t know.’

Carmilla had only had a handful of close friends in her life but she was pretty sure that wasn’t a normal conversation to have. In fact, she was almost certain that Mel would’ve clocked her if she’d ever suggested such a thing over the years. Then again, she never wanted that from Mel and the thought alone left her squirming and a little nauseous.

But Laura was different. Laura was beautiful and fun and sweet. And as much as she didn’t want to think about its influence, Carmilla couldn’t deny that they had a past. Granted, it had only happened once, but it had happened just the same. They’d spent a night wrapped around each other, lips pressed to bare skin and hands roaming over places that friends definitely didn’t touch. She knew some of the more sensitive spots on the smaller girl’s body. Carmilla knew the sounds she made when she fell apart. She knew what Laura tasted like.

Fuck, do not think about that.

Which had become a new mantra because unfortunately, it wasn’t the first time that those memories had floated to the surface. Lately, they almost seemed to be on a loop, popping up at incredibly inopportune moments. And as hard as it was to resist the temptation, she took solace in the fact that she wasn’t alone. The looks she’d caught Laura giving her on and off over the last two weeks were nothing short of criminal and left no doubt in her mind as to just what the younger girl was thinking about.

But they’d both been on their best behavior! There’d been no kissing. No hands moving beneath clothes. No sex.

Of course, it also helps that we haven’t been alone together in weeks.

Which, much as she hated to admit, was probably for the best since she swore Laura somehow seemed to look more and more gorgeous each time she saw the smaller girl.

Avoiding landmines at coffee for the last two Monday afternoons had been relatively easy. They made sure to sit across from each other, even as their hands refused to stay on separate sides of the table, fingers intertwining. They talked through the hour, the flirtatious banter not diminishing in the slightest. Afterward, as usual, Carmilla had walked Laura back to the rehab center to pick up her dad, their shoulders brushing as they strolled, Laura’s hands tightly gripping to her own, fingertips tickling along her wrist. And though when they parted ways, there’d been no goodbye cheek peck or lengthy, full-body hug, the long, intense stares hadn’t stopped. But standing on a busy Manhattan sidewalk in the middle of the day easily kept those in check.

Friday nights presented a bit more of a challenge. They’d be completely alone, the temptation strong. But thankfully Laura had found a way around that too. Last week, the younger girl had texted her when she was on her way, which was generally standard after all this time. What was different was when the smaller girl knocked on the door thirty minutes later, Carmilla was greeted not only with a bouncing tiny brunette but also LaF and Perry standing in the hallway behind her, both smiling wide. Laura had asked her about the additional guests later on when they were alone in the kitchen, the smaller girl’s voice nervous. Carmilla had merely smiled at her and nodded that it was more than fine before leaving a lingering kiss on her forehead and bolting back to the safety of the living room when she remembered herself.

This Friday, well-

“Pretty sure we were at the same movie since you were bugging me through the majority of it,” Laura said, still smiling wide and pulling Carmilla from her thoughts as they trekked down the sidewalk.

“It was pretty bad, L.”

“Oh no, I thought it was lovely.”

Carmilla rolled her eyes at the ginger duo walking behind them, the two continuing to bicker about the merits and downfalls of what they’d just witnessed over the last three hours and eight minutes.

Honestly, Carmilla had been expecting another Friday night in with uninvited guests but Laura had called her earlier in the day asking to go out and see a movie instead. She’d still been less than surprised to find LaF and Perry standing outside the theater at Laura’s side when she’d arrived though.

“Fine, fine,” Laura sighed. “Next time, I’ll let you pick. But if I fall asleep, you’ll have no one to blame but yourself.”

“I’ll take snoring on my shoulder over having to suffer through another one of your awful choices. You seriously have terrible taste in movies.”

“Hey!”

She chuckled as Laura let go of her waist and gave her a little shove to the side. But their separation was short-lived as Laura immediately reached for her hand instead, sandwiching it between her own as they strolled.

Carmilla glanced over, taking in the serene expression on the younger girl’s face. The warmth and calm. So different from when they’d first started spending time together just a few months earlier. And still so incredibly beautiful.

“What?” Laura asked as she glanced over, catching Carmilla mid-stare.

“Nothing,” she said, shaking her head with a bashful smile as she glanced away. “Just nice to see you happy.”

“It’s nice to feel happy,” Laura admitted with a shrug. “It’s nice to have a little bit of fun and…”

She trailed off, glancing over her shoulder toward LaF and Perry who were still quietly arguing over the quality of independent films nowadays, paying attention to nothing else. Looking back, she smiled softly as her eyes met Carmilla’s.

“I just like spending time with you,” she finally said, voice just barely audible. “You know that.”

Laura quickly looked away as the admission left her mouth, her cheeks tinting just the palest pink and Carmilla couldn’t help but smile at the visual, giving Laura’s hand a brief squeeze before looking away as they continued to walk.

Carmilla did know that. And even without the heated moments between them as of late, Laura was still her favorite person to just spend time with. To sit next to, whether laughing or bickering or surrounded by silence. To be out with in the middle of a restaurant or a busy Manhattan sidewalk. To smile at and watch and… just be.

“So um… what do you want to do now?” Laura asked a moment later as if reading her mind, her eyes once again bright. “We can grab a bite or a coffee or… whatever.”

“You pick, cupcake.”

“Well, whatever you two decide to do, you’re on your own,” LaF cut in. “We’re going to head home.”

“Wait, you guys are leaving?” Laura asked, her voice a tad higher as she stopped, halting Carmilla as well who’s hand she still tightly grasped.

“Well, yeah. Unless you guys really are enjoying our company that much,” LaF grinned.

“No,” Carmilla deadpanned, feeling Laura turn into her shoulder to hide her laughter.

“And on that incredibly rude note, we will avail ourselves,” Perry said, pulling a snickering LaFontaine with her past the couple and down the sidewalk. “Goodnight to you both. Enjoy the rest of your evening. Together.”

“Yeah, try and stay out of too much trouble.”

“No promises,” Carmilla called after them, earning another admonishing shake of the head from Perry and a thumbs up from LaF.

Carmilla chuckled quietly and turned toward the tiny brunette, smiling at the sight of a giggling Laura.

“I’m still not sure why they continue to put up with you,” she said when she met Carmilla’s eyes.

“I keep trying to get rid of them,” Carmilla said with a shrug.

“Sure you do.”

Letting out the last of her quiet laughter, Laura turned and began walking again, her hands now stuffed into her jacket pockets, a few extra inches separating them on the sidewalk.

“Sorry if you didn’t want them to come tonight,” she suddenly said, glancing over.

“Come on, cutie, I was teasing. It’s fine that they came,” she started, staring down at her feet as they walked. “You know I don’t actually mind, I just… well, so long as I get to see you, I’m okay.”

“Such a softy.”

“Stop saying that!”

Laura laughed again, the sound light and refreshing as she stopped once more at the corner of W 58th and 5th.

“I’ll stop saying it when you stop being so incredibly sweet.”

Carmilla shook her head, looking away with a small grin. Because she wasn’t a softie. She wasn’t incredibly sweet. Their friends could attest to that.

“Fine, so do you really want to do something else? I can be a jerk for the rest of the evening if you please.”

“Carm…”

“What’ll it be? Coffee and you can listen to me roast the Bobbsey Twins some more? Or we can go grab something sweet and I can tell horrifying tales about Kirsch and Mel? Or…” She paused, her tone a little less playful when she spoke again. “Or we can head back to my place if you want?”

Maybe not your best idea.

“Nice as that might be, maybe we should just call it a night,” Laura said almost regretfully.

“I knew you were sick of hanging out at my apartment,” Carmilla teased even as the idea of ending the night made her stomach drop ever so slightly.

“Shut up, you know I’m not sick of being at your apartment. You know I love being at your apartment.”

“Only because I have the good snacks.”

“The best snacks,” Laura giggled, glancing away for a moment. “Among other things.”

“Oh?” Carmilla smirked as she slowly moved closer.

“Don’t go digging.”

“I never have to, cutie. You put your foot in your mouth just fine without my assistance.”

“While that may be true, I’m keeping them firmly planted on the ground tonight.”

She smiled once more at the faux determined expression that Laura was now sporting, her lips softening when she felt Laura reaching for her hand. She glanced down at their fingers interwoven, fitting together so perfectly. The feeling so incredibly good.

“You sure you want to go?” she asked quietly when she finally looked up.

“I… I should,” Laura answered, voice just as timid, her smile gone, the teasing no longer in her eyes.

“I didn’t ask if you should go. I asked if you wanted to.”

Laura stared back, intense and heated. Taking a breath in, she reached up with her free hand, cupping Carmilla’s cheek, their faces leaning in closer.

Carmilla watched the younger girl’s eyes flick to her lips before swallowing hard.

“I know what you asked me, Carm,” she said, her breathing a little deeper than necessary, her thumb brushing along Carmilla’s jaw. “And you already know the answer.”

Laura moved ever so slightly, her lips just barely brushing against the other side of Carmilla’s jaw before she forced herself to step back, her hands falling to her sides, leaving a chill to surround Carmilla’s suddenly overheated body.

“I should go,” she repeated.

Carmilla simply nodded, unable to look away as Laura took another step backward.

“I’ll text you later,” she said, her voice a little lower than normal as she turned to hail a cab.

Carmilla stood there, hands jammed in her pockets, forcing her feet to stay put as she watched Laura climb into the backseat of a newly arrived taxi a moment later, the younger girl only meeting her eyes again when the car was in motion.

Tuesday, April 30th, 2019

Weehawken, NJ

“This was definitely not what I had in mind when you asked if you could stop by tonight,” Laura said with a grateful smile as she tossed the wet cloth in hand on the edge of the sink and turned.

“Is that good or bad?” Carmilla asked from her spot just a few feet away, casually leaning against the kitchen counter.

“It’s good,” Laura giggled. “It’s always good to see you but you were really great tonight. Especially with him.”

Carmilla merely shrugged and looked down at her feet, the typical response any time Laura pointed out her innate kindness.

The dark-haired girl had called just a few hours earlier as she was leaving the office for the day, which hadn’t surprised Laura. But when Carmilla asked if it was okay for her to stop by and visit for a while, Laura was a little thrown. Because, of course, she wanted Carmilla to visit. Spending time with the older girl was not something she’d ever voluntarily turn down. But this wasn’t part of their “routine.” Tuesday nights were normally reserved for fancy client dinners or late nights working with her brother and sister, not spending time with Laura. And definitely not for spending nearly three hours sitting with Sherman, watching the Phillies get beaten by the Tigers on their own turf. Carmilla had even been able to contribute to the conversation when her dad went off on a tangent about Velasquez’s pitching after three runs scored in the third inning. Laura had been more than a little surprised. But pleasantly so.

“Seriously, Carm,” she continued, taking a step forward. “I mean, I had to hear him rant about baseball the entire time I was growing up but I was never that interested so I mainly just listened without absorbing.”

“It’s not the most thrilling,” Carmilla chuckled lightly, her smile soft. Wistful. “But… well, my dad was a big fan too. Will and I used to watch with him whenever he asked us to.”

Laura nodded, staying quiet just in case there was more. Carmilla wasn’t exactly the most open when it came to her family. In fact, other than a few tidbits about her siblings, Laura knew next to nothing at this point, even after all this time. And while she sometimes found herself dying to ask, the way Carmilla spoke of them always left her pausing. Because there was something more there.

“So, I learned more than I wanted to,” Carmilla softly laughed again.

“Yankees?” Laura tried.

“Mets.” Carmilla nodded once, her longing smile still in place. “He always rooted for the underdog.”

Laura nodded, the use of the past tense not missed, but didn’t ask anything more.

“Well, either way, I’m sure he was grateful for the company,” she said, pointing towards the living room where Sherman was still sitting, watching the post-game commentary.

“I told you he’d fall for my charm eventually,” Carmilla teased, the nostalgia leaving her eyes. “I just have to put in the time.”

Still got a lot of time to do, Laura thought with an over-enthusiastic nod. Sherman had definitely been more talkative tonight than the last few times he’d seen the older girl. But Laura had still caught his gaze hardening whenever Carmilla had looked away, his frown deepening.

Carmilla stared back, studying her for a long moment before rolling her eyes and smiling at the ceiling, almost as if she was reading Laura’s thoughts.

“Dammit, here I thought I was doing so good!”

“Well, you aren’t doing… bad,” she argued. “Just give him some more time.”

Carmilla sighed once more but Laura just giggled as she turned and made her way into the living room, the dark-haired girl only two steps behind.

“Hey, dad, Carm’s getting ready to leave now. Do you want to say goodbye?” Laura asked, head tilted to the side, waiting.

“No,” Sherman grumbled, glowering at the television.

“Dad!” she chastised, her smile falling even as Carmilla laughed quietly from across the room.

Laura waited as he turned his gaze from the screen toward her, her face stern, hands on her hips as she continued to stare at him. And ten seconds in, he seemed to realize himself.

“Oh.”

“Yeah, oh,” she repeated. “Now, I’m asking you again. Do you want to say goodbye to Carmilla?”

“W-Well, um… goodbye, C-Carmilla,” he stumbled, glancing over at the dark-haired girl and having the decency to at least look embarrassed. “Thank you f-for stopping by-y.”

“Absolutely. We’ll do again sometime,” Carmilla said, smiling softly at him.

He nodded once, frown still firmly etched on his face, and turned back to the television, the final stats from the game flashing one more time.

Laura shook her head, embarrassed, and feeling the sadness that was permanently lodged in her chest pushing outward. Sure, he was getting better. His mobility was improving and the stutter wasn’t nearly as prominent as it had been. But the flashes of insolence, the complete lack of etiquette that sometimes reared its ugly head, seeming to come from nowhere still shocked her. She knew he couldn’t help it but that didn’t make it any easier. Because that wasn’t her dad. That wasn’t the man who’d raised her.

Sighing quietly with one last glance in his direction, Laura turned, moving to walk Carmilla out.

“That’s a pretty fancy ride,” she said as she stepped onto the porch behind the older girl and took in the black Mercedes idling at the curb.

“Tonight seemed like a pretty good excuse to use my mother’s car service,” Carmilla shrugged.

“Your mother has her own car service?”

“The company does,” Carmilla said, shaking her head. “Mattie and Will are big fans but it’s a little too pretentious for me.”

“Yeah, you’re not pretentious at all,” Laura laughed, rolling her eyes when Carmilla simply shrugged. “Well, either way, again, thank you for coming by.”

“My pleasure, cutie.”

“And… I’m sorry about my dad. That little outburst just now wasn’t you specific,” Laura said, her smile falling as she glanced toward the living room, Sherman’s form just barely visible beyond the sheer curtains. “He still forgets sometimes to… well, to have manners.”

“Hey, no, don’t apologize. It’s fine,” Carmilla reassured her, stepping a little closer, hand gentle on her elbow as she reached for her. “I understand.”

“But you were incredible with him. And even if he still doesn’t like you that much, you did make him laugh a couple times. Which was so nice to hear.”

“I can be incredibly charming when I want to be.”

“I’m… well aware of that,” Laura said smiling up at her.

Carmilla chuckled, her hand squeezing, fingers warm against the tiny brunette’s bicep, a stark contrast to the slight chill that still hung in the night air.

And suddenly, Laura realized they were standing closer than they should be. So close in fact that she could smell the amazing scent that seemed to linger to Carmilla at all times. Her eyes flicked down, watching as Carmilla’s lips twitched, so full and kissable.

And god why do I have to be so attracted to her?

Sighing heavily in defeat, she looked back up into Carmilla’s eyes, the older girl’s gaze heated at the edges. And unable to help herself, Laura closed the half step separating them, her hands landing on the sides of Carmilla’s open leather jacket as she leaned in.

“Laur!” Sherman suddenly yelled from within the house. “C-Can I have my sleeping p-pill?”

“Crap,” she whispered, closing her eyes, unable to stop the smile coming to her lips at the sound of Carmilla’s soft laughter.

She stepped back before she looked up at the older girl once more, giggling softly at the smirk on Carmilla’s face.

“I’ll go,” she quietly said.

“Okay,” Laura sighed, still smiling. “Go, enjoy the rest of your night. Have some fun.”

“I’m going home, cupcake. Not to an orgy.”

Laura giggled and nodded, stopping when Carmilla leaned in once more, leaving a soft kiss against her cheek, mere centimeters from her lips.

“Night, cutie,” she said in Laura’s ear, her voice almost a whisper.

Their eyes met once more before Carmilla turned and quickly walked down the steps, her driver getting out of the car the moment her right boot hit the sidewalk. She allowed herself to be ushered into the backseat, the privacy windows keeping Laura from seeing her in the dark.

Laura turned, shuffling back toward the house as the driver climbed back into the car.

I’m cursed, she thought as she heard them drive off, unable to stop herself from taking one last peek as tail lights slowly disappeared into the distance.

Friday, May 3rd, 2019

SoHo

Carmilla sighed and tiredly rubbed at her eyes beneath her glasses, slumping further into the leather chair at the sound of the front door closing. Yeah, okay, maybe being alone with Laura wasn’t the best idea right now as it seemed the tension between them was only growing stronger and stronger.

But nothing is worth having to put up the three giants for that long.

In the quest to avoid spending time solely with Laura and doing something incredibly stupid, Carmilla had done something even dumber. She’d invited Mel, Danny, and Kirsch over for the evening, the trio arriving just moments before the younger girl, and Carmilla swore she saw a hint of relief battling with disappointment in the tiny brunette’s eyes when she realized that they’d have company for the evening. Laura had ended up squished between Danny and Kirsch on the sofa, the two literally bickering over her head and obviously annoying the smaller girl to the point that halfway through the movie, she’d stood, moved around the coffee table, and plopped down in the middle of the floor with a huff. An hour after the movie was over, they were all still there, arguing once again about something Carmilla couldn’t bother to pay attention to. But it didn’t matter because she was too busy exchanging smiles with Laura from across the room where the smaller girl had perched herself with a snack. It was only after Mel had received a ‘Where are you?’ text from Charlotte that the trio had actually left.

I knew they’d overstay their welcome.

“It’s quiet. Are they gone? Please tell me they left?” she heard Laura eagerly ask as the younger girl made her way back into the main room from washing off the chocolate that had melted over her thumb courtesy of a stack of chocolate chip cookies.

“Yes. Thank god,” Carmilla grumbled, eyes still closed, head resting against the back of the chair.

Laura giggled quietly from somewhere in the room and Carmilla let one eye peek open, watching the younger girl sit down to pull her off white tennis shoes back on, the top of her striped blue button-down revealing more skin than normal when she leaned forward.

Fuck, she thought, unable to look away.

“So are you going to do anything else tonight?” Laura asked, still working on her laces.

You. Gah! Stop.

“Um… might work on a few things for a presentation I have next week,” she answered, finally forcing her eye back to the tiny brunette’s face.

“Thrilling. And in that case,  I’ll get out of here,” Laura said as she stood, running a hand through her hair and Carmilla internally groaned at the sight. “But I’ll see you tomorrow, right?”

“Yeah, I’ll be there,” Carmilla said as she let her other eye flutter open, not at all looking forward to the game night the gang had planned. She’d just about reached her limit on time spent with her friends. “Unfortunately.”

“Hey!” Laura said chastised with a smile. “Come on, it’ll be fun.”

“These things are never fun, cupcake,” she said as she slowly pushed herself up from the chair and moved toward the smaller girl. “Lawrence and Kirsch will end up fighting again while Mel eggs them on. Perry will try to organize and then mediate the fight before getting frustrated and pouting in the corner. And LaF will just stand on the sidelines, throwing out bits of timber to keep the argument going for their own amusement.”

“That is… incredibly accurate,” Laura agreed. “But still entertaining. Come on. We can sit together and place bets on what’ll happen from moment to moment.”

“Oh yeah?” she said, stepping a little closer. “What does the winner get?”

“I’m tempted to say whatever she wants but I’m fairly certain you will fully take advantage of that.”

“Of course, I will,” Carmilla shrugged, making the smaller girl giggle.

“Then the prize will be determined at a later date,” she said, and Carmilla was fairly certain the playful smile on Laura’s lips at that moment was the cutest thing she’d ever seen.

That’s because she’s the cutest period.

“Alright, how about come Monday, if you win, I’ll buy you cookies and if I win, you can buy me a coffee?”

“We already do that now, Carm,” she laughed, reaching out and gripping at the sides of red flannel Carmilla wore.

“Are you saying no to warm, gooey chocolate chip cookies?” Carmilla asked in faux surprise, stepping just a little closer, her own hands wrapping around Laura’s wrists, feeling the tiny brunette’s pulse thrumming against her fingertips.

“Never. I just thought you might come up with something a little more… thrilling than our Monday go-to.”

“Thrilling like naked bungee jumping?”

“Why does everything this group do involve being naked in public?”

“Or thrilling like hijacking an armored car in the middle of rush hour?”

“Let’s stick with legal thrills,” Laura said, tugging at her shirt.

“No sense of adventure,” she smirked, the feeling of Laura pulling her closer making her heart thud a little louder in her chest.

“I am plenty adventurous.”

“So, then something else naked?” she teased.

“We’ll talk about it later,” Laura sighed, going to push herself away. 

But Carmilla held tight, keeping her close, the playful exchange clouding her brain for a moment longer. Except as she watched Laura’s smile instantly fall, her eyes searching, Carmilla worried she’d crossed a line and quickly let go.

“Sorry,” she mumbled. “I wasn’t-”

“No,” Laura said, reaching for her once again and keeping her in place. Laura looked up at her, eyes more intense than a moment before.

Fuck.

“Carm…” she sighed. “How do we keep ending up here?”

“I don’t know, cutie,” Carmilla sighed. She reached up, tucking a strand of hair behind Laura’s ear, fingers gently dancing down her neck.

“It just… keeps happening and…”

Carmilla waited, her eyes never leaving Laura’s as the smaller opened and closed her mouth once again, apparently unable to voice whatever it was that was going on inside her head.

“Laura, you know, we don’t have to-”

A loud knock sounded from Carmilla’s front door, echoing down the entry hallway and completely cutting her off. Laura quickly jumped back in surprise even as her hands gripped tighter to the sides of Carmilla’s shirt.

Fuck. Why?

“Were you expecting someone?” Laura nearly panted.

“No,” she said, turning back. “I’m sure it’s not-”

The unknown person knocked a second time.

“Goddamnit.”

“Maybe it’s important?”

“I doubt it.”

“Well, they certainly are persistent,” Laura said when a third knock came.

“Shit!” Carmilla sighed, scowling in the direction of the noise. “Just… stay right here. I’ll be right back.”

Laura simply nodded.

Carmilla quickly made her way out of the living room and down the hall to the door, her mind already concocting all the gruesome ways to punish whoever was on the other side as another resounding knock was heard. Looking through the peephole, she sighed heavily, rolling her eyes.

“What the hell do you two want?” she practically growled, opening the door, her grip tight as she took in the sight of Mattie and Will standing on the other side.

“Get ready, we’re going out for a drink,” Mattie said as she confidently moved through the doorway, Will slowly meandering behind her. “I called but you didn’t answer your phone.”

“Well, I was busy,” Carmilla said, hot on their heels as they moved into the main space.

“I can see that,” Mattie said, smile growing as she caught sight of a wide-eyed Laura still standing on the other side of the room, nervously wringing her hands in front of her. “Who do we have here?”

Shit, I’m never going to hear the end of this when she puts two and two together.

“Um, this is Laura,” she answered, fiddling with her glasses.

“Oh? And she is…”

“She’s a friend,” she said, not missing the slight eyebrow twitch from each of her siblings.

Goddamnit!

“Laura, this is my sister, Mattie, and my brother, Will.”

“Enchanté,” Mattie offered with a killer smile as Will sent her a wolfish grin.

“Oh, right, Carm’s told me a little about you both,” Laura said, bouncing on the balls of her feet.

“Oh, Carm has, has she?” Mattie said, her smile now bordering on wicked. “Isn’t that interesting, William?”

“Fascinating.”

“Yes, she knows exactly how big of a pain in the ass you both are,” Carmilla said, rolling her eyes.

“Stop, you adore us,” Mattie said with a wave of her hand as she stepped closer to the center of the room. “And what are the two of you up to on this lovely evening? Here? Alone?”

“Nothing!” she quickly answered. “We’re just hanging out.”

“Well, then we arrived just in time to entertain you. So, as I already said, get ready. We’re leaving,” she repeated.

“Mattie, tonight isn’t a good-”

“Oh, come now, Carmilla. We haven’t seen much of you outside of work lately as you’ve been so busy and we desperately want to know more about your little… friend,” she said smirking.

Carmilla turned to Laura, the tiny brunette looking completely unsure.

“Come on, Carm,” Will started, still smiling as he moved past them and over to the wet bar along the far wall, inspecting the glass bottles there. “We haven’t done drinks or dinner or anything in weeks. You fall off the face of the earth as soon as you leave work anymore.”

“Yes, so you must come,” Mattie agreed. “We promise, we’ll be on our best behavior and not embarrass you in front of your… friend.”

“At least not too much,” Will chuckled, arching an eyebrow.

“Guys, I know haven’t been around much lately, but I really have been… busy,” Carmilla floundered. “And tonight is just not-”

“You should go,” Laura interrupted.

“I… I should?” Carmilla asked, the surprise in her voice evident, even as she felt her chest drop.

“Yeah,” Laura answered with a sweet smile as she moved closer to Carmilla’s side. “I was getting ready to head out anyway.”

Oh.

“Oh.”

“But it’s very nice to meet you both,” Laura said, turning to the other two with that same grin.

“Well, it was simply lovely meeting you, dear,” Mattie said, still smiling smoothly. Over the top. “I can’t wait to do it again.”

Will simply nodded and lifted the glass of wine he’d already poured to his lips.

“Um… yeah, sure.” Laura nodded once more to each of them before turning and moving toward the hallway and out of sight.

Carmilla glanced between her siblings before quickly following, rolling her eyes at the laughs she heard echoing behind her.

“Hey, wait a second,” she said as she rounded the corner just as Laura pulled her coat from the iron rack. The smaller girl turned as she pulled the jacket on, eyes curious. “Do you… do you want me to walk you out?”

“That’s okay, Carm,” she said sweetly. “I can manage.”

“I know you can,” she sighed. “But… well, I just thought…”

But what could she say?

“I know,” Laura said, stepping closer. “But… well, maybe there’s a reason we keep getting to this point and getting interrupted.”

“That people have terrible timing?” Carmilla grumbled.

“Or… maybe it’s just for the best,” Laura said, looking away and shrugging.

Oh.

Carmilla felt her irritation melt as the embarrassment she so loathed unexpectedly kicked in. Yes, she knew Laura was attracted to her. The younger girl had outright said it. And she knew Laura wanted something more. She’d have to be blind to miss all the signals. But was there something else there? Had she done something to make Laura so quick to dismiss the possibility when it came down to it?

Nodding once, she looked away and reached up to anxiously adjust her glasses on the bridge of her nose.

“Right, sorry,” she said quietly.

“Carm, I don’t mean that in a bad way,” Laura said, stepping forward, her voice gentle. “I just… I don’t want things to change between us. I don’t want to lose my friend who I care for very much.”

“But I already told you I wasn’t going anywhere.”

“I know. It’s just… I don’t know if something is going to happen between us. But if it does… it has to mean more.” Laura stepped closer, moving her fingers under Carmilla’s chin and lifting, forcing their eyes to meet.

More? she thought, staring into Laura’s soft brown depths, wondering at the statement. But Laura didn’t seem to notice.

“So go have fun tonight,” she continued. “I’m going to head back and see if my dad’s still up. Maybe have a late-night cocoa.”

“You’ll be awake for hours.”

“So I’ll still be up when you text me later.”

“Okay.”

“And you’re still coming tomorrow?” Laura asked again, stepping toward the door and hesitating for just a moment.

“Yeah.”

Laura simply nodded and pulled the door open, leaving with a small wave.

Carmilla stood there, staring at it, Laura’s words washing over her before suddenly hitting home. Quickly moving forward and pulling the door open again, she walked into the hall just as Laura was stepping into the elevator.

“Hey, wait a second!” she said, reaching up to keep the doors from sliding closed.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing, I just…” She paused for a long moment, swallowing hard as she stared. “Laura, you were never just another notch in my bedpost. You know that right?”

“I do,” she said quietly.

“I just… I mean, I know we’ve talked about it.”

“We did,” Laura agreed. “So you don’t have to keep apologizing.”

“I know but after the last few times we’ve seen each other… after just now… you’ve always meant more than that. You always will mean more.”

Laura smiled softly and moved forward, leaning out and leaving a soft kiss against Carmilla’s cheek.

“You’ll always mean more to me too. And that matters.”

Carmilla nodded, hopeful that the smaller girl really did believe her, and stepped back, watching as Laura waved one last time before the doors closed. Sighing, she turned and made her way back into her apartment, dragging her feet the length of the hall.

“Who was that?” Mattie asked as she walked back inside a few seconds later.

“I just introduced you, are you so high up on your horse that you can’t bother to remember common pleasantries?” Carmilla snapped, narrowing her eyes when Mattie only smiled wider.

“Come on, I’m thirsty,” Will said even as he took the last swallow from his wineglass. “You two can get snippy with each other once I have a martini in front of me.”

Rolling her eyes Carmilla grabbed her leather jacket and led them out of the apartment and down the main hall.

They stepped into the elevator, still silent, the doors smoothly sliding closed and Carmilla once again caught the knowing smirks on their faces in the reflective panels.

Five… four… three… two…

“So how long have you been sleeping with the adorable little button?” Mattie asked, apparently unable to keep it in any longer.

“No. That’s not what’s going on there,” Carmilla started before shaking her head.

“Judging from the doe eyes, I’m guessing it’s been just less than a month,” Will added.

“That’s generous for our dear sister, William,” Mattie countered. “I’m going to say two weeks, tops.”

“I’m not sleeping with her!” she practically shouted as the doors to the elevator slid open, the few occupants in the building’s lobby looking their way in shock.

Fuck, she grumbled as she quickly made her way past them and through the double glass doors.

“Oh, so you just slept with her the one time and now you’re keeping her on standby?” Will chuckled, just a step behind her.

“No!”

“Wait a minute,” Mattie said, her heels loudly clicking against the concrete as they walked. “Is this the friend, friend?”

“Mattie…”

“Oh, it is! How delightful.”

“What the hell are you two talking about?” Will asked.

“Well, dear brother, our little Carmilla has made a friend she doesn’t hate.”

“Oh?”

“A friend who is… different.”

“My, my.”

“A friend who got out her little chisel and hammer and is slowly cracking away at our lovely sister’s hardened exterior.”

“How incredibly interesting.”

“Okay, shut up, both of you,” Carmilla snapped, sending a glare toward each of them.

“Oh come on, we’re just having a bit of fun, darling,” Mattie said with a quiet laugh.

“Yeah, it’s hilarious,” Carmilla sighed, shoving her hands in her pockets, facing forward and practically stomping down the street.

But apparently, this wasn’t over as Carmilla felt her sister’s eyes on her and turned to see that same knowing smile.

“What?”

“She’s very pretty, Carm.”

“I’m aware of that.”

“And she seems like a nervous little thing. Did we… interrupt something?”

“No!”

“And you’re sure you don’t have feelings for this girl?”

“Fucking hell, Mattie, yes I’m sure!”

“You used to be a better liar,” Will said from her other side, sending her a boyish smile as she turned her hardened stare onto him. He quickly ducked out of the way two seconds later as Carmilla’s fist took aim.

Saturday, May 4th, 2019

Weehawken, NJ

“Yes! Winning again!” LaF cheered, hands in the air, smile wide.

Laura looked to Perry on her left and then Danny on her right, quietly laughing at the vastly different facial expressions they were currently sporting.

“Very good, LaFontaine,” Perry said with a fond smile,  reaching over to gently pat their arm.

“I swear you cheat,” Danny grumbled, frowning hard. “I don’t know how but you do.”

“You can’t cheat at Clue!” they scoffed.

“Yes, you can!”

Laura simply shook her head and pushed herself off the floor, leaving them to bicker as she left the living room and went to check on her dad down the hall.

It had been a much quieter evening than she’d anticipated, what with Mel and Kirsch both bailing at the last minute. But Perry and LaF had pulled up in their Uber just as Danny was knocking on the door a little over an hour ago. Carmilla, of course, was twenty minutes late, looking bored from the moment she walked in and disappearing into the kitchen not long after.

It had been Kirsch’s idea to even have a game night and Perry’s to have it at Sherman’s house, knowing it would put Laura at ease but also be fun. And so far, she was right. She’d been thoroughly enjoying spending some time with her friends. It was probably the most fun she’d had with them in years if she were being honest. It was simple and light, no traces of the awkwardness that tended to linger just below the surface when she was around them for too long. Maybe it was because she’d been feeling better lately. Maybe it was because she was fully present and not worrying about her dad. But regardless of the reason, it was something she was more than grateful for.

Smiling as she reached the guest room door, she peered in expecting to find Sherman engrossed in his latest western novel, but her brow furrowed when she saw the bed empty. Turning, she made her way back toward the front room, where the debate was still going around the coffee table on why it wasn’t fair to guess a weapon for a card you already had, and into the kitchen. As she rounded the corner, her concern immediately melted away. Feet pausing on the green kitchen mat, she felt a smile pull at her lips as she took in the scene in front of her.

“What’s going on in here?” she asked, her voice almost giddy as she leaned against the frame of the archway.

“Sh-She’s letting me win and I don’t l-like it,” Sherman said, never taking his eyes off the chessboard in front of him atop the kitchen table. On the other side of the table, Carmilla sat, slumped coolly in her chair.

“Letting you win?” Laura tried, smiling harder.

“Untrue. I’m just a little rusty, Sherman,” Carmilla smiled and shook her head. “Haven’t had anyone to play with for a while.”

“Yeah, I think you’re j-just trying to make an old m-man feel better.”

“Is it working?” she smirked.

He shrugged and moved one of his pieces, his eyes still glued to the board.

Still absolutely beaming, Laura decided to leave well enough alone and turned to make her way back into the other room. But not before glancing back just as Carmilla looked up at her, curiously.

“Thank you,” she mouthed, smile softening.

Carmilla merely shrugged and looked back at the board. But not before Laura saw the barest hint of pink quickly rise to her cheeks.

It was a couple hours later that Laura emerged from the kitchen once more after trying to help Perry with the homemade honey granola bars she was making. Carmilla and her dad had agreed to move their game into the living room when she and Perry started the snack, but now she found Sherman at one of the side tables, playing with LaF who wasn’t taking it quite as easily on him.

“Where’s Carm?” she asked Danny who was sitting on the couch, smiling goofily at her phone.

“Went out back,” she answered not even bothering to look up.

With everything seeming to be under control, Laura turned and made her way toward the back door, peeking through the blinds that covered the glass to find Carmilla standing on the porch, staring up at the night sky.

“What’re you doing out here?” she asked as she opened the door and moved toward the older girl.

“Nothing,” Carmilla shrugged. “My mother called and it’s a nice night so I thought I’d take a few minutes out here before going back in with the idiot squad.”

“One of these days, they’re all going to stop being friends with you,” she said, leaning back against the cedar railing next to the dark-haired girl.

“Is that day today?”

Laura giggled and shook her head.

“So how many games did you let my dad win?”

“Don’t know what you’re talking about, cupcake.”.

“Liar.”

Carmilla merely chuckled, still staring up at the sky, her eyes bright beneath the stars.

Beautiful.

“You’re really sweet for playing with him,” Laura said, moving a little closer, their shoulders barely brushing. “I don’t exactly know how to and neither did my mom so it was never an option during game nights.”

“It was probably the only game I played growing up,” Carmilla said after a thoughtful moment.

“With Mattie and Will?” Laura tried.

“Sometimes. Mattie was ruthless. Conniving as hell. And Will always whined and threw fits because he could never beat us.” She paused, smiling softly.

“After meeting them last night, that doesn’t surprise me,” Laura softly giggled. 

“Laura, dear, can you- oh!” Perry’s eyes widened as she stepped out onto the porch, apparently caught off-guard. “I’m sorry, I thought you were out here alone.”

“You’re fine Per, what’s up?”

“Nothing I can’t handle,” she said with a wave of her hand, stepping back into the house. “You two just pretend like I was never here.”

“Why are they being so weird lately?” Laura asked, turning back to Carmilla, smiling at the older girl’s grin.

“Who knows, cutie. You should probably go see what she wants though before she decoupages your kitchen or something.”

“Probably,” Laura said, pushing herself off the railing and moving toward the back door. “You coming?”

She held out her hand, waiting for Carmilla to take it, giggling slightly when the older girl made a show of pushing herself off the railing and following.

Two Hours Later

SoHo

Carmilla blew out a deep breath, looking back and forth between the two ad options she’d been handed the day before, still unsure if she liked the art on either. Neither one was particularly eye-catching and she was certain the client would agree with her.

She hadn’t planned on working through this Saturday night, but then again, she never planned on caring about the business as much as she did. She never planned on actually enjoying it or being that good at it. She’d been wrong on all accounts.

She reached for the black mug to her right, taking a sip and cringing, the coffee she’d made herself earlier now cold. She needed a fresh cup if she was going to keep at it. Standing up, she moved to round the table, caught off guard when a soft knock echoed throughout the first floor of the apartment.

Curious, she set the mug down and moved toward the entrance hallway, her brow furrowed in confusion at who would randomly be knocking on her door at this hour. But taking a quick glance through the peephole, she instantly smiled at the sight of a bouncing Laura Hollis on the other side.

“Hey, cutie,” she greeted as she opened the door, standing off to the side.

“Hey.” Laura smiled softly as she stepped over the threshold, pulling her jacket off and moving further into the space.

Closing the door, Carmilla stuffed her hands into her pockets and followed, still incredibly curious.

She had only stayed at Sherman’s house for another thirty minutes after following Laura back inside, the sound of the smaller girl’s laughter following her out when she left, making her smile. But now…

“What’re you doing here?” she asked, tilting her head to the side. “I thought you were going to stay in the rest of your night with your dad.”

“Well, I was,” she said, glancing down for a moment.

“Is he okay?”

“Yeah. He’s zonked out. Fell asleep not long after you left. So…”

“Okay. Well, can I get you something?” Carmilla asked when the smaller girl didn’t continue. She let her gaze trace Laura’s blushing features for any further clues on what had brought the younger girl there that night out of the blue.

“No, I’m fine, I just…” She finally looked up, her own eyes now searching Carmilla’s as she took another long, slow breath. “I just wanted to see you. I want…”

“You want what?” Carmilla pressed, the silence surrounding them pushing down harder and harder as the seconds ticked by. “What can I do?”

Laura took a step forward, staring at her for a long moment, nervously pulling at her left ring finger. Taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes, her irises somehow a touch darker when they fluttered back open a few seconds later. Determined.

“How do you play?” she asked just barely above a whisper.

“What?”

“How do you play?” she repeated, still in that slightly husky tone.

“Play what, cupcake?” Carmilla asked, brow furrowing.

“Chess. Mattie is quick to strike. Will can’t beat you,” she started, swallowing hard. “So how do you play?”

Oh.

Pulling her hands from her pockets, she took a deep breath and a step forward, leaving only a foot between them, her eyes locked on Laura. On Laura who was nervous and beautiful and sexy and…

“I play the long game,” she finally answered, her gaze never wavering. “Strategy.”

Laura stared back as she stepped forward, closing the small gap between them. She carefully reached out, hands gently gripping at Carmilla’s hips and pulled her in, chest to chest, thigh to thigh.

“You are very strategic.”

“When there’s something I want,” she finally answered. “Yes.”

Carmilla watched Laura’s eyes darken even further and flick down to her lips before meeting her eyes again, full of want and need and so much more. And the seconds ticked by, long and silent as Carmilla waited. Because this had to be Laura. This had to come from her.

“Carm?” she finally whispered, squeezing at her waist once.

“Laura…” She swallowed hard, searching for any doubts that didn’t seem to exist. “Are you sure?”

Slowly, Laura nodded, moving in again, her lips just barely brushing Carmilla’s as she said one last thing.

“Distract me.”

 

Chapter Text

Is that the way we stand?

Were you lying all the time?

Was it just a game to you?

But I'm in so deep

You know I'm such a fool for you

You've got me wrapped around your finger

 

Saturday, May 4th, 2019

SoHo

Why had she come here? What was she doing? What was she thinking?

You were thinking that you miss her, as dumb as it is. You miss her and you just want to see her. Talk to her. Just be near her for a bit.

She stood before the heavy oak door on the twelfth floor for a good ten minutes, rocking back and forth on her heels, her fingers a knotted mess, waffling on her spur of the moment decision.

Surprisingly she’d held back the tears threatening to overwhelm her during the ride into Manhattan that night. Danny had mentioned that she was meeting Mel and Charlotte at a bar in the Village before she’d left the Hollis house earlier, offering for Laura to come and unwind with them. And while she was incredibly tempted to get out for a bit, she’d declined, of course, because she was needed elsewhere. But then everything had changed. The evening got turned completely upside down. 

So when she left the house, the bar on Bleeker had been her initial destination. Because honestly where else was she going to go? Kirsch was working on something at the gym and LaF and Perry had seemed ready to spend some alone time together when they’d taken their leave that evening. Meeting Danny and Mel was her only option.

Well, technically not the only option, but…

But that option wasn’t fair. It was asking too much. Being too needy. And just the same, she suddenly found herself giving her driver a different address mid-route, her voice shaking a little as she did.

Now, fifteen minutes later as she stood there, staring at the door, she couldn’t stop flashes of the last few weeks from invading her brain. 

Carmilla smiling at her from across the room at the crowded coffee house as she stood in line for a refill for herself and a cookie for Laura. 

The dark-haired girl pulling her in close as they sat together on her leather sofa, the feeling of warmth surrounding her as the scent that was uniquely Carmilla invaded her senses. 

The older girl making her laugh and smile and just be, like there was absolutely nothing different in Laura’s world. Like Laura was special. Like Laura mattered to her.

That’s why you’re here, she thought. Because this matters. Because she matters. Because maybe…

With one final deep breath of courage, she took a tiny step forward and raised her fist, timidly knocking on the door in front of her and waiting for what seemed like forever.

Two hours earlier

Weehawken, NJ

She’d had so much fun spending time with her friends and her dad, laughing and just enjoying each other's company. Everyone seemed to have had a good time and when LaF, Perry, and Danny had left her house just a few minutes after Carmilla, there had even been talk of making it a regular thing.

She finished tidying up in the kitchen shortly after they’d departed and walked back into the living room, her dad sitting in his recliner, eyes drooping, relaxed.

“Did we wear you out?” she teased as she plopped down onto the couch with a smile.

“Nah,” he mumbled, not even bothering to look at her.

“It was nice having them here. Did you have fun?”

“I d-did,” he said, finally turning toward her. “Nice to have s-some new f-faces around.”

“We’ll have to remember that,” she said, smiling harder. “Have them around more often.”

“Good for you t-too. Seeing other p-people,” he continued. “You g-got some good f-friends, honey.”

“I know,” she said, nodding. 

And it was true. It didn’t matter that things had changed between them over the years, the dynamic shifting. They were still there for her, no questions asked. A fact that she should’ve been appreciating all along. She wouldn’t forget that in the future.

“So how many games did you lose to LaF?”

He grumbled from his seat, looking away with a slight shake of his head and making her giggle.

“Fine. How many games did Carmilla let you win?”

“That girl,” he started but didn’t finish.

Her smile softened as she turned toward the television.

That girl indeed. Laura could still see the slight flush that had crossed Carmilla’s cheeks earlier in the evening as she’d sat across from Sherman at the kitchen table. So sweet and monumentally different from what Laura was used to.

She’d asked Carmilla a little later on how the dark-haired girl had even ended up keeping her dad company. Carmilla had merely shrugged and said that he looked a little lonely when he’d made his way into the kitchen for a snack. And since the chessboard was already sitting out among the other games, she’d offered to play him.

So sweet.

“You s-sure she’s j-just a friend?”

Laura quickly turned to see his gaze already on her, eyes hard, mouth firmly set.

“Yes, of course!” she squeaked, smile falling. “Why?”

“Just s-seems like there’s m-more there,” he said with a shrug, continuing to study her.

“No! No, we’re…” she paused, shaking her head and glancing down at her hands nervously twitching in her lap. Forcing them apart before her dad picked up on the anxious gesture, she looked back up, determined. “She’s just a really good friend.”

“Hmm,” he mumbled, looking away again.

Laura watching him for another long moment, his eyes still steely at the corners. It was a look she’d seen before, though it had been a long time. Years. In fact, the last time she’d encountered it had been because of another girl. An undeserving girl.

But that’s not Carm! Because she’s amazing! She’s sweet and smart and funny and… perfect. So perfect. And suddenly, even as the thoughts threatened to overwhelm her, she couldn’t stop herself.

“Why don’t you like her?” she asked.

“I never s-said I d-didn’t.”

“No, but if I had to bet on it, I’d say she’s far from your favorite.”

“You’d w-win some m-money then.”

“Dad…?”

“I just,” he trailed off with a sigh, clumsily scratching at his chin stubble with his left hand. “J-Just wanna make s-sure she’s good enough.”

“Good enough for what?” Laura pressed. But he only shrugged in response.

“Dad, she’s been nothing but kind to me since I’ve been back. She’s been a shoulder and she makes me happy when I’m sad and listens when I need to just talk, regardless of what about. She’s… she’s there for me.”

“Y-Your other friends are there too. But I d-don’t see them around here t-too much.”

“Dad,” she sighed, running a hand through her hair. “I know that. But it’s different with her. It’s… easier.”

“L-Look, maybe it’s not m-my business. But… I just don’t w-want to s-see you get hurt by th-this girl.”

“How would I get hurt by her?”

He shrugged his good shoulder once more and looked away.

“We’re just friends,” she argued again.

“Then why d-does it m-matter if I don’t like her?”

“Because… because…” she sputtered.

He glanced back over at her, raising a challenging eyebrow as he did, and waited.

But that was true. She was twenty-eight, why did she still need his approval on someone who had become such an important part of her life? About someone that she cared about so much.

“Because it doesn’t!” she finally got out, feeling the irritation swell in her chest. The protectiveness over Carmilla. Over what they had. “You’re right. Just because she’s nice to me and has been incredibly kind to you, that’s no reason for you like her. No reason for you to treat her the way you’d treat the rest of my friends!”

She realized her voice had gone much louder than necessary with each word, one hand tightly gripping the arm of the sofa, the other in a fist at her side.

She searched his face, his expression now blank even as her irritation spewed. Nothing crossing his features at all. No outrage or anger or sorrow. He just stared as if she hadn’t spoken at all and it quickly took the steam out of her. Because that wasn’t normal. That wasn’t him.

“I’m sorry,” she breathed, unclenching her fist and running her fingers through her hair once again to keep them occupied. “I didn’t mean to yell. I just… it doesn’t matter.”

She sagged back into her seat, shaking her head and looking away with a sigh. She hated this. Hated what had happened to him and how it had changed him. She missed her dad. She missed their caring and wonderful relationship. She missed the ease.

But it’s not like he can help it, she thought, looking at him once again, his face still completely devoid of all emotion.

“I’m sorry, dad,” she repeated, her voice quiet and defeated.

“You should be.”

Her brow furrowed in surprise, his menacing tone not matching his blank expression at all, and not something she could ever remember hearing from him before.

“Dad, what-”

“You should b-be sorry,” he said again. “You will n-not come into my house a-and defend her, goddamnit!”

Laura’s eyes widened in shock, her mouth forming a small ‘O’ as she waited for more. But nothing else came. He just continued to stare, almost as if he was looking straight through her. Like she wasn’t even there.

“Dad?” She slowly moved toward the edge of the couch, her eyes never leaving his empty gaze. She reached out, placing a gentle hand on his arm, just barely squeezing.

Suddenly, his own eyes widened, his mouth just barely dropping open as he finally focused and looked at her. Really looked at her. Shaking his head ever so slightly, he glanced away, the faintest tinge of red on his cheeks.

“I… I’m s-sorry, Laur,” he started, staring down at his hand in his lap. “I d-don’t know where that c-came from.”

“Hey, it’s okay,” she said, gently running her fingers across his forearm as she fought the tears suddenly welling in her eyes. “It’s okay.”

“No. I… I didn’t m-mean it,” he stumbled. “Th-That. I didn’t mean that. About h-her…”

“I know,” she said, nodding once. She felt the sting behind her eyes growing as he glanced around the room, almost as if trying to figure out where he was before looking at her once more, his own eyes filled with remorse.

“I… I…”

“Hey, no, everything is okay,” she stopped him. “Maybe you should get some sleep. You’ve had a busy day.”

“Yeah,” he quietly agreed. He attempted to scoot himself forward in the chair and for the first time in weeks, didn’t argue when Laura helped him with his walker.

He slowly shuffled out of the living room and down the hallway, Laura only a step behind just in case, biting at the inside of her cheek to keep her tears in check.

Just focus on the good stuff. He’s able to walk a little now. Focus on the good stuff. He can move his left side again. Focus on the good stuff. He’s still here. Focus on the good stuff. I didn’t lose him.

“You all set?” she asked from the guest room doorway, using all her energy to stay put instead of helping him into the bed.

“Yeah, I’m f-fine, pumpkin,” he said as he fell heavily onto the mattress, his head cushioned by the down pillows. “I actually am p-pretty tired.”

She wanted to stay almost as bad as she wanted to go, but watching over him right now would do neither of them any good. He needed the space just as much as she did right now.

“Okay,” she  nodded. “Well, I’ll be up for a while longer if you need anything.”

“Laura?”

She stopped, already two steps into the hall, turning back to him, eyes wide.

“I’ll b-be okay,” he started.

“Dad…?”

“No, Laur, I know you’re g-gonna want to b-but d-don’t argue,” he said, as he glanced over, his eyes sad. “G-Go see your f-friends or get a c-cocoa or… just go t-take some t-time for yourself.”

“I already had time for myself tonight,” she argued anyway.

“N-No, you didn’t. You kept ch-checking up on me. And after j-just now…” He paused for a long moment, eyes still full of sorrow even as a small smile pulled at his lips. “I’ll b-be okay. Just… g-go clear your head.”

She stared at him for a long moment, conflicted. Because on the one hand, even if sitting next to him wasn’t an option, leaving the house altogether felt so incredibly wrong. But staying put, sitting in the living room with his things all around her… well, she was so sick of crying herself to sleep every night after he went to bed. So tired of feeling like the walls were closing in on her and she could do nothing to stop them.

“I’ll c-call if I n-need you,” he said as if reading her mind. “Promise.”

Glancing down at her feet, she nodded once, the shame instantly rising in her chest, battling with the anger and the frustration that showed up at the same time. Why did this have to be so hard? Why did it have to hurt so much? And why did she have to face it alone?

“Are… are you sure?” she timidly asked one last time.

He simply offered her a sad smile and nodded.

“Fine, but I won’t be gone long. I don’t-”

“I understand,” he interrupted, his eyes now soft and familiar. “B-But I think you n-need this tonight.”

You’re a terrible daughter, she thought with a nod.

“Okay, um… goodnight, dad,” she said with one last look before hitting the light switch and walking away. Because if she didn’t, she would never leave.

“Goodnight, sweetie,” she heard him quietly say and it sounded so much like him. Like him before this whole mess. Before he was broken.

Still, she waited until he’d been asleep long enough for his snores to echo throughout the main level before leaving the house.

Back in the present

SoHo

“Hey, cutie,” Carmilla greeted with a smile as the apartment door in front of her opened. And despite the cloud hanging over her, suddenly, everything felt just a little bit lighter.

Because maybe…

“Hey.” Laura smiled softly feeling more of the weight she’d been carrying lift as Carmilla stood aside and motioned her in. She stepped over the threshold, pulling her jacket off, her shoes following, and moving further into the space, instantly feeling the warmth from the older girl seep into her chest.

Moving into the main room and picking up on the Sam Cooke album slowly spinning in the corner, more memories flooded through her. Carmilla staring at her with those teasing dark eyes as they bantered.

Flirting with her time and again, making Laura blush uncontrollably and smile wide, only backing off when she was toeing that line.

Standing in front of Laura in this very room, beautiful and amazing and everything that Carmilla simply was.

“What’re you doing here?” Carmilla asked pulling her back from the past. “I thought you were going to stay in for the rest of the night with your dad.”

“Well, I was,” she said, glancing down for a moment, feeling that same sadness in her gut.

“Is he okay?”

“Yeah. He’s zonked out. Fell asleep not long after you left. So…”

Carmilla didn’t need to know about the tiff that had ensued before he’d fallen into bed. She didn’t need to be dragged into it. She’d already put up with enough of the drama that seemed to follow Laura as of late.

“Okay. Well, can I get you something?”

“No, I’m fine, I just…” She finally looked up, her eyes searching Carmilla’s as she took another long, slow breath. “I just wanted to see you. I want…”

She wanted what? To be comforted? To not think about it? To just be them for a while?

Them? Just them.

Oh crap.

“You want what? What can I do?”

She stared up at the older girl, scanning her face. Her amazing eyes, her high cheekbones, her sculptured jaw. Her incredibly kissable lips.

More flashes.

Carmilla holding Laura’s face in her hands as their mouths met over and over, teeth gently nibbling at her bottom lip.

Carmilla’s hands on her body, lips slowly teasing at that spot just below her ear that always drove her crazy.

The sound of the older girl softly groaning into her mouth as her own hands found the most sensitive places on Carmilla.

Double crap.

That wasn’t what she came for. That wasn’t why she was here. And they were just supposed to be friends!

But it was Carmilla. It was the girl she cared about so much. The woman who she found it difficult to stop thinking about. Carmilla, who was the girl Laura wanted more than anything at this point in her life.

She knew it was a possibility.  There had been too many close calls. Too many almost kisses. Too many nearly stolen moments. But this wasn’t a game. This wasn’t something she could just play off. This had to mean more. And for Laura, it already did. It meant so much.

Because it’s her. Because maybe…

Without another thought, she took a tentative step forward, staring at Carmilla for a long moment, nervously pulling at her left ring finger. Taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes, steeling herself and taking in Carmilla’s gorgeous face when she finally opened them.

It’s not a game. It matters. She matters.

One final image flashed through her mind from just a few hours earlier - Carmilla staring up at the sky, her eyes bright beneath the stars, warm and safe next to her.

So beautiful.

“How do you play?” she asked just barely above a whisper, the words coming out before she could stop them.

“What?”

“How do you play?” she repeated, her voice noticeably lower than normal.

“Play what, cupcake?” Carmilla asked, brow furrowing.

“Chess. Mattie is quick to strike. Will can’t beat you,” she started, swallowing hard. “So, how do you play?”

Suddenly, Carmilla seemed to understand. Her eyes darkened ever so slightly as she quickly wet her lips. She pulled her hands from her pockets and slowly took a step forward, leaving only a foot between them, her gaze locked on Laura. Predatory. Dangerous. But still her and it only made Laura surer of her decision.

“I play the long game,” she finally answered, her stare never wavering. “Strategy.”

Laura stared back as she stepped forward, closing the small gap between them. She carefully reached out, hands gently gripping at Carmilla’s hips feeling the dark-haired girl sink into the touch as she pulled her in, chest to chest, thigh to thigh.

“You are very strategic.”

“When there’s something I want,” she finally answered. “Yes.”

Laura found herself glancing down at Carmilla’s mouth before meeting those incredibly dark irises once more.

“Carm?” she finally whispered, squeezing at her waist once.

“Laura… are you sure?”

And dear god, she’d never wanted anything more. Just Carmilla and her. And nothing else. Just the two of them, together behind a locked door while the rest of the world kept moving because honestly, nothing else mattered at that moment. Because maybe Carmilla meant more than Laura realized.

Just us.

Slowly, Laura nodded, moving in again, her lips just barely brushing Carmilla’s.

“Distract me,” she sighed as she finally pressed their lips together.

It was soft at first. Barely there really. Almost a whisper between them. And as she let her fingertips tease beneath the hem of Carmilla’s black fitted t-shirt, she suddenly felt the older girl’s fingers slowly moving up and tightening themselves into her hair, her lips becoming more demanding against Laura’s own mouth.

And God did it feel so damn good!

She moaned softly into Carmilla’s mouth, unable to stop herself when she felt the dark-haired girl’s tongue teasing, letting her take the lead. Her hands pulled, bringing Carmilla even closer somehow, fingers tracing across the smooth skin of her lower back.

No, this wasn’t what she’d come for, but when it felt this good… when she was finally getting what she wanted, what they both wanted, well, how could she argue.

“Carm,” she whimpered as the older girl’s hands fell to her arms, fingers digging in as her mouth dipped lower, lips trekking along her chin and down her neck, swift and fleeting, the desperation palpable. But how could it not be? They’d been fighting this for weeks now. And Laura was having trouble remembering why in the wave of pleasure washing over her as Carmilla’s teeth scraped lower just below the collar of her shirt.

“Come on,” Carmilla nearly growled, pulling her lips away and grabbing for Laura’s hands. She moved, pulling hard and Laura quickly followed, their feet thundering up the staircase and down the short hallway into Carmilla’s mostly darkened bedroom. Turning suddenly and grabbing for her hips, Carmilla pressed their lips together again, hard and fast, and so different from what they’d always shared in the past.

But we have time for that later, she thought as she grabbed at the sides of Carmilla’s shirt, the material bunching in her fists to keep her close.

Letting the kiss continue for a few long moments, enjoying every touch, she finally reached for the hem of the other girl’s t-shirt. She tugged it up and over her head with no resistance, Carmilla’s hair cascading down again as she was pulled free, leaving Laura swimming in the scent of her sandalwood soap and the soft perfume she’d put on earlier and…

“God,” Laura breathed as she glanced down, her hands finding smooth, unblemished skin at the same time her eyes did. She wasn’t sure she’d ever get over the sight of Carmilla’s gorgeous figure.

But she didn’t get to truly appreciate it as Carmilla quickly surged forward, kissing her once again. Nipping at her bottom lip, Carmilla made quick work of the buttons on Laura’s shirt, the fabric falling from Laura’s shoulders a moment later and hitting the floor with a quiet whoosh. The smaller girl sighed as Carmilla’s mouth moved to trail along her jaw, hitting that spot just below her ear, making her whimper.

How is she so good at this?

But Carmilla didn’t linger for too long, her mouth moving down her neck as Laura threaded her fingers through soft dark strands, tugging slightly when Carmilla’s hands suddenly found her over her bra.

Somehow everything was moving even faster. And she found herself torn between wanting to slow down and appreciate each moment or continue to give in to the incredible temptation that had been brewing for far too long.

Carmilla decided for her, the older girl’s fingers quickly unbuttoning her jeans and pushing them down Laura’s hips as she crashed their lips back together once more, effectively derailing all of Laura’s thoughts.

Stepping out of the denim around her ankles, she pushed the older girl along, shuffling blindly until the back of Carmilla’s legs hit the mattress and she fell heavily onto it, pulling Laura with her.

“God, Carm,” she moaned, reveling as skin met skin. Warm and soft.

The kiss never stopped or slowed as hands began to roam, legs moving between thighs and pressing. The only sound in the room beyond the soft music drifting up the stairs were the quiet sighs and heavy pants shifting between their mouths.

Laura felt Carmilla’s fingers trailing up her back with a hint of nail toying with the clasp of her bra for a quick second before she felt the material fall away, sliding down her arms. Untangling herself, she tossed it aside, moaning softly when Carmilla’s hands moved over her again, her thumbs circling her nipples.

The kiss broke as they both gasped for breath and Carmilla quickly rolled them over, pushing Laura back into the mattress, her mouth immediately moving to Laura’s right breast, lips wrapping her nipple, tongue teasing as her fingers pulled at the left.

“Jesus,” Laura sighed from beneath her, threading her fingers into Carmilla’s hair once more. “Do you know how many times I’ve thought about this?”

“Well, here we are,” Carmilla sighed, her mouth moving from Laura’s breast down the center of her stomach, teeth nipping just below her belly button. “Pretty convenient.”

Pretty conven-

Her thoughts evaporated as Carmilla surged back up, capturing her lips again, tongue pliant, teeth showing just a hint of edge as her fingers moved down Laura’s sides, landing at the waist of her panties.

Not to be outdone, her own hands moved to Carmilla’s belt, quickly working it open and attempting to push her now unzipped pants past her hips.

Carmilla sat up, quickly shucking her own ripped jeans before her hands hooked around the waist of the smaller girl’s underwear, giving the slightest tug. Laura lifted her hips and kicked her legs, helping Carmilla remove them the rest of the way.

“Wait,” she panted as Carmilla moved back toward her.

“What?”

“That,” she said, pointing to the bra Carmilla still wore.

Looking down, she quickly pulled it from her body, their eyes meeting as she tossed it aside.

And at that moment, with the dark-haired girl kneeling over her in just a lacy black pair of boy shorts and looking so incredibly sexy, hair disheveled, skin flushed…

“Come here,” she said, her tone verging on desperate.

Pulling Carmilla back on top of her, she sighed at the feeling of Carmilla’s thigh nestling between her own with no barriers. She leaned up, kissing Carmilla once again, unable to help her hips from rolling ever so slightly as she felt the older girl pressing harder against her. But just as soon as she felt the pressure, it was gone.

“Carm, wha… oh!” she moaned as she felt Carmilla’s fingers tickling along her inner thigh, quickly finding their destination.

And it felt so good. But still, so fast and frantic. So different than their first night together in Chicago. Was this right? Sure, this had been building but something was missing. Something that had her beginning to ache.

“Carm,” she moaned, fighting to keep her eyes open and her wits about her as the dark-haired girl’s fingers momentarily dipped lower before finding her clit and swiftly circling it. “Are you… I mean…”

“Just relax, cupcake,” she husked against Laura’s lips before kissing her soundly.

Laura nodded, unable to argue now that her brain was on autopilot. She let one of her hands drift from Carmilla’s hair to her shoulder, her grip bruising as the other hand glided between them, fingers sliding into Carmilla’s underwear. She felt more than she heard the approving groan from the older girl as her own fingers met wetness.

Carmilla pulled their lips apart, pressing her forehead to Laura’s as their eyes met, dark and intense. Laura felt those fingers moving lower once again, teasing at her opening for a long moment. Gasping, she nodded, sighing in relief when she felt Carmilla slide into her. Reaching back into Carmilla’s hair, she mimicked the action, unable to look away as the other girl’s eyelids fluttered closed for a long moment, a deep sigh escaping her chest. And when they fluttered back open, Laura swore they were somehow darker. Almost black and filled with nothing but desire.

“This was an amazing idea,” Carmilla groaned, fingers moving faster between Laura’s thighs, her palm brushing against the smaller girl’s clit with each thrust.

“Oh yes,” she panted, curling her fingers into the older girl as she pulled her back in for another crushing kiss.

She felt herself toeing the border of the abyss, so close to falling in. Just a few more thrusts-

“Fuck,” Carmilla moaned above her, the older girl breaking the kiss and burying her face in Laura’s neck as her orgasm crested.

Laura pulled her closer, laying a string of kisses along her shoulder as the surge swelled and then began to slowly taper off, her fingers slowing as she eased the older girl through it, her other hand moving back to gently comb through Carmilla’s long dark locks.

It felt so good, having Carmilla that close. Sharing such an intimate moment. It was so incredibly beautiful and for a second, she was transported back to that night in Chicago, the two of them wrapped around each other, smiling and soft and somehow familiar. So drawn into her thoughts, she didn’t even realize how close she’d stepped to the brink, her own orgasm suddenly hitting her hard.

She heard the moan encompassing part of Carmilla’s name leave her mouth as her eyes closed, her muscles taut. The older girl’s fingers kept their tempo, extending the sensation for longer and longer. She whimpered once more as she felt the powerful sensation peak and slowly begin to ebb away. The older girl shifted just enough to press their lips together, fingers not stopping until Laura finally sagged into the bed, spent.

They lay there like that for a moment, Carmilla’s weight heavy and welcome atop her, her slowing breath tickling against Laura’s ear.

“Fuck,” Carmilla mumbled once again as she rolled off of Laura and to her side, flopping back onto the mattress.

Laura opened her eyes, attempting to slow the rapid beating of her heart, her gaze tracing aimlessly across the ceiling.

“Wow,” she breathed, giggling once when Carmilla merely grunted next to her. “So… um… we did that again.”

“That we did.”

She slowly turned her head, taking in the beautiful woman next to her. Hair a mess, skin slightly flushed, eyes closed.

So perfect.

How had she gotten so lucky?

She felt her lips pull up in a soft smile as she continued to watch, her chest warming with each second that ticked by. Maybe this hadn’t been the same soft, slow pace they’d set in Chicago. But it was still Carmilla and her affection for the older girl was so close to overwhelming at that moment that she couldn’t bring herself to look away.

I never knew she would matter this much. I never thought I’d care like this but… but maybe…

Carmilla’s eyes finally fluttered open, the older girl slowly turning toward her, eyes searching and Laura felt her heart speed up for some unknown reason.

“You okay?” she asked, her voice just a tad rough.

“Yeah,” Laura said, smiling even harder. “I… yeah, I’m good.”

Carmilla simply nodded and looked back at the ceiling for a moment.

“Was it distracting enough?”

“Please. You are a walking distraction,” Laura giggled. “Your ass alone could stop traffic.”

Carmilla released a quick, quiet laugh before turning back to her, brow furrowing as Laura rolled toward her.

“What?” she asked, eyes darting around Laura’s face.

“Nothing, I just… didn’t exactly expect this and…” She smiled a little harder at the older girl, unable to help herself. “It’s just… it’s nice.”

It sounded so empty but she wasn’t sure how to voice what she was feeling. Mainly because she’d never felt it before. She was lying next to a woman she cared very deeply for – maybe more than she was fully ready to admit - the situation beyond intimate, and all she wanted to do in that moment was to lean into the older girl. To wrap her arms around her and hold tight.

“It was really nice,” she repeated.

“Yeah. Sure. Nice,” Carmilla mumbled, swallowing hard before pushing herself up and to the edge of the bed, her back now to Laura.

“Are you okay?” Laura asked, propping herself up on her elbow.

“Yeah, I’m fine, I just…”

“What?” Laura pushed.

“Nothing,” Carmilla said, shaking her head. “It’s just late.”

“Well, it was late when I got here,” Laura said, feeling a nervous laugh bubble in her chest.

“Yeah, but… you should probably head back,” Carmilla said, just barely glancing over her shoulder.

“Oh,” she said, voice quiet and utterly defeated as she immediately sagged. She looked away, feeling the onslaught of embarrassment and shame flow through her limbs. “Right.”

Yes, of course, it was time for her to leave. Because they’d finished. And Carmilla wasn’t her girlfriend. She didn’t owe Laura the soft afterglow courtesy. She didn’t really owe Laura anything.

But it was supposed to matter. It was supposed to mean something. But I guess, for her… well, it was just sex, she thought, her stomach churning.

“Sorry. I’ll go,” she said, hearing her voice quietly crack on the G. She slowly sat up and moved to the other side of the bed, feeling her entire face heat up beyond what she thought possible.

She reached for her underwear, lying on the floor near her foot as she heard the bedding rustle behind her. Turning slightly as she tugged them up her legs, she watched as Carmilla made her way toward the other side of the room to her dresser. She grabbed a worn, oversized black t-shirt from the top drawer and pulled it on, the hem just barely brushing the tops of her thighs. Laura quickly looked away as Carmilla turned back toward her, pulling her hair up as she moved for the door.

“I’ll give you some privacy,” she said with barely a glance before the door closed behind her.

“Pretty sure you’ve seen it all,” Laura grumbled quietly, feeling herself sag even further.

What had happened? What had she done wrong? She thought they were on the same page. She thought that Carmilla had wanted this just as much as she did. She thought that maybe…

“Clearly you were wrong,” she said, shaking her head and feeling her embarrassment quickly growing.

Did Carmilla sleep with her because she felt bad for Laura? Because she felt obligated? Were they back to square one somehow?

“Crap,” she whispered, biting at her bottom lip to keep her emotions in check. She could let them out when she got home. From behind the privacy of her own bedroom door.

Hauling herself from the bed, she quickly pulled the rest of her clothes back on, thankful that they’d all been flung in the same general direction and smoothed her hair out before leaving the room and quietly making her way downstairs.

Rounding the corner once she reached the bottom step, she found Carmilla standing in the kitchen on her tiptoes, reaching for something in the back of one of the cupboards. Feeling her face heat up even more, she felt her fingers wrap around each other as she bounced foot to foot, trying to come up with something to say.

But what do you say to a woman you just slept with who wants you out of her house. One that you maybe…

“I’d ask you to help but you’re shorter than I am,” Carmilla suddenly grumbled over her shoulder.

“Only by like an inch,” she argued quietly, hoping the slight teasing she heard in the older girl’s voice was a good sign.

Maybe she was just nervous upstairs? This isn’t exactly an everyday situation after all.

“Yeah, well it’s a very important inch,” Carmilla said as she finally grasped what she was looking for and righted herself. She glanced over her shoulder her lips slightly quirked. But her eyes remained blank, still closed off.

Great, she thought as Carmilla turned away once again, moving toward the counter, effectively blocking Laura’s view of what she was doing. Guess that’s that.

“Well, um… I guess… I mean… I’m going to go now,” Laura stumbled, sighing at her awkwardness.

“Just a second,” Carmilla said, finishing up whatever she was doing before turning and moving toward her, a black thermos in hand. “Here.”

“What is it?” Laura asked as she took the container.

“Hot chocolate,” she said with a shrug. “It’s still a little chilly out.”

“You made me hot chocolate?” she asked with a blush, something fluttering in her chest.

“Don’t get too excited. It’s instant.”

Laura smiled softly and nodded, staring down at the space between them, unsure of what to say or do. Carmilla bouncing back and forth between hot and cold left her completely off-kilter.

Was everything okay now? Were they okay? Should she just forget about Carmilla’s short attitude upstairs?

“You still okay?” Carmilla asked after the silence had stretched on for a few seconds too long.

“Yeah,” she breathed, glancing up. “I’m… I mean… thank you.”

“It’s just hot chocolate,” Carmilla said with a small smile.

“No. I meant for tonight. For…” Laura said with a shake of her head, unsure how to vocalize her gratitude for the fact that Carmilla was simply there for her. That she appreciated the older girl in every way possible. That she meant so much to Laura. “Well, for everything.”

“Oh,” Carmilla nodded, looking away, uncomfortably. She turned and took a few steps to the other side of the kitchen, leaning back against the counter. “Sure.”

And once again, Laura wondered what she’d done.

Freaking whiplash!

But this time, she couldn’t stop herself.

“Carm, please tell me what’s wrong,” she pleaded. “Did I… did I do something?”

“No,” Carmilla quickly said, shaking her head. “And nothing’s wrong. Just… thinking about some things.”

“Well, is there something I can help with?” Laura asked, taking a cautious step forward, searching Carmilla’s eyes, hopeful and desperate. But she wasn’t sure what she was looking at. For the first time in weeks - months - she was at a loss.

“No, it’s um… nothing important.”

“Oh.”

She looked away, the thermos still warm in her hands, so vastly different than the cold radiating off of Carmilla at that moment. But why?

Just go.

“Well, I guess I’ll just…” She didn’t finish as she nodded toward the entry hallway, nervously taking one last glance at Carmilla, who was now avoiding her gaze, before turning and walking away.

She hated this. This wasn’t what this was supposed to be. Sleeping together was supposed to matter. To both of them. It was supposed to be important. Because they cared about each other. 

“Can I ask you something?” Carmilla’s voice called out softly just as Laura was about to turn the corner out of sight.

“Of course,” she said, the nervous tone in Carmilla’s voice immediately stopping her in her tracks. She turned, eyes wide for a long silent moment before Carmilla finally looked at her.

“Why?”

“Why what?” she asked, confused.

“Why me? Why did you choose me for this?”

“Choose you for this?”

For what? For her company? For her friendship? For something else?

“Yes. I mean, yeah, I flirt with you and we’ve got that teasing banter down pat. And I know there’s been a crazy about of tension and, yes, we’ve already slept together once. But… this isn’t you. I mean, I know you’re going through a lot right now but you’re a relationship kind of girl. Not a simply sex girl. So why me? Why didn’t you pick… anyone else?”

“Who else would I have picked?” Laura asked, ignoring the sting that hit her with the ‘simply sex’ implication.

“I mean, maybe…” she shrugged, glancing away and looking smaller somehow. “I don’t know. Someone else. Someone… someone you know better.”

“There is no one else. It’s… you’re…” she stumbled before sighing heavily and taking a step back in Carmilla’s direction, her fingers nervously tapping at the thermos in her hands. “No one else even comes to mind. No one else even comes up when I think about… I don’t know. I just… I trust you, Carm.”

Carmilla’s eyes had flashed for a moment with those words, meeting Laura’s and for the first time since she’d walked into the apartment, she saw the warmth and softness there that she adored. 

Maybe…

“I trust you,” she repeated, swallowing hard, hopeful.

A short moment later, Carmilla simply nodded and looked away.

Wednesday, December 28th, 2016

2 years, 4 months, and 8 days earlier

North Lincoln Avenue, Chicago

Stepping out of the diner, Laura frantically looked up and down the street, desperately searching for any clue that would tell her what direction Carmilla had gone. Her breath fogged up in front of her as she let out an aggravated huff, finding the street sparsely populated. But there was no Carmilla.

Crap!

Hoping for the best, she moved to her left, jogging up the block and praying she wouldn’t slip and fall on some random patch of ice. The sun had already set, the light on the horizon a red-violet that lent itself just enough for her to continue searching.

Crap! Crap! Crap!

She stopped at the corner of the next street, attempting to turn in all directions at the same time, leaving her circling frantically, frustrated with herself.

It’s okay, she thought, remembering the folded napkin in her pocket. It might be incredibly crazy and a little desperate considering her behavior over the past hour, but Carmilla had still handed over her number willingly. Why would she do that if she didn’t want Laura to call?

Shooting one more hopeful glance around her as she reached into her pocket, her eyes went wide as they just barely caught sight of a figure walking away in a black leather jacket.

“Carmilla!” she called even as her feet began to move.

The woman stopped and turned, and even from the distance, Laura could see the curious look on her face turning into a smirk as she found the source of the yelling.

Of course.

Still, she jogged forward, her eyes locked on Carmilla’s face as she moved, the dark-haired girl’s smile softening with each foot erased between them. Nearly slipping on one of the patches of ice she’d been trying to avoid, Laura righted herself just in time, her face full-on red between her blush and the cold as she finally reached her destination.

“Hey,” she breathed as her feet stopped, her right hand frantically searching for her left.

“Something I can help you with, cutie?” she asked, still smiling, her head tilted ever so slightly to the side.

“Yeah, um… well…” she paused, taking a deep breath, her nerves beyond frayed. 

What in the heck was she doing? She didn’t know this woman. Just because she was nice and patient and had shown Laura the first kindness she’d been given in days for no apparent reason… Was that really a good enough reason to go gallivanting around the city with her?

I don’t know why but I think it is.

“Do you um maybe want to…” she started, faltering as she stared into those intense dark eyes.

“Want to…?”

“Um… do you maybe want to spend some more time?” Laura tried. “Like together? Like, with me?”

Oh my god, get it together, Hollis! You are so much more articulate than this.

She cringed as she waited for teasing or a rejection from the dark-haired beauty, honestly unsure of which would be more disappointing and hurtful. But Carmilla simply chuckled softly, glancing down at her feet where one of her boots squished into some residual slush.

“You ready to go have some fun?” she asked, finally looking back up, her eyes soft and sweet.

Laura felt her stomach flutter as a megawatt smile broke out across her lips and she eagerly nodded.

“Yeah! Yeah, okay.”

Thirty Minutes Later

“So what do you think?” Carmilla asked from her side, standing close enough that Laura could just barely feel the heat radiating off of the dark-haired girl.

“I think it’s beautiful,” Laura said with a smile, her eyes dancing with the reflection of the lights all around her.

She honestly didn’t know what was in store for her when Carmilla had flagged down the first cab she could and ushered her into the backseat. But this definitely wasn’t even on the list of possibilities.

The entire strip above them was bathed in blues and greens and reds and every other color she could think of, more strands hung through the trees around, and beyond all of that, she could see more decorations waiting to be explored. It was truly incredible.

She turned, now positively beaming at Carmilla who stood next to her, hands still shoved in her pockets, jacket open, but she’d added a black beanie to her ensemble as the air had significantly chilled, the sky above them now completely dark.

“I didn’t peg you for a holiday lover,” Laura said, starting to walk again, slowly so that she could take in all the sights.

“Well, I pegged you for one. And the zoo does this every year so I thought it might be a good idea,” Carmilla shrugged.

“It was on my list to visit when I was planning this trip.”

“So why didn’t you come out?” Carmilla asked, staring up and taking in the lights strung across the tunnel above them.

Laura felt herself sag, her smile vanishing as her mood immediately dampened. She glanced over at the girl to her left but Carmilla was too engrossed in all the colors to notice.

“I um… I should’ve. I just… well,  I wasn’t supposed to be here by myself,” she mumbled, unsure of why she was opening this door.

Maybe because Carmilla had been so nice. Maybe because she had surprised the heck out of Laura and proved her initial judgment to be completely wrong. Maybe because Laura just didn't want to feel so alone after a week of self-imposed solitary confinement.

“Oh?” Carmilla asked, briefly glancing in her direction.

“Yeah,” she started. “My girl- I mean, my ex-girlfriend… we were going to spend the holiday here, together, just us.”

“Oh.” That caught the other girl’s attention and Carmilla kept her gaze on Laura even as she stared straight ahead. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to-”

“No, it’s fine,” she interrupted with a shake of her head. “You couldn’t have known. I just…”

She sighed, shrugging and looked away, feeling her chest begin to ache uncomfortably for the first time in the last hour. It was a feeling that had been a constant since just after she’d arrived and one she honestly was so sick of.

“We don’t have to talk about it,” Carmilla said, her voice soft as she moved a little closer, letting their shoulders bump together as they walked.

Laura smiled at the gesture and nodded. Turning, she found the sweetest gaze already on her. Not one of pity or sorrow. And Laura found herself grateful. She’d gotten enough of that from the phone calls she’d had with her dad and her friends over the last week. She didn’t need pity. She needed something else. Something different.

“Hey, how about we grab a hot chocolate and keep walking?” Carmilla suggested, quickly moving in front of her and shuffling backward with ease. “I heard some of the statues toward the back are lit up too.”

“Yeah?” Laura smiled softly, some of the ache receding.

“And they have peppermint hot cocoa…” Carmilla teased, the right side of her mouth tipping upward.

“I want extra whipped cream,” Laura said as she grabbed for Carmilla’s jacket and pulled her back to her side, smiling when the older girl stayed as close as possible without touching.

Monday, May 6th, 2019

Back in the present

Midtown East

“That’s your fourth one today,” Carmilla said with a smirk as Laura took a hearty bite from the chocolate chip cookie that the dark-haired girl had just brought back to the table.

“What’s your point?” Laura asked around the sweet in her mouth, a bit of crumb escaping as she did.

“No point,” Carmilla shrugged. “Though with your mouth full of cookie, you are significantly quieter today.”

Slowly swallowing, Laura stared at the older girl for a long moment, opening and closing her mouth twice in the hope that something would escape before biting off another large chunk and shrugging.

Chicken.

She looked away from Carmilla’s curious gaze, glancing around the shop with great interest even though all she wanted to look at was the beautiful woman in front of her. Stare at her. Smile at her. Hover so close to her over the table that she could smell her shampoo. But she couldn’t do that.

Laura was honestly surprised that Carmilla had even shown up that afternoon. They hadn’t spoken since she had left the older girl’s apartment just a few nights earlier, her shoulders slumped, heart heavy, thermos in hand. She’d screwed up. She’d been on a completely different page than the dark-haired girl. Though that didn’t stop her from sending her normal ‘Good morning!’ text the following day, nervously bouncing around the kitchen as she waited for a response. But one never came. So she’d kept quiet since. Carmilla obviously didn’t want to talk to her and Laura wanted to respect her space.

She’d been sitting in the small shop, her eyes barely skimming across her laptop screen, rereading the blog post she’d been working on for the past week when Carmilla had walked in forty-five minutes earlier.

“Where’s mine?” she asked when she dropped her things onto the chair across from Laura.

“Oh! Carm, hi!” She looked up, eyes wide, clumsily shutting her laptop and sitting up straighter as Carmilla continued to stare.

“Cupcake,” she nodded before pointing to the steaming cup of hot chocolate in front of Laura. “Again, where’s mine?”

Laura glanced down at the cup, her eyes locked on it for a moment before briefly meeting Carmilla’s and shrugging meekly.

“I um… well, I wasn’t sure if you were coming,” Laura answered, voice quiet.

“Why wouldn’t I?” Carmilla asked, brow furrowed in confusion. She then turned and made her way up to the counter to order herself a coffee before Laura could even attempt to answer that heavily loaded question.

And that had been it. When Carmilla came back to the table a few minutes later, she’d acted like nothing had changed. Like nothing was different. She threw out an offhand comment about her silence over the weekend being the result of too much work and breezed on to another topic without so much as a blink.

And it hurt. A lot.

“Creampuff!”

Laura jolted slightly in her seat, shaken from her thoughts to see Carmilla staring at her expectantly.

“Sorry, um… what?”

“I said it’s about time for us to go,” Carmilla said, brow furrowed. “Your dad’s probably just about done.”

“Oh! Right, yeah,” she nodded, looking away and beginning to gather her things, grateful to have something to focus on instead of attempting to avoid Carmilla’s cavalier attitude.

They quickly cleaned up their mess and moved toward the exit., the street busy as they stepped out of the shop. Laura pulled on her light gray jacket, glancing up a the overcast sky which only served to sour her mood even further.

“Seriously, what’s with you today?” Carmilla tried from her side as they began to walk up the block with more space between them than normal.

“Nothing, sorry,” Laura said, waving her off. “I just didn’t get much sleep last night.”

Which wasn’t a lie. Between worrying about her dad, the decreasing hits to her blog, and now this new development with Carmilla, relaxation was nearly impossible.

“How come?”

“Just… busy brain I think.”

“Why didn’t you text me?”

I almost did at least a dozen times.

“Well, I didn’t know…” she started, the nervousness in her voice suddenly overtaking the rest of the noise on the street. “I mean, I wasn’t sure if I should.”

“Why not? I was up late,” Carmilla said, staring straight forward, though Laura wouldn’t have been able to see her eyes anyway behind her black-framed aviators.

“Yeah, but…” She sighed and looked away.

I guess we’re just going to pretend it didn’t happen.

“Whatever,” she finally mumbled. “It’s fine. I’m fine.”

“If you say so.”

Laura couldn’t stop her eyes from rolling at that because this wasn’t just normal, snarky Carmilla that teased her to make her smile. No, this was leaning more toward the Carmilla she’d glimpsed with their friends. A fraction of the one she’d awkwardly bumped into at LaF and Perry’s just before Christmas. This was Carmilla with her walls up and Laura hated it.

“Alright,” Carmilla sighed as they reached the front of the rehab center and the older girl finally looked at her. “We still on for Friday night?”

“Oh! Um, yeah, sure,” Laura nodded, wondering at the question. “I mean, if you want to.”

“Might as well keep up the tradition, ” Carmilla said, stepping away. “See you later.”

Seriously!?

“Carm, wait!” she found herself calling before she even realized what she was doing.

Carmilla stopped a few strides up the sidewalk and turned toward her, clearly surprised.

“Something else, cupcake?”

“No, I just…”

You have to talk to her. You have to apologize. You have to try and make this right. You have to see if maybe…

She glanced away for a moment as she walked closer to the dark-haired girl, attempting to gather the courage that seemingly refused to surface. Stopping in front of her, Laura looked back up and hated that she still couldn’t see Carmilla’s eyes. Her eyes were so expressive and Laura had gotten pretty good at finding all the places Carmilla hid her emotions within them. But now, she was flying blind.

“I just wanted to say that… that I’m sorry,” she started,  nervously pulling at her ring finger. “And, I know maybe it’s weird now, but I hope that we’ll be okay.”

“What’re you talking about, why wouldn’t we be?” Carmilla asked.

“Just… after the other night…” Laura started again, her stomach positively rolling at this point. “I didn’t mean to screw up. I didn’t mean to… I didn’t mean to ruin anything between us.”

“Cupcake, you didn’t ruin anything,” Carmilla said, smiling softly at her for the first time that afternoon.

“I… really?”

“Yeah,” Carmilla chuckled.

The relief flooded through Laura immediately at the sound, her hearts tempo picking up just a little.

Because maybe…

“Good,” she sighed, feeling her shoulders sag a little in relief. “I was just… I was worried.”

“Worried? About what?”

Worried that you hated me. Worried that you didn’t want to be around me anymore. Worried that it didn’t mean as much to you as it did to me. That I don’t mean as much to you as you do to me.

“Just… stuff,” she giggled.

“Nothing to be worried about,” Carmilla said with a shake of her head. “I mean, it was fun, right?”

Huh?

“Well, I mean… yeah,” Laura stuttered, feeling a little of that relief float away. “It was a lot of things.”

Amazing. Special. Meaningful.

“Then there you go,” Carmilla said, leaning in and leaving a quick kiss on her cheek before stepping away, her heels clicking against the pavement as she moved. “Nothing wrong with a little casual fun.”

Oh, Laura thought, completely deflating. Right. Not amazing and special and meaningful. Just… fun.

She smirked at Laura one last time before turning and walking away.

Because… maybe not.

Biting her lip, she nodded, turning back toward the rehab center and attempting to keep the four cookies she’d eaten from coming back up.

Chapter Text

Vows are spoken

To be broken

Feelings are intense

Words are trivial

Pleasures remain

So does the pain

Words are meaningless

And forgettable

Friday, May 10th, 2019

SoHo

“Holy shit!”

Carmilla smirked at the high pitched profanity being mumbled from above her, so rare, but in this situation, so fucking hot. She moaned softly, feeling the fingers Laura had tangled in her hair pull a little harder as the tiny brunette’s orgasm washed over her. But she didn’t stop until she heard another whimper from above, Laura’s grip finally loosening as she sagged back into the mattress, completely spent.

She allowed her gaze to drift up the smaller girl’s body, taking in her abs still contracting, her amazing breasts slightly heaving, the skin across her chest and neck flushed a gorgeous shade of pink. Head tipped back, full lips parted, eyes closed. And for a moment, she found herself completely enthralled in Laura Hollis.

So goddamn beautiful.

She felt Laura’s hands slide from her hair, fingertips softly tracing across the sides of her face in the most reverent way, and the act was enough to quickly snap her out of her trance. She doubted the smaller girl even realized she was doing it, but it was so gentle and affectionate that Carmilla couldn’t help but pull away.

Swiping the back of her hand across her mouth, she slowly climbed up Laura’s body and collapsed next to her atop the rumpled gray sheets, leaving just enough room between them to keep from touching, but not enough to block out the warmth radiating off the younger girl.

“That’s the third time,” Laura sighed, her eyes still closed.

“The third time we’ve slept together or the third time you came today?”

“Yeah.”

Carmilla chuckled lightly, glancing over for a quick moment, her eyes tracing Laura’s incredible features, so serene and calm, before forcing herself to look away. Because admiring the younger girl in her post-haze bliss was not what this was about. This wasn’t soft or sweet or loving. No this was…

Sex. Just sex.

Yes, sex for the second time in a week to be precise. With her friend. Her friend Laura. 

And they had yet to talk about it.

Well, not really. And not that you actually want to.

Laura had tried to start the conversation a few days earlier. And Carmilla knew her attempt to nip that in the bud had been cold and detached, two things that she never was with Laura. She’d seen the hurt she’d caused with her words as soon as she’d uttered them after their coffee date on Monday. And she knew she’d put Laura on the verge of tears as she walked away. But that hadn’t stopped her or checked her callous attitude.

‘Nothing wrong with a little casual fun.’

Which was bullshit. She knew this wasn’t casual, or at least not in the traditional sense. And even if it didn’t mean something big, it meant something.  

But that didn’t erase the reason behind why it was actually happening. It didn’t erase her own feelings about what was going on.

So, sure, when Laura had initially kissed her just a week earlier, it was kind of hot. Charged. And lying atop the smaller girl, skin against skin, hands roaming was pretty awesome. Laura seemed to find places on her that no other woman had ever touched. But afterward, when they’d flopped down beside each other on the bed and she took in Laura’s profile, she’d felt it hit her right in the chest. The sadness of realizing that Laura had only come by because the smaller girl wanted this. Because she wanted Carmilla to take her away from her life for a while. Because she wanted a ‘distraction.’

The ache hadn’t fully quieted since but even still, Carmilla couldn’t bring herself to be angry. She cared about Laura far too much and if that night helped…

You just have to accept that all of this means something very different for you.

Which truly only complicated things further because Carmilla honestly wasn’t sure what it meant to her. And it didn’t help that just an hour earlier, for the first time, she’d been the one who had initiated it.

But how could you not? The way she was looking at you… how upset she was… she thought, turning toward the ceiling and closing her eyes.

As soon as the tiny brunette had shown up earlier that evening, Carmilla could tell something was off. Laura was guarded. Cautious. And when they’d settled in on Carmilla’s leather sofa, not quite as close as normal, the conversation had been stilted. Not as much laughter or teasing.

It was about thirty minutes into the movie, the two discussing Laura’s most recent blog post when the smaller girl’s phone rang. She’d immediately excused herself, moving down the hallway toward Carmilla’s office as she put the device to her ear and answered, her muffled voice growing quieter and quieter with each step she took. Carmilla tried not to read into the sudden secrecy. But as she’d sat there staring at the television across the room, not even close to focusing on the picture, it was a lost cause.

When Laura returned just a few minutes later with a quiet ‘sorry’, Carmilla didn’t even bother to acknowledge her. Or at least not for another five, agonizingly stewing minutes later.

“Why’d you run off to answer?” she suddenly asked, keeping her eyes facing forward.

“I didn’t run off,” Laura sighed. “I just… I just needed a minute.”

“For what?” she all but snapped, turning just in time to see Laura sink in on herself.

“I… I just did.”

“New secret you can’t let me in on?” she huffed, unsure of why she was pushing.

“Yeah, that’s it, Carmilla,” Laura finally snapped back. “I keep so much from you.”

“I don’t know what you keep from me.”

“Practically nothing!” Laura spat, suddenly rounding on her, hands balled into fists in her lap. “I tell you everything!”

“Yeah, well, you don’t have to,” she shrugged, turning away, her face a mask of indifference even as her teeth clenched tightly.

“You’re right, I don’t. And maybe I shouldn’t,” Laura ground out, pushing herself to the edge of the couch, body taut. “Because then maybe you wouldn’t see what a mess I am all the time.”

The tiny brunette’s voice broke on the last word, immediately pulling Carmilla’s now concerned gaze back to her. Because that sound…

Fuck.

It was silent as she waited, knowing there was more as Laura’s eyes stared intently at her hands now wringing in front of her.

“Carmilla, I don’t… I don’t want your pity. I don’t want you feeling sorry for me. I don’t want that to be the reason you spend time with me! I don’t want that to be why… why we… I just… never mind!” she sighed, slouching back into the sofa, eyes still downcast.

Carmilla wasn’t sure what Laura was holding back but there was definitely one part of the worry she immediately wanted to put to rest.

“After all this time, you can’t seriously believe that I’m sitting here because I feel sorry for you,” Carmilla said, her voice much calmer.

She waited for a long moment, watching the younger girl anxiously gnawing at her bottom lip, eyes glassy, twisting her left ring finger back and forth.

“Laura?”

“I just… yes, I know that. But maybe everything between us doesn’t have to be so serious and dramatic,” she said, frowning at Carmilla once before crossing her arms over her chest and scowling at the television. “I mean, there’s nothing wrong with a little fun, right?”

Shit.

“Laura,” she started, turning her body toward the younger girl and reaching out to settle her hands. “Who was on the phone?”

Laura glanced over for a moment and shook her head, letting her gaze fall to her lap as she sagged even further into the couch.

“A friend of my dad’s,” she finally mumbled.

“Is he okay?” Carmilla asked, weaving their fingers together and squeezing once.

“Yeah, he just… he’s fine.”

“Laura, come on.” Carmilla let go of one of her hands and stretched for the remote, turning the television off before reaching for Laura again. “Talk to me. What happened?”

She waited, knowing she’d won when Laura finally released a long, heavy sigh.

“We just had a little disagreement today and… it’s nothing. He said something he didn’t mean and… we’ve just had a few minor tiffs this week.”

“Is it because of the stroke?”

“Yeah,” she nodded sadly. “He just says these things out of the blue. He’s irritable and rude and… it’s not him!”

“Is there anything that can be done?”

“His doctor recommended seeing a psychiatrist a while back. Which, of course, he didn’t want to do,” Laura scoffed. “But he finally agreed after a fight we had last week. Since then, it seems like he snaps at me every day about it and… I’m sorry. This isn’t your problem.”

“No, it’s not but… come on, cutie,” she said, reaching up and tucking a lock of hair behind Laura’s ear. “You know I’m here for you.”

“But that’s not your job either, Carm.”

“Again, no. But you’re not a job.”

Laura finally looked up at her, eyes sad and searching. But still so incredibly beautiful.

“Is there anything I can do?” Carmilla asked, voice gentle.

“I just… I don’t want to talk about it anymore,” she said with a defeated sigh, turning back toward the now black screen of the television. “I don’t want to think about it. I just want to turn it all off for a few minutes.” She glanced back to Carmilla once more, eyes now pleading. “So can we just… not?”

“Sure,” Carmilla said with a nod. “Okay.”

Squeezing at the hand she still held once more, Carmilla finally turned her gaze back to the television and resumed the movie, still not paying attention to whatever was playing. No, her focus was somewhere else entirely. Unable to help herself, she continued to glance over at Laura every few seconds, noticing that the smaller girl seemed to be growing tenser instead of shutting out all that was bothering her. And she wanted to fix that.

“Come here,” Carmilla quietly said, pulling the tiny brunette into her side.

Laura stayed stiff even as she shifted, so different from normal. But after they’d settled and a few short moments had passed, Carmilla felt her slowly relaxing into her side, the smaller girl now reaching for Carmilla’s free hand and gently tugging at the tips of her fingers.

This was what the night was supposed to be about. The two of them together the way they always were. Safe and comfortable and easy. But even as Laura relaxed further into her, Carmilla found herself growing more tense.

‘I just want to turn it all off for a few minutes.’

The words looped through her mind over and over, becoming louder and louder as Laura fully leaned into her side, her free hand now resting on Carmilla’s thigh above the hole in her jeans.

Was that a request? Was she supposed to do more? Was she supposed to…

Swallowing hard, she placed her fingers under Laura’s chin and brought her gaze up. Their eyes met, Laura’s confused but soft, and Carmilla had been unable to stop herself at that moment from leaning in and pressing their lips together.

And that had been that. The next thing she knew, their mouths were melding together, Laura in her lap and gripping her shoulders, her own hands roaming beneath the tiny brunette’s shirt, moving higher and higher. Laura had pulled away after a few minutes, gripping tight to the collar of Carmilla’s shirt, her eyes searching and desperate.

“Is this… I mean… we don’t have to-”

“It’s okay, cupcake,” she said, kissing her again, this time a little slower. But the pace didn’t last long. Slow wasn’t something that should go into this equation. After all, this wasn’t something caring and ardent. And it seemed she wasn’t the only one who understood that as Laura had taken the lead as soon as they’d gotten up the stairs, the pace just as frantic when they fell into bed, spending the next half hour stripping all of Carmilla’s clothes from her body and bringing her over the edge twice before she finally allowed Carmilla to touch her again.

And now, here they were. Again. Having slept together without a word on why or how or…

Fuck.

Carmilla finally opened her eyes, shuffling against the sheets below her, and slowly turned to find Laura’s gaze already on her, those gorgeous brown eyes so tender and affectionate. And suddenly, the only thing Carmilla could think about was kissing her again. Pressing their lips together soft and slow this time, just because there was no other way. Because that was the way it should be.

“Hey,” Laura said, her voice almost a whisper.

“You okay?” Carmilla asked, unable to help it.

Laura nodded, the smallest of smiles coming to her lips as her eyes somehow warmed even further.

“Are you?”

“Yeah.”

“Good,” Laura said. She lifted her hand, slowly reaching out, but stopped when she was only inches from Carmilla’s face, fingers twitching.

Carmilla saw the smile fall and the sadness creep into her eyes before the younger girl could look away, her cheeks flushing once again as her hand dropped back to the mattress. The hurt Carmilla saw there, battling with so many other emotions made that damn ache in her chest begin to pound, it’s beat erratic.

You screwed this up so bad. And you keep screwing it up.

Wednesday, May 8th, 2019

Two days earlier

The West Village

She nodded her thanks as the tumbler of amber liquid smoothly slid across the counter to her, the bartender who’d poured it continuing to eye her with a flirtatious smile even as she looked away so totally and completely uninterested.

Swirling the glass twice, she brought it to her lips, taking a long, luxurious sip and feeling a little of the tension she’d been carrying melt away. The workweek had been absolute hell so far and she knew it was only bound to get worse. Add to that the fact that she’d messed things up so colossally between her and Laura, and it was a perfect cocktail for frustration.

Well, you were super shitty to her, what do you expect?

It didn’t matter than Laura had continued to send her sweet ‘Good morning’ or ‘I hope you have a great day’ texts even after. It didn’t matter that the smaller girl still answered when Carmilla had called her the night before and listened intently as she vented her frustration over a contract Will had approved without her consultation. It didn’t matter that Laura was obviously trying her damnedest to follow Carmilla’s lead and pretend like they hadn’t slept together once again. That everything was normal.

No, none of that mattered because Carmilla still felt like a total asshole.

‘I trust you, Carm.’

The words had not only stuck with her but so had the vision of Laura standing across the apartment, looking so small and unsure and scared, even as those words left her mouth without question. Yes, Laura trusted her. Laura cared about her.

And she’d treated Laura like shit.

Stop.

Shaking the thoughts from her head with a sigh, she glanced around the bar, completely uninterested, the faces there all melding together. Men and women talking and laughing. Everyone having a good time. No, she didn’t care about these people. They didn’t matter. Until she was wrong because suddenly, one face stood out, clear as day, beautiful as ever.

Laura.

The tiny brunette sat on the far side of the room, tucked into a booth and completely oblivious to anyone else around. She was smiling and laughing and…

Amazing.

Carmilla watched for another long moment, a lopsided grin crossing her face when she saw the tiny brunette burst into a giggling fit, so free and easy from her seat in the booth across from Mel and next to…

Lawrence.

“Fuck,” she grumbled, her smile immediately falling just as the tall redhead turned and looked right at her at that moment.

“Karnstein!” she called over the din, waving her over with a bright smile.

She watched Laura and Mel turn toward her as well, both smiling and waving when they caught sight of her.

With a heavy sigh, she hauled herself off the barstool she’d been occupying and slowly walked toward the trio, unable to look away from the gorgeous brown eyes of Laura Hollis. But she didn’t want to look away and she let the right corner of her lips barely tip upward again when Laura offered a nervous smile and a meek wave in her direction.

She shouldn’t be allowed to be this cute.

“Well, well. To what do we owe the honor?” Mel asked as Carmilla reached their table and reluctantly slid into the booth next to her.

“Excuse me, did my invite get lost in the mail,” she challenged.

“Oh, come on, Karnstein. No way in hell you were going to voluntarily hang out with us if we’d asked you,” Danny said with a teasing smile.

“You do have a point, Xena, But tonight I would’ve made an exception,” she said, raising her glass.

“Rough week?”

“You don’t know the half of it.”

She glanced across the table again, Laura’s eyes still on her and still so impossibly soft. And she looked so beautiful with her hair down in subtle waves, chapstick and a little eyeliner obviously the extent of her make-up, a low-cut t-shirt lying beneath her worn jean jacket.

‘Hey,’ she mouthed as Danny and Mel continued to talk over them, completely oblivious.

Laura smiled bashfully and glanced away for a moment, her grin growing when she looked back up, eyes bright.

And at that moment, it was just them. No bar full of loud patrons. No Danny or Mel. No awkward or hurtful words. No anything and Carmilla felt her heartbeat speed up ever so slightly, her stomach fluttering. How did Laura do that? How did she make everything else around just disappear?

“So seriously, what happened?” Mel asked, her voice a little louder than normal and suddenly breaking the spell.

“Nothing really. I’m just not seeing her anymore,” Danny said with a shrug. “Didn’t work out.”

“So you’re back to looking for your next victim?” Mel teased.

“Screw you,” Danny grumbled, rolling her eyes.

“Hey, I’m just asking. I mean, you recycle girls almost as bad as Karnstein,” Mel laughed, the beer in front of her clearly taking its toll and her filter along with it. “The only difference is you let them put their clothes back on before asking them to leave.”

If the flinch from Laura hadn’t been completely obvious, her smile immediately falling was, and Carmilla felt her stomach roll at the abrupt dismal she’d given the smaller girl a few nights earlier.

‘It’s just late.’

‘Well, it was late when I got here,’ Laura said, her voice unsure at the edges.

‘Yeah, but… you should probably head back.’ She glanced over her shoulder to where Laura lay, skin still nude and flushed.

‘Oh.’

And that ‘Oh’ was filled with so much disappointment and hurt that Carmilla almost caved then and there. She almost turned and kissed Laura at that moment, holding her tight. But she didn’t. She couldn’t. That wasn’t allowed.

“I don’t think that’s entirely accurate,” Danny said, pulling her back to the table where Laura was now staring down into her soda, her finger tracing the condensation around the rim of the glass.

“Yeah, in fact, I’m pretty sure it’s bullshit,” Carmilla added with a touch of venom, taking another drink. While sober Mel was great and tipsy Mel was fun, drunk Mel was far from her favorite and she had no desire to stretch this little get together on for much longer. Especially if it would only lead to further complicating things between her and Laura.

“You’re right,” Mel said, still smiling mischievously. “You don’t ask them to leave. You just tell them to.”

“Fuck you!” Danny and Carmilla said at the same time which only served to make Mel laugh harder.

Goddamnit, she thought watching Laura anxiously bite at her lower lip.

“You seriously make it sound like sex is the only thing on the agenda,” Danny argued.

“Is there something else?”

“For the right person,” Carmilla found herself saying without hesitation.

Fuck, she sighed as she felt Mel’s eyes burning into her.

“Exactly!” Danny jumped in and Carmilla sighed in relief. “For the right person, there’s way more. And you know that’s what I want. I just… it’s hard.”

Understatement, she thought, feeling her jaw clench as she watched Danny sag back into her seat, her arm casually lying across the back of the booth behind Laura, fingertips unconsciously brushing along the younger girl’s shoulder. And it looked to so easy. Like they’d done it a million times before.

But why did it bother her so much? Danny and Laura had been friends since they were kids. They’d been through a lot together. They knew each other better than she’d ever known anyone. So why did it matter if they were close? Just because Laura spent so much of her free time with Carmilla… just because they’d slept together…

“Relationships get complicated.”

Yeah. Complicated. Sure. I suppose that tends to happen when you’ve been in love with your best friend on and off for years- ah, fuck, stop!

“It’s been a while since I’ve seen you this bent out of shape about all of this,” Mel said, staring intently across the table. “And, Carm, I’ve never seen you care. Did a lady friend we don’t know about get under your skin?”

Jesus, she internally grumbled, thankful when Danny once again took the reins.

“Look, just because you’ve found someone fantastic doesn’t mean the rest of us are just out having fun,” she said. “Frankly, I’m tired of dating. I’m over it. I just… I’m ready to settle down. I’m ready for my one person.”

“You’ll find her,” Laura said, giving Danny’s side a playful poke.

“Will she be as pretty as you?” Danny asked with a goofy smile.

“I mean, the two of you could always just-”

“Okay, I think you guys have both had enough to drink,” Laura interrupted whatever Mel was about to say, her cheeks flushing.

But Carmilla knew exactly what Mel was hinting at and it only made her chest ache more as she took the last swallow from her glass. Setting it down on the table heavier than necessary, she chanced a glance up, only to see Laura’s eyes already on her, intense and waiting.

Fuck, what did you get yourself into?

Friday, May 10th, 2019

Back in the present

SoHo

You screwed this up so bad. And you keep screwing it up, she thought as she stared at the tiny brunette on the bed next to her, Laura now completely sunk in on herself with embarrassment.

She watched the now completely flushed tiny brunette roll toward the other side of the bed, sliding herself to the edge of the mattress, the sheets rustling below her the only sound in the room. Pushing herself up, she quickly grabbed for her discarded clothes and clumsily pulled her underwear and bra back on.

“You got a hot date to get to or something?” Carmilla asked, unable to pull her eyes away, even if she knew she shouldn’t be staring.

“No, I…” Laura shook her head, as she pulled her jeans up her legs, nearly falling over in her haste. “It’s just… it’s late and…”

God you were such a jerk, Carmilla huffed as the words from a week earlier were parroted back to her.

“And I don’t want to keep you,” she finally finished. “I know you don’t want us to… that you’d rather I didn’t…”

Laura shrugged, running a hand through her mussed hair as she reached for her shirt, her eyes refusing to meet Carmilla’s.

“Rather you didn’t what?” she tried, dreading the answer because even without those beautiful brown eyes looking at her, she could still see the sadness within them.

“Nothing,” Laura mumbled, finally looking up with a tiny forced smile. “I should just go.”

Shit. Even if you don’t want to talk about what’s actually happening between the two of you, you’ve got to try and fix this.

“Laura, wait,” she sighed as she pulled the sheet that had come loose over her frame and shifted to her knees. “Don’t go.”

“Carm, it’s fine, really. I get it,” she said, shaking her head and attempting to sort out her shirt. “You don’t have to do this.”

“I don’t have to do what?” she pushed. “Be nice to my friend who thinks this is how I treat women? My friend, who I was a total asshole to the last time this happened? Who I was a colossal jerk to a few days ago when she tried to talk to me about it?”

You weren’t going to go here!

Laura finally met her eye.

“You weren’t though,” she argued quietly. “You were just-”

“Yes, I was,” she interrupted, shuffling closer and reaching for Laura’s hand to pull her toward the bed. “I didn’t mean to be so dismissive, it’s just… I didn’t know what to do. I’ve never been in that situation before.”

“Carm, I’m not being judgmental here or anything like that, but you’ve definitely done this before.”

“Sex yes but…  I’ve never slept with someone that I cared about the way I care about you.”

Yeah, just throw all your stupidity out there at once. Way to go, Karnstein.

“What about… I mean, what about Elle?”

Carmilla sighed, sitting back on her heels and running the hand not holding the sheet to her chest through her hair.

The subject had come up more than once now but Carmilla was still playing most of those cards close to her chest, still haunted by how she’d treated her ex-girlfriend.

“Cutie, that was different. She… she and I were together but we were never friends,” Carmilla explained, looking into Laura’s curious gaze. “And you… well, I don’t know how to describe what you are to me.”

“A nuisance?” Laura sighed, looking away.

“Far from,” she said as she sat on the edge of the bed and pulled Laura down beside her.

Carmilla kept hold of her hand for another moment, fingers soft against her own before squeezing once and letting go, knowing that she was about to step into a world she had never known. But when she looked up and found Laura staring back at her, those brown eyes full of curiosity, she couldn’t stop herself. Because Laura deserved this. She deserved honesty. Laura was worth more than a lie. She’d told her as much.

“What I feel for you, Laura…” she started, her chest fluttering as she did. “It’s… it’s complicated.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, we’re… friends,” she said, curious at the slight disappointment she saw creep into Laura’s gaze. “Right?”

“Right,” Laura nodded, looking away, fingers worrying the shirt she held in her lap. “Friends.”

“Laura, I care about you,” she said. “I feel stronger about you than I do about most other people. There aren’t many exceptions. Mattie and Will, most days. Mel and only because we’ve known each other for so long. And… then there’s you.”

She waited for a long moment, unsure of what the reaction would be. It wasn’t exactly an earth-shattering revelation, but it was definitely more than she’d wanted to admit to the smaller girl.

“You… you matter to me, cupcake.”

“You matter too, Carm. And…you know how much I care about you, right?”

She turned, taking in the sudden desperation clouding Laura’s wide eyes and remembered that Laura had echoed her sentiment of being worth more than a lie.

“I do, cutie,” she said, bumping their shoulders together and smiling fondly.

“I just… this isn’t… with what’s happened between us, I just want you to know that… well…” she stumbled, shaking her head and huffing in frustration.

Fuck. How much longer could she put off this conversation?

“Look, I don’t know what’s going to happen. Maybe we’ll end up here again, maybe we won’t. Maybe this is it and now we’re just friends who know very intimate details about each other. But, regardless… we’re okay. We’ll be fine.”

“I just don’t want to lose what we have. I don’t want to lose you, Carm.”

Never, she thought, staring into Laura’s eyes and seeing the truth there. Seeing the worry at the possibility.

“You won’t.” 

She smiled as Laura finally nodded, a bit of relief blooming in her eyes. She settled in a little closer, letting her head rest on Carmilla’s shoulder and she instantly found herself surrounded by the soft coconut almond scent of Laura’s shampoo. 

“So we’re okay?” Laura finally asked one last time.

“Yeah, we’re okay, cutie,” she said, letting her lips rest against Laura’s hairline, the smaller girl giggling quietly at the ticklish sensation.

“I’m glad.”

She sagged a little in relief, realizing she’d bought just a little more time to figure out what was actually happening between them. To figure out how she actually felt about all of it.

“Me too. And… well, this conversation would probably have been less awkward if I weren’t still naked under this sheet,” Carmilla chuckled, letting her eyes roam over the smaller girl’s frame. “And if you were actually wearing a shirt right now.”

“Maybe a little,” Laura agreed, a lightness to her voice that wasn’t there before.

“So, how about for tonight, we keep being friends, get dressed, and go get a cup of coffee?”

“With donuts?”

“Sure, with donuts,” Carmilla said, unable to stop the affectionate smile that crossed her face.

“You don’t want to be rid of me yet?” Laura asked, smiling as she glanced up. So cute and sweet and pure.

So incredible.

“Not just yet, creampuff.”

Monday, May 13th, 2019

Midtown East

Stepping into the small café and shaking out her umbrella, Carmilla grumbled, noticing some heavier drops of rain had soaked into the bottom of her fitted black pants. She’d have to swing by home and change before her meeting that night so as not to make a bad impression.

Even though I honestly don’t give a shit.

Untying the belt on her jacket, she glanced around, her frown deepening when she saw the coffee shop was absolutely packed, a slight buzz from all the customers waiting around, their own tones a little sharper on this wet and dreary Monday. Moving a little further into the café, she scanned the crowd more intently, finally spotting Laura in the back corner, smiling wide and giggling. And next to her was…

Lawrence? Again?

Sagging a little in disappointment, she watched for a moment longer, contemplating turning around and walking out, but she’d actually been looking forward to this all morning. It was bound to be the one bright spot in her day and giving that up meant she’d likely not see Laura again until Friday.

Deciding that definitely was too long to wait, she moved forward, squeezing through the throngs of people. And just as she was about to reach the table, Laura looked up, the smaller girl’s smile changing, softening.

“Hey,” Laura breathed, her gaze warm.

“What, my lone company not good enough anymore, cupcake?” she asked as she sat in the last empty chair at the table, overly poised.

“I have trouble believing you’re good company for anyone,” Danny said with a laugh.

“No,” Laura answered, rolling her eyes at the redhead. “Danny was already here when I walked in and it was packed, so…”

“So, third-wheeling, huh?” she grumbled, unsure if she was talking about Danny or herself at that moment.

“Oh my god, relax, Karnstein,” Danny laughed, tossing back the last of her coffee and starting to pack up the bit of paperwork scattered across that table that she’d apparently been working on. “No need to pout. I’m not crashing your date.”

“It’s not a date,” Carmilla mumbled petulantly so that no one else could hear her.

“You still want me to bring dinner tonight?” Danny asked Laura as she stood and pulled on her jacket.

“If you don’t mind, that’d be great.”

“I never mind for you, Hollis,” she said, leaning over and leaving a quick kiss against the top of Laura’s head. Hoisting her bag over her shoulder, she walked around the table, pressing a slight shove to Carmilla’s shoulder as she passed on her way out, but saying nothing more.

Carmilla felt her jaw tighten, hating whatever it was that was making her feel this way. But it bothered her. A lot! Laura having drinks with Danny. The two of them having dinner together. Sitting next to one another for coffee on her day with Laura.

“So… hey,” Laura tried again, her eyes still soft when Carmilla finally met them.

“You know, if you would’ve rather had coffee with her, you could’ve just said and I would’ve stayed at work. It’s kind of a busy day and there are other things I could be doing right now,” she snapped.

You asshole.

If she hadn’t already heard the irritation leaking into her tone, Laura’s slight wince was more than enough to clue her in.

“No, I… I wanted to see you, but I’m sorry,” Laura started, completely deflating.

Giant fucking asshole. What is wrong with you? This isn’t how you treat her.

“I didn’t mean to impose on your time. We can do this another day or… not,” Laura said, her eyes now refusing to meet Carmilla’s as she moved to stand. “Sorry.”

“Fuck, cutie, no,” she sighed, relaxing her stiff frame, her hands reaching across the table to stop the smaller girl from leaving. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to snap like that. I just…”

She stared at Laura for a long moment, those beautiful brown eyes filled with so many emotions that it felt like a punch to the gut with each second that passed. Because she’d been the cause. She was the one who’d hurt Laura.

You’re the one who keeps hurting her.

“It’s been kind of a long day,” she finally said, her hands releasing the grip she had on the tiny brunette but staying close. “And I have a stupid cocktail hour tonight with this client that I loathe and… I didn’t mean to take it out on you.”

Laura stared back for a moment and looking into her eyes, Carmilla knew she hadn’t exactly fixed this with her flimsy excuses.

You’ve got to figure out how to control this hot and cold shit.

“That was just kind of…” Laura started, looking down at her hands resting on the table in front of her, fingers nervously drumming. “I mean, if I’m bothering you, you can just say. I don’t want to make things harder-”

“You’re not,” she interrupted. “I… I’m fine, really. It’s nice to see you. I… I wanted to see you today. I’ve been looking forward to it all morning.”

She slowly let the fingers from her right hand move closer, carefully braiding them with Laura’s left, and internally sighing in relief when the younger girl didn’t pull away.

“Really, cupcake, that was rude as hell and… I’m sorry. It had nothing to do with you.”

Laura looked up, staring for a long moment and Carmilla could tell that amazing brain of hers was going a mile a minute.

Well, with your mood swings, how else is she going to keep up?

“Are you sure?” Laura asked, her gaze never wavering. “Because… well, you’ve been kind of off ever since we… it’s just…” She paused for a long moment, a determined little huff escaping her as she shifted forward in her seat, setting her elbows on the edge of the table. “Carm, can I ask you something?”

“Yeah, of course.”

“Was it a mistake? Do you regret it?”

Carmilla paused, attempting to formulate an answer that wouldn’t cause Laura’s face to crumble. Because did she regret it? No, she didn’t regret the actual act. But why they’d done it…

“Laura why did you come by that night?” she asked instead before she could stop herself. “I mean, was it just because you wanted to sleep with me?”

“No!” she said, eyes wide in surprise. “Carm, I came to you because I wanted to see you.”

“You’d just seen me.”

“Yeah but… that’s the truth,” she shrugged. “I wanted to see you and be with you and… and sleeping with you… I don’t know. There’d been all that tension between us and… you were standing there just… well, you.”

“Me?”

“Yeah,” Laura giggled quickly, squeezing at the hand she still held. “You.”

“But why did you want to see me in the first place?” she asked

“I just…” Laura sighed, the tiny smile falling as she looked away. “I’d had a little thing with my dad and after he fell asleep, I left the house. Thought it’d help clear my head. I was going to go meet up with Mel and Danny but then… well, I came to you instead.”

“So you were upset?” She felt herself physically sink at the words. Because that’s what it all boiled down to. Taking Laura away from all her worries. From all her problems. From everything.

“Initially, yeah, I guess,” Laura answered, looking at her once again. “But why does that matter?”

“It doesn’t,” she said, shaking her head and looking away.

She wanted a distraction.

“Carm, I didn’t mean to make things weird between us. I didn’t mean to make you do something you didn’t want or… I didn’t mean to screw up.”

And Carmilla understood that all of that was true. She knew Laura hadn’t deliberately been trying to hurt her. And she knew she could’ve stopped it. She could’ve said no.

But did you really want to?

That was a question she honestly didn’t have the answer to yet.

“You weren’t the only one there,” she said, her voice soft. Understanding.

“Well, then the other night, why did you…?” Laura trailed off, her eyes still searching Carmilla’s face.

“You were having a hard time,” Carmilla said with a shrug. “I just… I just wanted to make it better. Take your mind off of it, I guess.”

“Do you regret that?”

She glanced down at their hands on the table, fingers still loosely intertwined and fitting together so perfectly. So naturally. Looking back up, she found herself falling into those soft brown depths.  

“No,” Carmilla finally said. “I don’t regret us sleeping together.”

“But something about all of this is bothering you,” Laura pressed.

“I just…” she sighed heavily as she trailed off, not wanting to ask but needed to know. “Is it going to happen again? Is it going to keep happening?”

“I… I don’t know,” Laura said, voice meek as she looked away.

“Do you want it to happen again?” she asked quietly.

“It’s… it’s not that cut and dry,” Laura shrugged. “It’s complicated.”

“That’s not an answer,” Carmilla pressed, her eyes never leaving the light brown ones in front of her. But she didn’t exactly need an answer. At least not a verbal one.

So this is what she wants.

“Laura, it’s okay if you do. If… if this helps… if it makes you feel better about the rest of the shit you’re going through-”

“It does. Or it did,” she eagerly cut in. “But it’s more than that.”

“Then it’s okay,” she repeated, not wanting to grab onto the hope that maybe there was more. Hope would do her no good here.

“But if we do this… what happens?” Laura asked, brow furrowed. “We just… stay friends and sleep together on occasion?”

“Weirder arrangements have been made,” she said, taking a sip of her coffee in order to focus on something else. Because was this really happening? Were they going to do this?

“Yeah, but… Carm, I care about you. I…”

She looked up at Laura, the affection in her gaze warring with all the turbulent emotions the younger girl was feeling. Emotions Carmilla couldn’t even begin to sift through as there were simply too many.

“You what?” she asked when Laura didn’t continue, attempting and failing to ignore the way Laura’s thumb softly stroked back and forth across her own.

“When it’s just us… well, it really is just us. There is nothing else and…” she trailed off for a long moment, her lips moving even as nothing came out. And Carmilla saw the sudden defeat flood her eyes as her fingers stilled. “Nothing. If… if this is it, then this is it.”

“Laura, it doesn’t have to mean that we’ll lose what we have now,” she said, leaning forward onto the table. “We both understand what this is.”

“Right,” Laura said, still quiet. “We’re on the same page.”

“Yeah,” Carmilla agreed, hearing her voice at a slightly higher pitch. “And… whenever you want to stop… then we’ll stop.”

“Of course,” Laura quickly added. “And if you wanted to stop… it’d be fine because… because it wouldn’t matter, right? It wouldn’t… it wouldn’t mean anything.”

“Are you sure it wouldn’t?” she asked before she could stop herself.

“No,” Laura nearly whispered, though her eyes stayed locked on the table.

Carmilla felt the immediate sting, unsure of Laura’s answer. Did she mean she wasn’t sure  that this wouldn’t mean more? Or that she was positive it wouldn’t?

“Okay.”

Carmilla nodded and took another sip of her coffee, too afraid to ask. Because she wasn’t sure which terrified her more.

Saturday, September 20th, 2014

4 years, 7 months, and 24 days earlier

Lower Midtown

“What on earth did you do with my shirt?”

“Oh, um…” Carmilla ran a hand through her messy hair and glanced around the room, her clothes from the last week littering the floor here and there. Grabbing her own shirt, she pulled it over her head and looked again, her eyes finally spotting the off the shoulder ivory top near the corner where she’d tossed it a while earlier. Chuckling lightly, she grabbed it up and turned, handing it over to the other girl with a smirk only to receive an eye roll in return.

“Do you mind telling me what had you in such a hurry tonight?” she asked as she put the garment back on, fixing her hair once it was in place. “I thought we were going to get a drink first.”

“Yeah, but admit it, Elle. It’s more fun this way,” Carmilla said, laughing softly when Elle rolled her eyes again and turned away.

“I’ll admit no such thing,” she said in a haughty voice as she left the bedroom and gracefully took the stairs down to the main level of the apartment. “But I definitely won’t complain if and when it happens again.”

Carmilla chuckled at the playful smile Elle shot her over her shoulder.

“I’ll remember that.”

They’d been doing this for almost a month now, ever since the dreaded double date with LaF and Perry. The dreaded double date that had actually turned into something pretty awesome because Elle was great. She was fun and smart and when they’d fallen into bed together for the first time later that night, there’d been no awkward goodbyes or questions about what they were doing. After that, they saw each other when they wanted to – usually spending most of said time in bed – but didn’t expect anything extra from the other. Elle knew the score without Carmilla having to explain it and, honestly, Carmilla couldn’t find any flaws in their arrangement.

“But you know, it is still early,” she started as they reached the bottom step and moved toward the front door. “Do you want to go get a drink now?”

Carmilla wasn’t sure where the offer came from but she was surprised that for the first time in as long as she could remember, she wasn’t itching for whatever woman she’d brought home for the night to go. She actually wouldn’t have minded spending a little more time with Elle. Not because she had feelings for her or anything so ridiculous. But they did seem to work. So why not keep having fun?

“As much as I’d love that,” Elle started, a tinge of regret in her voice. “I really do need to be getting home. I still have a few things to attend to before my flight tomorrow.”

Elle had told her about the trip home to England last week when Carmilla was pulling her own clothes on in the middle of Elle’s living room. She hadn’t given the bit of information much thought afterward, but she now found herself a little bummed out at the idea of not seeing the other woman for the duration.

“When do you get back again?”

“Two weeks,” Elle said as she slid on her black heels.

“That’s a long time,” Carmilla said with a smirk, stepping closer.

 “My, my, Carmilla Karnstein,” she started with a teasing smile as she reached for her purse, “are you going to miss me?”

“What in the world would give you that idea?”

“I don’t know, it just seems you’re a little disappointed that I won’t be at your beck and call for the foreseeable future.”

“Please, you call me just as much as I call you,” Carmilla playfully scoffed. “If anything, it’ll be you missing me. I’ll be just fine.”

“Ah, my mistake then. I forgot myself for a moment, thinking you actually cared,” she said, still smiling. “After all, this is just fun, right? It doesn’t mean anything serious.”

“Something like that,” she said, shoving her hands into her pockets and wondering just how true that really was. After all, it had been a month.

“Very well then,” Elle quietly laughed. “Goodnight, Carmilla.”

She leaned in, leaving a quick kiss against her jaw before turning and making her way out the door without another word.

And then it was silent in the apartment. Turning away, Carmilla moved into the living room, plopping down heavily on the sofa. Two weeks. That wasn’t too bad. It was fine. It wasn’t like she couldn’t go out and find someone else’s company if she wanted to. It’d be fine.

But did she actually want someone else’s company? Was it worth the hassle? Elle was easy. She was beautiful and charming. She was intelligent and interesting. Sure, they had sex. A lot. But they talked too. They joked and… was there more to this?

Maybe, she thought as she picked up her phone from where it lay on the glass coffee table. Staring at the device for a moment, she contemplated before typing out a message and sending it, swallowing hard as she did.

Carmilla (10:57 PM): Might miss you a little.

This wasn’t something she did. This wasn’t her. This was uncharted territory. But still…

Elle (10:58 PM): I’m glad I’m not the only one. 

Thursday, May 16th, 2019

Back in the present

SoHo

“Oh fuck,” Carmilla moaned, the last vestiges of pleasure washing over her, feeling Laura’s curling fingers slow, her mouth release the skin at the juncture between her neck and shoulder that the smaller girl had taken hostage a few minutes earlier. Breathless, she felt the tension leave her body and sagged back into the mattress. She felt Laura’s lips still tickling along her chest, not really making contact but keeping the connection.

It had happened. Again. But this time it was okay. Because this was what they did now. This was how it worked.

Fuck.

She knew Laura was trying. She knew the tiny brunette was putting forth every effort she could to keep things the same. And she appreciated that. Laura still texted every morning and throughout the day. They still talked at night, catching each other up on their days. Laura was still sweet and kind and caring. But it was too much. Too practiced. And when she’d called earlier that day on her way home from work, Carmilla immediately knew something was up.

“Have you been crying?” she asked.

“I… it’s just been a long day,” Laura answered, avoiding the topic.

“What happened?” she asked, dodging other pedestrians on the street as she walked away from her office.

“Nothing,” Laura sighed. “Just dad and I having a minor disagreement on what is an acceptable dinner and it kind of ballooned to something much bigger. It’s like living with a four-year-old constantly throwing temper tantrums.”

“He’ll get there, cutie,” Carmilla chuckled softly. “Did you guys make up yet?”

“Yeah, we’re fine,” Laura said. “All good. A buddy of his just stopped by and they’re actually going to go out for a bit. But he promised he’d behave.”

Carmilla laughed again, shaking her head.

“Well, come over then,” she said without another thought, her chest squeezing at the words, unsure if she was actually offering to simply spend time with the younger girl or if something more was on the table.

“Oh! Um…” Laura squeaked and she could tell the younger girl was just as surprised with the offer. “Are you… sure?”

“Yeah. Get out of that house for a bit and clear your head,” Carmilla said. “It’ll be good for you. We can… we can watch a movie or… whatever.”

“O-Okay,” she stuttered. “I’ll see you soon.”

And they actually had just talked for a while after Laura arrived, sitting in the middle of the couch, knees pressed together, facing each other. Carmilla had to admit, she was surprised that it was as if nothing was different. They smoothly moved through topics. They’d laughed and there might’ve been some minor flirtation on her part that had Laura blushing. But it wasn’t awkward. It wasn’t forced. It was them.

It was about an hour in when Laura’s phone rang and she quickly answered when she saw who it was.

“Dad? Are you okay?”

Carmilla waited, watching Laura’s bright smile wash away and morph into something else. Deciding to give the girl some privacy, she stood and moved into the kitchen, picking up her own phone and seeing the slew of text messages from Mattie and Will, slowly combing through them as she waited.

“Sorry about that,” Laura said from behind her a few minutes later.

“No, it’s fine,” she said as she turned, taking in Laura’s tired expression. “Everything okay?”

“Yeah, he was just letting me know that they’ll be out for a little longer,” Laura said, seeming to deflate a bit.

“Is that a problem?”

“No, it’s great,” she said, shaking her head. “He’s having fun.”

“And…” Carmilla pushed as she set her phone down and moved around the island, perching herself on one of the stools there.

“It’s not an and. It’s just… I’m glad he’s having fun. Really,” Laura shrugged, plopping herself on the other stool and swiveling toward Carmilla. “It’s just I never get that part of him anymore. I get the arguments and the appointments and… it sounds so ungrateful and selfish. I mean, he’s still here. I still have him.”

“But you miss the fun,” Carmilla said.

Laura merely nodded and looked away.

“That’s not ungrateful or selfish, cupcake,” she said, reaching up and tipping Laura’s chin back toward her, their eyes meeting. “And I’m sure he feels the same way.”

Laura stared back for a long moment, chewing at her bottom lip before slowly nodding again.

“You guys will get back to that,” she added, sliding to the edge of the stool.

“I hope so,” she sighed, looking back down again at where her hands were now knotted in her lap.

Carmilla watched her for a few moments, the silence around them stretching loud and long before she hoisted herself off the chair and moved forward, wrapping the smaller girl in her arms and holding tight. She felt the smallest bit of relief ease into her frame when Laura immediately pulled her close, the tiny brunette squeezing as she buried her face in Carmilla’s neck.

“What can I do?” she asked, her voice muffled in Laura’s hair.

“You’re doing it,” came the reply, tickling against the skin just below her ear.

She smiled softly as she attempted to pull Laura closer, simply holding her tight. She listened as Laura’s breath evened out, the younger girl’s warmth surrounding her along with the scent of her shampoo and the cherry chapstick she’d put on not so long ago. And it was them. Just them. Alone and together and no one else existed. And it mattered.

What the fuck is going on? She’s my friend, she’s not…

Carmilla felt Laura start to pull away, smiling softly up at her even as she still held on. Carmilla smiled down at her, eyes roaming Laura’s face. Those gorgeous eyes and that adorable little nose. The faint line between her brows from the furrow she’d been wearing more often. Her unblemished skin. Her absolutely perfect lips, still smiling up at her. Those lips, so soft and kissable and amazing.

And she wanted to kiss them. Not because Laura was beautiful and she was unbelievably attracted to her. Not because Laura had been a little upset and might’ve been in need of comfort. And not because she felt like that’s what she was supposed to do at that moment.

No. It was none of those reasons. It was a reason that she wasn’t sure of. One she didn’t understand. But one that screamed at her, loud and demanding.

She’s my friend, she’s not…

Swallowing hard, she leaned in, noticing Laura’s smile falling slowly as she did but not pulling away. And when their lips met, it was something else. It was soft and sweet and affectionate. It felt amazing and Carmilla wanted to relish in the feeling for hours. Days. Months if she could.

But as they parted a moment later and she took in Laura’s darkened eyes, filled with want and need, that sweet softness was ripped away. No, that’s not what this was about.

She’s my friend. My friend that needs some help. That’s all.

Carmilla had kissed her hard then, all lips and teeth and tongue, but even the surprised ‘oomph’ Laura released didn’t sidetrack her. They’d scrambled up the stairs a few minutes later, clothes already coming off as they fell into bed together.

And it happened. They slept together again. And it was hard and fast and so different than how she’d always imagined it would be with Laura. 

And somewhere deep inside, it hurt.

Now, as Laura slowly pulled her fingers free and moved herself over Carmilla, she hovered and staring down, with the look in her eyes sad at the edges, Carmilla couldn’t help but stare back. She let the hands still wrapped in Laura’s hair release their grip even as she didn’t fully pull away. Laura’s skin was flushed, her hair a mess, and she looked so fucking beautiful that Carmilla couldn’t bring herself to look away. And when Laura’s eyes flicked down to her lips, the smaller girl swallowing hard as she leaned in a little closer, Carmilla used every ounce of strength she possessed not to meet her halfway.

That’s not what this is about, she thought, letting her hands fall completely and looking away. Even if she was able to do this for Laura at the moment, if she kissed her now, she didn’t know if she’d be able to stop.

She’s just your friend.

Laura shifted off of her, falling to her side, leaving just an inch between their cooling bodies.

“So… that was okay, right?” Laura asked, glancing over, words slow and heavy.

“Yeah,” Carmilla agreed, staring back. “We agreed, just sex. It doesn’t mean anything.”

She swallowed hard as Laura barely nodded and turned away.

Fuck.

Chapter Text

I gotta know tonight

If you're alone tonight

Can't stop this feeling

Can't stop this fight

Saturday, June 8th, 2019

SoHo

“So, um… you’ll be gone all week?” Laura asked, attempting to sound nonchalant, but failing miserably. A month of sleeping with Carmilla and she still hadn’t quite mastered the art of post-sex conversation.

Smooth, Laura. Smooth.

But it wasn’t like she had much practice with the situation. Carmilla was the only woman she’d ever slept with that didn’t come with a romantic label attached to her. Because Laura could exactly count ‘possible crush’ as a label that made this scenario any better.

Besides, this isn’t a crush!

Yes, it had been a month and while there were some initial stumbles when things had first gotten physical – of the naked variety – not much else had actually changed between them. They still did all of the things they used to do. They still sat close on the sofa and watched movies with a ridiculous amount of chocolate on Friday nights. They still spent the week calling and texting about anything and everything that came to mind, Laura still proving to be the chattier of the two. They still met for coffee and spent the time talking and laughing as they caught up, Carmilla just as flirty as ever.

Of course, some things had changed. Donuts now accompanied the coffee, which was no longer only occurring on Monday afternoons while her dad was in PT. Friday nights now included dinner and extra time. They’d even added another night to the schedule to spend together whenever it was convenient for both of them. And, okay yes, during some of those non-public rendezvous, they spent an hour or so in some compromising positions, sans clothes. But thankfully, sex hadn’t become the star of their relationship, much to Laura’s relief.

Today, however, hadn’t necessarily been a ‘friendly’ visit. Laura had come by with a purpose and the last forty-five minutes and two orgasms later had proven to be more than what she’d hoped for.

As she finished tying up one set of laces on her sneakers, Laura glanced up from her seat on the edge of the leather couch, her eyes immediately drawn to Carmilla standing a few feet away in just her black bra and underwear. And she felt the surge of heat scuttling through her at the sight. It didn’t matter how many times she saw Carmilla in various states of undress. The dark-haired girl was still the most gorgeous woman Laura had ever laid eyes on.

“Seriously, cupcake?” Carmilla said, turning toward her and holding up her now ruined red and gray flannel, all the buttons popped off and scattered throughout the room. 

Laura had faintly registered the clicking sounds as they’d hit the floor when she’d torn it open, but it had been a really long day and she was in a hurry.

“You owe me a shirt,” Carmilla continued.

“Sorry,” she said, nose scrunched.

Carmilla just shook her head, the right side of her mouth curling up ever so slightly as she slid it on anyway and grabbed at the tight jeans Laura had also pulled off of her in a rather hasty move.

“Anyway, I leave tomorrow and I won’t be back until Thursday,” she finally answered, sliding the denim up her legs. “Why?”

“No reason,” Laura said, shrugging and looking back at her shoes because Carmilla standing there, shirt open, hair mussed, skin still slightly flushed was so incredibly sexy and tempting. “I was just wondering.”

“You going to miss me or something?” Carmilla teased as she walked toward the open kitchen. She grabbed a half-full container of orange juice from the stainless steel refrigerator and turned back toward Laura, taking a healthy gulp as she playfully wiggled her eyebrows.

Laura tried, but she couldn’t stop her lips from twitching back and forth as she fought her smile.

“No, I am not going to miss you,” she said, standing and slowly walking toward where Carmilla still stood, foregoing picking up her own green tank top along the way.

“Hmm…” Carmilla smirked as she took another long pull from the container, eyes narrowed, and Laura found herself distracted by the gorgeous pale throat in front of her. “I don’t know. I think you might.”

“That’s because you’re incredibly conceited,” Laura said, her hands finding Carmilla’s hips below the open shirt and pushing the older girl back against the counter. She had to suppress the shudder working its way up her spine at the feeling of skin on skin as their torsos came together, still warm and slightly sticky.

“This is true,” Carmilla agreed, setting the carton down and leaning back against the counter, her hands gripping the edges of the granite, head slightly tilted to the side. “But that doesn’t mean you’re not going to miss me.”

You have no idea, Laura thought as she stared into those intense dark eyes, the hint of playfulness there making it harder not to smile wide at the teasing.

Unable to help herself, Laura leaned in, capturing the older girl’s incredible lips, fighting a giggle and the little thrill bubbling in her chest when she heard the soft moan that left Carmilla’s throat at the initial contact.

Kissing, Laura had discovered, was actually much more problematic than sex. And because Carmilla was such an amazing kisser, this was becoming a bigger and bigger issue. Kissing wasn’t something they could just casually do. Kissing was the start of something else. It led to clothes coming off and hands roaming over skin and mouths moving to… other places. It was somehow more intimate than sex and wasn’t even something they really did much of during the actual act anymore. It had quickly tapered off after the first few times they found themselves wrapped around each other - much to Laura’s chagrin. But she loved kissing Carmilla. The way their lips fit together so perfectly and how they seemed to automatically find a rhythm from the first touch. The way Carmilla would hum softly against Laura’s mouth and lean into her. The way the older girl always tasted like mint and coffee.

The way she wanted to keep on kissing Carmilla until she couldn’t breathe.

But it didn’t work that way. That was too soft and sweet. It meant too much, which wasn’t what this whole arrangement was about. Regardless of how much Laura wanted it, soft and slow wasn’t on the agenda. No, this was strictly about sex.

Sometimes it was fast and furious with Laura bursting into Carmilla’s apartment and practically attacking her before Carmilla could get out more than a ‘hi, cupcake.’ Other times it was more teasing but hard in a way that left her aching for days afterward, and so incredibly satisfied.

Well, satisfied except for the whole total lack of feelings conundrum.

But she’d put the kibosh on that almost immediately after their slightly uncomfortable conversation that rainy Monday afternoon at the back of Ground Central. The next time they’d found themselves in bed, as she’d gazed down at Carmilla, eyes heavy, lips parted, skin the faintest shade of pink, Laura felt her heart plummet into her stomach with the realization. She couldn’t have feelings for Carmilla. They were friends and just because she was attracted to the unbelievably beautiful dark-haired girl and thought that Carmilla was easily the sweetest, most caring, and amazing woman in the world…

No.

Just because she thought those things, that didn’t mean she had feelings for Carmilla. And it definitely didn’t mean that Carmilla would ever reciprocate. So she’d ignored it. Forgot about it. Pushed the entire notion away. They could be friends who had a physical relationship that didn’t necessarily mean anything. They could still have that closeness and despite the lack of loving touches, the intimacy was still there in a way. She still got to stare into Carmilla’s beautiful eyes in those secret moments. She got to feel the older girl against her, warm and safe. She got to watch Carmilla fall apart in the most spectacular ways.

Of course, I’d honestly be happy just doing this, she thought as she left one last long kiss against the other girl’s lips and pulled away, breathless. Her eyes fluttered open and she felt her hands grip tighter at Carmilla’s hips to keep herself from diving back in.

“Yeah, you’re definitely going to miss me,” Carmilla sighed, her own lidded gaze still focused on Laura’s mouth.

The older girl leaned in to teasingly nip at her bottom lip and Laura was about two seconds away from blowing off her dinner with Danny and her dad in order to spend another hour or two wrapped around Carmilla. But…

“I’ll admit, I know I’m good, cupcake. But I didn’t realize we’d gotten to the point where you can’t go a whole week without my head between your thighs.”

And yep, that did it.

Laura rolled her eyes with a huff and pushed off of the dark-haired girl, walking toward the sofa where her tank top still lay draped across the back, Carmilla’s low chuckle chasing her.

“You are the most arrogant woman I have ever met,” she said as she grabbed up the shirt and pulled it over her head.

“I’ve been called much worse.”

“Duh,” Laura said, turning back to her with a grin, unable to help it. “I’ve called you much worse.”

Laughing harder, Carmilla ran a hand through her messy dark locks and pushed herself off the counter, moving closer.

“Oh, I’m sure you have. But now that I’m providing a service that you very much enjoy, I’m okay enough to not be called the really bad words, right?”

Dammit.

And though Laura heard the teasing tone, the words stung. 

Because that’s not what this is about.  

But Laura couldn’t tell her the truth. She couldn’t tell Carmilla that, while it did take her mind off of things because… well, it was sex with Carmilla, how could it not? But more than that, this all meant something. She wasn’t entirely sure what but taking Laura out of her head wasn’t even near the top of the list for why she wanted this. For why she kept showing up.

Laura felt her shoulders sag as her smile fell at the words, and not for her own feelings but because this wasn’t the first time Carmilla had made a comment like that. Like she was nothing more than a pawn in a game, available for Laura’s use when and wherever.

“Carm, come on,” she said, moving back toward the older girl, grabbing for her hands and gently squeezing. “You don’t really think that I believe that, do you? You don’t think that I just hang around for… this, right?”

She had to tread lightly here for both their sakes.

Carmilla’s own teasing grin faded at the gesture and she opened her mouth twice before shrugging.

“I didn’t say that,” she finally sighed.

“No, but if you really think I only want you for this and that I don’t actually care about you…  then I’m a really crappy friend,” she said, staring into Carmilla’s curious eyes.

“You’re not a crappy friend,” Carmilla argued, shaking her head.

“Well, I am if you don’t know that I would give all of this up in a second if it meant you would understand just how much you mean to me,” Laura continued.

“Laura, I know, okay. It’s fine,” she said, obviously trying to avoid this road.

But this was something they couldn’t keep dodging. The first time it had come up, Carmilla simply laughed it all off and Laura had allowed it. The second time, Laura had quickly changed the subject and Carmilla had followed along. But it was a discussion they had to have.

Someone’s going to really get hurt.

“I… you need to understand that on the list of important things in our relationship, sex isn’t a top contender. You need to know that. And you need to know that I think you’re amazing. You’re incredible. And…” she faltered for a moment, staring into Carmilla’s eyes.

Laura released one of her hands and reached up, cupping the dark-haired girl’s cheek, feeling the way Carmilla just barely leaned into the touch. She took another moment, staring into Carmilla’s eyes as the silence flowed between them, unable to vocalize her thoughts since there were really no words worthy.

“Carm, I absolutely adore you.” She paused once more, hoping to let it sink in. “And if you really think I only want you for sex once or twice a week, then… well, then we have to stop.”

“Stop what?”

“Sleeping together!”

“Laura…” she sighed, glancing away for a quick second.

“I’m serious! This is what matters,” she argued, dropping her hand from Carmilla’s face and pointing back and forth between them. “This is… this is what I want.”

“I don’t think that’s the only reason you stick around. But… well, this helps you,” Carmilla said with a shrug. “Doesn’t it?”

“It takes my mind off of all the other crap going on, yes,” Laura reluctantly agreed. “But your friendship matters so much more than that. You mean so much more.”

“So, then what’s the problem?” Carmilla sighed, sagging away a little, her expression now a mask, giving nothing away.

Laura paused as the walls came up. Walls that Carmilla had never used to keep her out before all of this started. Walls that she’d seen far too many times since. Normally, it was enough to get her to back off. Closed off Carmilla was anything but easy to deal with. But she refused to be pushed away this time.

“Carm, you… you mean the world to me,” she said, voice quiet even as the words echoed loudly between them. “This whole sex thing… I don’t need it . I just need you.”

She watched and waited for a long moment, Carmilla searching her own eyes, and she saw the softness just barely leaking in. But it wasn’t enough. The walls were still up, seemingly locked in place, and it hurt so much.

“I know,” Carmilla said, her gaze never wavering. “All of it. So… we’re okay. ”

No, we aren’t.

Laura kept her eyes low as she pulled away with a nod, the defeat completely washing over her.

I hate this.

“I should go,” she said, risking the quickest glance up and feeling the weight descend in her chest even further at seeing the same expression on Carmilla’s face. She turned away, grabbing her bag from one of the chairs in the living room and started walking toward the entrance hall.

This was such a mess. What had she gotten herself into? How could she fix it?

The one person that actually made all of this tolerable and you’re going to lose her, she thought, feeling her eyes start to well up just as she was about to round the hallway corner.

“You know how much I care about you too, right?” Carmilla said, her voice just barely audible.

Laura stopped and slowly turned, the gentle tone catching her attention and giving the words a much bigger impact. She took in Carmilla standing there, hands now jammed into her pants pockets, nervously biting her lip, and couldn’t help but smile at the glimpse of vulnerability. The little hole that Carmilla had made in her hard exterior. The one that she’d made for Laura.

Without a word, she slowly walked back toward the older girl, tossing her bag into one of the chairs and wrapping her arms around Carmilla’s waist. She pulled her close, relishing the feeling of Carmilla immediately holding her back.

“I know, Carm,” she whispered.

“You’ve… you’ve got me, Laura,” she said, pulling her closer and resting her lips against Laura’s temple.

And Laura smiled even as her eyes continued to tear up. She inhaled the warmth of the older girl’s neck, letting it surround her. Surround them. At least she still had this.

Wednesday, June 12th, 2019

NoLiTa

Carmilla (6:12 PM): Hey, cutie. What’re you doing?

Laura smiled as the notification flashed across her screen, choosing to ignore the little dip in her stomach that came along with it. She hadn’t seen Carmilla in four long days and it was a stark realization of just how used to the older girl’s company she’d come to be.

And how much you miss her.

Laura glanced around the table, noting that the company she was with were still occupied with their conversation and picked her phone up.

Laura (6:13 PM): Out to dinner with the gang. What about you?

Carmilla (6:13 PM): Working. It’s stupid and I hate it.

Laura (6:14 PM): Shut up, you love it.

“So, Laura, dear, how have you been? We haven’t seen much of you around lately,” Perry said, drawing her back into the conversation, her friends all staring at her expectantly.

“Oh, um, yeah, I’ve just been busy,” she said with a shrug, raising her voice just enough to be heard over the other customers in the popular pizzeria. “With… with my dad and stuff.” Which was technically true. 

Mostly.

Her phone lit up once again and she couldn’t help but glance down at it.

Carmilla (6:16 PM): Ginger one and two still acting weird?

“How is Sherman doing?” Mel asked from across the table.

“Good,” Laura said, smiling softly at the thought of him. “Really good. He’s still using the walker but he’s getting around so much better than before and he can do a lot more for himself now.”

Laura (6:17 PM): So far, no weirder than usual.

“And how about the whole zero filter thing?” LaF asked, taking a sip of their soda.

“We’re still working on that one but seeing the psychiatrist is definitely helping,” Laura answered, feeling her shoulders sag with a touch of relief.

Even with the physical setbacks, the slight changes in his personality had been the hardest to take and adjust to. Sherman was never brusque or rude. He was never ill-mannered when it came to others, even if they might’ve deserved it. And he was never short with Laura the way he’d been the last couple months. But things really were progressing. His outbursts were fewer and farther between and it seemed as though each day things got a little closer to being back to normal.

“Well, that’s wonderful, dear,” Perry said with a genuine smile.

“Yeah,” Kirsch agreed. “Hopefully this means you can get back home soon, little nerd.”

Carmilla (6:19 PM): Miss me?

“Trying to get rid of me?” she giggled as she picked her phone up and set it in her lap, attempting to be a little more inconspicuous.

“Yep, that’s exactly it,” Mel said, rolling her eyes. “You know how much we hate having you around.”

Laura (6:20 PM): I miss your couch.

“Seriously, Hollis, you know we would love to have you back here permanently,” Danny said from her right side, tossing her greasy napkin onto her plate.

“We really would, but you’ve been here for six months now,” Perry said, her smile completely falling.

“I know,” Laura sighed. “And, trust me, as much as I love you guys, I miss home like crazy. I miss my apartment and my friends there and… everything. But dad needed help. He needed me. This was the right choice.”

Carmilla (6:22 PM): Aww come on, cupcake.

She snickered quietly before glancing back up at her friends.

“Of course, it was the right choice,” Mel nodded. “But it’s not just home that you’re missing. I mean, how’s your blog doing with the lack of travel?”

“It’s been better,” Laura sighed, the declining number of visitors something she’d been attempting to remedy. She’d worked far too hard to lose any of the sponsors and all the traction she’d gained over the years since she’d started writing about her adventures. “Luckily, I had some old trips on standby to tide me over for a bit. And writing about places around here has helped. But I miss that too. The travel. Seeing new things and having new experiences.”

Carmilla (6:24 PM): I miss you.

She tried not to smile too hard at that.

Laura (6:24 PM): I’m counting the hours until you get home.

She sat back in her seat, bringing her soda glass to her lips and looking up at her friends, knowing she was being rude in ignoring them. This was really the first time they’d all been together in months. She was spending so much of her free time with someone else…

“And you’re still spending lots of time with Carmilla?” Perry asked as if reading her mind and Laura immediately coughed around the sip of Coke she’d just taken.

“What… what do you mean?” she sputtered.

“Well, she mentioned that you’ve been seeing a lot of each other,” Perry answered, watching her as she carefully situating her used silverware onto her white ceramic plate and pushed it away.

“She just casually told you that?” Laura asked, not believing it for a second. Sure, Carmilla and Perry were friends, but that wasn’t something she could ever imagine Carmilla sharing over a cup of coffee or the water cooler at work.

“Well, actually no. She was talking to Mattie and I walked into the conference room they were occupying at that moment.”

“I have trouble believing she’d even willingly admit that to her sister,” Laura countered, Carmilla’s siblings still holding tight to their intimidation factor. She hadn’t seen them again since that first night when they’d been introduced, but she was no stranger to their constant pestering of Carmilla for one thing or another.

“It was just a casual discussion,” Perry said with a wave of her hand even as she continued to stare. “Is there something wrong with her talking about the two of you?”

“No! No, it’s fine,” Laura said, shaking her head. “I’m just surprised she mentioned it.”

“What do the two of you even do?” Mel asked around a bite of her crust, clearly baffled at the pairing.

“We just… spend time together,” Laura shrugged. “We watch movies or talk or… I don’t know. It’s just… nice.”

“I mean, I’m sure it is,” Mel said, barely tipping her head to the side.

“Yeah, but it is kind of weird. That Carm would be putting so much time into someone who’s not going to sleep with her,” Kirsch said, his mouth full.

Laura coughed again around her straw.

Oh god, can we please change the subject?

“I’m sure Carmilla gets much more out of it,” Perry scolded, brow furrowed.

“I guess,” Kirsch shrugged, focusing more on piling the rest of the pepperoni and pineapple pizza onto his plate as he swallowed half of the slice currently in his mouth. “I mean, she’s already got the sex part covered.”

What!?

“What do you mean?” Laura asked before she could stop herself, her internal panic skyrocketing.

“Yeah, what the hell, beefcake?” Mel added, giving his shoulder a slight shove. “Don’t just throw something like that out there.”

“No, she totally wing-manned for me this past week,” he said around another mouthful, a bit of pizza sauce now stuck to his lip. “Left with this blonde girl. Super hot.”

“She took someone home?” Laura asked, her voice quiet and sad.

She…

“Do you know that she actually slept with her?” Danny pushed, relaxing back in her chair, draping her arm across the back of Laura’s.

“Well, no, but come on. She flirts with a pretty woman all night, they leave together, what do you think’s going to happen?”

“Now, I’m sure that’s not the case,” Perry was quick to cut in. 

“Yeah, maybe they just left at the same time,” LaF offered.

“Well, I doubt it because she totally-ow!” Kirsch yelped, scooting away from Danny. “What was that for?”

“What was what?” she asked innocently.

“You totally just kicked me! Like hard, bro.”

“Sorry,” she shrugged. “Was just stretching my legs.”

“Okay, can we talk about something else besides Karnstein?” Mel asked. “I mean, I’m all for giving her shit but it feels wrong since she’s not here to defend herself.”

“Strangely, I have to agree. So, I’ll go grab the check,” Danny said as she stood, giving Laura’s shoulder a slight squeeze before stepping away.

“I wasn’t like trying to bad mouth her, dudes,” Kirsch piped up, suddenly realizing what he’d actually said and looking very much like a kicked puppy.

“We’re changing the subject, remember?” Mel cut in, shaking her head. “So… LaF. Blow anything up lately?”

LaFontaine eagerly leaned forward onto the table, eyes wide, but Laura tuned out and looked away.

Was Carmilla really sleeping with someone else? With multiple someone else’s? Did she spend the nights she wasn’t with Laura with other random women? Or did she have someone on standby?

The questions continued to rapidly fire through her mind as the group left the restaurant, Mel, Danny, and Kirsch heading in one direction while she headed the opposite way with LaF and Perry.

“So… L… um, are you going to see Carmilla tomorrow?” LaF stuttered as they walked. “She gets back then, right?”

“Oh, well… I don’t know,” she said. She’d certainly planned on it but now wondered if it was a good idea.

Maybe she’ll be busy with someone else. Crap!

“Laura, are you alright?” Perry tried, placing a gentle hand on her shoulder.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” she said, staring straight ahead to avoid Perry’s caring gaze.

“Now, I know that’s not true,” she said, pulling the group to a stop on the sidewalk out of the way of the rest of the foot traffic. “And I may be overstepping here, but something has been bothering you since we started talking about Carmilla. If I had to wager a guess, I suppose it would be that what Kirsch said upset you.”

“No!” she quickly argued, crossing her arms over her chest. “Why would I care about… that?”

Yeah, why would I care that the girl I’m sleeping with apparently has an army of other women to keep her occupied?

“Hey, I’m sure he didn’t mean anything bad by it, L.”

“And I’m sure he was mistaken,” Perry continued. “In fact, I’m almost certain that Carmilla is not out… painting the town, if you will. The poor girl barely has any free time as it is and from what I’ve gathered, most of that time is devoted to spending with you.”

“You guys, why would it matter to me if she was sleeping with… whoever?” she sputtered. “She can do what she wants.”

And who apparently.

“Yes, I suppose she can it’s just… well, pardon my asking but are the two of you…” Perry trailed off, turning to LaF.

“Are we what?” Laura asked nervously.

“Are you guys like… more than friends?” they asked with a little shrug.

“No! No, of course not,” Laura quickly said, uncrossing her arms, fists at her side. “You guys, how many times do we have to have this conversation? How many times do I need to explain this?”

“Now, Laura, we’re not trying to upset you,” Perry said, voice calm. “It’s just that we care about you.”

“You’re totally one of our favorites,” LaF added with a quick nod and what Laura assumed was supposed to be a supportive tap to the shoulder. “It’s just that the two of you seem kind of… well…”

“No! Trust me,” she started, looking away. “I… I don’t have feelings for Carmilla.”

I don’t!

“You know, if you did, it would be alright,” Perry said, reaching out and placing a careful hand atop Laura’s, stopping her from knotting them together.

“Yeah. I mean, I know she’s got a bad reputation and there was the whole Elle issue,” LaF said with a shrug. “But I honestly haven’t seen her with anyone in a while now. Haven’t heard anything about it either.”

“Guys, we’re good friends,” she said, pulling her hands away from Perry’s with a huff and braiding them together once more. “But that’s it. And… trust me. I learned my lesson about that whole having feelings for friends thing a long time ago. Not going down that road again.”

“Yeah, but… sometimes you can’t help that, L,” LaF shrugged, turning and leading them down the sidewalk once again.

“Just… forget we mentioned it,” Perry tried with a forced smile.

Laura sighed, frustrated. Frustrated with her friends for butting in and talking about things that were none of their business. Frustrated with Carmilla and the fact that they had gone into this, headfirst without discussing it. And frustrated with herself for… everything!

Just forget about it! It doesn’t matter! Because you don’t have feelings for her!

Sighing she pulled her phone from her pocket, unsurprised to see more messages from Carmilla but feeling her heart ache deeper and deeper with each one she read.

Carmilla (6:26 PM): Well, how about you call me when you get back to Sherman’s? We can kill a couple of those hours.

Carmilla (6:38 PM): I mean if you want to.

Carmilla (6:52 PM): If you’re busy or spending time with someone else, I understand.

Dammit.

She quickly typed out a message before shoving her phone back into her pocket.

  Laura (7:05 PM): Just finished. I’ll call you soon.

No feelings. No crushes. They were just friends. Nothing more.

Thursday, July 19th, 2012

6 years, 10 months, and 25 days earlier

Battery Park

“So, you got a place set up out there?” Danny asked, still a little breath less as they walked along the trail, the sun beginning to set just on the far side of the water.

“Yeah,” Laura smiled up at her, using the bottom of her shirt to wipe the sweat from her brow. Keeping up with a long-legged Danny on an early evening jog was no easy task. “I’m splitting an apartment with my friend Natalie. It’s nothing fancy but not too bad for two newly minted college graduates.”

“And the job?” Danny asked as she steered them toward one of the many open benches along the side of the trail.

“It’s okay,” Laura said, plopping down heavily at her side. “I mean, an office assistant is not what I want to do but it’s a paycheck. And the hours are steady.”

“You start as soon as you get back?”

“The day after,” Laura nodded.

“Nervous?”

“More like excited. I mean, again, not my first choice for a career but…”

“First step into adulthood?” Danny asked with a smile and a gentle bump to her shoulder.

“Yeah. In a way.”

She smiled back at the tall redhead before turning forward, taking in the scene around her, so serene and beautiful, the water rippling along the edge of the pier in the most calming way. She had to admit, she did miss the east coast from time to time.

“You know, there are tons of jobs around here,” Danny said after another long moment of silence, and Laura could hear the disappointment in her voice.

It was a disappointment she hated but one she could do nothing about.

“I know but…” she sighed, pushing a few damp strands of hair behind her ears and shrugging.

Yes, coming back here had been her original plan when she moved away four years ago. She missed her dad and her friends. She missed her home. But as more and more time passed, she realized just how much she liked California. How it had become her new home.

And even though the offer from Danny for Laura to stay with her for a bit was incredibly generous, Laura had to admit that it was part of the reason she was staying put.

You need to keep your distance.

This crush had gone on for too long and she needed to get over it. Especially since Danny now had a girlfriend. A serious girlfriend. One that she’d been with for six months and was totally crazy about.

“This is what I want,” Laura finally said, turning and looking up at the tall redhead.

“Yeah, but-”

“I think this is what’s best,” she interrupted, stopping the argument in its tracks. “At least for now.”

“For now?”

I have to get over her.

“Yeah. If I come back here, I want to make sure that… that it’ll work out,” she said, her eyes never leaving her friend’s.

“Okay. I get it,” Danny said with a shrug, but Laura knew she didn’t. Not really. “I just miss you and… it’s hard having your best friend thousands of miles away.”

“I know. I’m not super fond of it.” 

She paused looking away again, knowing that how she missed Danny at the moment was very different from how Danny missed her. But also knowing that Danny was happy. So happy. And Laura would never do anything to take away from that.

She’s your best friend. You’re not going to lose her.

“Come on,” she said as she stood, needing to move her limbs to keep her mouth from saying something it shouldn’t. “More running.”

Danny nodded and stood to follow, giving Laura a slight shove as she passed. Laura growled at the jest, running faster after a now laughing Danny.

Thursday, June 13th, 2019

Back in the present

SoHo

“No, I’m sorry, Per, tonight’s not good. I um… my dad’s not feeling very well.” The lie tasted like acid against her tongue, the guilt settling heavy in her stomach. But she couldn’t admit the truth.

She looked towards the elevators again, her heart thumping in her chest as the doors slid open with a soft ding and then falling in disappointment as a man she’d never seen before exited.

“Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that, dear,” Perry said. “But I completely understand. We’ll just plan to stop by another time.”

“That sounds great. Thanks, Per,” she said, hearing the smile in Perry’s own voice as she said goodbye.

She hung up the phone and shoved it in her pocket, leaning back against the wall. She still wasn’t sure this was a good idea. In fact, after she’d left Perry and LaF on the corner of Mott and E Houston Street the night before, she’d actually talked herself out of it. It was a bad idea and overstepping the invisible boundary that had been drawn.

When she’d arrived back at her dad’s, she’d plopped down heavily on the couch, the house around her quiet as Sherman had set himself up in the guest room with a book and a cup of tea. She was so glad that his taste buds were finally coming around to it.

Sitting there on the sofa, she stared at her phone, waffling back and forth on what to do. Finally, with a deep sigh and worry in her chest, she’d called Carmilla, as promised. But would the older girl answer? Would she be with someone else?

“Hey,” Carmilla said, voice soft when she answered on the second ring.

“Hi.”

“I um… I wasn’t sure you’d call,” she started and Laura could hear the nerves. “I mean, I wasn’t trying to bother you during your dinner. I… if you had other plans-”

“I didn’t,” Laura had immediately assured her, hating the doubt she heard. Doubt of just how much Laura cared for Carmilla. Doubt of how much she really did adore the older girl. “I… I really do miss you.”

“Me too, cupcake,” Carmilla had said, her voice quiet but relieved.

They’d spent almost an hour after that recounting their days to each other and really talking about nothing, both seemingly hesitant to hang up as it grew later and later. And Carmilla had been so incredibly sweet and funny and… perfect, that Laura found herself pushing her friend’s words from earlier into the background.

I’m sure there’s a reasonable explanation for all of this.

So Laura changed her mind once again, deciding she did want to see Carmilla when she got home. And no, they’d never actually discussed whether or not this whole sleeping together thing was exclusive. But she definitely wasn’t seeing anyone else. She didn’t want to. So maybe Carmilla wasn’t either. Maybe she wanted it to be just them as much as Laura did.

Just talk to her. She wouldn’t do anything to purposely hurt you. You know that.

Sighing deeply, she checked the time on her phone before putting it back in her pocket, knowing Carmilla should be back any minute.

And as if the universe was throwing her some sort of reward, the elevator doors slid open and there she was. Bag over her shoulder, staring down at her phone, and looking so amazing in her fitted black suit pants, the sleeves of her white dress shirt already rolled to the elbow, hair up, and…

God, those glasses.

Carmilla looked up as she stepped out of the elevator, her expression immediately softening, a sweet smile coming to her lips as her brow evened out.

That smile. Laura had only ever seen it when they were alone together and though she found herself wondering why that was, she couldn’t complain when it was aimed solely at her.

“Well, aren’t you a sight for sore eyes,” Carmilla teased as she moved closer, her heels clicking against the marble floor. “I wasn’t expecting you until tomorrow.”

“Yeah, I um… well…” Laura simply shrugged, feeling her face heat up. “I just wanted to see you.”

She anxiously put her hands together, repeatedly pulling at her left ring finger harder and harder with each step that the older girl took.

“Aw, you did miss me,” Carmilla smirked, stopping in front of her and reaching for her hands, holding tight to keep them still.

“Maybe a little,” she admitted with a shrug.

“I’ll take it,” she chuckled. “Come on.”

Carmilla moved passed her, unlocking the door, and pulling her inside the apartment, the warmth of the space immediately surrounding her. It looked like Carmilla, it smelled like Carmilla. She watched the older girl drop her things to the side and turn on the dusty record player in the far corner.

It sounds like Carmilla, she thought, the gentle stings of a piano slowly floating through the apartment.

“So um… how was the trip?” she asked, still watching the other girl move around the open space with ease.

“We talked like every day, Laura,” Carmilla chuckled. “But it was fine. New multimillion-dollar contract so Mattie is over the moon and mother is pleased.”

“Well, she sent you specifically. Was there really any doubt?” Laura said, moving further into the room and collapsing back on the couch, feeling it mold to her so perfectly. “You’re kind of really good at your job.”

“I know,” Carmilla agreed with a smirk and Laura couldn’t help but laugh. “So what about you? You do anything that you didn’t tell me about?”

“Not really. Spent most of the time with dad. And um… went to dinner with everyone last night.”

“Yeah, how was that?” Carmilla asked, kicking off her heels and moving back toward her. “You didn’t say much about it.”

“It was fine. Fun. Nice to see everyone but…” she paused, swallowing hard as Kirsch’s words came flooding back to her even as she attempted to push them away just as fast. “But nothing super exciting.”

“You sure about that?” Carmilla asked, searching her face. She sat down close on the sofa and reached out, braiding their fingers together and gently squeezing, the effect instant and calming.

How does she do that?

“Positive. Just basically caught up with everyone.”

“Alright,” Carmilla said, dropping it but not before squeezing her fingers together once more. “Well, how about you give me five minutes to go change and then we can do something?”

“Sure,” Laura nodded, reluctantly letting go of the older girl’s hand as she stood and walked away.

“I think I still have some grape soda in the fridge,” she called over her shoulder as she moved up the stairs and out of sight. “Probably some M&M’s too.”

Laura nodded and made her way into the kitchen, quickly finding what she was looking for before returning back to the couch to wait.

It’s okay, she thought as she popped an orange colored chocolate into her mouth and smiled.

Maybe she was overreacting to all of this. Maybe she was worried for nothing. Perry had a point. Carmilla was constantly busy and she seemed more than willing to give what little free time she had to Laura. Besides, she knew Carmilla wouldn’t do anything to purposely hurt her.

She cares about you. You know this.  

Laura nodded once more with a smile and leaned forward to set her still unopened soda onto the coffee table when the dark-haired girl’s phone pinged and lit up from its spot in front of her. She wasn’t purposely trying to look at it but it was right there.

Samantha-blonde at Macao (8:42 PM): Hey, let me know when you get in. I’ll be right over to keep you company.

Reading the words, Laura felt her smile instantly fall.

Maybe Kirsch was right and now you’re an idiot. A huge idiot.

She immediately felt the tears sting her eyes as her stomach rolled, the few M&M’s she’d eaten threatening to come back up. Standing up on shaky legs she swallowed hard, willing herself to hold it together until she got out of the apartment. Because she couldn't be here. Not now!

“Alright, movie or coffee and donuts or… what’s wrong?” Carmilla asked as she walked back into the room now dressed in jeans and a plain black t-shirt, her brow furrowing.

Crap!

“Nothing,” Laura said, refusing to look up as she took a step away.

“But you look upset. Did something happen?”

You’re sleeping with someone else.

“No, I… um…” she fumbled, still staring at her feet as she continued to slowly back away, her fingers a knotted mess in front of her. “I’m fine but I should go.”

“Go?” Carmilla huffed as she continued to move closer. “But… but you just got here.”

And you’re busy.

“Yeah, I know, but I just… wanted to welcome you home,” she shrugged, swallowing heavily. “And I did that so…”

“Oh.”

Laura looked away, swallowing hard because even as her heart ached. The disappointment behind that ‘Oh’ was so incredibly loud and obvious. 

But it didn’t matter. Because she’d forgotten something. Something very important. This was just sex. This wasn’t a relationship. Carmilla wasn’t her girlfriend. She was just Laura’s…

Friend. She’s your friend that you’ve been sleeping with and… and that’s all. You know this! she thought, feeling her cheeks heat up as she moved further away.

“Well, you know? If you really wanted to welcome me home, you could do it properly,” Carmilla said, playfully wiggling her eyebrows as she stepped closer, her hands finding Laura’s hips before she could back away again.

Jesus. You are so stupid.

“Not tonight, Carm,” she said, practically staring a hole through her feet.

“Hey, come on, cutie,” Carmilla said, her smirk falling as she grabbed for Laura’s t-shirt instead to keep her close. “I was just teasing you. It was a joke. I wasn’t seriously asking for… it’s just, I’m glad you’re here and… well, I wasn’t expecting to see you tonight.”

“But I just showed up unannounced and… I’m sure you already had plans?” Laura said, knowing her eyes looked wet as she glanced up. But she needed to see Carmilla’s own eyes for this. She needed to be sure.

“Um, well, kind of,” Carmilla shrugged, tipping her head to the side and releasing Laura’s shirt from one hand, only to reach for her fingers instead.

The blonde. She’s waiting for Carm to…

“I mean, nothing exciting or…” Carmilla continued, her gaze so soft that it felt like a punch to the chest. “Nothing that I wouldn’t change if you wanted to stay. Nothing that couldn’t wait.”

Get out of here. Now.

“No. No, it’s fine. You didn’t…” she trailed off, pulling her hand away and shoving both of them deeply into her back pockets. “I just really have to go. My dad…”

“Yeah. Yeah, okay,” Carmilla said, letting her hands fall limply to her side. “I understand. I hope he’s alright.”

“Yeah. Thanks,” she mumbled as she took another step away, the bile continuing to rise in her throat. “I’ll um… I’ll just see you later.”

“Tomorrow?” Carmilla asked, her voice filled with hope. “It’s Friday, so…”

Seriously?

“Oh, um… yeah, maybe,” she said, staring back down at the floor.

“It’ll be fun. I’ll even let you pick the movie without complaint,” she offered, obviously trying to make this right, and Laura nearly broke. This was the Carmilla she adored. Sweet and thoughtful and warm.

And she is. She’s amazing and wonderful and you just want… oh, dammit.

She forced a smile before turning and moving out of the room and toward the door, biting her lip as her eyes burned even harder.

Oh my god. You… you… 

“Hey!” Carmilla’s voice stopped her as she reached for the doorknob and she waited a long moment, unable to leave or to look back. “Can I call you later?”

Confused, Laura turned, seeing Carmilla had followed her and was now standing only a few feet away in the dim hall, staring at her, eyes full of worry and confusion.

“Um… why?” Laura asked, honestly perplexed. “Won’t you be… busy?”

“I told you,” Carmilla started, voice soft. “I’m never too busy for you and I just… I missed you.”

Jesus.

It hurt. A lot. Like a thrust of sharp pain straight through her chest. But what could she do? They were friends. That’s all.

Needing to leave immediately, Laura nodded once deciding she just wouldn’t answer and turned, nearly tripping as she stepped out and let the door softly close behind her.

She’s not yours. You never agreed to be exclusive in this and… just because you want more and have feelings for her… and dammit! Why do I do have feelings for her?

Chapter Text

 

This is going to take a long time 

And I wonder what's mine 

Can't take no more 

Wonder if you'll understand 

It's just the touch of your hand 

Behind a closed door

Wednesday, June 19th, 2019

TriBeCa

“Come now, Carm, you can’t seriously think this is a good idea to waste our time on. It’s so beneath us,” Mattie said as she narrowed her eyes and lifted her wine glass, swirling it once before taking a long sip.

“You know I hate agreeing with her,” Will said as he lifted a piece of Carmilla’s unfinished steak to his already full mouth. “But she’s got a point. This seems a little too small for Opaque.”

“It’s not too small or beneath us,” she argued, slouching back into her chair, smiling at the cringe that crossed Mattie’s face when it creaked ever so slightly beneath her weight. 

It had taken a good forty minutes to convince her sister that there was absolutely nothing wrong with having dinner at a restaurant that wasn’t Michelin Star accredited, but in the end, it was more that Will just forced them inside when he got too impatient.

“It’s a good way for us to keep branching out,” Carmilla continued. “And if we’re looking to expand even further in the next few years, we’re going to have to look at other opportunities.”

“We handle multi-million dollar accounts and you want us to take on these pathetic little side jobs?” Mattie scoffed as she set her glass down atop the white linen-covered table. “It’s bad enough that you still work with your friends. And at a ridiculously discounted rate, I might add.”

“Mattie, this isn’t the time to discuss that,” she said, reaching for her own wine glass and taking a small sip. “Besides, I already talked to mother about this last week and she agrees with me that it would be good for us. To show a bigger range.”

“That’s because you’re the favorite,” Mattie huffed making Will laugh around his last mouthful of food.

“Hardly,” Carmilla chuckled. “More like because I bring in the most clients.”

“Oooh,” Will laughed again as he sat back in his chair, swiping at the corner of his mouth with an already messy napkin, intent on watching the show.

“I still say quality over quantity,” Mattie argued, rolling her eyes in that overly dramatic fashion she was so fond of, and Carmilla couldn’t help but chuckle softly. “And this is most certainly not quality.”

“Look, we haven’t committed to anything yet,” Carmilla said, nodding to the server as he returned with her corporate credit card and quietly slipped away. “But just think about it. Please?”

“Very well,” she sighed, taking another drink from her wine glass. “But I’m not promising anything.”

Carmilla quietly laughed once more, knowing Mattie would eventually give in but that there would still be many arguments and fits to be had before she caved. Which she could totally handle. She’d been dealing with the dramatics since she was eight after all.

The lighting was low as she glanced around the restaurant while Mattie and Will moved on to discuss where they would be heading to next for the evening. She honestly didn’t care and was fine with enjoying the current ambiance. It was dark enough to be intimate but bright enough for her to make out the patrons at the tables nearby. Other duos and trios still in their business attire, out for what appeared to be after-work dinners. Couples on third or fourth dates because the restaurant’s atmosphere was far too familiar to start a first date at. A few lone diners dotted the corners, simply enjoying the time away and the quiet.

Continuing to scan as she took the last sip from her wine glass, the amused smile fell from her face as she noticed a couple at one table looking far too familiar.

She hadn’t seen Laura in a week. Not since her first night back from her San Francisco trip. She’d been absolutely thrilled when she walked off the elevator that evening and Laura was already there, standing outside her apartment, adorably bouncing on the balls of her feet as she waited. She knew that she’d missed the tiny brunette but up until that moment, she didn’t realize just how much. And though it was a frightening amount, it wasn’t scary enough for her to turn the other girl away that night. In fact, spending the evening with Laura, doing whatever the younger girl wanted, was so much more appealing than what she’d originally planned. And it stung far more than it should’ve when Laura suddenly left, obviously upset about something but holding Carmilla at arm’s length.

The apartment had been uncomfortably silent after the door had closed behind her, even with the record Carmilla had put on still playing. She honestly wasn’t sure what had happened in the five minutes she’d been upstairs changing, but it was enough to spook the smaller girl into running off. And sure, Carmilla knew that Sherman still needed help, but she wasn’t naive enough to believe that that was the sole reason for Laura’s incredibly abrupt departure.

But what could she do? She couldn’t force the smaller girl to talk.

Back to her original plans, she’d grabbed her things from her attaché and set herself up in her office to finish some of her work, her phone within reach the entire time. She’d answered a few texts as she’d waited for Laura to call for almost an hour before she got a short and somewhat detached message simply stating ‘I’m going to bed actually. Not feeling well.’ Carmilla had, of course, reached back out asking if there was anything she could do. But Laura never responded.

She also didn’t text Carmilla the next morning like normal and only got back to her well into the afternoon when Carmilla threatened to show up at Sherman’s just to make sure she was alright. Since then it had been mostly silent between them. Laura had canceled their Friday night date and was ‘too busy’ to meet for coffee.

And yet, here she sits, having a candlelit dinner with Lawrence. Fuck.

The couple was actually only a few tables away and Carmilla was baffled as to how she’d missed them before now. They were smiling at each other, eyes soft and goddamn, why did it suddenly feel like a knife had been thrust into her chest, twisting and turning as it dug in deeper and deeper?

“Carm!”

Mattie snapped her fingers from across the table, finally getting her attention and turning back to the table, she noticed the irritated look was mixed with some concern from both her siblings.

“What has you so preoccupied?” Mattie huffed, glancing over her shoulder.

“Nothing,” she said, looking away from their curious gazes and tossing her napkin onto the table. “Can we just get out of here? And go… wherever the hell you two decided.”

“Fine,” Mattie agreed, rising slowly and shooting a questioning glance at Will.

“Are you alright though?” he asked as he stood and buttoned his dark blue sport coat. “You look a little paler than usual.”

“Yeah, fine,” she nodded as she rose, shaking her head. “Just ready to go. I need a real cocktail.”

She quickly grabbed her credit card and shoved it into her wallet, keeping her eyes down as she swiftly walked toward the exit, hating that she had no option but to walk passed Laura and Danny’s table.

But why did all of this matter? So a girl she cared about – as a friend – was out with another friend. That didn’t have to mean anything, right?

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

Her eyes betrayed her though, glancing up just as she was about to pass and meeting Laura’s gorgeous brown ones, sparkling in the candlelight.

“Carmilla?”

Shit.

“Hey,” she mumbled as she stopped next to the smaller girl’s chair, unable to deny how beautiful she looking in her pale blue summer dress, hair down in soft waves, makeup light.

“Karnstein,” Danny nodded with a little smirk. “What’re you doing here? Hot date?”

“Hardly,” Mattie answered with a brilliant smile as she stepped up to the table, Will at her side.

“Hey, guys!” Danny rose from her seat giving Mattie a one-armed hug and fist bumping Will. “I haven’t seen you in forever.”

Carmilla glanced away as the three continued with their greeting, nervously looking up and seeing Laura already looking at her.

“Sorry, didn’t mean to disturb you two,” she said, eyes flittering back and forth from Laura’s concerned gaze to the floor.

“You didn’t,” she said quickly, squirming in her seat. “You aren’t.”

Sure. You’re not disturbing anything when she looks that beautiful. Fucking hell.

“Almost forgot what you looked like,” she said, internally groaning at the sharp tone.

“Yeah,” Laura sighed, eyes wide and anxious. “Sorry I haven’t really seen you since you’ve been back.”

“Hey, no worries. You clearly had a better offer on the table,” Carmilla shrugged, hating how Laura seemed to flinch at the words.

“I wouldn’t say that,” she mumbled before looking away. “Also wouldn’t say I was the one with the offer.”

“What the hell does that mean?”

“Nothing,” Laura said, shaking her head, her eyes now glued to the other side of the restaurant.

Carmilla opened her mouth to push just as Danny sat back down, laughing at something Will had said.

“Would the two of you care to join us for a cocktail?” Mattie asked, still smiling. “We’re heading just a few doors down. Somewhere much more appropriate.”

“Such a snob,” Will chuckled.

“Oh um… well…” Laura trailed off, nervously glancing at Danny, and Carmilla felt her stomach drop.

Just what I need.

“I mean, if you guys don’t mind-” Danny started with a shrug.

“Maybe some other time,” Laura blurted out.  “I um… I have to be back at my dad’s soon.”

“Very well,” Mattie said, moving gracefully to step around Carmilla. “Next time then. Ta.”

“Definitely,” Danny agreed, nodding. “Enjoy your night, guys.”

Carmilla stared for a moment as Mattie continued toward the exit, Will only a step behind her, begging her feet to move. To get her away from this incredibly uncomfortable situation. Shaking her head with a huff, she finally met Laura’s gaze again, feeling her stomach roll. The younger girl looked nervous and worried. And beneath all of that, hurt. But what did she have to be hurt about?

“Whatever,” Carmilla mumbled, turning away. “Enjoy the rest of your…”

Date? Rendezvous? Tryst? Fuck.

But why shouldn’t she? Laura wasn’t hers. They weren’t together. They were just friends. Friends who had been sleeping together for a little over a month now.

But maybe that wasn’t a good thing anymore.

She glanced back once again when she reached the door, noticing Laura’s eyes still on her. Jaw clenched tightly, she turned away and pushed the door open, walking out into the stuffy night air.

Thursday, June 20th, 2019

Hudson River Park

“Come on, Karnstein, don’t wimp out on me now,” Mel chuckled.

“But… this… is… fucking… ridiculous,” Carmilla panted as she doubled over, hands on her knees, a new cramp shooting up her side.

“We’ve barely done a mile,” Mel said as she jogged back to where Carmilla had stopped.

“That’s a mile more… then I was planning to do… today,” Carmilla grumbled, collapsing into the grass. “How in the hell… did you talk me into this?”

“I’m persuasive,” Mel shrugged with a smile, continuing to run in place, knees high.

“You think you’re persuasive. But really… you just promised to buy me… dinner.”

“Hey, you’ve never been that hard-pressed for food or company,” she said, finally stopping and moving closer, towering over Carmilla with her hands on her hips. “So what gives? Why’d you really want to meet today?”

She shrugged and looked away, still trying to catch her breath as she glanced around, watching all the other joggers out for their mid-evening run. Mel finally sat next to her, moving to stretch her legs in a pose Carmilla couldn’t help but be impressed by.

“Charlotte’s a lucky woman,” she said, pushing her sunglasses back onto her nose and looking away as Mel laughed quietly but didn’t say anything in return.

She looked back out in front of her as she wiped at the bit of sweat that had beaded up on her forehead. Much as she hated to admit it, there was a certain beauty to the sun shimmering across the Hudson as it began to rove west through the sky, calming her enough that some of the tension left her shoulders. Of course, it also may have been the fact that her muscles were no longer wildly contracting due to exerting far more energy than she was used to. Still, the run had taken her mind off of things for a few minutes.

It hadn’t been on the agenda for the day. She’d simply stopped by the gym earlier in the afternoon to go over some new specs she’d drawn up the night before when she couldn’t sleep. Mel had been the only one there though so instead of discussing business, the other girl had somehow talked her into joining her for a run that evening. Carmilla wasn’t sure who was more surprised that she’d so easily agreed. But now as she sat there with the grass gently tickling at her calves, she found her mind wandering back to the same topic she’d been worried about all day.

Laura.

Or more specifically, Laura and Danny. Out together. At a nice restaurant. On a date?

“Can I ask you something?” she said before she realized she was even speaking.

“Finally!” Mel laughed beside her. “What’s up?”

“Nothing, I just…” she trailed off for a moment, hating the insecure feeling washing over her.

Even though she’d been friends with Mel for over a decade now, they weren’t the type of friends to share feelings or talk about anything too serious. It had happened on occasion, of course. She’d been there stoic and supportive when Mel had lost her grandmother who raised her their junior year of college. And Mel was the first one on scene when Carmilla got the call from Mattie that her mother had been in a rather serious car accident two years later. But it was always a quiet sort of support. They knew the other one was there and it was enough.

“Karnstein?” she pushed.

“I just…” she tried again, glancing over at Mel for half a second and then turning away again, unsure she could get the words out if she faced her friend. “What’s the deal with Laura and… Lawrence?” 

“What do you mean?”

Dammit.

“I um… ran into them last night at dinner. Looked like… like they were on a date.”

“What if they were?” Mel shrugged.

Carmilla bit the tip of her tongue to keep her expression blank even as it felt like she’d just been punched. That was so not what she wanted to hear.

What if they were? True, because again, why did she care? Laura was only a friend, right? Just because they were sleeping together, that didn’t mean Laura owed her anything. It didn’t mean they had to be only with each other and no one else.

Even though you’ve hardly looked at another woman since she’s come into the picture.

“Well?” Mel pushed after the silence had stretched on uncomfortably long.

“Well, what?”

“Why would it matter to you if they were on a date?” Mel asked. “And for that matter, why wouldn’t you know about it before anyone else? You and Hollis are close as hell.”

“We aren’t,” she argued. “We’re no closer than she is to you guys.”

“Bullshit.”

“And,” she continued, ignoring the outburst, “I just haven’t really talked to her since I’ve been back. So, I just thought that maybe something happened between them while I was gone.”

“You guys have a fight or something?”

“No. Or… hell, I don’t know,” Carmilla shrugged with a sigh. “She seemed upset about something the night I got back but I have no clue why.”

“Shocking, you didn’t ask her,” Mel deadpanned.

“Fuck you.”

“Look, I haven’t really talked to her either,” Mel said, planting her feet into the grass and letting her forearms rest across her knees. “She’s been busy it seems with Sherman and stuff. But I see Lawrence every damn day.”

“My condolences.”

“And not that she would necessarily tell me, but as far as I know, there’s nothing new between her and Laura,” Mel continued with a quiet laugh.

“Nothing new,” Carmilla sighed.

But what about the old?

“No,” Mel said again. “And when we all had dinner last week, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. But… I don’t know. If there is something, maybe they’re just not telling us. I wouldn’t be surprised.”

“Why wouldn’t they tell you?” she asked, turning toward the other girl.

“They didn’t last time.”

Last time?

“They… they were together?” she asked, her voice quieter than she expected. “Before?”

“I don’t know the story because, again, they kept it under wraps,” Mel answered, still looking out at the water, squinting against the light gleaming off it. “Something happened though. Danny went out to visit her like two years ago for a week or two and then Laura flew back with her to spend a week here. We all asked but they never told us what happened. It was just obvious that something went down between them in California.”

“Oh.”

She tried to ignore the feeling of being socked in the chest again but it hurt a little more this time. It was harder to ignore and pretend the ache didn’t exist. 

So there had been something more between them?

“It’s weird,” Mel continued. “I mean, even with them living so far apart, we’ve all just kind of been waiting for it to happen for years now. For them to swear off all the shitty women they date and be together. Because…”

“Because what?” Carmilla asked, curious to see Mel already looking at her when she turned.

“Because it makes sense,” she shrugged.

Carmilla swallowed hard and looked away with a nod. It did make sense. She’d heard for years how much Lawrence cared about the tiny brunette. And though she hated to admit it, Danny would treat Laura the way she deserved. Why should any of this surprise her? Why should it hurt?

“Why didn’t you guys introduce me to Laura then?” she asked after another quiet moment, reaching out and plucking a blade of grass, twirling it between her fingers. “I mean, if she was here…”

“You were still in Chicago,” Mel shrugged.

Oh. Chicago.

“Right.”

“Carm, is there… why are you asking all of this?” Mel turned to her, genuine curiosity etched on her face. “I mean, I know you care about Laura. And you and Lawrence have the weirdest relationship ever but your still friends.”

“She’s still a pain in the ass.”

“Still,” Mel continued. “Is there something going on? With you and… Hollis?”

“No,” she quickly answered, staring straight ahead to avoid Mel’s gaze. “I just… I just wondered.”

Mel stared for another long moment, jaw tight before nodding once and turning away, apparently willing to drop the subject. She stood, brushing herself off and stepped away, starting to jog in place again.

“Come on. Let’s get your mind on something else,” she said, reaching her hand out for Carmilla.

“Something else like what?” she asked as she took it and hauled herself out of the grass, her muscles already protesting.

“Like how sore you’re going to be tomorrow because your ass is so out of shape,” she said as she turned and took off at a slow jog. “Come on!”

“Asshole,” Carmilla grumbled, following with a much less practiced form.

Saturday, November 15th, 2014

4 years, 7 months, and 6 days earlier

Lower Midtown

She huffed as she walked toward the door, another gentle knock coming from the other side just as she pulled it open, somewhat surprised at the guest. She stared at the woman standing there for a long moment before sighing and looking away, moving aside and allowing her to enter.

“I didn’t expect to see you tonight,” she said as she closed the door and moved passed her back toward where she had her laptop set up at the kitchen island, surrounded by a mountain of files that she needed to finish going over. She hoisted herself back up onto the metal barstool, staring at the computer screen even as nothing registered.

“I’m sure you didn’t,” Elle said from behind her, voice soft, and Carmilla heard the sound of her long jacket and purse being set down onto one of the chairs in the living room. “But I was hoping we could talk.”

“Talk about what?” she asked, rolling the mouse across the screen with no real aim.

“About tonight,” Elle said as she moved to the other side of the kitchen island, stopping when she was directly in front of Carmilla. She placed her hands atop the granite surface, fingertips tapping quietly. “About what just happened.”

“There’s nothing to talk about,” she answered with an indifferent shrug.

“Yes, there is. And, Carmilla, darling, I’m truly sorry,” Elle said, her voice full of remorse. “I wasn’t trying to hurt you in any way.”

“You didn’t,” she said, tone quick and sharp. “It’s fine.”

“Then why won’t you look at me?”

Carmilla’s jaw tightened and she exhaled long and slow as her eyes finally moved up to meet the soft hazel ones in front of her. She lifted a pointed eyebrow and shrugged, waiting for more.

“What?”

“Carmilla, I… I didn’t want this to happen. I honestly didn’t think it would,” she sighed.

“Didn’t want what to happen? Didn’t want to get caught?” she scoffed.

“There was nothing to catch,” Elle said, her eyes still soft even as her voice grew firmer. “And though I’m sorry that you’re obviously upset by all of this, I didn’t do anything wrong.”

“Sure.” Carmilla huffed humorlessly, looking back at her computer screen.

“A woman asked me out on a date and I agreed to go,” she continued.

Yes, a date that Carmilla had just happened to walk into the middle of an hour earlier when she’d stepped into one of the local places for a drink and a quick bite to eat on her way home from work. Only to see Elle there with someone else. Smiling. Flirting. Hands touching across the table.

“There was no reason for me to say no. She seemed lovely,” Elle continued. “And since you aren’t interested in more-”

“Who said I wasn’t interested in more?” Carmilla balked, quickly looking back up.

“Well, you did,” Elle said, laughing softly even as her gaze turned cautious. “Carmilla, you’ve been very upfront about this whole situation. You said what we were doing is fun and that… that there was no reason to ruin it.”

Fuck.

She’d uttered the words one night a few weeks earlier and had actually felt guilty as soon as they’d left her mouth. Elle was still lying in bed, sheet pinned to her chest as Carmilla pulled her clothes back on, intent on leaving for the night when Elle had opened the door Carmilla had been successfully avoiding up to that point.

“So, I don’t suppose you have plans this coming Sunday?” she asked.

“Depends on how good the offer is,” Carmilla teased as she pulled her tattered jeans back on.

“Perhaps not the most exciting offer but…” Elle laughed as she trailed off and Carmilla thought she heard a bit of apprehension in her voice. “There’s a dinner that night for the school’s faculty. Nothing incredibly life-altering but my invitation comes with a plus one. If you’re interested.”

Carmilla felt the smile slowly slip from her face as she reached for her thin black sweater and pulled it over her head, attempting to come up with an answer that would cause the least amount of trouble. 

Did she like Elle? Yes. Did she enjoy her company? Absolutely. Was she ready to actually make this about more than casual time spent in bed and bars? …

Finally glancing up at the other girl, Carmilla saw the nervousness sitting in Elle’s eyes.

“Um… actually, I uh… I don’t think I can Sunday night,” she said, running a hand through her hair as she turned away. She reached for her boots and plopped onto the chair at the corner of the room to pull them on. “I have a uh…”

Shit. Since when did she have a hard time lying to girls to get out of something?

“It’s fine,” Elle said, letting her off the hook. “It was just a thought.”

Carmilla glanced up, prepared for disappointment and was surprised when Elle looked as calm and collected as ever.

Huh.

“Sure, it was a nice thought,” she shrugged, finishing up her laces and standing. “But… well, tonight was great.”

“It usually is,” Elle said with a small smile.

“We’re pretty good at the whole thing, huh?” she teased, still feeling her stomach roll uncomfortably, but unsure as to why.

“We do seem to have quite a bit of fun,” Elle nodded.

“Lots of fun,” she said, stepping backward toward the bedroom door. “No reason to ruin it, right?”

Ugh, you idiot.

But after a brief moment, Elle had simply nodded once more with a smile and a little wave as she lay back against the pillows, intent on staying put while Carmilla let herself out.

She’d spent the next few days regretting the words and, unfortunately, avoiding Elle. Though that wasn’t hard since Elle never reached out either. It was only by chance that they passed each other on the street a few days later, both off of their normal route, and they’d agreed to grab a drink. The drink led to other things, of course, but it seemed that everything was back to normal. No damage done.

Except now she’s dating other people and I don’t like it, she thought as she glanced up across the kitchen island to Elle’s patient gaze once again.

“I know what I said,” Carmilla finally grumbled.

“Look, I like you, Carmilla. A lot,” Elle said, leaning forward onto her elbows, her hands landing in the middle of the counter between them. “But I was just trying to respect your wishes. I didn’t want to pressure you into a relationship that you obviously don’t want.”

And she didn’t want a relationship! Right? That wasn’t her M.O. She much preferred the whole casual fun thing to being tied down to just one person. But now… with Elle…

“Well, maybe I didn’t want that but… now…”

She looked up seeing the genuine surprise in Elle’s expression mixed with an infinite amount of understanding.

“Darling, I don’t want you doing this for the wrong reasons. I don’t want this to seem like I’m giving you an ultimatum or anything of the sort. You enjoy things the way they are and, for now, that’s fine. I can cope.”

“For now?”

“Carmilla, I have to be honest,” she shrugged, looking a little uncomfortable even as her eyes stayed glued to Carmilla’s. “Yes, these last few months have been so much fun. You’re actually a really wonderful person to be around and I enjoy your company. I enjoy the time we spend together. But… yes, I like you. Very much. I didn’t intend to develop actual feelings for you but I have.”

Carmilla swallowed hard at the words, having heard them before on countless occasions. But this time, for some reason, it felt different. The panic that usually accompanied them was missing. The worry sitting in her stomach was now centered on something very different.

“I also understand that you don’t feel the same for me,” Elle continued, finally glancing away for a quick moment, the words obviously getting to her. “And that’s perfectly fine. I knew going into this that you never would.”

She pushed herself off the counter and slowly rounded it, reaching out and placing a soft hand atop Carmilla’s where it rested next to her now cold cup of coffee.

“I just wanted to come by and apologize for any ill intent that you thought I may have. Because I never wanted to upset you.”

She squeezed once before turning and moving into the living room to collect her things. Carmilla listened to the sound of her heeled leather boots clicking across the wooden floor planks as she moved toward the door, her chest constricting tighter and tighter with each step.

I don’t want to lose this.

“Have dinner with me,” she suddenly blurted out, her back still to the other girl as the steps halted. 

It was a long moment of silence that followed, ringing through the room. Slowly turning on her stool, she found Elle staring at her, a mix of shock and curiosity. 

“What was that?”

Carmilla sighed and stood from her seat, slowly moving forward.

“I do like you, Elle,” she said as she stopped with a few feet separating them. “I just… I’m not very good at this.”

“At asking a woman out?” Elle said, her lips just barely turning up at the corners in amusement.

“Surprisingly, no,” she chuckled. “Not for an actual date. But… have dinner with me?”

Elle paused for a long moment, still staring with a bit of mirth in her hazel eyes before nodding once and continuing to move toward the door.

“Tomorrow?” Carmilla tried again. “Eight o’clock? I’ll um… pick you up?”

Elle nodded once more as she reached for the doorknob and turned back toward Carmilla, smiling softly.

“It’s a date.”

Friday, June 21st, 2019

Back in the present

SoHo

“Do you um, want another grape soda?” Carmilla called from the kitchen.

“No, thank you. I’m fine,” Laura answered from her spot on the sofa, not even bothering to glance up.

Carmilla rolled her eyes and shut the refrigerator door, slowly shuffling back to the couch and falling onto it with a little huff, making sure to stay tucked into her designated corner.

This was not how she had expected the evening to go. Honestly, she was still surprised that Laura had even shown up. They hadn’t talked since the run-in at the restaurant and sure, she’d been irritated with the situation but…

I still missed her. And maybe… maybe the other night wasn’t what I thought it was.

She’d been in the middle of surfing through what was available on Netflix when a soft knock sounded on her front door just shy of an hour earlier.

Tossing the remote onto the coffee table she grabbed some cash from her wallet and moved down the hallway, fully expecting it to be the food she’d ordered when she opened the door. But instead, she found Laura nervously standing on the other side.

“Hey,” she breathed, her stomach suddenly full of nerves and excitement, caught in a struggle.

Laura offered a weak smile and a tiny wave as she continued to rock back and forth on the balls of her feet, clearly waiting.

Curious, Carmilla stood aside, closing the door after Laura stepped over the threshold, her gray tennis shoes squeaking a little against the wooden floor from the rain that had covered the streets just that morning. She followed as the smaller girl slowly made her way into the apartment, stopping when they were standing in the middle of the open space.

“I didn’t know you were coming by,” Carmilla said, reaching up to adjust her glasses on the bridge of her nose before shoving her hands into her back pockets.

“Yeah, sorry,” Laura mumbled nervously pinching her fingertips and finally glancing up. “I’m not… I’m not interrupting anything, am I?”

“No!” she answered, her tone a little too eager. “No, I was just...” She trailed off once again, pointing towards the television.

Laura nodded once toward the couch, a silent question and Carmilla immediately nodded back. The younger girl carefully made her way over to the sofa and took a seat directly in the middle cushion, sitting a little too stiff to be comfortable. Carmilla slowly followed suit, noticing there was more space than normal between them when she sat, but letting it slide considering how awkward this whole situation had become, though she still wasn’t entirely sure why. She reached forward for the remote, offering it to Laura only for the tiny brunette to shake her head.

“You pick,” she said, her eyes moving from Carmilla to the screen and staying put. “Something you want to watch.”

“Oh. Okay.”

This is so fucking weird, she thought as she rested back against the arm of the couch, finally settling on a movie that was numerous decades older than both of them, but still one she enjoyed. 

Since then, the conversation had been stilted and basic, which was so not them. They weren’t cold and sterile with each other. They didn’t set boundaries. But even when they’d shared the pad thai she’d ordered, the invisible wall that had been erected between them stood tall and firm.

What the hell do I do with this? she thought, now an hour later, the tension having completely overtaken the room.

“So… how was your week?” she mumbled, rolling her eyes at her lame attempt after another few moments of silence had passed.

“Fine,” Laura nodded, glancing over briefly, a solid foot and a half still separating them. “Yours?”

“Same as usual. Did you um… did you do anything fun?” she tried again.

“Not really,” Laura shrugged. “It was pretty boring.”

“You had dinner with Lawrence,” she pointed out before she could stop herself.

Was it a date?

“Yeah.”

She waited for more. Some sort of elaboration on what was actually going on between Laura and the tall redhead. But it seemed that she wasn’t going to get that information for free.

Of course.

“What about you?” Laura asked before she could get snippy. “I’m sure you had some… entertainment.”

“Yeah, because I have an abundance of time to have fun,” she grumbled.

“I don't know how much free time you have.” Laura turned to look at her, eyes curious, the smallest bit of irritation tinting them. “I don’t know what you do… what you do when I’m not around.”

“You want like a list?” Carmilla scoffed. “Bullet points? Maybe numbered? Color-coded?”

Where in the hell was all of this suddenly coming from?

“Carm, no,” she sighed, running her hand along her forehead and closing her eyes tightly for a moment. “Just… just forget I brought it up.”

“Laura, what is going on with you?” she pushed, turning slightly toward the tiny brunette. “I mean, ever since I got back from San Francisco, it’s like you want nothing to do with me. And then, you show up here tonight, completely unexpected, and you want to know what I do with my free time?”

“That’s… that’s not it.”

“Well, then what?” Carmilla asked, her tone softening. “What is it?”

Laura was quiet for a long moment, the only sounds in the apartment coming from the television where Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant continued their over the top comical antics.

“Laura…?”

“Can I ask you something kind of weird?” she started, voice quiet. “Like really weird?”

“Yeah, of course.”

“When you’re not at work… what do you do?” she asked, looking up and slowly tucking her leg under herself as she turned her body toward Carmilla. “Like, do you spend time with Mel or your sister or… anyone else?”

“Not really,” she shrugged, slightly thrown by the question. “Mel and I usually catch up a couple of times a month. I do spend a lot of time after work with Mattie. Sometimes Will but it’s usually just to do more work. And… I spend time with you.”

Laura slowly nodded, chewing at her bottom lip for a moment.

“Can I ask you something else?”

“Cupcake…” she sighed, even as she turned herself, their knees now touching.

“The night you got back from San Francisco… when I met you here,” she started. “You weren’t expecting me.”

“No.”

“But… well, you said you had plans that night.”

“Right…?”

“What were you doing?” she asked, looking down at her hands. “I mean, I know it’s not my business and if I messed something up for you that night or… whatever, I’m sorry. I just-”

“Cutie,” she chuckled, reaching out and placing her hand under Laura’s chin to lift her gaze. “You didn’t interrupt anything that night. I just had some work I wanted to get done.”

Laura’s eyebrows furrowed as she stared, her mouth opening and closing but nothing came out.

“I had a meeting with my mother the next morning that I wanted to be prepared for,” she shrugged, dropping her hand. “I had an idea that I wanted to get her buy in on and… well, the more information you can give her, the more likely she is to actually consider something. So I just wanted to be ready, I guess.”

“You… you weren’t seeing someone else or…” Laura trailed off, suddenly looking guilty.

“Like who? One of the ginger idiots?” she asked with a playful smile. “Or one of the giants?”

“No, I just… I thought maybe you had plans,” she said, sagging a little. “With someone else.”

“Definitely not,” she chuckled. “Seriously, you know I’m not super fond of other people. I don’t… I like spending time with you. No one else really measures up.”

“So, are you… have you um… since we started…” she stumbled.

“Laura, whatever you’re trying to ask me, it’s okay,” she said, voice soft. “I told you once I wouldn’t lie to you. I meant it.”

“I know,” she said, sagging even further into the seat, her knee pushing harder against Carmilla’s. “I’m sorry, I just…”

Carmilla waited for another moment, reaching out for Laura’s hand, but stopping herself at the last second, still unsure if the contact would be welcome.

“Laura, are we okay?” she asked, honestly worried for the answer. “Did I do something to upset you or…?”

“No,” she said, settling in a little closer and taking Carmilla’s hand in hers, skin soft and warm.

And dammit, if it didn’t feel amazing after a week without. But still…

“Are you sure? I know something was up the night I got back and I feel like I made it worse with the whole sex comment, which again, I was joking. I wasn’t even thinking about it that night. I was just… happy you were here. I wanted to spend time with you.”

“I was just having an off night.”

“Yeah, but since then I’ve barely seen you. We hardly talk and I feel like…” She swallowed hard at the next thought. “If I screwed up, I want you to tell me because… well…”

Shit.

“We’re okay, Carm,” she said, squeezing their fingers together once, her expression now unguarded. “I’m sorry I’ve been MIA and… I’m sorry I’ve been a jerk. I got an idea in my head that… well, it doesn’t matter. But we’re okay, I promise.”

Carmilla stared for a moment longer, taking in the sweet but sorrowful expression on Laura’s face.

“My turn?” she finally asked.

Laura nodded, her eyes wide and beautiful.

Just ask her. Just ask what’s up with her and Lawrence. Just get it over with.

“Why’d you really let me pick the movie tonight?” Carmilla asked, chickening out at the last second. “You hate old stuff.”

“Normally I do,” she agreed, turning and settling back against the couch, close enough that their sides touched. “But after all this time, I think I owe you a couple.”

“Well, I appreciate it but I’d rather you not fall asleep from boredom,” she said.

“I’m not bored,” Laura said, looking up and smiling softly. She gently tugged, pulling Carmilla’s hand into her lap, running the pads of her fingers over the tips of Carmilla’s. “I like being here. I like being with you. And I’m sorry I skipped last week. I’m sorry that I was avoiding you. It… you didn’t do anything wrong. I just got in my own head about something really stupid.”

Carmilla kept their gazes locked for another moment before Laura looked away, her eyes finding their braided fingers once more, still smiling soft and content.

So fucking cute.

“Can I do anything to help?” Carmilla tried. “Anything you need.”

But no answer came before Laura’s phone started ringing from the coffee table in front of them.

“Sorry,” she mumbled, reaching for it and answering. “Hey, Danny.”

Carmilla immediately sagged, hating the ache that instantly burst in her chest.

Whatever this was, it was still bothering her and she really wasn’t sure why. Danny and Laura had been friends for far longer than she’d been in the picture. Best friends really. And just because they’d both harbored an on-again, off-again crush on each other over the years, why did that matter to her? Laura wasn’t anything more than a friend.

A friend you’ve slept with multiple times and who you find yourself thinking about more and more because she’s so goddamn adorable and amazing and-

“No, I’m not… no, he isn’t either… well, why didn’t you call first?” Laura giggled, the sound light and airy. Free.

It was a laugh she’d heard Danny pull from the tiny brunette before and she felt disappointment from nowhere suddenly sinking into her chest. Resigned, Carmilla shifted back to her slouched position on the couch, pouting a little bit harder. Her movement had left a bit of space between her and Laura but she noticed curiously that the younger girl still held tight to her hand even as her fingers stayed gentle and soft.

“Yes, you are… no, it’s not… oh, um… well…”

Out of the corner of her eye, Carmilla saw Laura turn and nervously glance over her shoulder, the motion quick before turning away again and shifting anxiously in her seat.

“It is, so I’m kind of spoken for.”

Spoken for?

“Okay, that sounds fine… bye, Danny,” she said, ending the call and setting her phone back on the coffee table. She glanced at Carmilla once before settling back into her seat with a small smile, pressing their sides back together. “Sorry about that.”

“It’s fine,” Carmilla mumbled, not even bothering to look over.

Danny had obviously been hoping for something. Maybe some time with Laura. Maybe she wanted to take her to dinner or to a movie or…

Somewhere other than sitting on a couch with a black and white picture from 1938, she thought with a sigh.

“What did she want?” she finally said, hating that the question had leaked out but needing to know.

“Danny? She’s an idiot,” Laura laughed lightly. “She stopped by my dad’s to see if I wanted to go out for a bit. Was a little confused when the house was completely dark and no one answered the door.”

“Oh.”

Out. Right.

“So, um… did you want me to walk you out or…” she trailed off quietly as she sat up and slid to the edge of the sofa.

Laura looked up from where she was still hypnotized by their hands in her lap, brow furrowed, frowning slightly.

“Are you kicking me out now?”

“No,” Carmilla said, shaking her head. “I just thought… well, don’t you want to see her?”

“Not particularly,” Laura shrugged, attempting to tug Carmilla back to her side.

“What, you have something better to do?” she scoffed, holding firm.

“I think I’m doing it,” Laura said, smiling softly.

Oh.

“Carm, come on,” she giggled. “I mean, I’d happily take all seven if I could but Friday nights are not negotiable. Friday nights… are ours.”

“But…?” she tried again.

“No way around it,” Laura said, tugging a little harder and Carmilla finally let herself fall back into place against the younger girl’s side. “I miss you enough during the week. I’m not giving up my one definite night with you.”

And the way she said it was different than anything Carmilla had heard before. Something in her voice carried more weight and Carmilla hated that she was stumped. Reading Laura had become a second language and at that moment, there was a piece of the story that she wasn’t privy to.

She swallowed hard as Laura rested heavy against her, the tiny brunettes head finding her shoulder to lay on. And once again, she was swimming in the scent of Laura’s shampoo. In the feeling of her warmth.

“We could always figure out another definite something,” she continued, reaching up and fiddling with her glasses.

“I’d happily take all seven,” Laura said with the smallest giggle, snuggling further into Carmilla’s side.

“But what about your time with everyone else? What about…” Lawrence?

“What about them?” Laura looked up at her for a long moment.

She shrugged and Laura just smiled back, leaning into her side, her eyes shifting to the television. And that’s how they sat until it was time for the night to end an hour later.

“Thanks for tonight,” Laura said as she stepped out of the apartment and into the hallway. “I won’t be missing any more of these.”

“I’ll make more time next week,” Carmilla said, leaning against the doorframe. “Just tell me what day.”

“You’re kind of incredible, Carm,” she said, smiling softly and leaning in to leave a quick kiss against her cheek. “You know that right?”

Carmilla just smirked, watching as Laura turned and walked toward the elevator even though she didn’t want to see her go. Having her close for the last few hours after nothing but radio silence for a week was such a welcome relief. She’d missed the tiny brunette. So much. But she still wasn’t completely sure what had happened to make Laura pull away in the first place. Was it something she’d done? Was Laura having second thoughts about them? Or was it because of…

“Hey, Laura?” she called, stopping the smaller girl just as she pressed the call button for the elevator.

“Yeah?” She turned back toward Carmilla, smiling softly and she felt that same nervous energy worming its way through her chest, sharply poking here and there.

“Are you…” she started, her eyes falling to the floor where here bare toes wriggled. “Are you and Lawrence… um…”

“Are Danny and I what?” Laura asked when she didn’t continue.

“Um… well…” she floundered, running a hand through her hair.

Goddamnit. You don’t want to know the answer but you have to find out.

Laura took the few steps back to land her in front of Carmilla, a small, gentle smile on her lips.

“Carm…?” she tried again, reaching out and gently poking her in the stomach. “What is it?”

“What’s up with you and Danny?” she finally got out, swallowing hard as she forced herself to look up.

“What do you mean?” Laura asked, appearing honestly perplexed. “Danny and I are friends.”

“Yeah, I know that. But…” Taking another deep breath, she pushed herself off the doorframe, fiddling with her glasses as she did. “But are you guys friends like… like we’re friends?”

Please say no.

Laura giggled softly, glancing down at her feet for a moment before looking back up. She slowly reached up, cupping Carmilla’s cheek and running her thumb along her jaw as she stepped so close that Carmilla could smell her soft perfume.

“No, Carm,” she said, leaning in and leaving another soft, lingering kiss on Carmilla’s cheek. “I care about Danny. A lot. She’s… she’s one of my best friends.”

Carmilla nodded, biting her tongue to keep from interrupting.

“But you…” Laura trailed off, smiling up at her once more. “You’re you, Carm. And no one is friends like we are. In any way.”

“I kind of like it that way,” she said, shyly glancing up as Laura moved closer, hands landing on her hips.

“Me too,” she laughed quietly, leaning in and pressing their foreheads together for a quick second before pushing off and stepping away. “Goodnight, Carm.”

Carmilla sagged back against the door frame, smiling softly as she watched Laura move toward the newly arrived elevator, stepping in and pressing the button for the ground floor.

“Goodnight, cutie,” she said, feeling her heart thump a little harder in her chest when Laura looked up and offered her the most beautiful smile as the doors quietly slid closed.

 

Chapter Text

I'll use you as a warning sign

That if you talk enough sense then you'll lose your mind

And I'll use you as a focal point

So I don't lose sight of what I want

And I've moved further than I thought I could

But I missed you more than I thought I would

And I'll use you as a warning sign

That if you talk enough sense then you'll lose your mind

Monday, June 24th, 2019

SoHo

She heard the breathy sigh heavy in her ear, the sound mixing with a quiet moan as she nipped a little harder at Carmilla’s earlobe before letting her lips trail lower down the older girl’s neck. It intermingled with the sound of her own breath hitching as Carmilla’s fingers pinched at her nipple with one hand in time with the fingers she was thrusting between Laura’s legs.

“Jesus, Carm,” she mumbled as the older girl pulled free, moving them to circle her clit so perfectly. She pushed herself up against the hardwood living room floor just enough to be able to look into Carmilla’s eyes. They were closed but her shifting caused them to flutter open, the older girl’s brow furrowing slightly as she hiccupped when Laura hit a particularly sensitive spot with the two fingers she had inside the dark-haired girl.

“You okay?” Carmilla panted, her hand moving from Laura’s breast up and into her hair.

“Yeah,” she sighed with a nod. “This just… god, this feels so good.”

“Yeah. It really fucking does,” Carmilla chuckled. “You feel so good.”

Laura’s eyes flicked to her lips, so full and, dammit she wanted to kiss her. So bad.

But that’s not allowed.

So instead, she leaned forward and pressed their foreheads together for a long moment. She relished in the feeling of Carmilla’s fingers tightening in her hair, almost like she was trying to keep Laura close before sagging back down, her lips landing on Carmilla’s neck instead. She attempted to take in everything around her at that moment. The feeling of Carmilla’s skin against hers, slightly sticky but still so soft and warm. The sound of the pants and moans echoing from between her perfect lips. The taste of skin below her mouth as she left little nips here and there, a hint of sweet and a bit of salt, and somehow, uniquely Carmilla. She paused at that spot low on the older girl’s neck that always drove her crazy, letting her teeth sink in a little deeper as she paused before soothing the skin with an open-mouthed kiss.

“Jesus, Laura,” Carmilla sighed, pulling at the roots of her hair even as she held her tighter. “Harder.”

With a slight nod, Laura pressed into the dark-haired girl, thrusting harder and making Carmilla moan louder. 

“No. I meant… yes, god yes. But I want…” Carmilla stumbled, her breath hitching in her throat. “Fuck, bite... again… harder.”

Laura smiled against her neck, her teeth latching on a little tighter to the same spot, the smallest vibration tickling at her lips from the groan echoing in Carmilla’s throat.

“Oh god,” she sighed, tipping her neck back a little further to give Laura more room.

“Never been surprised that you like it a little rough,” Laura teased, lips dancing against Carmilla’s earlobe.

“Shut up, you know exactly what I like.”

The words sunk in, burrowing into her chest, moving deeper and deeper as the seconds ticked by. It was true. Laura did know. She knew every place Carmilla loved to be touched. To be kissed. She dared say that she’d never known anyone else’s body the way she knew Carmilla’s. And it wasn’t just a physical thing. Laura really knew Carmilla in ways she’d never known any other woman. Ways that made her ache for more. But that was a road best avoided for now.

“You’re right about that,” she said, pushing the thoughts from her mind as she hoisted herself up once again so that their gazes met just as she changed the angle of her thrusts, hitting that spot that she knew would drive Carmilla over the edge within a matter of seconds. And she was right.

Carmilla groaned on the next thrust, her entire body going taut, eyes closing, head tipping back, lips parted as she fell over the edge.

And Laura found she couldn’t look away from the sight even if she tried. Seeing Carmilla in these moments and knowing that it was Laura taking her there…

So beautiful.

The dark-haired girl’s eyes suddenly popped open with a gasp, her hold tightening on Laura. Her own fingers slowed and fumbled, her coordination completely gone as Laura pressed harder into that spot along her front wall, her palm driving into the older girl’s clit with every thrust, pushing Carmilla into her second orgasm.

Laura continued to stare for a few seconds longer, eyes wide in wonder as she appreciated the incredible beauty of Carmilla lying there, completely unguarded.

“Fucking hell, cupcake,” she sighed as she collapsed back into the living room rug, eyes once again closed, boneless and sated.

Laura smiled as she adjusted herself, slowly pulling her fingers free, continuing to study Carmilla’s face.

So gorgeous. So amazing and perfect. So-

“Oh shit,” she whimpered when she suddenly felt Carmilla’s fingers start to swirl again.

She watched Carmilla’s eyes flutter open, her lips pulling into a lazy smirk.

“Didn’t think I’d forgotten about you, did you?” she teased, straining upward, her lips landing on Laura’s jaw and making their way further along, finally hitting that spot just below her ear, sending shivers down her spine. “Like that’s even possible, cupcake.”

Laura felt her lips curve up into a quick smile, her arms weaving around Carmilla’s neck while still trying to keep herself aloft, intent on enjoying this. But between the feeling of Carmilla’s lips against her neck, the hand between her thighs and the other trailing down her back, nails undoubtedly leaving a noticeable trail, it didn’t take long.

“C… C… Carm,” she moaned feeling her orgasm suddenly crest and wash over her, more intense than she’d been expecting.

Carmilla chuckled lightly into her neck, her other hand coming to rest on Laura’s lower back and pulling her closer, keeping her there until the wonderful sensation passed. A long moment later, Laura collapsed on top of her, still trembling as she came back to herself, Carmilla’s hands now stroking up and down her back, fingers soft.

She giggled when Carmilla hit a sensitive spot along her side and pushed herself off, flopping onto her back beside the older girl.

This wasn’t the reason she’d come over that night. She’d honestly just wanted to see Carmilla. They’d missed coffee that afternoon since she’d gotten stuck in a meeting so they’d decided to spend the evening together instead. They’d planned on just watching a movie but Carmilla had looked so good when she’d opened the door, standing there in those tight, tattered jeans and a fitted black tank top, hair down in soft waves, glasses slightly askew on her nose that Laura hadn’t been able to help herself. They hadn’t even made it to the couch before Laura had wrapped her hands around her waist and pulled her in, their lips meeting quick and intense. 

“Wait, what’s wrong?” Carmilla asked, hands cupping Laura’s face and gently pulling them apart.

“What do you mean?” Laura asked, her fingers still gripping tight.

“I… are you upset about something?” she asked, her right thumb gently brushing across Laura’s cheek. “Did something happen?”

“No,” she answered, completely thrown by the question. “Why?”

“Well, I mean…”

Carmilla shrugged and Laura almost backed off then and there, worried that she’d crossed that invisible line they’d been toeing.

She doesn’t want to sleep with you just because, she chastised herself. That’s not what she agreed to.

But just as she’d opened her mouth to apologize profusely, she watched as the older girl’s eyes flicked down to her lips at the same time that her hands threaded through Laura’s hair, keeping her close.

“I mean, as long as you’re okay. And you’re sure,” she said, her eyes the slightest bit heavier as she continued to stare.

“Carmilla,” she started with a small smile. “Just shut up so I can kiss you.”

The kiss had grown heated almost immediately and they’d shuffled toward the couch, awkwardly falling onto it just as hands started to roam under clothes.

It was stupid. Laura knew that. She knew that they couldn’t keep this up because every time they slept together, her feelings grew just a little stronger for the dark-haired girl. But she couldn’t help it. She liked Carmilla. A lot. And she wanted the older girl. More than she’d wanted anyone else in a really long time. She just couldn’t seem to stay away.

Laura blinked slowly, staring up at the ceiling from her spot on the hardwood floor, feeling her skin beginning to cool even as her arm resting against Carmilla’s stayed warm, the older girl’s skin soft.

“What the hell was that?” Carmilla asked from her spot next to Laura, still a little breathless.

“Carmilla, how many times have we had sex now?” she giggled quietly. “You should know what that was.”

“True, but I wasn’t sure if we were still…” she trailed off and Laura felt her shoulders begin to tense as she waited. “I mean, we haven’t had sex in like two weeks.”

“Well… no,” Laura said, turning and taking in Carmilla’s profile, the dark-haired girl’s eyes still closed, lips slightly parted. “I mean, you were out of town and then…” She swallowed hard as she trailed off with a shrug, looking away and not wanting to think about the rest of the reason.

Why would I want to think about you and other women?

Because even if Carmilla had admitted that she didn’t often spend time with anyone else, she never actually said that she was only sleeping with Laura. And she honestly wasn’t super keen on sharing Carmilla. With anyone. But giving her up…

“I mean, not that we have to sleep together,” Carmilla said.

Laura turned again, her eyes meeting Carmilla’s this time, the other girl now staring at her with a look she couldn’t quite place.

“No, we don’t have to,” she agreed. “I just…”

Care about you. Want you. Have all these feelings for you.

“Cupcake, what’s going on here?” she asked, almost as if she knew Laura was caught in an internal struggle.

“I… it’s just…” she said, looking back up at the ceiling. “I don’t know.”

Idiot.

“Hey,” Carmilla sighed as she rolled onto her side, propping her head in her hand, and slowly reaching her other out, gently brushing at Laura’s cheek. “What is it?”

“It’s… it’s nothing.”

I can’t tell you that I want more.

“Are you sure?”

Laura nodded slowly, shooting the older girl a fake smile, and sat up, pressing her back to the foot of the couch. Carmilla followed, moving closer but keeping the smallest amount of space between their sides. She reached over for her glasses that were sitting on the coffee table, pushing them onto her face before turning toward Laura once more.

“So um… you’re okay then?” she asked again.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Laura said, reaching for her underwear and shimmying them up her legs from her seated position. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to force this tonight or… if you didn’t want to-”

“I didn’t say that,” Carmilla huffed.

“Yeah, but…” She sighed heavily, glancing over at the dark-haired girl for a quick second, still seeing the patience in her eyes.

Of course, because she’s always patient with me. With this whole stupid arrangement!

“Carm,” she started, turning toward her but keeping her eyes on her hands in her lap. “You know if you don’t want to keep doing this… we can stop.”

“I didn’t say that either. But, Laura…” she continued. “Do you want to stop?”

Laura looked up into those dark brown eyes, searching. For regret. For worry. For…

Any indication that this means more to her.

But despite how hard she looked, she couldn’t find any of those things there. No, all she continued to see was the patience. The understanding.

And even as she felt her heart sink a little more, she found herself slowly shaking her head.

“No,” she said, her voice barely above a whisper.

“Okay,” Carmilla nodded. “Then we won’t stop.”

Laura watched as Carmilla settled further back against the foot of the couch, her gaze moving from Laura and around the room and back twice, nervously.

“So um…” she started, reaching up and fiddling with the black frames on her face. “We didn’t see each other this afternoon but how was the rest of your day?”

“Stop,” Laura said with a small smile, reaching over and grabbing onto Carmilla’s hand to still her.

“Stop what?”

“You always play with your glasses when you’re anxious,” she said, watching Carmilla’s eyes soften even as her brow furrowed.

“Oh. Sorry, I just…”  She shrugged once, reaching for the frames again. “I mean, you’re here and…”

And we’re done, Laura thought, feeling her chest begin to cave in all over again.

“Yeah. I know. Don’t worry,” Laura said, turning away and slowly standing. She reached for her bra, quickly pulling it on, her face falling completely as she did, cheeks burning with embarrassment. “You don’t have to ask.”

“I don’t have to ask what?”

Laura heard the older girl behind her, starting to shuffle into her own clothes and she wondered at how they always found themselves having these discussions in the nude.

“You don’t have to ask me to leave,” Laura said, her voice barely audible. “I’m going.”

“No, that’s not…” Carmilla sighed heavily behind her, hoisting herself to her feet. “Fuck, cutie, I’m not anxious because you’re still here.”

“Carm, it’s okay. I understand.”

“No, you don’t. Because… well, you know, you don’t have to rush off,” Carmilla said. “I mean, unless you want to. Unless you have other plans.”

“Other plans like what?” Laura asked, pulling her shorts on, the frayed edges tickling her thighs, but keeping her eyes away from Carmilla. If she looked now, she didn’t know if she’d be able to handle it.

“I don’t know. Like if you were off to do something else or… see someone.”

“This was definitely the extent of my plans tonight,” she said, cringing as the words left her mouth. “I mean, not this but… seeing you. That’s all I wanted to do.”

She finally turned as she drew her white t-shirt over her head, watching as Carmilla pulled her pants back on.

“Laura,” she started, working on her belt instead of looking up. “I don’t mind you being here after… dammit.” She sighed, running a hand through her hair and finally glancing up to meet Laura’s gaze. “I know I was a huge asshole that first time. And I know it’s always a little awkward between us after we do this. But it doesn’t have to be.”

“I don’t… I don’t want it to be,” she sighed. “But I just worry that… I just don’t want to cross any lines.”

Or lose you.

“Then stop worrying!” Carmilla said, smiling softly. “Laura, I like you around whether we’re doing this or not.”

“I…” She sighed heavily, pulling at her left ring finger as she glanced around the floor before meeting Carmilla’s eyes once again. “I know you like having me around.

“So then you must know that you don’t have to run off after we sleep together,” Carmilla continued. “Unless you want to.”

“I… I don’t,” she finally said, pulling harder, the internal struggle growing stronger. To stay meant more time with Carmilla. More time basking in her presence and laughing and smiling and being able to reach for her at any moment. But it also meant more time for her to stare at the older girl. To feel her heart beat faster and faster as her stomach rolled and she continuously reminded herself that Carmilla wasn’t hers.

“Then stay. We can watch a movie and order a pizza or… whatever you want,” she said, still smiling softly, hopefully. She stood there for a long moment, shirt still clenched in her fist before reaching up and adjusting her glasses again. “Please?”

“Carm,” Laura finally giggled, unable to help herself as she stepped forward, gently stopping her hand once more.

“Stay,” Carmilla said again, keeping hold of Laura’s hand as their arms dropped to their sides. “I really want you to stay.”

Laura stared back for a moment, her eyes searching Carmilla’s, getting lost in just how beautiful they were. In how much she loved them.

You are in so much trouble.

Finally, she slowly nodded, warmth shooting up her arm and into her chest when Carmilla squeezed their fingers together once and happily smiled at her.

Wednesday, December 28th, 2016

2 years, 5 months, and 28 days earlier

Chicago

“You want another one?” Carmilla asked as Laura tossed her empty paper cup into a trashcan they were passing.

“Carmilla, you’ve bought me two hot chocolates, a cupcake, and like a dozen cookies,” Laura giggled, shoving her hands into her coat pockets. “I mean, I’m extraordinary, I know. But I think I’m at my limit on sugar for the moment.”

“Hey, you didn’t have to ingest it all,” Carmilla shrugged. “But that fact that you did is pretty fascinating.”

“You know, you don’t have to pay to keep me entertained or…” Laura trailed off, looking at the dark-haired girl just as Carmilla glanced over. “Despite my initial hesitation and to my complete surprise, I’m actually having a nice time just walking around here with you.”

“My company is pretty fantastic,” she smirked.

“So far,” Laura teased, making Carmilla chuckle lightly. “Plus all the pretty lights help.”

They were silent for a moment as they continued to walk down their current path, back toward the front of the zoo, pace slow, bodies close.

She wasn’t lying. She really had been enjoying the time with Carmilla. The sweetness that the dark-haired girl had exhibited in the diner hadn’t diminished in the slightest. She’d been respectful, never pushing for more than Laura was willing to share and, even though it seemed that they had gravitated closer and closer to one another as the evening wore on, she’d still kept that bit of physical separation in check. Carmilla had even asked about twenty minutes earlier if Laura was still okay, and she was even more surprised to find she was in no hurry to say goodbye to the other girl. In fact, she was starting to dread the seconds ticking by as they moved her closer and closer to parting.

But maybe we don’t have to do a full on goodbye, she thought, glancing over to see Carmilla continuing to look around at the lights. I mean, she did give me her number. Maybe…

“So you fly back tomorrow?” Carmilla suddenly asked as if reading her mind.

“Yeah,” she nodded, her face falling a little, not just at the thought of leaving but at what she would be going back to. “I’m not exactly looking forward to going home and seeing…”

A half-empty apartment.

“Hey, we don’t have to talk about it,” Carmilla was quick to say, gently bumping her shoulder against Laura’s in a comforting gesture.

Laura smiled softly at her and nodded, once again grateful for the understanding.

“How about you tell me something about you then?” she tried instead.

“Like what, cupcake?”

“Well, beyond your habit of doling out annoying nicknames, what do you normally tell women about yourself?”

“You mean when I’m not trying to hit on them?” Carmilla said, smiling playfully as Laura rolled her eyes.

“Fine,” she sighed. “Tell me… tell me what you did for Christmas this year.”

“Well, I started the day with a massive hangover. Tequila always kicks my ass and honestly, I should know better by now,” she said, steering them along another path. “So after I took some aspirin and drank like a gallon of water, I napped on the couch for a bit. Woke up and watched a few of those super old Christmas movies. The black and white ones.”

“This Christmas sounds awful,” Laura said with a grimace.

“And then,” she chuckled, “I ordered in food and spent the rest of the evening working.”

“You didn’t see your family?” Laura asked, suddenly feeling the loneliness in her chest. The same loneliness she’d felt for the last week.

“No,” she shrugged. “My mother was in town for a few days before but she had other plans. And my brother and sister were in Europe.”

“So, you guys aren’t close?” she asked, sniffling a little as a quick gust of wind hit them, the chill instant.

“No, we are. We just don’t really celebrate holidays or anything. We used to but now, I guess it’s just another day for us.”

“Oh,” she sagged, unable to even begin to imagine a holiday where she and her dad would just move through it as if nothing was different. This was actually the first year she hadn’t spent with him and her friends. “That’s um… that’s kind of sad.”

“Well, what would you have been doing if you were with your family?”

“Baking cookies and fudge. Watching Christmas movies. Current ones with real sound and color,” she said pointedly. “Having a big dinner with my dad and my friends and some of their parents and grandparents.”

“Well, that sounds vomit-worthy.”

“Hey!” she giggled, pushing her elbow into Carmilla’s and just barely knocking the now chuckling girl off her step.

Laura shook her head, attempting and failing to fight the smile tugging at her lips.

“Well… I’m sorry you didn’t get that this year,” Carmilla said, all traces of teasing gone from her voice.

Laura looked to her left, the softness in Carmilla’s eyes warming her just the slightest when they met her own.

“It’s okay,” she said quietly.

Carmilla nodded once and turned back toward the path in front of them, her hands shoved deep into the pockets of her leather jacket. Laura watched for another moment before following suit, the quiet between them not uncomfortable but echoing in her ears a little louder than it should have. Maybe because it was the holidays and she was still sad about missing time with her family. Maybe because it had been an incredibly lonely week. Or maybe it was because she was really starting to like the sound of Carmilla’s voice. The slight rasp to it left her feeling warm. It surrounded her, comforting and safe.

“Thanks again for… well, all of this,” she suddenly said, turning toward the dark-haired girl.

“Are you preparing to say goodnight?” Carmilla asked with a small smile.

“No! No, I was just… I mean, unless you wanted to say goodnight. This is just really nice and I appreciate it and you and…”

Carmilla’s chuckle cut her off and she turned, taking in the amused expression on her beautiful face.

“No,” she said again. “I’m not saying goodnight. Not yet.”

“So, I still have some time to make this holiday a little better for you?”

“Yeah, you still have time,” Laura quietly giggled.

“Well, in that case, what’s your favorite movie?” Carmilla asked. “For Christmas?”

“I actually like the cartoon ones,” she admitted, blushing a little. “Charlie Brown. The Grinch. Those types.”

Carmilla nodded, appearing to think for a moment before reaching for the arm of her jacket and pulling her along.

“Come on.”


“This is amazing,” Laura smiled wide. “How did you pull this off?”

“Oh, you’d be surprised by what people are willing to do for the right amount of money,” Carmilla said as she sat further back in her seat and ran a hand through her already perfect hair.

“Carmilla!” she cried, her tone a pitch higher than normal. “You didn’t have to do this.”

“Relax, cupcake,” she chuckled. “It’s a Wednesday night and it’s freezing so it’s not like they had a huge crowd to cater to. They’re more than happy for our patronage.”

“But still,” Laura continued. “I just… this is really nice and very sweet but you didn’t have to rent out the entire room.”

“Maybe I wanted to,” she said, turning and smiling softly, their eyes holding as Carmilla’s grin turned teasing and she handed over the bucket of still warm popcorn she held.

Laura felt her smile growing as Carmilla continued to stare at her, those dark eyes playful and gorgeous. Finally, the other girl cocked one of those perfect eyebrows and Laura couldn’t help but giggle and turn away.

“Thanks,” she said, taking a few of the offered buttery kernels and popping them into her mouth, chasing them with a sip of soda.

She looked up to the screen as the lights around them dimmed, smiling wide when the first few piano chords of Christmas Time is Here echoed throughout the mostly empty theater, the only other seats occupied by a few of the theater workers sitting near the front.

They sat in silence for the next half hour, arms just barely whispering against each other every now and then, watching A Charlie Brown Christmas on the big screen, and Laura couldn’t stop smiling the entire time. It was so perfect and amazing and the fact that a woman who was practically a stranger had done this for her…

“How was that?” Carmilla asked when it ended, glancing over.

Laura turned, still able to make out her beautiful features in the mostly darkened theater, eyes roving over her face for a moment.

“This is… this is making this holiday so much better,” she finally said. “Again, thank you. This… it’s kind of incredible.”

“No big deal, cutie.”

“Sure,” she giggled lightly. “No big deal that a woman who I barely know has spent the last few hours being kind to me for no reason.”

“Who says I don’t have a reason?”

“Oh?” she smiled. “What’s your reason?”

“That you have possibly the most beautiful smile I’ve ever seen and the more charming I am, the more I get to see it.”

“Are we back to flirting?”

“You know, flirting doesn’t always have to lead to more, cupcake,” Carmilla shrugged. “Sometimes… it’s just nice. Fun.”

“I suppose you’re right,” she nodded. “It can be when the other person doesn’t automatically expect something from you.”

“See?” Carmilla smirked, readjusting herself in her chair, the old vinyl seat noisily protesting. “I don’t expect a thing beyond getting to see you smile.”

That smile spread across her face once more, eyes glancing away as she felt her cheeks just barely heat up. Thankfully, she was pretty sure Carmilla wouldn’t be able to pick up on that in the dark.

“You know, you’re reminding me that there are still good people out there,” she finally said, looking back up at the screen and waiting for the next picture to start.

“Hey, Laura,” Carmilla mumbled from beside her, the tone of the dark-haired girl’s voice completely different than anything she’d heard all night, and when she turned, she saw the sorrow in Carmilla’s eyes. “I don’t… I don’t know what happened to you but… I’m sorry that it did.”

Laura stared for a moment, the other girl somehow seeming a little smaller in her seat, the words welling up in her throat as the seconds ticked by.

“It was a breakup,” she almost whispered, watching Carmilla’s eyebrows rise ever so slightly.

“Hey, you don’t have to tell me,” she said, moving closer but not touching.

“I know but…” Laura paused for a long moment, swallowing hard. “I had planned this trip months ago. Thought it would be great for us to have some time away from work and responsibilities and… everything.”

Carmilla nodded, turning just a little in her seat, all of her attention on Laura.

“I um… I flew out first,” she continued, still a little surprised she was telling the story. But Carmilla had been so incredibly kind and understanding that she couldn’t seem to stop the words from escaping. “My girlf- my ex was in San Diego on business so she was supposed to come out the day after. She um… she called me a few hours after I got here. She said she wasn’t coming and that she’d have her stuff out of my place by the time I got back.”

“Fuck, that’s… that’s terrible,” Carmilla said, shifting again so that the sides of their hands brushed. “I can’t believe someone would do that to you.”

“It gets worse,” she huffed humorlessly. “She’s um… she’s been seeing someone in San Diego for months now.”

It was quiet again for a long moment and when she finally looked up, Carmilla’s eyes were already on her. Patient. Caring. Sad.

“She doesn’t deserve you,” she finally said.

“You don’t even know me,” Laura argued.

“I know enough. And she doesn’t deserve you,” Carmilla repeated.

Laura smiled softly, her hand unconsciously reaching for the other girl’s just as the lights went down for the next show, fingers barely touching.

“Thank you,” she whispered again.

“My pleasure, creampuff,” Carmilla said, keeping their hands close.

And as they watched The Grinch and then Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer in silence, Laura found herself holding on tighter and eventually pulling their joined hands into her lap, gently playing with the soft fingers braided into hers.

Thursday, June 27th, 2019

Back in the present

SoHo

Laura blew out a frustrated puff of air as the elevator doors smoothly slid open, revealing the marble floor and dark walls of the hallway she had become incredibly familiar with over the last few months. She exited, her sneakers quietly squeaking as she made her way toward Carmilla’s apartment door.

It had been a long day.

Long week, she sighed as she raised her hand to knock. Hell, long year.

And honestly, that particular day wasn’t so different from the others. She’d spent it doing the things she normally would, taking care of whatever needed to be done and helping her dad in whatever way he wanted. But after being at the house without any real breaks or deviations for the last few days, she’d found herself pacing the place, unsure of what to do with herself and eventually driving her dad crazy.

“Go. G-Get out,” he’d said after she’d fluffed the couch pillows for the third time that evening.

“You’re kicking me out?” she’d asked, honestly thrown by the request.

“Yes,” he’d chuckled. “You’re g-going stir-crazy here. S-So go out for a b-bit.”

“But-”

“Go!”

She’d tried to argue some more and pouted for a bit, but it was no use and eventually, Sherman had stood on unsteady legs and simply left the room while she was in mid-argument.

So she was left to decide what to actually do with herself. She knew she could call one of her friends. LaF and Perry would be more than happy to have her company but they’d just stopped by the night before with some vegan cookies Perry had whipped up. Danny was around as the tall redhead had called her earlier to see about having dinner, but for some reason, she’d declined the offer before Danny could even try to talk her into it. Mel and Kirsch were both at the gym still. She knew this since both had already tried to get her to come down for a class or two to burn off some of her unused energy. But that was less than appealing.

That only left one other person. And it had only taken Laura five minutes to change her shirt, comb her fingers through her hair, and throw on her sneakers.

She knew Carmilla might not be home, what with the obscene hours she’d been pulling lately at work. So if she wasn’t, Laura would head back to her dad’s, counting the brief outing as more than enough time away. But if she was home, maybe they could spend the evening together. What they’d do with the time didn’t matter.

So long as it’s with her, I really don’t care, Laura thought as she knocked once more, waiting for a likely overly casual Carmilla to open the door. But she was not prepared for the sight that greeted her ten seconds later when it finally swung open. Carmilla looked… stunning.

The strapless red dress, hugging every curve of her body and ending just below the knee. The black heels accentuating every inch of those perfect legs. Hair down, a little more makeup than usual.

“Wow,” she sighed quietly, gaze roaming over the older girl before meeting Carmilla’s incredible dark eyes.

“Hey, cutie. I didn’t know you were stopping by,” she said, obviously surprised. “Did we have plans?”

“No, sorry,” Laura said, shaking herself out of her stupor. “I just…”

She looked at the older girl again – at how utterly gorgeous she was – and suddenly felt her heart begin to sink down into her stomach.

“I’m interrupting something, aren’t I?” she asked, voice quiet and unsure.

“No, not at all.”

“Are you…”

Alone? But she couldn’t bring herself to ask.

“Come in,” Carmilla said, pushing the door open and stepping aside.

“But you look… you were on your way out,” Laura said, as she carefully stepped into the apartment and moved down the entry hall, still looking around just in case. But the apartment appeared to be empty.

“I am. Or I was, but it’s nothing important,” Carmilla stumbled. “Work thing.”

Laura heard heels clicking behind her, passing her as Carmilla moved further into the room, her eyes still carefully studying Laura.

“Can I get you a drink or something?”

“No,” she said, looking down at her feet, fingers worrying together in front of her. “I’m fine, thank you.”

“Hey, is everything okay?” Carmilla asked, stepping back toward her. “Did something happen? Is it your dad?”

“No. No, he’s okay. He’s doing better. Much better and the doctors were really happy with his progress at his appointment today,” she said, smiling softly for a quick second. “But… he’s not quite there yet and still needs help for the foreseeable future.”

“So you’re going to be around for a little longer?” she asked with a small, crooked smile.

But Laura simply nodded and glanced away, feeling the ache and pull between staying here for her dad and going back home where her life was waiting.

“Hey,” Carmilla said, reaching to tip her chin back up, forcing their eyes to meet. “You know, you’re not a bad person for wanting to get your life back, cutie.”

Laura’s eyes widened, stunned that Carmilla had picked up on her feelings so easily. But why should she be surprised? Carmilla knew her. Better than almost anyone.

“Laura, you gave up a lot to be here for him. And it was the right thing to do. But I get it,” she shrugged, sliding her hand along Laura’s jaw. “You didn’t want your life here. You’ve made something for yourself and right now that’s all on hold.”

“I don’t even feel like it’s on hold anymore though,” Laura sighed. “I feel like… like it’s just slowly slipping away. Like I’m losing bits and pieces of it as more time goes on and I…”

She glanced away for a quick second but Carmilla stayed close, her thumb brushing gently along Laura’s cheek.

“Did something happen back home?” Carmilla asked when she didn’t continue.

“Kind of,” Laura shrugged, looking away again even as she relished the feeling of Carmilla’s warm hand against her face. “It’s stupid though.”

“Talk to me.”

“It’s not important. It’s just… I lost my spot on the bi-weekly paper I was part of,” she said, feeling her heart drop once again. “Which, I mean, it’s not a big deal. I only wrote for it to keep myself sharp and it’s a tiny paper so… it’s not like it matters.”

“It does matter,” Carmilla said, stepping closer and taking both of her hands, stopping them from knotting together as she gently squeezed. “Laura, that was part of your life, big or small.”

“But what did I expect? I mean, I’ve been here for six months,” she scoffed. ”They can’t just keep me on staff when I’m not contributing anything.”

“I understand that, cupcake. But that doesn’t mean you just have to shrug it off like it’s nothing.”

“I know,” she sighed, her fingers squeezing at Carmilla’s. “It’s just one more thing. One more piece that’s gone and…”

She looked up from where their fingers were interlaced, Carmilla’s soft gaze still on her, and took in the older girl once more.

God, she’s so incredibly gorgeous. And now, you’re here taking her away from her life. You’re a terrible friend.

“I’m sorry, Carm,” she said, letting go of the older girl’s hands and stepping away. “You have other things to do and I just thought… I’ll go. Enjoy your night.”

“No. Stay.” She looked up into those dark eyes, so sweet and understanding. “Just give me a minute, okay?”

“Are you sure because-”

“Yes,” she interrupted, stepping closer. “Stay. Just… I’ll be right back.”

Laura simply nodded, watching as Carmilla turned and grabbed her phone from where it sat on the kitchen island before walking down the hallway and into her office, her heels clicking rhythmically along the hardwood. Laura saw the door swing on its hinges, staying open just enough for a beam of light to creep through. Still unsure, she stood in the middle of the room, bouncing from foot to foot as she waited.

She really should leave. This wasn’t fair to Carmilla. It was asking too much.

Just because you’re losing your life, that doesn’t mean she deserves for you to take hers.

Nodding her head, she decided to wait until the older girl returned before saying her goodbyes and heading back to her dad’s. She moved further into the living room, intent on heading for the closest chair while she waited when Carmilla’s exasperated tone leaked down the hallway.

“Look, I’m sorry. Something else came up tonight.”

Laura stopped, the heavy sigh from the older girl keeping her in place.

“I know and I’m sorry… yes, I’ve canceled before… we can do it another time but I’m sure you’re more than capable of finding someone else to occupy you for the night.”

Oh god, Laura cringed in realization, her heart plunging into her stomach. She has a date. She has a date and you are a total idiot.

Turning, her heart in her throat, she attempted to make her way to the front door as quickly and quietly as possible.

“Yeah, sure, that’s fine,” she heard Carmilla’s voice growing louder. “I’ll see you then.”

Crap!

Hurrying along, she was just about to round the corner when Carmilla’s voice stopped her.

“Hey, where are you going?” she asked.

Laura glanced over her shoulder, shrugging and feeling the rolling sensation in her stomach when she saw Carmilla walking toward her, looking confused and beautiful, and dammit, why did this have to be so complicated?

“I shouldn’t have just barged in on you like this,” she mumbled, the words strained. “I’m sorry. Go ahead and… have a good night.”

“No, Laura, stop,” she said, tossing her phone onto one of the end tables. “I’m not doing anything tonight.”

“Carm…” she sighed in frustration, biting at her bottom lip.

Just get it over with.

“It wasn’t a work thing,” she continued. “You… you have a date.”

The word had her stomach churning even more as she thought about Carmilla out to dinner with another woman. Talking and teasing. Laughing and flirting. Light touches that would get more and more risqué throughout the night before Carmilla brought said woman home and…

Oh god.

“What? Laura, no, I just told you,” she said, shaking her head.

And suddenly Laura wasn’t just sad. She wasn’t only hurt. She was angry. Angry and frustrated and about a dozen other emotions, all negatively aimed at Carmilla.

The least she can do is own up to it!

“I thought you weren’t going to lie to me,” she seethed.

“Cupcake, I’m not lying,” Carmilla said, her voice going even softer. “I was meeting Mattie tonight.”

“Looking that amazing?” she scoffed. “Nice try!”

“Mattie’s a total snob,” she said with a shrug. “Sometimes I have to play by her rules when we go out and you have to look the part when you go to a place that charges you twenty bucks for a glass of flat water.”

“And you had to call her from your office because…?”

“The contract she wanted to go over is on my laptop. Which is in my office,” Carmilla said, the right side of her lips just barely tipping up. “I wanted to send it to her before I called just in case she still wanted to look it over tonight.”

Laura stared for a moment waiting for more, unsure of what to think. Sure, maybe Carmilla was going out to discuss work with Mattie. But that didn’t cover everything.

“Laura, I swear I didn’t have a date tonight,” she said again.

“Tonight, fine” Laura started, knowing this wasn’t going to end well, but unable to help herself. “What about other nights?”

“What about other nights?” she parroted back, brow furrowed.

“What about the woman a few weeks ago?” she sputtered, hands now erratically moving in front of her. “Kirsch said you left the bar with someone while you were out with him being his ‘wingman.’ Which, gross by the way.”

“Yeah, I did,” Carmilla chuckled. “Her name’s Rachel and she’s an old friend of Will’s. She’s also far more into him than me given that she’s straight.”

“He said you were flirting with her!”

“Well, Kirsch sucks at flirting. You could be talking about accounting and he wouldn’t know the difference.”

“But you left with her!” Laura cried. “He may suck at flirting, this is true, but his eyesight is pretty damn good!”

“Yes, I did leave with her because watching the giant man child try to pick up women is just painful. So when she left, I took the opportunity and walked out with her,” Carmilla shrugged. “After that, I came home and I called you. Your dad had a headache that night and you didn’t want to leave him, so we stayed on the phone and watched that stupid movie with the toys that are alive and incredibly obnoxious.”

Laura stopped, closing her mouth as that night came back to her. They’d put Toy Story on - at Laura’s request - and watched the entire movie while on the phone, talking and laughing through more than half of it.

But that doesn’t explain everything.

“Fine. Then what about… what about Samantha?” she spat out, the name sending shivers up her spine. That was where this whole thing started. That stupid text she’d seen.

Samantha-blonde at Macao (8:42 PM): Hey, let me know when you get in. I’ll be right over to keep you company.

“Who?” Carmilla asked, seeming to think.

“The woman who was texting you the night you got back from San Francisco,” Laura said. “I’m assuming by the way she was labeled in your phone that you met her at some bar, which, again, really, Carmilla? You couldn’t manage to get a last name? Did you learn nothing from sleeping with me in Chicago?”

“You went through my phone?” Carmilla asked, tipping her head ever so slightly to the side, an amused expression crossing her features.

“No, of course not! I would never!” Laura argued, rolling her eyes when Carmilla raised a questioning eyebrow. “It was sitting there on the coffee table when she messaged you and… well, I was sitting there too while you were upstairs getting changed!”

Carmilla sighed, running a hand through her hair and kicking her shoes off and to the side before stepping closer.

“I’m not sleeping with her,” she said, stopping when she was only a couple feet away from the tiny brunette.

“So what, when she comes over to keep you company, you guys play board games? Read books together?” Laura huffed.

“Usually checkers. Sometimes Monopoly if we’re feeling really frisky,” Carmilla shrugged.

“You are such a jerk!” Laura said, turning and starting back toward the door.

“Laura, come on! Stop,” Carmilla said, catching up and reaching for her, hand gentle on her elbow. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have made a joke about it.”

“It’s fine. Make all the jokes you want,” Laura said, shaking her head. “It’s none of my business.”

“Maybe not but… she’s someone I met like a year ago. I don’t actually know her last name, this is true. That’s why she’s in my phone like that,” Carmilla sighed, letting go and taking a step back. “And she doesn’t even live here. She’s from one of those states in the middle that are so fond of corn and wheat.”

“Carmilla…”

“She does business here every other month or so, so when she flies in, yes, we usually meet up,” she said, and Laura swore she saw the slightest hint of embarrassment in the dark-haired girl’s eyes. “She texted me while I was still gone and asked to stop by. She was only in town for the night so I thought it was safe saying that I wasn’t here and wouldn’t be back until Thursday. Cement my alibi and not have to deal with any super awkward excuses.”

“So you did meet up with her,” Laura sighed, looking down at her feet, feeling the waves of nausea rock through her. 

She went and slept with someone else while you went home and cried into your pillow.

“No. I saw that she texted me after you left and I finally told her that I wasn’t interested in meeting anymore,” Carmilla said. “I swear, I haven’t seen her since before you and I even started hanging out.”

And looking into Carmilla’s eyes, she knew it was the truth. She knew she’d made this into something it wasn’t.

Laura stared for a moment longer, feeling her face heat up as the seconds ticked by, her embarrassment overtaking the anger, the nausea now aimed at how she’d acted instead of Carmilla.

You are such an idiot.

“God, I just totally acted like a jealous girlfriend,” she sighed, softly biting at her bottom lip and running a shaky hand through her hair.

“Little bit,” Carmilla said, holding her thumb and pointer finger close together with a small, amused smile.

“I’m so sorry, Carmilla. I… I had no right,” she said. “I have no right.”

“Laura, it’s okay.”

“No it’s not!” she argued. “Just because we… you don’t owe me any explanations. About anything.”

“Maybe I don’t,” Carmilla shrugged. “But, I get it. I understand why you were upset. I know what… what that feels like.”

“That’s nice of you to say but…”

You’ve never felt like that about me.

“But what?” she pressed.

“Nothing,” she quickly answered, shaking her head. “Carm, you have every right to do what you want and… see who you want.”

Carmilla stared at her for a long moment, her eyes growing softer and softer in understanding as the seconds ticked by before a gentle smile appeared on her lips.

“Cupcake, you know I haven’t slept with anyone but you since we made our agreement, right?”

And there was the answer Laura had been looking for for weeks now. Simple. Easy. Honest.

“I mean… you could,” she shrugged, hating the words leaking from her mouth. “If you really wanted to.”

“Do you want me sleeping with other women?” Carmilla asked and Laura couldn’t tell if her tone was more incredulous or hurt.

“I… I didn’t say that.”

She couldn’t. She had no right to ask that of Carmilla. After all, they were just friends. Friends who slept together. Friends who might find themselves in a pickle because one had developed feelings while the other hadn’t.

Again, idiot.

“Look, I really am sorry. So just go see Mattie.”

“Already canceled. Now the only thing I have to worry about tonight is you and making sure that you’re okay.”

“Carm, that’s not the arrangement,” she sighed.

“Being here and a good friend for you isn’t part of our arrangement?”

“You know that’s not what I’m talking about.”

“Cutie, come on. Yes, our relationship might not be ordinary but we’re still friends right?”

“Carm…” She paused for a moment, staring at the older girl, feeling her chest heat up as the seconds passed. “You’re… you’re my best friend.”

“Then let me be your best friend tonight,” Carmilla said, stepping forward. “Please don’t go.”

It was the hopefulness in Carmilla’s eyes at that moment that threw her.

“Just stay, alright? We can watch something stupid or you can bitch about whatever is bugging you or we can talk about nothing. We can do whatever you want,” she said. “I mean, you came here tonight for a reason, right?”

“I came here because my dad told me to take some time away and… because I was upset and it was kind of a crappy day and I just…” she trailed off with a shrug. “I just want to stop thinking about it. To stop worrying about every little thing. I just want…”

You to not break my heart.

“Oh,” Carmilla said, nodding and suddenly looking crestfallen. “Right, yeah. Well… I guess… I guess we can go upstairs.”

Laura watched as she turned away, starting to walk toward the steps before reaching for the other girl and holding tight to her hand.

“Carm, no! That’s not what I mean,” she said, voice frantic. “I… I just wanted to see you. I just wanted to… be with you. I wanted a night that was… that was just us. That was you and me and…”

“Oh!” Carmilla’s eyes went wide at that, now looking more nervous than anything.

“Sorry!” Laura immediately backpedaled, replaying the words in her mind. “I didn’t mean like that! I mean, I know we aren’t… we aren’t a couple.”

It stung leaving her mouth and the pain only increased as she watched Carmilla’s anxious expression quickly melt away in relief.

“No, it’s okay. I know you didn’t mean it like that.”

Way to dig yourself in even deeper, Hollis.

“Look, this has been a disaster,” she said, letting go of Carmilla’s hand and taking a few quick steps back. “So, I’ll just go and we can just pretend tonight never happened.”

“Laura,” she sighed, taking one step closer.

“It’s okay,” she said, forcing a smile. “Enjoy a night to yourself. You never really get them.”

She kept her lips turned up for another half-second as she turned away and quickly moved down the hall toward the front door, her breath growing quicker with each step she took.

Idiot! Idiot! Idiot!

“Laura?”

She stopped, her hand on the doorknob, body taut and unable to turn back. It was quiet for a long moment, but her curiosity got the best of her and she finally turned to see Carmilla standing at the other end of the hallway.

“What?” she pushed.

“Nothing,” Carmilla shrugged. “I’ll um… I’ll see you tomorrow.”

She nodded once, forcing another smile to her face, this one even more unbelievable than the last before turning and walking out the door. She practically sprinted to the elevator, rapidly pressing the call button over and over.

“Come on,” she grumbled, anxiously bouncing on the balls of her feet.

A moment later, the elevator arrived with a quiet ding, the doors slowly sliding open. She ducked in, using the same quick jabbing motion on the illuminated panel. She felt the relief hit her as soon as the doors closed and sagged against the back of the lift.

This is such a mess. And it’s all your fault, she thought, pulling a little harder than normal on her left ring finger.   You started this because you had to go and catch feelings for her. Because you want her. Because…

She sighed as the elevator stopped and the doors slid open to the building’s lobby, the space mostly empty. She quickly made her way through toward the exit, feeling the weight on her shoulders bear down harder and harder with each step, holding tight until she was outside on the sidewalk, breathing in the stuffy night air.

“Because you’re starting to fall for her,” she sighed.

Chapter Text

 

Friday, June 28th, 2019

Weehawken, NJ

I'll know your eyes in the morning sun

I feel you touch me in the pourin' rain

And the moment that you wander far from me

I wanna feel you in my arms again

Carmilla (5:26 PM): Hey, cutie. What’re you doing?

Laura felt her heart thud a little faster in her chest as she picked up her phone from beside her laptop and saw the notification displayed across the screen. She hadn’t heard it ding as she’d silenced the device earlier in the afternoon to avoid disturbing Sherman. But now, even though she would be seeing Carmilla in an hour or so for their regular Friday night movie, she wished that she hadn’t even looked at the phone.

It was the first she’d heard from Carmilla since she’d left her apartment the night before. And if it was possible, she was even more embarrassed. By her jealous behavior and accusations toward the older girl. By how she’d started an argument that didn’t need starting. But mostly, she was embarrassed by the fact that she was falling for Carmilla Karnstein.

And you weren’t supposed to do that. You were just supposed to be friends.

It was a plan that had actually worked for a while. Kind of. In a way.

At least enough that you could ignore the fact that you liked her. That you have liked her. For a really long time.

But she couldn’t ignore it anymore. Every second she was with Carmilla was a potent reminder of that fact. Of how much she cared for the dark-haired girl and that Carmilla had absolutely no idea. That Carmilla most definitely didn’t feel the same way. But Laura couldn’t keep herself away because even if Carmilla didn’t see her in any sort of romantic light, she was still Carmilla. She was still amazing and sweet and she still made Laura feel like no other woman had. Why would she ever want to give that feeling up?

I don’t. I can’t, she thought as she typed out a quick response.

Laura (5:32 PM): Not much, just sitting with dad. He’s dozing on and off while I try to get some writing done.

Carmilla (5:33 PM): Blog or something else?

She smiled at the question. The fact that Carmilla even bothered to ask left a little warm pocket swimming in her chest. Honestly, this little project wasn’t something she’d really told anyone else about. She’d mentioned the idea in passing on a catch-up call with Elsie a month ago, but at the time, she wasn’t sure it would actually go anywhere. And had it been any of her other friends asking, she probably would’ve lied. But not to Carmilla.

Laura (5:35 PM): Might be something else.

Carmilla (5:36 PM): That’s great, Laura. Really great.

Laura smiled once more at the phone, knowing that Carmilla meant it.

Carmilla (5:36 PM): How’s it coming?

Laura (5:37 PM): Okay, I guess. Kind of slow. Dad’s very chatty tonight so whenever his eyes open, he’s got lots to say.

Laura (5:37 PM): Not that I’m complaining! I kind of love it.

She glanced up from her phone, her smile softening at the sight of her dad leaned back in his worn blue recliner, one leg of his sweats higher than the other, eyes closed, mouth slightly agape, the softest of snores escaping.

Carmilla (5:40 PM): So you’re getting some of the fun time, huh?

Laura (5:41 PM): Yeah. And you know how much I’ve missed it.

Carmilla (5:41 PM): Well, then why don’t you stay there tonight? Enjoy his good mood. Maybe get more writing done.

The warmth immediately froze, even as her smile took a few seconds longer to completely fade.

You knew she’d start to pull away eventually. And you gave her the perfect reason to last night after your whole crazy ‘girlfriend’ act.

“Great job, Laura,” she mumbled, sagging in on herself with a quiet huff.

Laura (5:42 PM): Oh. Sure, okay.

But Carmilla’s response came before she could even set her phone aside.

Carmilla (5:42 PM): Laura, don’t.

Her brow furrowed as she continued to stare at the screen, watching the little bubbles dance, waiting, though she had no idea what was coming.

Probably just something to try and let you down gently.

Carmilla (5:43 PM): I still want to see you. I just don’t want you to miss this time with him. The fun time. You deserve that.

Right. See?

Laura (5:44 PM): Yeah, sure. I’ll just see you on Monday then.

She tossed her phone to the side, watching it land face down at the other end of the couch with a quiet thump and sat back in her seat, arms crossed over her chest. She didn’t want to take this as a rejection, but she couldn’t seem to help it.

You messed up. She doesn’t want a girlfriend. She just wants you as her friend. Who she sleeps with because why not? And you clearly don’t know where to draw the line. Can you blame her for not wanting to be around you after how you acted?

“You heading out s-soon, pumpkin?” her dad suddenly mumbled from the other side of the room.

“No,” she said, turning toward him, taking in his just barely opened eyes. “I’m going to stay in tonight. Try to get some more writing done and keep you company.”

“Oh, you think I n-need company?”

“You need someone to keep you out of trouble,” she gently teased, valiantly attempting to push the hurt down and out of the way.

He chuckled lightly, rubbing a hand across his face and tried to catch a loud yawn pushing from his mouth.

“You already need another nap?”

“No,” he grumbled, even as his eyes once again closed. “Need to d-decide what to have f-for dinner though.”

“What are you in the mood for?” she asked, shifting forward on the couch preparing to get started on whatever he wanted, grateful to have something else to focus on.

A distraction. I could definitely use one right about now.

“Mmm,” he mumbled, a soft snore following a few seconds later and Laura couldn’t help but giggle.

“We’ll decide when you wake up then,” she said, sitting back once more. She glanced over at her phone, still face-down on the far cushion for a long moment before turning away and grabbing for her laptop again with a shake of her head.

She’s probably already making plans to enjoy a free night, she thought, focusing on the screen in front of her and attempting to dive back into her work. So just forget about her.

Which was exactly what she tried to do for the next hour and surprisingly there were moments here or there when Carmilla completely left her thoughts. Where the rejection briefly stopped twisting the knife. Where Laura could focus on what she was actually working on, the words flowing from her quick, even if a little jumbled. But she could fix that later because this was something that she could control and with how little control she had over so many other aspects of her life at the moment, she craved this.

“You look f-focused.”

She felt a smile crack across her face as she looked up, taking in her dad sitting there, grinning at her, eyes wide and bright just as the clock on the far wall sounded out seven quiet chimes.

“Are you finally awake?” she teased.

“I was j-just resting m-my eyes,” he said with a small smile.

“Sure,” she giggled, setting her laptop down on the coffee table in front of her. “You hungry yet?”

“Starving.”

“Good, me too. So what’re you-”

A knock on the front door interrupted her and she turned toward the sound, wondering at who it could be. 

“Expecting company?”

“No, not me,” she said, looking back and shaking her head at him. “Hang on.”

She stood from the couch and made her way out of the room and down the front hall, sure it was one of the neighbors checking in. Or perhaps one of her friends making one of their famous unannounced visits. Reaching the door though, as she peered through the peephole, her confusion grew when she spotted who was standing there.

But I thought…

“Hey,” she said, voice quiet and unsure as she opened the door, her eyes meeting the beautiful dark irises of none other than Carmilla Karnstein.

“Hey,” Carmilla said, smiling softly from her spot standing on the welcome mat, a beige messenger bag slung across her body and two pizza boxes in hand.

“What’re you doing here?” Laura asked, genuinely confused.

“Well, I hope I’m not messing up your evening. I tried calling after you stopped answering my texts but apparently you really wanted to avoid me,” she teased, but beneath the jibe, Laura saw the concern in her eyes.

“I haven’t looked at my phone since the last message I sent you,” she said, feeling a slight flush creep across her cheeks. “I… well, I figured I’d just talk to you on Monday.” 

“If you want me to go, I will.”

“No!” she was quick to answer, stepping forward, one hand rising but not touching. “Don’t go. I’m just surprised. I thought you wanted… a night to yourself or something.”

A night to not have to deal with me.

“No,” Carmilla chuckled, reaching for the hand still poised in the air. “You didn’t let me finish when we were texting. I want you to stay here and get some time in with your dad, yes. And maybe some more writing done if he can be otherwise occupied.”

“He’ll be yelling at the TV soon,” Laura answered with a shrug.

“Exactly,” Carmilla laughed again. “So I was going to ask if it was okay for me to come here instead. So we could still have some time but you wouldn’t miss out on what you were already doing.”

Oh.

“Oh.”

“You didn’t really think I didn’t want to see you, did you?” she asked.

Yes, I thought I’d screwed everything up.

“I mean, I just…” Laura sighed and glanced away for a moment, frustrated with herself for jumping to conclusions. Again.

“I thought you said Friday nights were non-negotiable,” Carmilla continued, drawing Laura’s eyes back to her own. “I thought you said Friday nights were ours.”

“I did say that,” she said, smiling softly, her stomach fluttering ever so slightly. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to… well, to be me about all of this.”

“Come on, cutie, you being you is one of my favorite things.”

“What’s in the boxes?” she asked, ignoring the teasing grin on Carmilla’s face and dropping their hands as she stepped aside.

“Oh, well, I hope you haven't already eaten,” she said as she moved passed Laura into the house, waiting for the smaller girl to close the door behind them.

“We haven’t. We were actually just trying to decide.”

“Well, then I guess I arrived right on time. And not just for you two. All I’ve eaten today is a bagel and that was at like eight o’clock this morning.”

“I can’t believe you brought dinner. This is really sweet,” Laura said, moving forward and motioning for Carmilla to follow her through the dining room and into the kitchen.

“I doubt Sherman will be too happy with the choice,” Carmilla cringed, setting the boxes down on the counter and opening the lid to the top one, her nose wrinkling at the contents. “It’s probably going to taste like shit but this was the healthiest pizza I could find.”

“He’ll survive,” Laura giggled as she reached up into the cupboards for some plates. “And what’s in the bag? More snacks and goodies?”

“Well, I didn’t want to interrupt your writing flow or anything,” she said, hoisting the bag off of her shoulder and setting it on one of the stools. “So I thought maybe I could keep your dad occupied for a bit while you continued. And, well, if he nods off again, I have some of my own work to take care of.”

“Carm,” Laura started, turning toward the older girl, that stupid warm pocket in her chest starting to grow again. Because that was something only Carmilla would think to do. And it was something she would only do for Laura.

Or at least that’s what you want to believe.

“That’s… that’s really sweet of you but you don’t have to do that.”

“I’m well aware of that, cupcake. But I want to do this,” she shrugged. “I’ve told you over and over. I don’t mind when it’s for you.”

Laura swallowed the sudden lump in her throat, staring at the other girl for a long moment, Carmilla’s eyes so beautiful and soft, and she fought the urge to move across the space, wrap her arms around her, and press their lips together. 

She loved that they were friends. Honestly, she never wanted to lose that because Carmilla had proven to be an incredible friend. But she hated that as more and more time went on and things like this continued to pop up, she found herself wondering if things would’ve worked out differently had they not gone this route. If they could have more. If Carmilla would feel the same way Laura did.

She doesn’t do relationships though. You know this.

“Well, thank you,” Laura finally said, anxiously pulling at her left ring finger. “I appreciate it.”

She watched Carmilla’s eyes flick down to her hands before meeting her own gaze again, the older girl’s lips just barely curving up at the corners.

“Come on, I’m hungry,” she said, moving a step closer and reaching for Laura’s hands to stop her from knotting them together any further.

“Sure,” she sighed. “Just let me tell my dad.”

She let her hands drop, instantly feeling the lack of warmth from where Carmilla’s had briefly encompassed them, and turned, slowly moving into the living room, feeling the other girl less than a step behind her.

“Dad, look who’s here?”

“Carmilla?” he said, looking up from the newspaper in his lap and slowly reaching to lower the silver wire-framed reading glasses from his nose. “Well, th-this is a surprise.”

“Hopefully a pleasant one,” she smiled. “Good to see you, Sherman.”

“Wh-What are you d-doing here?” he asked, his face still puzzled.

Please don’t be rude. Please don’t be rude.

“Carm brought us dinner,” Laura said, eyes wide. “Isn’t that nice?”

“Oh, well um,” he started, setting his glasses and paper aside before looking up at her again. “Y-Yes it is. Thank you, Carmilla.”

“No problem,” she shrugged. “I also may have taken a look at the schedule and saw that the Phillies play in like ten minutes. If you don’t mind me crashing, I thought maybe we could watch it together.”

“Oh,” he started, the barest hint of a smile forming across his mouth. “If y-you’re up for it. Maybe they’ll actually sh-show up tonight.”

Laura pressed her hand to her lips, trying to hide her quickly growing smile. For as much crap as her dad gave Carmilla, Laura knew he enjoyed having someone else there to watch with him. Someone else who actually paid attention.

“But in the meantime, I can sm-smell something g-greasy and delicious.”

“Pizza,” Carmilla answered.

“I m-might eat the whole p-pie myself.”

“Well, you can have it,” Laura giggled, turning and making her way back into the kitchen.

“R-Really? Because I know I sm-smell pepperoni.”

“Yeah, but that one is for me and Carm,” Laura called as she opened the boxes and dished out a few slices for her dad onto one of their old ceramic plates, the yellow flowers at the edges almost completely chipped off. Still smiling, she carried the dish back into the living room and handed it over to Sherman. “Yours is this delicious vegetarian one with a chickpea crust.”

“You’ve g-got to be kidding me,” he grumbled, smile falling as he took the plate and poked at one of the pie pieces in front of him.

“Eat up,” she giggled again before walking back into the kitchen. “Carm, you want a soda?”

“Sure,” she answered.

Laura nodded and went about fixing two more plates and grabbing a couple cold cans. It was just as the refrigerator door shut that she heard whispers from the other room.

“I brought an extra couple of cookies too. The soft baked kind,” Carmilla said. “I’ll sneak you one later while Laura’s distracted.”

“You’re… well, thanks k-kid,” her dad said back, voice just as quiet. “It’s been m-months since I’ve had s-something that didn’t taste like cardboard.”

“Just let me know, chocolate or peanut butter.”

Laura smiled harder, the warm pocket growing, and decided she’d ignore the little cease-fire. At least this once.


Glancing over the page one last time and saving the document, Laura felt the corners of her lips tugging upward, the sense of pride and accomplishment welling up in her chest. It had been so long since she’d felt it that she’d almost forgotten how happy it made her. And while the piece was nowhere close to being finished, she’d gotten through much more than she’d expected to. Of course, she’d been at it for a while, only disturbed once when Carmilla came into the kitchen for a refill on Sherman’s tea and some water for herself a little over an hour earlier.

“How’s it coming, cutie?” she asked after she closed the refrigerator and moved closer, looking at the screen over Laura’s shoulder.

She turned slightly, watching Carmilla’s eyes float across the page, the older girl’s expression sobering more and more with each second that passed.

“I didn’t know this was what you were working on,” she said, finally turning toward Laura, their faces so close that Laura could smell the mint she guessed Carmilla must’ve just eaten.

“I know it’s not the most exciting topic or anything but…” she trailed off with a shrug.

“No, that’s not it at all. This is… this good, Laura,” she said, setting her water bottle down and placing a gentle hand on the small of her back. “Have you told him about it?”

“No. Not yet,” she said with a shake of her head. “I kind of don’t know how.”

“Just talk to him,” Carmilla said, pulling her close and pressing a lingering kiss against her temple. “He’ll understand.”

“I know he will,” Laura sighed, leaning into the dark-haired girl, wishing that she wouldn’t pull away. 

But after one more quick kiss to her temple, Carmilla grabbed the bottle off the counter and moved back into the living room, seeming to take all the warmth from the room with her.

Since then, Laura had only heard her dad gripe a few times at the game on the television, Carmilla’s replies muffled. There’d been a few periods of total silence but Laura had forced herself to stay put and keep working instead of investigating.

This is a good place to stop for tonight though, she thought, closing her laptop and pushing herself off of the wooden kitchen stool. The sudden sound of Sherman’s laughter echoing in the living room, soft but genuine caught her ears and she smiled fondly. It was a very different response from the last time Carmilla had been around. One that she hoped would continue, regardless. 

Flicking the light switch as she passed to bathe the room in darkness, she moved into the next room, smiling harder at the sight that greeted her. The two occupants hovered over the chessboard that had been set up on one of the side tables, the Phillies on in the background getting absolutely pummeled, and Carmilla’s own work scattered across the coffee table.

“You two almost sound like you’re having fun in here,” she said, plopping down on the couch.

“Well, she’s actually p-playing like she’s s-supposed to this time,” he said, still staring at the board. “So now that I’m about t-to w-win, it’ll actually c-count.”

“Game’s not over yet,” Carmilla said, studying the board in front of her.

Laura watched for a few minutes longer, smiling softly at the sight before picking up her copy of The Goldfinch that she’d left on the coffee table earlier that day and let herself sink back into the sofa.

Losing herself in her novel, she paid them no mind for another half hour or so. Not until she heard her dad shifting himself out of his seat, his walker clanging against the leg of the chair as he nearly tripped and clumsily attempted to right himself. Dropping her book, she jumped up, ready to help but Carmilla beat her to it, the older girl placing one hand on his shoulder, the other on his elbow to steady his stance. He glanced over, eyes still guarded as he nodded once. She nodded back, letting her hands drop as she sat back down, apparently intent on letting him handle himself.

“G-Goodnight, Carmilla,” he said. “Hopefully, n-next time, the Phillies play w-we’ll actually have something to watch. If you st-stop by, that is.”

“I’ll be here,” she nodded. “Goodnight, Sherman.”

Laura smiled at the older girl as she walked past, only a step behind her dad exiting the room, Carmilla’s own eyes not leaving hers until they’d rounded the corner. 

“I see you’re b-back to being m-my shadow.”

“Just making sure everything is okay,” she replied.

“I would’ve been j-just fine on m-my own,” he grumbled as they stepped through the guestroom doorway.

“I’m sure you would’ve,” she said as she moved to adjust his pillows and the light knitted throw he’d been sleeping under.

He shook his head in response before plopping down onto the edge of the mattress and shuffling backward.

“See?” he said, smiling smugly at her as he settled himself in for the night.

Laura smiled back, rolling her eyes for good measure.

“You seemed to enjoy yourself tonight,” she ventured.

“It w-was alright,” he said with a shrug.

“Just alright?” she teased. “Having someone to watch the game and play chess with was just alright?”

“I… well…” he stumbled, looking down at his hands. “She’s still n-not good enough for you. But I s-suppose she’s n-not so terrible.”

“That was really hard for you to say, wasn’t it?” she teased, ignoring the ‘not good enough’ comment.

It’s not like that’ll ever be a possibility anyway.

Instead of answering, he just smiled softly.

“Goodnight, dad,” she said, leaning in to leave a quick kiss on his cheek.

“N-Night, pumpkin.”

She hit the light switch on her way out, giggling quietly as she made her way back into the living room. But as she moved around the corner, she found it empty. No Carmilla. Curious, she popped her head into the darkened kitchen, glanced out onto the porch, and doubled back through the hallway toward the guest bathroom in her search for the older girl.

Where is she? she thought, retracing her steps and standing in the middle of the living room. Glancing around, she suddenly noticed the light at the top of the stairs was on. Quickly clambering up them, she rolled her eyes and smiled when she noticed her old bedroom door was wide open, light spilling from within.

“Um, excuse me,” Laura laughed as she stepped forward and leaned against the doorframe. “What’re you doing up here?”

“Exploring,” Carmilla said as she moved around the room, her eyes taking in the pictures Laura had left when she’d moved out a little over a decade earlier.

“Exploring or snooping?”

“Eh, I only looked in the top dresser drawers.”

“Carm!”

“I’m kidding,” she chuckled finally turning toward Laura with that incredibly charming smile. “Besides, what could I possibly find anywhere in here that would actually be embarrassing?”

“That’s not the point!” Laura argued with a smile, knowing the most exciting thing Carmilla possibly could’ve found would’ve been her eighth-grade diary, still buried in the back of her closet, locked with the secrets about her first real kiss with Trish Caraway.

“Cupcake, you’re trying to tell me that you’ve never snooped around my apartment.”

“I haven’t,” Laura shrugged, plopping down on her bed, back to the headboard, legs stretched out in front of her as Carmilla went back to perusing. “Why would I?”

“Curiosity. Boredom,” Carmilla shrugged. “Making sure I’m not a serial killer.”

“You’re usually pretty good at answering my questions. You keep me entertained,” Laura said, ticking the answers off on her fingers as she went. “And even if you were a serial killer, you like me too much to off me.”

“Touché,” Carmilla said, turning back to her with that same smile. She pointed toward the other side of the bed, waiting for a nod before sitting next to Laura, their shoulders brushing as she settled. “You’re dad all tucked away for the night?”

“Yeah. I think you exhausted him,” she smiled.

“You know, I wasn’t around at the very beginning, but he seems to be doing really well.”

“He is. I’m proud of him. I mean, he still has a bit to go but I know he’ll get there.”

“He’s a Hollis. You guys are stubborn,” Carmilla said with a smirk.

“Are you leaving soon?” Laura teased with narrowed eyes, only making Carmilla laugh once more.

“He seemed a little nicer too,” Carmilla said, ignoring the dig.

Laura looked away and shrugged, her hands coming together to fidget in her lap.

“What?” Carmilla pressed, bumping their shoulders together.

“Nothing,” she said, letting her side rest a little further against Carmilla’s. “But he should be nice to you.”

“I mean, I’m still not his favorite.”

“Not quite,” Laura giggled.

“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” Carmilla chuckled.

“Doesn’t matter, you’re my favorite,” Laura said, her eyes going wide when she realized what she’d said. She looked away in embarrassment, expecting the teasing to start. But Carmilla definitely threw her off.

“You’re mine too,” she said, reaching over and grabbing at Laura’s left hand.

She glanced down, watching as Carmilla wove their fingers together, the gesture not the most common. Sure, she found herself constantly reaching for Carmilla’s hands, playing with her fingers, and holding tight. It came naturally and she never even thought about it, it just happened. And she honestly wasn’t sure where the urge to keep contact came from. The only other person she was physical in any way with was Danny and it had taken years for them to get to that point. And even with her best friend, she didn’t reach for her as quick or as often as she reached for the dark-haired girl.

But Carmilla wasn’t always quick to reach for her. Sure, there were soft touches here and there. But hand-holding…

“You know, I was really nervous about coming here tonight,” Carmilla said, her voice quiet and pulling Laura’s gaze away from their fingers.

“Why?”

“After last night…” she trailed off with a shrug. “I just wasn’t sure what to think.”

“There’s nothing to think about,” Laura started, her nerves returning as she turned away. “I shouldn’t have just shown up like that. I didn’t mean to take you away from Mattie or ruin your evening.”

“You didn’t ruin anything,” Carmilla said, voice gentle. “And I like when you just randomly show up. It’s… nice.”

“But that’s not fair to you, ” Laura pressed on, gripping tighter to the quilt beneath them with the hand not clenched in Carmilla’s. “I had no right to act that way. And I had no right to accuse you of the things that I did.”

“Laura, it’s okay.”

“No, it isn’t,” she said, shaking her head again. “I’m sorry. I don’t… I don’t know what got into me. I guess… I was just being stupid.”

“No, you weren’t. It’s… I mean, again, I get it,” Carmilla tried, squeezing her hand once. “Do we need to talk about it some more? Do we need to… I don’t know. Come up with some rules or something?”

“Rules?” Laura asked, the word like a punch to her chest. Rules implied that what they had was fleeting. That it wasn’t real. That it didn’t mean anything.

“Yeah,” Carmilla shrugged. “Like what is and isn’t okay while we’re doing this.”

While we’re doing this. Because it is temporary, Laura. She’s not your girlfriend. She can do what she wants. Who she wants.

“I… I’m not going to ask that of you,” she started, briefly glancing over before staring at her lap where she’d pulled their hands, fingers still linked. “We’re… just friends. So if you want to see other women, that’s… fine.”

“Does that go both ways?”

“What do you mean?” Laura asked, looking up, the softness in Carmilla’s voice seeming to come from nowhere.

She almost sounds… unsure.

“Just… I guess if one of us does something or sees someone else, it’s only fair that the other have that same freedom.”

Right. Because I care about anyone half as much as I care about you.

“Sure,” she said instead, knowing damn well that no one else held a candle to Carmilla Karnstein. “It goes both ways.”

“Can I ask you something?” Carmilla asked, that hesitation still barely present in her voice.

Laura nodded and waited, noting the older girl refused to meet her eyes.

“I told you I hadn’t but… have you slept with anyone else? Since we started…” she trailed off as she finally looked up, the barest hint of fear in those beautiful dark eyes.

“No,” Laura said, not looking away. “That’s… that’s not me, Carm. What we’re doing… I’m someone who dates and has girlfriends and serious relationships. I don’t sleep with… well, you know.”

“I do, I just…” Carmilla sighed and shook her head. “I guess I’m one of your exceptions.”

One of?

“You are my only exception,” she said quietly, the words holding so much more than Carmilla could understand. Slowly she reached up, gently tucking a strand of hair behind Carmilla’s ear and letting her fingers ghost along her jaw before dropping back into her lap. “You always have been, Carm. And… you’re the only exception I want.”

Wednesday, December 28th, 2016

2 years, 6 months, and1 day earlier

Chicago

“That was amazing,” Laura said, still smiling wide as they stepped out of the theater, hands brushing from their close proximity.

“A little too holly jolly for me but sure beats the hell out of what I was supposed to be doing,” Carmilla said.

“What were you supposed to be doing?” she asked, glancing over at the dark-haired girl.

“Working.”

“Oh, god, I’m sorry!” she said, stopping in her tracks suddenly horrified. “I didn’t mean to keep you out.”

“Trust me, cutie,” Carmilla chuckled, pulling at the arm of her jacket to get her moving again. “It’s fine.”

“Well, if you want to go, I can get myself back to the hotel,” Laura continued, the guilt still sitting heavy in her stomach. “You’ve been so nice to me tonight. I definitely didn’t expect this to be how the last day of my trip would go. You’ve… well, maybe you haven’t turned it completely around, but you’ve made it so much better.”

Carmilla laughed softly, shoving her hands deep into her coat pockets, even as Laura found herself itching to reach for them, missing their warmth.

After they’d initially made contact, she had kept Carmilla’s fingers wrapped in hers for the rest of their time in the theater, the other girl apparently content to let Laura run the pads of her fingers along her knuckles and pull at her fingertips. It felt so comfortable and familiar somehow, and Laura had instantly felt the loss when they’d stood from their seats as the lights went up two short movies later, their skin finally parting from one another.

“Really, Carmilla, I’m more than capable of finding my way back and letting you get on with your night.”

“Or, plan B, we could go have a drink somewhere,” Carmilla suggested, glancing over with a grin.

“You… really?” Laura asked, anxiously pulling at her left ring finger as they walked. “You want to spend some more time together?”

“How many more times do I have to tell you this, cupcake?” she asked, stepping in front of Laura and continuing to walk backward, still smiling. “I’m actually enjoying myself. And I’m not ready to say goodbye to you yet.”

Goodbye…

“Well, um… there’s a bar at my hotel.”

And why was she offering that? Would Carmilla take it the wrong way? Would she automatically expect something more later?

Then again, would Laura mind if she did? The evening had proven to be so amazing, Carmilla more charming and wonderful that she could’ve imagined.

But you don’t sleep with women you’ve only just met, she internally chastised herself. That’s not you.

“Or, wherever you want to go,” she quickly added, attempting to hide her blush. “You know the city far better than I do.”

“No, that works out perfectly,” Carmilla said with a shrug.

“It does?” she squeaked, her nerves suddenly skyrocketing.

“Yeah. Then you won’t have to go very far to get back and I can grab a cab to my apartment after we’re done.”

Oh, she internally sighed, unsure if the disappointment came from ending the night or from something else.

“Yeah, I guess that will work,” she said, attempting and failing to mask the defeat in her voice.

“Damn, cutie, don’t sound so excited,” Carmilla teased, reaching out, her knuckles just barely brushing against the zipper of Laura’s jacket before quickly retreating.

“No, I’m sorry,” she said, shaking her head and reaching out before she could think about it, grabbing onto Carmilla’s hand. 

She watched the other girl’s eyes flick down to where they were linked together and followed her gaze, finding that not only had she grabbed on but she’d already locked their fingers together. Quickly looking back up, Laura found Carmilla’s eyes already on her, grin slightly crooked.

“I…” Laura started, feeling her cheeks warm as her own smile grew. “Yes, that sounds great.”

“To your hotel then?”

Laura paused for a moment, taking in the teasing smile on the dark-haired girl’s face. The way her fingers tightened ever so subtly. And … something in those dark eyes.

“Sure,” she nodded, pulling Carmilla toward the street to hail a cab, mustering up all the courage she could find. “Let’s go.”

Monday, July 1st, 2019

Back in the present

SoHo

“Are you going to rush out now?” Carmilla said, her tone playful even if the words were a little breathless.

Laura turned toward the older girl, watching her bare chest rise and fall, her head tipped back ever so slightly showcasing the faintest mark low on her neck, lips parted, eyes closed, hair…

A mess, she giggled. And totally my fault.

Carmilla turned toward the sound, her gorgeous eyes fluttering open, lips slowly curving up to the right.

Laura took in the lazy grin. The softness in her gaze. The way Carmilla’s fingers teased against her own at their sides, pinkies barely brushing.

“No,” Laura finally answered, rolling onto her side and pulling the now wrinkled red sheet to her chest. “No rushing.”

“So you’ll stay for a bit?” Carmilla pressed, grabbing the other side of the sheet and mirroring her pose.

“A bit?”

 “Yeah,” Carmilla chuckled. “Some would consider that a measurement of time. Somewhere between short and long.”

“I guess I can handle a bit,” she smiled, a little thrill running through her at the idea of staying exactly as they were, lying together, naked, close, and sated.

“Good,” she sighed, moving her head closer on the pillows. “Because I missed you this afternoon.”

“You’re the one who got stuck in a meeting and couldn’t come have coffee with me.”

“Trust me, I missed you and our coffee date.”

“You’ve seen me every day for almost a week now,” Laura giggled.

“It has not been a week. It’s been like…” Carmilla glanced away, concentrating on counting in her head. “Five days.”

“Exactly. So one missed coffee date shouldn’t be the end of the world. I’m surprised you’re not sick of me yet.”

She watched as Carmilla’s gaze moved back to her, a hint of mirth in those sweet eyes.

“It’s been a nice five days, cupcake.”

Laura felt the thrill race up her spin again, her heart thudding a little faster in her chest as her lips twitched back and forth.

“Yeah?”

Carmilla merely chuckled and looked down at the space between them, reaching for one of Laura’s hands and running her fingers softly over the skin.

She was right. It had been five days and though not necessarily planned, Laura couldn’t find one reason to complain about it.

When Carmilla had left her dad’s the previous Friday following hours of simply sitting and talking on Laura’s old bed, the smaller girl didn’t expect to see her again for the rest of the weekend. But then Carmilla had stopped by the following afternoon and stayed well into the evening, watching the Phillies get trounced once again with Sherman and then kissing Laura senseless on the back porch when they’d gone out to look at the stars, the pair hiding around the corner out of anyone’s line of vision like they were a couple teenagers.

Sunday they’d met for a movie in the afternoon, the theater almost empty and they’d spent close to two hours talking, laughing, and smiling about anything but the picture on the big screen at the front of the room. And once again, kissing.

And both times Laura had to wonder at the fact that Carmilla had started it. That Carmilla had started it with apparently no intention of taking it any further. The older girl had seemed completely content with just letting their lips move against one another, hands never roaming too far into territory that would get them in trouble.

But it had been Laura who started the lip-locking just a few hours earlier. They’d been standing in the kitchen, arguing over what to order for dinner and Carmilla had been teasing her, making her laugh and smile wide. It was fun and familiar, so she couldn’t help herself. She’d simply gone up on her toes and pressed their mouths together as a round of laughter died down, hands moving into the older girl’s hair. And Carmilla had kissed her back, of course. They’d stumbled up the staircase and into Carmilla’s room a few minutes later, still smiling against one another’s mouths as hands started to roam under clothes with a hint of desperation.

The standard frantic pace didn’t last though, and oddly enough, it had been Carmilla who had slowed them down. Not to anything loving or gentle, but to something that Laura hadn’t experienced in a very long time. For once, it wasn’t about quickly getting to the finish line. It was about something more. Carmilla had kissed her for longer as they lay on the bed, stripped down to nothing but their underwear, the older girl’s weight welcome atop her. She’d spent more time letting her mouth roam around Laura’s hipbones and thighs, lips soft. And after Laura had come twice, she’d lain her head against the younger girl’s stomach, fingers tickling along her sides as Laura carefully brushed her fingers through her hair, their breath slowing.

Something had changed. It was different. But Laura wasn’t sure what or why. She just knew that it felt amazing. It felt like this was how things were supposed to be.

“You’re right. It has been really nice,” Laura finally agreed before giggling. “My dad even asked when you were going to be around to watch another game with him.”

“He’s a good guy.”

“He’s the best,” Laura smiled. “Without him…”

She swallowed hard as the sudden wave of emotion hit, hating that she’d been unprepared for it.

“He’s still here, cupcake,” Carmilla said knowingly as she reached up and traced her fingers along Laura’s jaw. “He’s not going anywhere.”

Laura met the dark eyes already staring at her, smiling as Carmilla’s fingers continued to tickle along.

“Have you two always been close?”

“Yeah,” she answered, moving her face a little closer. “And… I mean, don’t get me wrong. I still miss my mom. And I know he does too. But after she passed, we really leaned on each other. Since it was just the two of us, we just looked to the other I guess. So we got even closer.”

“You were fourteen when she passed?”

Laura nodded, taking Carmilla’s hand from her face and holding tight to it, her own fingers slightly fidgety.

“How long were they together?”

“They met in high school,” Laura started. “They dated for a bit but after graduation, they went their separate ways. She wanted to travel and see things and he… didn’t.”

“So that’s where you get it from?” Carmilla said with a smile.

“I think so,” Laura answered, feeling her own smile grow at the thought of her mom. “So they spent a few years apart but one day, they ran into each other at one of the local diners they both used to love. And they just kind of picked up right where they left off.”

“Guess they were really meant to be.”

“Yeah. She loved him so much. And he was so crazy about her,” Laura said, smiling fondly at the memories of parents surfaced. Memories of loving, secret gazes and flowers just because and arguments that ended in laughter.

“What happened?”

“She got sick,” Laura shrugged, her smile falling. “She tried to fight it but it was too late. The cancer had already spread.”

“Cancer fucking sucks.”

She looked up at the older girl, the bite in Carmilla’s voice catching her attention, so different from the soft way she’d uttered her previous questions. 

“Did you… lose someone?” she carefully asked.

It was quiet for a long moment as she watched Carmilla stare down at their interlocked hands, brow furrowed, eyes empty.

“My dad,” she finally answered.

“I… I’m sorry, Carm,” she sputtered. “I didn’t know.”

“I never told you, cupcake,” she said, looking up, the barest of smiles touching her lips.

“Did you not want to?”

“No, it’s not that,” Carmilla said, eyes returning to watch their fingers dance across each other’s.

“Is it something else? You… you don’t really talk about your family much,” she ventured, cautious. “I mean, not that you have to! I just… if you ever wanted to, I’d listen. I… I like learning new things about you. Knowing things about you.”

Carmilla’s eyes shifted to hers again, the silence surrounding them different than before.

“No, it’s not anything specific. And I love my family, don’t get me wrong. It’s just…” Carmilla trailed off as she rolled onto her back, her gaze finding the ceiling even as one hand stayed locked in Laura’s. “When my dad died, things just changed.”

“What do you mean?”

“Even though we knew it was coming, we were all devastated when it happened. And my mother…” Carmilla sighed deep in her chest, her mouth opening and closing once before she continued. “It nearly broke her. She shut herself completely off. From everything.”

“That must’ve been hard.”

“She didn’t know what else to do. I mean, she loved him so much. To lose him…” she trailed off, swallowing hard, her brow furrowing. “I guess it kind of hardened all of us but… well, now she plays her cards pretty close to her chest. She just doesn’t put herself out there. Can’t get hurt if you protect yourself, you know?”

“How old were you?”

“Sixteen. And you know, at the time I felt cheated,” Carmilla continued. “Like I was owed more time. I’d only known him for half my life and… it just didn’t seem fair.”

“What do you mean?” Laura asked, squeezing her fingers together once. “Was he not around when you were little?”

“No it’s not that, cupcake,” Camilla answered, turning toward her with a patient smile. “He was my adoptive father.”

“Oh!” How did she not know that? “So your brother and sister…”

“Mattie’s the oldest.”

Laura nodded but didn’t say anything, letting Carmilla continue with whatever she wanted to say.

“She was his but her mom just up and left one day less than a year after she was born. He was never married to her so it’s not like it mattered. He was very much a kind of a free to be whoever guy,” Carmilla chuckled. “But then he met my mother a few years later and they did get married. Mattie for all intents and purposes saw my mother as her real parent. And my parents, or my dad… well, he wanted more kids and they tried, but it just wasn’t in the cards. So they ended up adopting Will and I. He was seven and I was eight.”

“So are you and Will…”

“Yeah, same lowlife parents that couldn’t take care of us,” Carmilla scoffed. “And I remember thinking that we were going to get the shit end of the stick when we found out the couple taking us already had a kid. But as soon as they brought us home, it was like we were their own. They were good to us. It was… it was really nice.”

“So your mom… I know she’s still around.”

“She’s getting ready to retire this year. Handing the company completely over to us. Mattie is going to stay here and run things and then either Will or I will be going to the Chicago office.”

“The Chicago office? Is that why you were there a few years back?” Laura asked, smiling when Carmilla nodded.

“That’s always been the smaller of the two but they were having some issues at the time. New management,” Carmilla explained. “So my mother asked me to go. I think she wanted to see if I could really take care of things.”

“She thinks a lot of you when it comes to the business, doesn’t she?”

“She knows I’m good at it,” Carmilla shrugged.

“Well, what about outside of work?” Laura tried, cautious and hoping she wasn’t overstepping. “Does she think a lot of you there too?”

“We have our moments where we butt heads. Despite the lack of blood relation, we actually share a lot of the same qualities. But… I know she loves me. I know she loves Will and Mattie. I know we matter to her. It’s just… well, ever since my dad died, she just has a hard time showing that. Which… I get,” Carmilla said, meeting Laura’s gaze, eyes sad and worried and hopeful all at once. “I’m the same way.”

“I have to disagree with that,” Laura said, letting a smile crack across her face. “Carm, you’re like the sweetest person ever. I… well, I never doubt that you care about me.”

Even if it’s not the way I want you to.

“Sure, cupcake,” she said with a yawn, settling back against the pillows, eyes closing.

“You are. I mean, all you’ve done for me alone…” she trailed off, her eyes tracing along the plains of Carmilla’s profile. “It’s kind of amazing.”

“We’re friends, Laura. I’m supposed to be here for you.”

“I think we’ve crossed the friend line.”

“Maybe a little. But… it was for a good reason.” Carmilla opened her mouth again, hesitating even as her eyes stayed closed. “I mean, this does help, doesn’t it?”

“What do you mean?” Laura asked, her fingers now tickling along Camilla’s wrist and up the inside of her arm.

“Us sleeping together. Is it helping to make you feel better? To take your mind off of things?”

Oh.

Laura swallowed hard and looked away, hating that it always came back to that reason.

“Carm, it’s not just that,” she started with a quiet sigh. “I mean, I won’t lie. Sex with you definitely makes me forget about everything else and… well, orgasms tend to definitely make me feel better. But… this…”

Is amazing.

Is incredible.

Means everything.

But she couldn’t say it.

“Do you think we’d still be doing this if the circumstances were different?” she asked instead. “Like if I was just here visiting for a while and nothing was wrong with my dad and everything was totally normal?”

“I mean, friends with benefits exist outside of the boundaries we’ve set.”

“I know. But do you think we’d still…”

She watched Carmilla’s eyes slowly flutter open, her head rolling toward Laura, gazes locking.

“Honestly, I don’t know,” Carmilla finally said and Laura wondered at the sudden sadness creeping into her expression. “I care about you. So much.”

She held her breath as Carmilla stared in silence for a moment longer, the look in her eyes was one Laura had never seen before.

“You mean the world to me, Laura.”

“Yeah?” she asked, voice quiet even as her smile bloomed brightly.

“Yeah,” Carmilla chuckled, turning back toward the ceiling once more, eyes closing.

Laura continued to watch for another few moments, the room silent, letting the words wrap around her. She knew Carmilla wasn’t declaring anything new. She knew it wasn’t about feelings of romance or anything of the sort. But it still meant something. It still meant a lot.

“Are you falling asleep?” she asked quietly, taking in how Carmilla’s breath was beginning to even out.

“Hmm.”

Laura giggled and leaned in, placing a soft kiss against Carmilla’s temple.

“Okay,” she whispered as she pulled back and moved to roll away. But Carmilla held fast to the hand that was still held captive, keeping her close.

“Where you goin’?” she mumbled, eyes still closed.

“Home,” Laura said with a quiet laugh. “Or back to my dad’s.”

“But you were gonna stay for a bit.”

“I did stay for a bit.”

“Hmm,” Carmilla sighed, her grip loosening even as she pulled the smaller girl a little closer. “Then stay for a bit longer.”

“A bit longer?”

“Mm-hmm. Just a bit,” she said, her voice now barely above a whisper.

Laura smiled harder, watching as a few seconds later Carmilla fully nodded off. Her eyes traced over the older girl’s features. Her perfect eyebrows and long lashes. Her sculpted jaw and high cheekbones. Her incredibly full and amazing lips.

Laura knew she should leave. She knew it was time to go back to her dads. But Carmilla was so beautiful and Laura felt her heart clench as she continued to stare.

Okay. Just five more minutes, she thought, resting her head back on the pillow and slowly reaching up, letting her thumb gently skim along Carmilla’s jaw. Five more minutes.

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2019

SoHo

Laura slowly felt consciousness slipping in on the foggy waves of her dream, the two worlds beginning to mesh together. She felt warm and safe, surrounded by the scent she’d come to love. She stretched a little with a soft groan, feeling something push against her front, keeping her from moving too far. Curious, she pulled her arm into herself, feeling the same warm, soft body snugly fitting against hers at every juncture.

Dammit! she thought as her eyes flew open.

She froze, eyes growing wider by the second as she took in the sight of soft dark curls in front of her and pale smooth skin and…

Dammit!

She hadn’t meant to fall asleep. She’d only meant to stay for a few more minutes after Carmilla had drifted off. But somewhere in there, she’d drifted off too and now she was waking up, Carmilla’s back pressed to her front, her arm curled around the older girl’s waist without a stitch of clothing between them. And it was so familiar and perfect. And it hurt.

Because she wasn’t supposed to be there. Because even if Carmilla wasn’t rushing Laura out the night before, the other girl didn’t do sleepovers.

And this isn’t part of the deal, she thought, feeling the ache deep in her chest. If she wakes up to find you still here… you can’t ruin this.

Relishing one last moment of soft perfection, Laura carefully sliding out of the bed and adjusted the blankets on her side, thankful that Carmilla didn’t budge. She quickly moved around the room, grabbing up her clothes and clumsily pulling them on as fast as she could. With her pants still unbuttoned, one sock on, and her shirt in hand, she tiptoed toward the door, careful to avoid the slightly squeaky floorboard that she’d discovered a few weeks ago.

Stepping into the hallway, she turned back once more, gripping her shirt tight to her chest. For a long moment, she stood there and watched, taking in just how absolutely beautiful Carmilla was. How much the older girl made her heart erratically beat. How she practically craved the dark-haired beauty.  

You weren’t supposed to do this.

Sure, she knew she was attracted to Carmilla. And she knew that she had a crush on the other girl. But she wasn’t supposed to develop stronger feelings. She wasn’t supposed to fall for her. Love was not on the agenda. And dammit…

I’ve… it’s too late. I’m in love with her.

With one last glance and tears suddenly stinging her eyes, Laura swallowed hard and quietly closed the bedroom door behind her.

Chapter Text

 

I'm not in love so don't forget it

It's just a silly phase I'm going through

And just because I call you up

Don't get me wrong, don't think you've got it made

 

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2019

SoHo

 

The chirping of her phone was what brought her into consciousness, the light already far more prominent than it should be for this time of day. Slowly letting her eyes flutter open, Carmilla blinked against the brightness, her confusion growing as the seconds ticked by. Another ping from her phone atop the bedside table next to her pulled a disgruntled groan from her throat and she clumsily reached for it, prying her eyes open to look at the display.

Mattie (8:06 AM): Since you’re already running late, bring me a coffee on your way in.

Mattie (8:11 AM): Do not ignore me.

Mattie (8:19 AM): Fine, please bring me a coffee on your way in.

Mattie (8:27 AM): Carmilla, this is not amusing. We have a presentation this afternoon that I’d like to discuss with you.

Will (8:39 AM): Alright, while I think this is hilarious, Mattie is less than impressed.

Will (8:40 AM): Oh, grab me a bagel when you get her coffee!

Mattie (8:54 AM): You are aware that the workday started nearly an hour ago, correct?

Mattie (9:16 AM): Fine.

Mattie (9:17 AM): You’re dead to me.

Shit.

Why hadn’t her alarm gone off? What the hell had she done the night before that apparently took away her ability to think?

Laura.

The memories of the previous evening flooded back to her in a warm, welcoming tide. Laura smiling and giggling, eyes bright. Laura kissing her, lips so incredibly soft and perfect. Feeling the tiny brunette beneath her as the smaller girl came undone over and over, sighing Carmilla’s name a little breathier each time. Laura looking beautiful and amazing and just…

Laura.

Carmilla couldn’t say she was sorry for how the evening had turned out. In fact, it had actually been incredible. Different than their norm, but fantastic just the same. She couldn’t quite pinpoint why it was different or why she’d slowed their frantic tempo at the start. But if she was being honest, the night before was probably the best night they’d spent together. And it wasn’t just the amazing sex. It was the talking afterward. It was the familiarity of lying next to the younger girl, close and completely open, both of them trusting the other. It was waking up in the middle of the night, the room dark, feeling Laura’s warm curves pressing into her back so perfectly, the smaller girl’s even breaths tickling at the spot between her shoulder blades.

Carmilla had fallen back to sleep just moments later right as Laura was pulling her closer and it felt right. It felt like it was supposed to.

Letting the memories drift away with a contented smile, Carmilla stretched and rolled over, intent on waking the younger girl but her smile fell and her brow furrowed when she saw the bed empty, Laura absent. She glanced around the room as she slowly sat up, noticing all of Laura’s clothes were gone, but strangely the bedroom door was closed.

Well, she’s normally so damn noisy, she thought with a chuckle as she pushed herself up on her elbow. Must not have wanted to wake me.

Carmilla (9:21 AM): Sorry, I had a late night. I’ll be there soon.

Setting her phone back down on the nightstand, she hauled herself off the bed, muscles tired. Standing, she shuffled toward the door as she wiped at her eyes and pushed a hand through her hair, her ring finger catching on a small knot. Grabbing her silk robe off the back of the door, she pulled it on and left the room, tying it as she made her way toward the stairs in search of Laura.

Maybe I can convince her to have breakfast with me before work. If Sherman is still okay, that is.

“Please tell me you made coffee,” she called with a chuckle. “Because I definitely need it today.”

The silence that echoed back at her was louder than it should be and she suddenly felt her something tightening uncomfortably in her chest as she slowly moved down the stairs.

“Cupcake?” she tried again, only to be answered by nothingness.

Reaching the bottom of the staircase, she rounded the corner into the kitchen, her steps faltering when she found it empty. Pristine. Exactly as it had been the night before as if nothing was different. Glancing around, she surveyed the rest of the open first floor, that feeling in her chest growing louder and louder, even in the quiet.

The apartment was empty. Laura was gone.

She just left?

But that didn’t make sense. They’d fallen asleep next to one another. Laura had held her close through the night. Carmilla had somehow been cognizant of the soft, unintentional press of lips to her back and shoulders as they’d shifted with one another over the hours.

But she wouldn’t just leave, Carmilla thought, looking around the apartment again, brow furrowing more and more as the seconds ticked by. Not without a note.

But again, the apartment looked exactly as it had when they’d gone upstairs the night before, lips pressed together, her hands wrapped around Laura’s waist, the tiny brunette brushing her fingertips reverently against Carmilla’s face.

Why would she do that? Did something happen? Is it… fuck, Sherman!

She quickly turned and moved back up the staircase, her feet carrying her as if on autopilot back into her bedroom. She moved toward the nightstand where she’d left her phone, hoping the elder Hollis was okay, but feeling the dread pooling in her gut just the same. She’d been so distracted by Mattie and Will that maybe she didn’t notice any other messages. But picking up the device, even as relief ran through her veins, her heart sank lower into her stomach, finding the last text from Laura had been from the night before, simply letting Carmilla know that she was on her way over.

So… why’d she just leave? Did I do something? Did I fuck up?

But that couldn’t be right. Besides, Laura wouldn’t have just left without a second thought, regardless of how the younger girl was feeling. That wasn’t how Laura operated. That wasn’t something she would do.

That’s not her.

So why? What had happened between the early morning hours they’d shared, snuggled together to the time Carmilla had woken up? Had Laura panicked? Had she changed her mind? Or…

Did she regret staying with me? Did she leave because we had finished and… shit.

It wasn’t like Carmilla really had the moral high ground here. How many women had she left alone without an explanation, be it as soon as they were done or sometime before they woke up the next day? Too many to count. Hell, she’d done it to Laura.

But that was before, she thought, glancing around the room. Things are different now. Aren’t they?

She felt her chest jump with a start when her phone beeped in her hand. Quickly glancing down, she felt her hopes dashed once again.

Mattie (9:28 AM): She better have been worth it.

Goddamnit.

Carmilla slumped down onto the edge of her bed, still staring at the message until the screen went black again.

She better have been worth it, she thought with a little huff, feeling the ache in her chest continue to slowly expand, the sensation unfamiliar. But Carmilla already knew where the feeling was coming from. She knew why it was sitting there, mocking her, the pain growing. Because she knew.

Later that day

The West Village

“Dude, that’s not what I said.”

“Pretty sure it is.”

“Well, that’s not what I meant.”

“Then maybe you need to get a more extensive vocabulary, meat cheeks.”

“Jesus, do the two of you ever fucking stop?” Carmilla snapped, scowling back and forth between Mel and Kirsch who sat across the table from her at the noisy restaurant on Broome Street.

Two sets of confused eyes snapped toward her and Carmilla found herself cringing at her outburst. She sighed and looked away, angrily grabbing up a fry off oh her plate and taking a quick bite, her jaw clenching as she did. After all, it wasn’t their fault that she felt this way. But apparently, her temper didn’t care.

It had been ten hours since she’d woken up to find her apartment empty. Or more accurately, ten hours and twenty-two minutes. She’d finally broken down on her way into the office, unable to stop herself as the worry had continued to bubble up from within.

Carmilla (10:06 AM): Is your dad okay?

Laura (10:07 AM): Yeah! He’s great actually. It’s a good day. Thanks for asking!

Laura had followed that up with a ‘Good morning by the way’ text a moment later. One that Carmilla glanced at and shrugged off, refusing to reply to because the damage was done. Because it was bullshit. Because Laura couldn’t just expect to get what she wanted from Carmilla and then run out. Because that was…

Not what this was supposed to be! This was supposed to be different.

“What’s wrong with you, angry hottie?” Kirsch asked around a mouthful of chili cheeseburger from the bite he’d just taken.

“Nothing. I’m fine,” she replied, shaking her head and lifting another crispy fry to her mouth.

“You sure about that?” Mel pressed, leaning forward onto the table, eyes still curious. “You’re way more grouchy than normal. I mean, we’ve only been here twenty minutes and you’ve already snapped at the beefcake three times.”

“Yeah,” she sighed once again. “Just started the day wrong and been a little off-kilter since I guess.”

“Work?”

“Well, I definitely overslept and pissed Mattie off so she was a nightmare to deal with.”

“You can totally handle Mattie,” Mel argued.

“New stalker?” Kirsch tried.

“I haven’t even had time to go out lately.”

“Well, we were actually planning on grabbing a drink tomorrow night. LaF, Perry, Lawrence. Even little nerd said she’d try to make it for a bit if she could.”

Laura.

She felt her stomach roll at the thought of the younger girl, the little bit of food she’d eaten threatening to come back up. But she swallowed hard and pushed it back down.

“Speaking of which, where is Lawrence?” she asked hoping to steer clear of the offer. “Wasn’t she supposed to be here tonight?”

“Ditched us for Hollis,” Mel answered, her gaze never wavering.

“What do you mean?” she asked, hearing the nerves she was trying to hide just at the edge of her voice.

“They’re having dinner together tonight.”

Together?

“Why?”

She watched Kirsch look up at her, brow furrowing while Mel’s head just slightly tipped to the side, both now staring at her curiously, and she realized she was toeing a very fine line. Though she and Laura had never made any rules about who could and couldn’t know about them, she figured it was probably best, for now, to avoid blurting out the truth to her two friends. Mel would probably just give her shit and a stern warning about not hurting Laura and Kirsch would smile goofily before diving back into his food and likely forgetting the conversation until a much more inappropriate time.

“I mean, was it for something special or what?” Carmilla asked with a shrug. “So I know how much shit to give Lawrence for not showing up tonight.”

“Not sure honestly,” Mel answered after a long pause, glancing at Kirsch who merely shrugged before turning back toward Carmilla. 

“D-bear just said they were going somewhere nice. Said something about it being her turn.”

“Her turn?” Carmilla asked.

Her turn to what?

Buy dinner? Pay Laura back?... To take Laura on a date? Carmilla swallowed hard at that last thought and reached for the glass of local lager she’d ordered, her mouth suddenly dry as the image of Laura and Danny sitting close in the dimly lit restaurant a few weeks ago crashed into her brain.

“Who knows. Maybe they just wanted to hang out. Or maybe you were onto something with your inquisition two weeks ago,” Mel said, reaching for her own dark porter, her eyes still glued to Carmilla, reading each and every minuscule expression Carmilla knew was crossing her face.

Fuck.

She glanced down at her plate, hoping to hide her thoughts as the conversation she and Mel had had two weeks early played through her mind.

“What’s the deal with Laura and… Lawrence?” 

“What do you mean?”

“I um… ran into them last night at dinner. Looked like… like they were on a date.”

“What if they were?”

Those words had been like a sucker punch straight into her chest and she’d felt Mel’s inquisitive gaze on her at that moment in the park just as strong as it was now.

“As far as I know, there’s nothing new between her and Laura.”

“Nothing new.”

“No. And when we all had dinner last week, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. But… I don’t know. If there is something, maybe they’re just not telling us. I wouldn’t be surprised.”

“Why wouldn’t they tell you?”

“They didn’t last time.”

Those were the words that had Carmilla starting to panic. But that wasn’t right, was it? Laura and Danny couldn’t be dating. Because Laura had told her. She’d stood outside of Carmilla’s apartment, smiling softly as she had explained to an incredibly anxious Carmilla.

“What’s up with you and Danny?”

“What do you mean? Danny and I are friends.”

“Yeah, I know that. But… but are you guys friends like… like we’re friends?”

“No, Carm. I care about Danny. A lot. She’s… she’s one of my best friends. But you… you’re you, Carm. And no one is friends like we are. In any way.”

Friends like they were. Friends that were open and caring toward one another? Friends who had shared more with each other than with anyone else? Friends who… 

Sleep together a couple of times a week. Who have sex because one needs help and…

Fuck. Maybe the relationship she thought they had was different by Laura’s interpretation. Maybe Laura had only been talking about the sex. For all intents and purposes, she was just as close to Danny in other aspects. She shared her thoughts and feelings with the redhead, right? She spent time with the taller girl and Carmilla had seen them be just as physically affectionate.

But they aren’t sleeping together. Laura said she hadn’t slept with anyone else since we...

“I’m someone who dates and has girlfriends and serious relationships. I don’t sleep with… well, you know.”

The words floated back to her. Words that at the time, sitting there next to Laura on her tiny bed had been somewhat reassuring. Laura wasn’t sleeping with anyone else. She didn’t do that. It wasn’t her.

But she is someone who dates. Someone who has girlfriends and serious relationships, Carmilla thought, tossing back another swallow from her beer. She’s someone who wants those things.

“Karnstein?” Mel snapped at her, drawing her attention back to her friends, both now staring at her with concern. “Seriously, what’s up with you?”

“Nothing,” she quickly huffed. “I told you, it’s just been a long day.”

“You sure, dude? Because like, if you wanted to talk to us about something-”

“I don’t want to talk about anything!”

“Okay, okay,” Kirsch said, putting his hands up in surrender. “Do you um… you want to go catch a movie with us then? After dinner?”

“No,” she said, tossing her napkin onto her still mostly full plate and standing, suddenly needing to get away. “I’m tired and I just want to go home.”

“But it’s early,” Mel tried. “Come on, just come out with us for a bit. Take your mind off of whatever's really bugging you.”

“Nothing is bugging me,” Carmilla said, throwing a few crumpled bills onto the table and avoiding her friend’s eager stares.

“Maybe we can call little nerd and D-bear and see if they want to come too?” Kirsch suggested.

Carmilla felt the nausea rising quickly as she shook her head once again.

“Hard pass on that,” she said. “I don’t really feel like third-wheeling on their romantic evening.”

“I don’t think they’re actually-”

“They’re probably just-”

“Whatever,” she said, interrupting the duo with a wave of her hand. “Not interested in being front and center to the Hollis and Lawrence lovefest. I’ve heard enough about it over the years and frankly, it sounds nauseating. But by all means, you two go and enjoy. Make sure you root for the home team.”

“Karnstein…”

“Carm…”

“No,” she said, knowing from their now gentle tones that she might’ve given too much away. Shaking her head and turning, she walked off, ignoring both Mel and Kirsch’s pleas for her to come back.

“Fuck,” she grumbled as she exited the restaurant and turned to head toward home, footsteps heavy and purposeful.

Laura and Danny. Cozy somewhere. Together. Laura probably smiling that beautiful smile that sometimes stole Carmilla’s breath from her throat, laughing that laugh that was like music to her ears, eyes bright and focused on…

Lawrence! Goddamnit, stop!

This was getting ridiculous. Why was she letting this get to her so easily? Why did she honestly care? Laura wasn’t her girlfriend. It wasn’t even like Carmilla had girlfriends. That wasn’t something she did.

But it was something Laura did. Laura had girlfriends. She had women that she fell in love with. She had…

Danny. Fuck.

Carmilla sighed heavily, knowing why this was bothering her. Knowing why this hurt more than it should.

Because she knew.

Tuesday, January 6th, 2015

4 years, 5 months, and 8 days earlier

Lower Midtown

“I wasn’t flirting,” Carmilla chuckled as she stepped forward and reached for Elle’s hips to bring the other girl in close.

But Elle quickly dodged her with a huff, stepping around the coffee table and moving to the other side of the room. She stopped and turned, her arms firmly crossed over her chest, eyes glued to the floor, her expression caught somewhere between irritated and dejected.

“Seriously?” Carmilla scoffed, tipping her head to the side, completely confused at the rapid change in the mood of the evening. After all, they’d been having a nice time, out enjoying each other’s company after a stuffy dinner she’d brought Elle to for some of Opaque’s more prestigious clients.

“Carmilla, I already told you,” Elle started as she finally looked up. “If you don’t want this, I understand. Excuse the expression, but relationships aren’t exactly your cup of tea. Perhaps this isn’t the best course for us.”

“Are you fucking kidding me?” Carmilla huffed, climbing over the arm of the sofa and plopping down, her dark gray suit already slightly wrinkled from the long day. “Elle, I didn’t do anything. I wasn’t flirting, I was simply having a conversation.”

“A conversation with a woman who couldn’t keep her hands off of you? Who made more than one suggestive comment? Who blatantly asked to come home with you?” Elle let out a humorless laugh. “A conversation where you simply smiled and played along with absolutely no thought of the fact that I was standing three feet away.”

“No, that’s not…” Carmilla trailed off with a sigh, replaying the twenty minutes she’d spent talking to the woman – Shannon or Shanna or something like that – while Elle sipped her wine, smiling at something Mattie and Will were talking about. Sure, the blonde had been incredibly forward when she first approached and had made more than a handful of those ‘suggestive comments.’ But Carmilla had rebuffed her, didn’t she? She’d made it very clear that she was already taken, right?

“Carmilla,” Elle continued, bringing her attention back to the present. “You can talk to other women. You can have relationships with them, be they friends or colleagues or business associates. That’s fine. But I’m not going to just sit by if it’s something more.”

“It was nothing!” she argued. “Look, I’m sorry about tonight. And fine, yes, the woman at the bar came on a little strong but it’s not like anything was going to actually happen.”

“That’s a truly terrible argument. Possibly the worst one I’ve heard from you yet,” Elle sighed.

“Well, what do you want me to say? It’s not like I’m out trying to pick up women every night. I’m not out, looking for something on the side when you’re not available.”

“I know that. And believe it or not, I know you wouldn’t act on anything without ending things with me first.”

“Are you kidding me!” Carmilla blurted out again, the comment seeming far too casual for the implication.

“But this isn’t the first time this has happened,” Elle continued, ignoring the outburst.

“What are you talking about?” Carmilla asked, genuinely confused.

“Carmilla, I’ve seen you flirting with at least a dozen women since we started this relationship.”

What?

“And I understand that a little harmless teasing happens from time to time. I know that you’re not doing anything to purposely hurt me. But how would you feel if you saw me smiling and brushing my hand along another woman’s arm? How would you like it if the next time a beautiful lady asked me out for dinner or a drink or… more, that I brushed her off with a coy little smile but never actually said no?”

“I… I haven’t done that,” she said, knowing how weak her words sounded.

“Darling, once again, I’m going to disagree. And once again, I’m going to tell you that I understand and am completely fine with you having platonic relationships with other women,” Elle said, taking two steps forward and letting her arms fall to her sides. “But if we’re going to be together, you need to remember that you have a girlfriend.”

“I’m…” Carmilla sighed heavily, reaching up and fiddling with her glasses. “I’m well aware that I have a… a girlfriend.”

She heard the hesitation in her voice, hating that it was there. Hating that she couldn’t seem to shake it.

“Sweetheart, if you can’t even say the word, then we shouldn’t be doing this,” Elle said, taking another step.

“No, it’s not that,” Carmilla sighed, staring down at her hands.

But what was it? Why was she having such a hard time with this? They had been dating for a few months now, and though she cared very deeply for Elle, she had to admit that she sometimes needed to be reminded that what they had wasn’t something casual. It wasn’t something she could put on the backburner whenever she wanted to. It meant more than that. There were expectations. There were feelings. Feelings that could very easily be hurt with the wrong move.

“Carmilla,” Elle sighed again. “We can’t keep doing this. I care about you but I can’t just sit by and be alright with my girlfriend hitting on any pretty woman that walks by. I don’t want to be an afterthought.”

“I know,” Carmilla mumbled, still staring down at her hands before braving a glance up at Elle. “I don’t want you to feel that way either. I just… I need to do better, I know. I need to change.”

Elle just smiled softly and took the final few steps toward the couch, closing the gap between them and taking Carmilla’s hands in hers, holding them gently.

“Carmilla, I like you. A lot. But I don’t want you to be someone that you’re not. I don’t want you trying to be someone that you’re not comfortable being, just because of us. I don’t want to change you.”

“You just don’t want me staring at every other girl I cross paths with?” Carmilla tried, hoping a bit of humor would lessen the uncomfortable feeling pulling at her limbs.

“It’s not exactly fun to watch, no.”

“I know, but… shit. It’s just, I’ve never been in this place before. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do or not. I don’t know where the lines are but…” Carmilla looked up. “I didn’t even realize I was doing anything, to be honest.”

“I know this is all new to you. And I understand where it may be difficult. But perhaps this is just the way it is,” Elle said, voice soft. “We can still be friends, you know?”

“No!” Carmilla blurted out before she could even think about it, shaking her head. “Look, I’ll stop. I’ll do better. I’ll… I’ll be what you want.”

“No,” Elle said, reaching out and cupping her cheek. “I want you to be you. Not the woman that you think I want.”

“But I can make this right.”

“Darling, you being you isn’t wrong.”

“No, but not taking this relationship seriously is,” she said, surprised at the words continuing to escape without a second thought.

Elle tilted her head to the side, taking a long moment before speaking again.

“Carmilla, be honest with me. And with yourself. What do you really want?”

Carmilla stared back, swallowing hard, feeling her heart thud heavily in her chest. What did she want? What was she supposed to do here?

She’d never been in this situation before. Sure, she’d had women that she saw more than once. Women she spent more time with than normal. But she’d never considered those relationships to be anything beyond casual dating. They had fun, saw each other when they wanted, and kept things light. And when it was done, it was done. There were no discussions of feelings or long backstories or promises made that were just full of empty words. But now with Elle…

I do care about her. She means more.

“I don’t… I don’t want to lose this,” she finally uttered, voice barely audible. “Or you.”

“Are you absolutely certain?” Elle asked, her eyes still full of worry. “Because… I don’t want to scare you off but, Carmilla, you are someone very important to me. You are someone I want in my life. Someone who… someone who I could fall in love with.”

Carmilla swallowed hard at the words, feeling the panic scream from within.

“I’d rather avoid that hurt and end things now if this isn’t something you actually want.”

Something she actually wanted. Was that Elle? Was that a serious relationship? One where she would have to take into account another person’s thoughts and feelings? One where she’d have to be there for that person, day or night, a constant support? Where she would have to be open and vulnerable and let them into her world without holding back?

“I… yes,” she finally answered, holding Elle’s gaze. “I do want this, Elle. I do want… us.”

Yes, she could do this. She could be that rock. She could be loving and tender and kind. She could be brave and put her heart out there, trusting that it wouldn’t be crushed.

And there was no one else she’d do it for. No one else that had gotten this close. So Elle had to be the one… right?

Wednesday, July 3rd, 2019

Back in the present

SoHo

Walking into the bar, Carmilla glanced around, somewhat relieved that it wasn’t incredibly busy, but still noisy enough to be distracting. She’d tried to go home after work. But she couldn’t stay there. Because everywhere she looked there was Laura. The grape soda in the refrigerator and the maroon pair of Gryffindor mittens the smaller girl had left on one of the end tables months ago when it was still cold. The way the pillows on the couch had been rearranged so that they could sit together comfortably, bodies close. The smell of vanilla coconut shampoo that seemed to linger to her clothes regardless of washing them from any place that Laura lay her head. The tiny brunette was everywhere and Carmilla couldn’t handle it.

She moved toward one of the few empty seats in the darkened bar and quickly ordered three fingers of their most expensive scotch. She honestly hadn’t even wanted to come to a bar but she wasn’t really sure what else to do with herself.

Nodding to the server as he placed the drink in front of her on a white cocktail napkin, she slid some cash over and wrapped her hands around the smooth glass. Lifting the tumbler to her lips, she took a sip and glanced around the bar, noticing a few pairs of eyes already on her. A blonde. A brunette. Another blonde.

But she wasn’t interested in any of them. Sure, they were all pretty. And probably would’ve made great company for the night. But they weren’t her. They weren’t…

Laura.

Fuck.

Carmilla sighed heavily, rubbing a frustrated hand across her face and cursing her luck. Because suddenly, of course, there was Laura, standing with the rest of their friends around a high top table near the back of the bar, her beautiful laugh just barely audible above the music playing.

Why couldn’t she escape her? Of all the places in New York for the tiny brunette to be at, why did it have to be the bar that Carmilla had just randomly walked into? And why did she have to be standing so close to Danny, her left arm wrapped around the taller girl’s waist as she leaned into the redhead and laughed at something Kirsch was saying?

Because it’s Danny. Because Laura has girlfriends. Because they make sense, she thought, forcing her eyes away from the scene and taking another sip from her glass.

Why did it have to feel like this? Why did the sudden, unfamiliar ache have to burrow so deep into her chest, slowly expanding to the rest of her body with each erratic heartbeat?

“Dammit,” she grumbled, closing her eyes for a long moment, focusing on the unique pattern in the wood grain of the bar in front of her when she finally let them open. “Just drink this and go. Go to Mattie’s. Go to Will’s. Just g-”

“Carmilla?”

She felt herself cringe at the voice, shaking her head and pretending she hadn’t heard the caller, hoping they’d just leave her alone. Unfortunately, luck really wasn’t on her side apparently.

“How are you?” Perry asked with a gleeful smile as she took the empty stool next to Carmilla’s and signaled for the bartender.

“Fine,” she answered around clenched teeth, continuing to stare straight ahead as Perry ordered another glass of white wine for herself and a beer for LaF who stood just a foot behind them.

“What have you been up to?”

“Since I saw you a few hours ago at the office?” she scoffed, turning, eyes narrowed.

“Yes, I suppose that was a silly question,” she laughed, the sound a little louder than normal, and Carmilla guessed the wine had started to settle into her system. “It’s just so nice to see you out though.”

“Yeah, you spend so much time working that it’s almost like you have no social life anymore,” LaF added, their own grin a little too wide.

“Well, not one outside of Laura,” Perry said. “Who is here by the way!”

She must be on glass three, Carmilla thought watching the over-exaggerated wink Perry sent her.

“So?” she grumbled, looking back out across the bar.

“Well, why don’t you go say hello? I’m sure she’d love to see you.”

Carmilla looked up, seeing the younger girl still standing at Danny’s side, their fingers now intertwined as they laughed together, Laura’s smile bright and beautiful and…

Goddamnit.

“She looks a little busy at the moment,” Carmilla said, looking away and taking another sip from her glass.

“Oh, no, not at all,” Perry argued.

“And even if she was, she’d always make time for you, Karnstein,” LaF said with their own awkward wink and a clumsy jab to Carmilla’s shoulder.

“She really would!”

Carmilla rolled her eyes, knowing they weren’t trying to make this harder, but that didn’t ease the sting of knowing damn well that Laura was exactly where she wanted to be at the moment. Because Danny was important to her. Because they mattered to one another.

Because they make sense.

“Hey,” a tentative voice came from her left and Carmilla cursed the universe.

Turning, she took in Laura standing there, fingers already braided together as she bounced on the balls of her feet, eyes full of hope above her hesitant smile.

“I didn’t know you were coming tonight,” she continued when Carmilla simply stared.

“Just wanted a drink,” Carmilla said with a shrug, noting Perry and LaF had moved away with their own fresh cocktails, both still smiling a little too broadly.

“How are you?” Laura asked, stepping closer and placing a hand on Carmilla’s arm, fingers gently tickling, leaving her skin warm and buzzing.

“Fine,” she said, not even bothering to look as she took a sip from her glass.

“I wasn’t sure,” Laura said, and Carmilla could hear the nerves. “I mean, I haven’t heard from you since… well, since we… you know? On Monday night.”

Since the night you decided to bolt while I was still asleep, she thought as she merely shrugged, attempting to appear as though it didn’t matter.

“Mel said she invited you but you never responded so she figured we could survive a night without you,” Laura teased.

“I’m easy to forget about apparently.”

“What… what does that mean?” Laura asked, her smile faltering.

“Nothing.”

“Oh. Okay, well… do you want to maybe come over and stand with us?” she asked. “Kirsch has some pretty good stories.”

Carmilla looked up, meeting those gorgeous soft eyes, the hope in them now close to overwhelming.

“It’ll be fun,” Laura continued. “We haven’t all gotten together in a long time and… well, it’d be nice to have everyone.”

“You all seem to be doing just fine without me,” she said before her limbs could betray her and follow Laura across the room.

“Carm.” Laura’s voice was quiet. Hurt. Disappointed.

Carmilla shrugged once more as she turned away. This wasn’t going to happen. She wasn’t going to give in this time. She’d already done enough for Laura.

I have to draw the line somewhere, she thought, looking away and watching as a redhead sat down on the stool Perry had just vacated, leaning into her and smiling coyly.

“Well, hi there stranger,” the woman said, her tone teasing.

Carmilla turned and took the woman in, vaguely remembering the redhead from somewhere in the recesses of her mind. They’d hooked up a few times earlier in the year on some of the slower nights. And it had been easy. The woman always seemed to want the same thing Carmilla did so there were never any awkward ‘goodbyes’ or ‘I’ll call you’s’. But that was before.

“Haven’t seen you around much lately,” the woman said, reaching out and running her fingertips along Carmilla’s forearm.

Out of the corner of her eye, Carmilla saw Laura’s eyebrows furrow, her shoulders start to sag.

Why does it matter? She’s got her own redhead for the night. And Lawrence is obviously happy to fill that role. I’m sure Laura won’t be sneaking out in the morning before she wakes up either. Hell, they’ll probably have brunch.

“Here now,” she said with a teasing smile, her voice sounding off and uninterested. “How’ve you been…?”

“Lacey,” the woman supplied, still with that smile. 

“I remember,” Carmilla said, her voice still sounding foreign in her ears.

“And the night’s definitely looking up now,” Lacey replied, shooting a quick glance at Laura before meeting Carmilla’s gaze again, stare bold. “So long as you’re alone, that is.”

Carmilla paused for a second, her emotions warring inside, knowing this wasn’t going to end well one way or another. If she turned this woman down, Laura wouldn’t give up. The plucky brunette would likely pull her kicking and screaming over to their little group and Carmilla would be forced to watch her and Danny stand close and touch and laugh with each other, completely oblivious to how it was making Carmilla feel until the night was over and she’d be forced to watch Laura walk away. 

Probably on Danny’s arm.

But if she took the redhead up on her offer…

“I am, in fact, alone,” she said, immediately feeling the piercing through her chest as Laura’s entire face fell, looking as though she’d been slapped.

“Must be my lucky night then,” the redhead giggled, leaning in a little closer.

Carmilla simply smirked back at her, even as the knife began to violently twist back and forth.

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. What am I doing? I’m such an asshole!

“Um… Carm?” Laura’s voice was quiet but Carmilla could hear the hurt loud and clear.

She slowly turned to the smaller girl, forcing her face to go blank as she did, her self-preservation kicking into overdrive. Because she had to. She couldn’t give in this time.

“What?”

“Um… well… nothing. I guess I’ll um… I’ll just talk to you later,” Laura said, stuffing her hands into her pockets and staring down at her feet, her voice just barely audible over the music. Looking miserable and sad and…

Devastated. Almost like her heart’s been broken.

And suddenly, Carmilla wanted to take back the last ten minutes. She wanted to erase everything, the entire interaction. Because Laura was Laura. And because Carmilla knew…

No. You can’t keep doing this, she thought, feeling her nails dig into her palms, fists tight. She doesn’t get to have you when she wants and toss you aside when she doesn’t. She doesn’t get to leave this time. It’s my turn.

“Hmm,” she mumbled, nodding once, watching Laura’s eyes fall even further as she turned and walked away without another word.

It fucking hurt. Which wasn’t fair. She shouldn’t have to shoulder her own feelings while taking Laura’s into consideration. She shouldn’t have to be Laura’s unconditional support, always there regardless. But more than all of that, she shouldn’t have put herself out there. She shouldn’t have trusted Laura the way she had. She shouldn’t have let her in, opening the door wider than she ever had for anyone else.

“Come on, this place is getting a little too crowded,” Lacey said with a sinful smile, bringing Carmilla’s attention back to her.

Carmilla simply nodded, allowing herself to be pulled off of her stool and toward the door, her gait becoming more and more sluggish with each step. 

She tried to refrain. She tried to keep moving and pretend like it didn’t matter. But she couldn’t stop her eyes from floating across the room to where Laura stood, arms wrapped protectively around her torso, her expression now completely blank despite the group around her smiling wide and laughing loud. And Laura didn’t meet her gaze but someone else did.

Lawrence.

Danny wasn’t smiling either from her spot standing next to Laura, their arms just barely brushing. No, instead, Danny stared back, her brow furrowed, head cocked slightly to the side, seemingly confused.

But it didn’t matter.

Go ahead, Lawrence, she thought, shrugging at the taller girl before finally looking away and moving to the exit. She’s all yours. Just like you’ve always wanted.

The night air was stuffy when it hit her, her skin instantly sticky from the humidity. Heavy, like it was dragging her down, slowing her steps along the cracked concrete even more. Keeping her from leaving.

“So, are we going back to your place now?” Lacey asked as she turned, reaching out and taking a handful of the front of Carmilla’s shirt.

She stared at the woman for a long moment, taking in her features. Her eyes were beautiful, but they didn’t quite sparkle. And her hair faintly smelled of the sweet shampoo she used, but it wasn’t the scent of vanilla coconut and it didn’t look as soft. Her lips rosy and full, still turned up in that knowing grin just weren’t that appealing. They didn’t look like they’d taste of cherry chapstick or chocolate cookies. They didn’t look like they’d feel warm and soft, fitting perfectly against her own.

No. No, she couldn’t do this. Because she didn’t want this girl. Because this meant nothing. Because the girl she did want was still inside with someone else.

Because she knew.

She’d known. She’d known when she first laid eyes on Laura standing outside her apartment door the day she got back from San Francisco. She’d known when Laura had shown up unexpectedly, jealousy leaking out of her. She’d known the night they’d spent sitting in Laura’s bed at her dad’s house, just talking into the wee hours of the morning. And she’d known when she’d fallen asleep a few nights earlier, Laura still beside her, warm and naked and so goddamn perfect.

She’d known.

I can’t, she thought, swallowing thickly, her mouth tasting the bile she hadn’t even realized was there. Because I actually have feelings for her. Because I actually want Laura for Laura. Because she’s the one I don’t want to hold back from. And I can’t have her.

Shaking her head, she stepped back from the redhead, pushing her hand away.

“Um, no,” she said, not even batting an eye. “No, we aren’t.”

Jamming her hands into her pockets, Carmilla turned and walked away without another word.

Chapter Text

 

How many times

Did we give up

But we always worked things out

And all my doubts and fear

Kept me wondering

If I'd always, always be in love

Friday, July 5th, 2019

Chelsea

It’s too loud down there, she internally grumbled with a pout. I miss the calm.

Watching the mid-afternoon bustling 8th Avenue from her seat on the second-floor window sill, Laura pulled her knees close to her chest, hugging them tightly. This wasn’t exactly incredibly entertaining but she’d been unsure of where else to go while her dad attended one of his last physical therapy appointments. Which she still didn’t understand.

He’s not ready yet. He still needs help, she thought with a quiet sigh. Though she had to admit, it was nice to see Sherman smiling widely the entire ride into the city.

She knew he was pushing to move forward in his recovery. That he was ready to get his life back to ‘normal.’ They’d discussed it at length more than once, the conversation usually ending when he would jokingly ask her when she was getting her plane ticket back home. But she wasn’t packing up just yet. No. She was determined to see this through to the end. To make sure that her dad was one-hundred percent before she went back to California. Back to her home – to her life – which she desperately missed. 

Of course, her absence had been made easier by her friends. They’d been incredibly supportive through this whole ordeal, even when she was pushing them away. LaF and Perry were always available to stop in with food or entertainment. Kirsch was always first in line to make her laugh over his ridiculous antics while Mel stood at his side, attempting not to roll her eyes too hard as she reigned him in. Danny was there for dinners and talking and a teary night or two. And, of course, Carmilla who was always there for all of it. Carmilla who was the most amazing friend she’d ever had. Carmilla who she hadn’t spoken to since the dark-haired girl had left the bar with another woman just two nights earlier.

Laura had violently blinked back the tears when the older girl had so easily dismissed her in favor of the other woman. She’d felt weak and nauseous and so utterly and completely heartbroken. Watching Carmilla leave with the gorgeous redhead that night quickly had Laura bolting from the bar herself, only waiting inside long enough to be sure she wouldn’t accidentally run into the couple on her way out. Her friends had been a bit surprised by her sudden departure, but she’d brushed them off, claiming she just wasn’t feeling well and declining their offers to get her back to her dad’s.

He’d been asleep when she’d arrived back at the house so she’d quietly snuck up the stairs and collapsed onto her bed, the tears already silently leaking from her eyes. Tears that she loathed because they didn’t belong there. Carmilla wasn’t hers. They weren’t a couple. She was allowed to see whoever she wanted. Laura had said so herself - “if you want to see other women, that’s… fine.”

You told her it was okay.

Wednesday, July 3rd, 2019

2 days earlier

SoHo

She wasn’t expecting to see Carmilla that night. Mel had said the older girl was basically boycotting any and all messages, which Laura was already aware of. She’d attempted to reach out multiple times over the last two days since she’d accidentally fallen asleep with Carmilla in her arms. But she also knew how busy the dark-haired girl could sometimes get with work and figured she’d back off for now. That seemed like the fair thing to do.

So when Carmilla walked into the bar, Laura was more than pleasantly surprised, the butterflies in her stomach instantly taking flight, fluttering around rapidly. And though she wanted to immediately rush over, Laura forced her eyes away and stayed put, standing with her friends so as not to seem too eager to spend some time with Carmilla. She laughed along with the rest of the group at something Kirsch was saying, his words not fully registering as her mind was now somewhere else. On thoughts of the beautiful woman and where the night might take them. Maybe they could spend some time together, just the two of them after the group get-together was over. Maybe they could go get a coffee or a piece of pie somewhere. She honestly didn’t care as long as she got to be with Carmilla. To sit near and be able to look into her beautiful eyes and see that gorgeous smile.

But as the moments passed, it got harder and harder to keep her gaze on her friends and eventually, her anxious heart won out, forcing her stare to the front of the bar where Carmilla was sat on one of the barstools, looking bored and uninterested in whatever it was that LaF and Perry were saying to her.

Curious, Laura found herself pulling away from the rest of her friends before she could really think about it, the draw to the other girl nearly overpowering at this point.

 She quietly excused herself, weaving her way across the room slowly, taking in every inch of the gorgeous woman that she was completely crazy about. The subtle waves in her dark hair. The way the dim lights above hit her face just right, showcasing her incredible features.

Those damn leather pants, she thought, the barest of grins painting itself across her lips. 

“Hey,” she said as she finally reached Carmilla’s side, feeling the nerves bubbling up from nowhere quickly amplifying as Carmilla slowly turned toward her, those beautiful eyes that Laura adored nowhere near as soft as normal.

I hope she’s okay.

“I didn’t know you were coming tonight,” she continued, pulling at her left ring finger as she studied every inch of Carmilla’s face, searching for a clue that she was, in fact, alright.

“Just wanted a drink,” Carmilla said with a shrug.

Maybe she just had a long day.

“How are you?” Laura asked, stepping closer and placing a hand on Carmilla’s arm, fingers gently tickling, craving the comforting contact, hoping it might relax the older girl.

“Fine,” she said, now looking away.

“I wasn’t sure,” Laura continued, her anxiety slowly climbing.

What was going on? Why was Carmilla acting so cold? Had Laura done something? Had she…

Oh crap.

“I mean, I haven’t heard from you since… well, since we… you know? On Monday night.”

God, please don’t be freaked out that I stayed!

“Mel said she invited you but you never responded so she figured we could survive a night without you.”

“I’m easy to forget about apparently.”

“What… what does that mean?” Laura asked, her limbs growing heavier with each second, the butterflies in her stomach now exclusively of the worried variety.

“Nothing.”

Maybe she doesn’t want to talk, don’t push her.

“Oh. Okay, well… do you want to maybe come over and stand with us?” she asked, hopeful that being among the group would make things easier. They’d have other people to focus on. “Kirsch has some pretty good stories.”

Carmilla finally looked up at her, and the anger swirling in her incredible dark eyes immediately caught Laura off guard.

No, please don’t do this.

“It’ll be fun,” she continued, clinging desperately to the smallest bit of hope she had left. “We haven’t all gotten together in a long time and… well, it’d be nice to have everyone.”

“You all seem to be doing just fine without me,” she said, her voice still so very cold. Which wasn’t her.

“Carm?”

The dark-haired girl’s name escaped her lips before she could catch it, a plea that Carmilla apparently didn’t hear or didn’t care about as she simply shrugged once more and turned away.

Oh god. You really screwed up. You thought it would be okay because she was still asleep when you left but…

Laura opened her mouth to start what was sure to be a rambling and jumbled apology but cut herself off as a beautiful redhead approached, smiling flirtatiously and taking the seat next to Carmilla’s.

“Well, hi there stranger,” the woman said, practically undressing Carmilla with her eyes. “Haven’t seen you around much lately.”

Laura swallowed hard as she watched the woman reach out, running her fingertips along Carmilla’s forearm, the touch bold but familiar in a way.

No.

“Here now,” Carmilla said with a teasing smile, though it looked wrong. It wasn’t the smile Laura was used to seeing. It was forced and cracked, completely fake. But Carmilla continued. “How’ve you been…?”

“Lacey,” the woman supplied when it was obvious Carmilla couldn’t remember.

Crap. They’ve already slept together. They’ve already slept together and Carmilla’s mad at you because you made a colossal mistake and now…

“I remember,” Carmilla said, pulling out that incredible charm that Laura was more than familiar with.

“And the night’s definitely looking up now,” the woman said before sending a quick glance Laura’s way. “So long as you’re alone, that is.”

Time slowed as Carmilla paused and Laura begged and pleaded to anyone who was listening that Carmilla wouldn’t answer. That she wouldn’t do this.

But apparently, no one was listening.

“I am, in fact, alone,” Carmilla finally said.

Jesus, Laura thought, feeling her face fall, her heart sinking to her feet in a dozen jagged pieces. Because Carmilla wouldn’t do this to her! Carmilla wasn’t cruel or spiteful. Not to Laura. She would never do something that would purposely hurt the smaller girl.

Right?

“Must be my lucky night then,” the redhead giggled, leaning in a little closer.

Carmilla simply smirked back at her and once again, Laura found herself speaking before she could stop herself.

“Um… Carm?” she started, her voice small but full of hurt.

Carmilla slowly turned, her face now completely blank. Cold and distant. Not Carmilla.

“What?”

You lost. You messed it all up.

“Um… well… nothing. I guess I’ll um… I’ll just talk to you later,” Laura finally forced out, stuffing her hands into her pockets.

“Hmm,” she mumbled, nodding once and twisting the knife further into Laura’s chest.

God this hurts, she thought as she turned and slowly made her way back to her friends, her legs barely holding her up, her attention completely focused on anything but the story Kirsch was in the middle of telling when she stopped at Danny’s side.

“You okay?” the tall redhead whispered to her, her hand coming to rest comfortingly on the small of Laura’s back.

Am I okay? No. I’m crazy in love with a woman who has no interest in me. Who, even if she cares about me, doesn’t want anything more than a friendship. Who is never going to love me back. No, I’m not okay.

“Hollis?” Danny tried again.

Swallowing hard, Laura glanced up just in time to see Carmilla allow the redhead to pull her off of her stool, their hands locked as she began to lead Carmilla through the bar toward the exit.

I can’t watch this, she thought, wrapping her arms around her torso and looking down at her feet, her mouth completely dry as she tried to swallow her emotions. I can’t watch her leave with someone else. I can’t…

“Laur?” Danny asked one more time.

Go. Get out of here. Now!

“Um, no, I… I don’t feel so great all of a sudden,” Laura mumbled, looking over at her friend, seeing the genuine concern in the redhead’s eyes. “I um… I have to go.”

“Do you want me to take you?”

“No,” she answered, her voice just above a whisper. “No. I’m fine… I’ll be fine on my own.”

Friday, July 5th, 2019

Back in the present

Chelsea

You told her it was okay to see other women. So she did, Laura thought, the nausea returning as she continued to gaze down onto 8th St.

Though at the time she’d uttered those words, Laura was still hoping she wouldn’t be put in this position. She was hoping Carmilla would be fine with just Laura in her bed.

But Laura had pushed it all too far. She’d asked for too much. She’d behaved in a way that was sure to cause problems. Sleeping over had been the tipping point. It had been a terrible idea because that’s what girlfriends did.

And that’s definitely not us. That’s not what she wants. That will never be what she wants.

The rejection hurt. More than she could remember it hurting in the past. More than anyone else could hurt her. Because Carmilla was…

Carmilla. She’s wonderful and so messily perfect and I’m so freaking in lo-

“Hollis!”

Startled from her internal struggle, she quickly looked to her right, smiling meekly in apology at the two sets of eyes curiously staring at her from the other side of the office.

“Sorry, guys,” she mumbled, running a hand through her hair. “Guess I just spaced out for a second there.”

“You okay?” Danny asked from the beige sofa to the left.

“Yeah, you’re more out of it than usual,” Mel added from behind her glass-topped desk, the sole piece of traditional office furniture in the entire gym.

“Yeah, just… sunshine is making me sleepy I think,” she fibbed.

Danny shrugged and Mel stared at her curiously for a moment longer before nodding once and turning back toward her computer.

“What’re you getting up to tonight?” she asked, tapping away at the keyboard.

“Nothing,” Laura sighed, glancing back out the window. 

“But it’s Friday. Aren’t you seeing Karnstein?” Danny asked, leaning forward to tie up the laces on one of her running shoes.

“She canceled,” Laura answered, her voice quiet.

Not that she was really all that surprised. No, the only part that had thrown her was the fact that it had taken Carmilla so long to brush her off.

Laura (Thursday, 9:15 AM): Did you want to hang out tomorrow night?

Carmilla (Friday, 1:06 PM): Can’t. Sorry.

It had stung just the same though and Laura had to wonder at why she was putting herself through this.

Because she’s amazing. Because she matters, she sighed. Because you’re in love with her and you can’t stop yourself.

“Why’d she cancel?” Mel asked. “Work?”

“I… I don’t know,” she shrugged.

But I doubt it.

“What’s going on with you Karnstein?”

“What do you mean?” Laura asked, feeling her nerves quickly building in her chest.

Did Danny know? Did they all know? Were they that obvious? LaF and Perry were already onto them. Did Mel suspect too?

I can’t tell them that I’m sleeping with Carmilla! Remember how they both acted initially? And that was before we were even friends. If they find out now, they’re going to know how I feel about her and I can’t deal with more pity and rejection. I can’t deal with them butting in!

“You’re incredibly mopey today. You guys fighting or something?”

Oh, she sighed, deflating a little in relief.

“Um, no. I… nothing,” Laura said, shaking her head as she sagged back into her seat. “There’s nothing going on.”

“Hollis…”

She sighed, turning back and looking into Danny’s patient eyes, the tall redhead’s knowing gaze burrowing into her.

“I think she’s upset with me.”

“Why?” Mel asked, not even bothering to glance up.

Overstayed my welcome and scared her because that’s not what we agreed to. This was just supposed to be sex, not romance. Not intimacy. Not love.

“I… I don’t know,” she lied again. “I don’t know what I did.”

“Maybe you didn’t do anything. Maybe she’s just being… Carmilla,” Danny offered, as she finished tying up her other shoe.

“What do you mean?”

Danny sighed, glancing over at a now smirking Mel before leaning forward, resting her arms on her knees.

“Look, Carm’s great. We’ve been friends for a long time. And if you ever tell her I said any of these nice things about her, I’ll kick your tiny little ass,” she said, pointing at the smaller girl as Mel quietly laughed from behind her desk.

“Doubtful. Beyond the fact that we’re adults now and that’s completely socially unacceptable,  you like me too much to beat me up.”

“Karnstein is someone that I actually care about,” Danny continued. “A lot. She’s someone that you should be grateful to have in your life.”

“I am,” Laura said, the words loud even though her tone was soft. “Incredibly grateful.”

“But she’s not perfect. She’s a giant pain in the ass sometimes. And she does shit that I don’t understand.” Danny paused for a moment, her stare boring deeper into Laura. “She pushes people away that really care about her.”

“Why does she do that?” Laura asked quietly.

“She is who she is,” Danny answered with a shrug. “Just, maybe give her some space. Some time.”

See? Too clingy. You tried for too much.

“Be patient,” Danny continued. “She’ll figure it out and then you two will be back together, joined at the hip.”

“We aren’t that close,” Laura argued petulantly.

“Sure you aren’t,” Mel laughed.

“It’ll be okay,” Danny said, smiling at her. “ And hey, since you’re free tonight, your first Friday in months, why don’t you come out with me? We’ll go to dinner. Maybe a movie or something?”

“Danny…” she sighed.

“Hollis,” she said with a smile. “Come on. I’ll take you anywhere you want.”

Which was a nice offer, sure. And spending time with Danny was always great. But now, when all she wanted was Carmilla…

“Look, I appreciate that, Danny, really,” Laura started. “But my dad won’t be there tonight and I just want to stay home. Maybe curl up with some really terrible take out and wear the sweatpants that I never let anyone else see me in.”

“The gray ones with black splotches on the ass and the holes in the knees?” Danny teased.

“Hey!”

“Okay, fine. Then how about you let me keep you company?” Danny said. “No wallowing all alone. I know you’re upset but staying in by yourself will just be sad. It’ll just make you feel worse.”

Laura paused for a long moment, staring back at her friend, waffling. She didn’t really want to be alone.

You want to be with Carmilla, she internally sighed, knowing that wasn’t an option and feeling the rejection roll through her chest once again.

“Fine,” she agreed. “I guess you can stop by. But I get to pick what we watch.”

“Deal, but then I get to pick the food.”

“Deal,” Laura said, smiling gently, knowing exactly what Danny was trying to do. “Thanks.”

Danny smiled back and nodded once as she stood and grabbed up her duffle bag, walking out of the office without another word.

Turning away, Laura looked back out the window as silence fell over the office once more, the only sound coming from the tick of the clock on the wall near the door and the occasional keystroke from Mel.

A night in with Danny instead of Carmilla. As much as she loved the taller girl, Laura couldn’t say she wasn’t disappointed. Friday nights were supposed to be theirs. She was supposed to spend it curled up next to Carmilla on her sofa, not caring what was on the television as she’d be too distracted with Carmilla’s hands in hers. With Carmilla’s warmth against her side. With the smell of coffee and mint surrounding her, just barely overpowering leather and mahogany. They would talk and laugh and tease each other until eventually one of them would turn to the other, pressing their lips together in a kiss that Laura craved. They would end up racing up the stairs to Carmilla’s bedroom or they’d be too impatient and end up removing each other’s clothes right there on the sofa. She’d let herself become completely enveloped in everything Carmilla as they came together over and over until one would collapse on top of the other, spent, the few minutes following quiet and sweet. Loving.

But honestly, it wasn’t about the sex and Laura knew that. Even if they only spent the night next to one another in silence, fully clothed, Laura just wanted the closeness.

I just want her.

“You sure there’s nothing else going on with you and Karnstein?” Mel asked suddenly.

Laura whipped her head around, noting Mel still staring at her computer, almost as if she hadn’t spoken.

“What… I… like what?”

“She cares about you,” Mel said with a shrug. “A lot.”

“Well, I care about her too.”

Mel finally looked at her, all traces of smug humor gone.

“I haven’t seen her like this with anyone else in a really long time,” she said, folding her hands together on top of the desk.

“Like what?”

“Like you important. More important than anything else. Than anyone else.”

“Oh,” Laura practically whispered, unsure of what else to say. It wasn’t exactly a surprise. Carmilla had said as much many times. But to hear it from someone else… to know that someone else, who knew Carmilla, could see it was just a little overwhelming.

Especially when it’s Mel, who definitely doesn’t do feelings. Mel, who knows her best.

“You don’t have feelings for her, right?”

“No!” Laura immediately squeaked, the sound not even convincing to her own ears. “No. Again, I care about Carm. But… we’re just friends.”

Mel nodded, glancing away for a moment appearing to mull something over before meeting Laura’s gaze again, her expression still blank except for her eyes. Laura could see the fire there.

“Does she know that?”

“What do you mean? Of course she knows that. She’s… she… why are you asking this?”

“She asked me about you and Lawrence,” Mel said, finally pushing off the desk and sinking back into her chair, crossing her arms over her chest. “She asked if something was going on between you two.”

“With me and Danny?” Laura asked, honestly baffled. “Why?”

 “I wasn’t sure at the time. But for whatever reason, it seemed like it was bugging her. Like the idea of you and Danny together was… upsetting.”

“Well, there’s nothing going on with us,” she said, turning to put her back to the window, gripping tightly to the ledge. “I mean, I love her. She’s Danny. She’s one of my best friends. But that’s all.”

“Yeah, but you and Danny have always had something there that the rest of us don’t understand. That the rest of us aren’t allowed to see,” Mel said. “And Carmilla’s not blind.”

“See what? I don’t understand, Mel. Danny and I have always been just friends,” she said as memories from years passed quickly rolled through her mind.

“Okay,” Mel nodded after a long quiet moment, sitting forward once more and turning back to her computer, apparently done with the conversation.

“But why would it matter to Carmilla?” Laura pressed. “Why would she care if there was something more?”

“At this point, you know more than I do, Hollis,” Mel said with a shrug. “She’s let you in. Completely.”

Oh.

It was a huge statement. One that hit hard because Laura knew Carmilla wasn’t exactly an open book. That she held back. But the fact that she’d really let Laura in…

“You said how she is with me… you hadn’t seen her like this with anyone in a long time,” Laura started. “Before me… when? With who?”

“Elle,” Mel answered, meeting her gaze once again. “And it wasn’t instantaneous. It took a while to get to that point.”

Oh!

Elle, the only real girlfriend Carmilla had ever had. The only one Carmilla was willing to try with.

“And actually, Karnstein is still more open with you. You get to see her in a way that no one else does.”

Laura opened her mouth, unsure of what was going to come out, but the heavy silence continued to surround them. Because honestly, what could she say back to that?

“Has she mentioned anything to you?” Mel asked instead. “About Lawrence?”

“Since when do you get involved in stuff like this?”

“In stuff like what?” Mel asked, head slightly tilted to the side. “Stuff that has to do with my friends?”

“Look, again, Danny and I are friends. But that’s it. And Carm…” Laura swallowed hard as she trailed off for a moment. “Carm’s my friend too. She’s amazing and wonderful and I care about her. So much.”

“But…?”

“But… there will never be anything more between us,” Laura answered, looking away, unable to meet Mel’s gaze any longer. “I don’t know why she’s asking about Danny but… but even if I wanted more, Carmilla doesn’t. She wouldn’t. And friends…”

Laura sighed as she trailed off for a long moment, swallowing down all the emotions battling in her chest.

“Friends should just stay friends. It’s… it’s better that way.”

Tuesday, June 20th, 2017

Two years and sixteen days earlier

Midtown

“Bye you two,” LaF said with a lopsided grin as they pulled Perry down the sidewalk by the hand, the curly-haired girl smiling wide as she followed.

“Yeah. Enjoy your evening,” Kirsch added with his own awkward wink and a goofy laugh as he followed the rest of the seemingly amused group down the sidewalk.

“What’s up with them?” Laura asked, her friend’s odd behavior throughout the dinner they’d just had together more outlandish than normal. They’d kept smiling at her and Danny, their grins over the top, comments bordering on lascivious, whispering amongst each other any time she looked away. Not that it was completely out of character. But it seemed to be much more prominent over the last hour.

“What do you mean?” Danny asked, popping open her umbrella and guiding them out from under the restaurant’s awning.

“They’re just acting weird. Like super weird.”

“You’re just out of practice.”

“Maybe a little,” Laura shrugged, glancing back over her shoulder in the direction they’d gone, hating that it really was the truth. “I guess I just forget sometimes. It’s harder for them to be obviously bizarre through text.”

“Be thankful you have a barrier,” Danny said with a smile as they turned in the opposite direction and slowly ambled down the sidewalk. “But now that it’s just us, the two normal and sane ones, what should we do with the rest of our evening? Coffee?”

“Mmm, only if we can get dessert with it,” Laura agreed with an eager grin.

“Well, it wouldn’t be coffee at nine o’clock at night if there wasn’t dessert,” Danny said with a quiet laugh, moving a little closer as she held the umbrella above both their heads, the rain above echoing against the black nylon.

Laura merely giggled at the teasing, moving in a little closer to the taller girl in an attempt to avoid the puddles gathering on the sidewalk.

She’d spent the last two weeks with Danny at her side, the redhead having flown out to spend some time with Laura in California for no other reason than they hadn’t seen each other in far too long. Or at least that’s what they’d told their friends when the group had asked about the spur of the moment visit.

The two had spent the time together hiking through some of the local parks, visiting a few different beaches, and Laura had hauled Danny to any and every touristy spot within a sixty-mile radius. They’d talked over dinners and laughed during movies and teased during those late-night catch-up sessions seated across from each other on the couch, a bowl of popcorn nestled between them to share. And it had been so much fun. Almost as if no time had passed between their absences. They’d simply fallen back into the same habits they’d developed over the years.

And yes, Laura had desperately missed Danny. So much so that she’d agreed to fly back with her and spend an additional week on the east coast as she wasn’t quite ready for their time together to end.

But there was more to the tall redhead’s visit. A secret that they hadn’t been prepared to share with the rest of their friends, knowing the group had been eagerly waiting for something to happen between them for years now. For anything to happen really. But Laura still wasn’t sure how they were going to react when she and Danny finally came clean.

It’s going to be hard but I’m glad we decided to do this, she thought, sidestepping the spray from a cab driving by, the splashing sound of the tires hitting the water just barely audible over the rest of the noise on the street.

“And after coffee…?” Danny started from her left side.

Laura glanced up at her, taking in the teasing smile on the taller girl’s face and laughed quietly once more with a nod.

“I vote movie,” she said, smiling harder when Danny quickly nodded in agreement.

“Was hoping you’d say that.”

She nodded once more before turning away, focusing back on the street in front of her.

“You know, California is so different,” she said as she glanced around at the buildings and the people, the pace of the city one she was familiar with even if she forgot about it from time to time.

“A little,” Danny laughed. “But this is home.”

“You really don’t think you’ll ever leave?”

“I’ve got everything I need here,” Danny said, shrugging. “Everything except you, that is.”

Laura glanced up, watching as Danny’s eyes widened ever so slightly.

“I mean-”

“I know what you meant, Danny,” Laura said, weaving her arm through the other girl’s and holding tight. “But you still have me. I’m not going anywhere. After all these years and after these last couple of weeks… I’m just so happy. Knowing that we’re finally here.”

“Took us long enough but I’m glad we got here too,” Danny agreed with an easy smile. “And I’m also glad that you’re in New York. We can take advantage of these next few days because, honestly, for as great as the last two weeks were, they weren’t enough.”

“They really were awesome,” Laura said with a smile. “I don’t know what we’re going to do after I leave. It’s… it’s going to be really hard.”

“We’ll figure it out,” Danny said, leaning in a little closer.

“Yeah. Yeah, I know we will,” Laura said, smiling softly up at the taller girl.

“Just the same… what are we going to tell everyone?” Danny asked, the nervousness in her voice just barely detectable.

“I… I don’t know,” Laura shrugged. “I mean, I suppose we have to tell them something but… well, maybe we don’t have to do it right now.”

“You want to wait? Keep dealing with all their weirdness? With all the jokes?”

“It’s not going to hurt anyone if they don’t know, right?”

“No, I guess not.”

“Besides, I can take the teasing if you can,” Laura said, smiling once again. “Plus, I really just want to enjoy the time we have left. I don’t want to spend it explaining how or why we’re doing this.”

“I don’t either, to be honest,” Danny agreed, letting her arm fall so that their hands could link together, giving Laura’s a brief squeeze. “So, for now, we’ll just keep this between us.”

“Just us,” Laura said, squeezing back.

Friday, July 5th, 2019

Back in the present

SoHo

“Friends should just stay friends. It’s… it’s better that way.”

She sighed heavily as the words echoed on a loop through her brain, the volume increasing with each slow step that she took. It was true. Friends were better off not crossing that line. There was too much to lose.

The problem was, this situation didn’t quite fit in that line of thinking. Carmilla didn’t fit. Even if their relationship really held no romantic connotations, they weren’t just friends. There was something else between them. And even if Laura could never have Carmilla the way she wanted her, she also knew that she couldn’t lose what they were. She couldn’t walk away.

Her feet finally stopped with a muffled thump in front of the solid oak door and, for a moment, Laura thought her heart had actually stopped in her chest along with them. Swallowing hard and pushing the fear down as far as she could, she lifted her hand, hesitating for just a moment before softly knocking on the door.

Regardless of what would happen tonight, she had to at least try. She couldn’t just let this go without a fight. And even if Carmilla did want some time and space, Laura wanted the dark-haired girl to go into that at least knowing just how much she cared.

Whether she really listens to me or not, at least I’ll have told her the truth, she thought, tensing as she heard footsteps on the other side of the door. Or part of the truth.

Carmilla opened the door a second later, her face blank, eyes tired behind her black frames. And still so beautiful.

“Hey.” Laura heard the nervousness in her voice and attempted to shove it away.

“Laura, what’re you doing here?” Carmilla asked, her tone unnervingly even.

“I… well…” she stumbled.

“I said I couldn’t see you tonight.”

“I know! And I’m really not trying to bother you. I just…”

Carmilla sighed once, rolling her eyes as she stood aside, letting Laura pass over the threshold, and quietly closing the door.

“Have you eaten?” Laura asked meekly, holding a still warm pizza box in front of her. “It’s your favorite. Extra pepperoni and cheese.”

“I’m not hungry.”

“Okay, well…”

“Well?” Carmilla pushed.

“I just… I know you said you had to cancel tonight. And I won’t stay, I promise. I just wanted to see you and make sure you’re okay,” Laura said. “It’s been a few days. We haven’t talked or… anything.”

Carmilla simply stared for a long moment.

“So… how are you?”

“Fine,” Carmilla said, turning without another word and making her way back into the apartment.

Fantastic, Laura thought with a heavy sigh.

“What have you been up to?” she tried, following and rounding the corner into the main space.

“Nothing,” Carmilla said as she moved toward the kitchen, hopping onto one of the barstools where her laptop sat open.

“Well, um… how’s work?”

“Fine.”

Yeah, she is definitely not going to make this easy on me.

“Um, what about Mattie and Will? How are they?”

“Seriously?” Carmilla sighed, running a hand through her hair. “Fine. They’re fine. The answer to your next question is fine. Everything in my fucking life is fine, okay?”

“We aren’t,” she mumbled before she could stop herself.

“Laura,” she sighed, closing her eyes for a long moment in frustration.

“What?”

She waited a beat, Carmilla heaving another loaded sigh before finally meeting her gaze, eyes full of irritation.

“I said it’s fine.”

Don’t let her do this. Even if she needs time, don’t let her keep this wedge between you.

“No, it’s not,” Laura said, moving forward to set the pizza box down on the kitchen island. She turned and took the few steps to where Carmilla sat, hands nervously wringing in front of her. “Carm, I’m sorry, okay? I didn’t mean to… I mean… oh, crap.”

Just say it. You didn’t mean to sleep over. Tell her you don’t expect anything more. That everything can just go back to the way it was because you totally don’t have crazy feelings for her.

“Look, we’re fine, for the millionth damn time,” Carmilla grumbled. “So we don’t need to talk about it.”

“But-”

“No, Laura!” she sighed. “Goddamnit, why can’t you just leave it alone?”

“I’m sorry,” she repeated, tears in her voice, eyes starting to burn. “I just… it’s been a really crappy couple of days without you and-”

“Yeah, well, I’m sorry you’re having a hard time but…” Carmilla huffed once before turning on her stool, facing her laptop. “But I’m really not in the mood to fuck you tonight.”

“Carmilla!”

“What?” she snarled, her stare whipping back to Laura’s. “You’ve had a crappy few days, isn’t that what we do? We sleep together so that you can forget about it for a bit? Have a little distraction?”

“No! No to all of that,” she said, her stomach now rolling, hating that a few tears had slipped out without her permission. “The last few days have been crappy because… because I miss you! Because you’re mad at me! Because I screwed up and now you want to push me away!”

“You’re right, you did screw up.”

“And sleeping with you because I’m sad and I want to forget about everything is not why I’m here! That’s not what this is all about!” she cried, quickly swiping at her right cheek. “I… do you have any idea how much I care about you? At all?”

“Honestly?” Carmilla shrugged. “I mean, you’ve made it very clear what you want from me and though it may surprise you, that’s not what I want!”

“And again, I screwed up!” Laura said, attempting to swallow the hurt that came with Carmilla’s words. “I know this! I know it’s not what you want. I didn’t mean to… to… to do this!”

I didn’t mean to scare you. To make you think I want more.

“Oh really?”

“Yes!”

“Then last week, when you were here, when you stayed… why’d you…” Carmilla trailed off, looking away after a few seconds, defeat in her eyes.

“I… I didn’t do it on purpose,” she said, her voice small, knowing exactly what Carmilla was getting after. “It just happened.”

“Sure,” Carmilla sighed, her shoulders sagging. “It just… happened. Fine. So we’ve cleared that up and we’re not having sex tonight. Are we done now?”

“No!”

“Laura-”

“No, dammit, you’re going to listen to me! You’re going to sit there for two minutes and listen to what I have to say. And then if you still want me to go, I will.”

She waited, watching as Carmilla folded her arms over her chest, just barely shaking her head, but stayed quiet.

“Carm, I’m so sorry. It really was a mistake and I didn’t mean to mess things up because… well, because you’re amazing. You’re like my favorite person in the world because you’re you. Because you’re incredible. I told you before that I wouldn’t lie to you and I meant it. So you have to know that all of this has nothing to do with the fact that we’re sleeping together. Sleeping with you… I’ve told you, that’s not why I stick around. That’s not why I spend time with you. That’s not why… that’s not why I care about you,” she hiccupped, a few more tears falling. “And that’s not why I’m here now.”

She paused for a long moment, staring into Carmilla’s eyes, the irritation still there but softer than a moment before.

“I’m here tonight because you’re my friend. Because you mean the world to me and I miss you. I’m here because you are the best thing that’s happened to me since I’ve been here and I want to fix this. I want to make this right.”

“Laura-”

“I’m not done!” she huffed, fists now tight at her sides. “We may have had a few stumbling points over the last few months. But I don’t want to lose you. I don’t want to lose this. I… can’t lose this.”

“Yes, I’m pissed, but I didn’t say-”

“No!” Laura interrupted once more. “Look, I know I made a huge mistake the other night. And I get why you’re upset about it. I really do. But let’s be honest, it wasn’t the first time I’ve screwed up things between us. And I doubt it’ll be the last. But please don’t do this, Carm. Please don’t shut me out.”

She hiccupped once more as another stream of tears rolled down her face.

“I know I ask a lot of you. So much. And that’s not fair. I just… I trust you and I care about you. I… I…”

Love you.

“And… I adore you, Carmilla Karnstein,” she said, her voice much softer. “I didn’t mean to screw up. I didn’t… I didn’t mean to make this hard on you or to ruin what we had. And I’m sorry. I really am and I just want to fix it. However I can, I just… I can’t lose you.”

It was quiet for a long moment, the only sound coming from the turntable across the room, a soft melody that Laura had never heard before, wrapping around her in the way that only Carmilla ever did. And though she saw the softness that had melted into those beautiful dark eyes, Carmilla’s silence grew more and more daunting as the seconds ticked by.

You said what you came to say, she thought, dipping her head, her eyes finding the floor. Just give her some time.

“And that’s… that’s what I needed to tell you,” she finally said, sniffling.

“Okay,” Carmilla said, her voice no longer carrying that sharp edge. “Can I talk now?”

Laura nodded, wiping at her eyes but refusing to look up. Unable to.

She heard the legs of the barstool scrape against the wood floor as Carmilla slowly stood and she honestly wasn’t sure what to expect. It was a toss-up as to whether Carmilla would simply leave the room or actually talk to her. Or if she would just ask Laura to leave. Maybe once and for all.

I honestly don’t know what’s going to hurt more.

“Come here,” Carmilla finally said, moving closer and reaching a hand out.

Laura swallowed hard as she looked up, meeting those incredibly dark eyes that she adored. They were no longer filled with anger or irritation. No, now they were full of patience. Full of understanding. Laura slowly stepped forward, taking Carmilla’s hand, absorbing the warmth as their fingers braided together. She sniffled once more as Carmilla pulled her closer, wrapping her other arm around Laura’s shoulders and pressing their bodies together.

“You aren’t going to lose me,” she said, lips tickling at Laura’s hairline. She released Laura’s hand and trailed her fingers along the younger girl’s back, up into her hair, touch soft. “Yes, you pissed me off but I don’t… I don’t want to lose you either. I don’t want to push you away.”

“Then please don’t,” Laura said, sinking into the embrace, burying her face in Carmilla’s neck. “If you want to be mad and yell at me or get snippy or whatever, that’s fine. I can take it.”

“Laura…”

“But please don’t just toss me aside. Please don’t freeze me out.”

“I’m sorry,” Carmilla said, her tone filled with remorse. “I just…”

She felt more than she heard the defeated sigh that escaped from between Carmilla’s lips. And Laura understood. Carmilla didn’t want to hurt her just because they wanted different things. Just because Laura was in love and Carmilla…

Isn’t.

“You don’t have to explain,” she said, rolling her face away from Carmilla’s neck even as she continued to hold tight. “I mean, I’m the one who screwed up.”

“That didn’t give me the right to do what I did to you.”

Laura held tight, waiting for more, her head rising and falling with the movement from Carmilla’s shoulder as she slowly breathed in and out.

“The other night, at the bar,” Carmilla started.

Laura felt herself tense up immediately, the night flashing back through her mind. The beautiful flirtatious redhead. The way Carmilla had flirted back. The two of them leaving together.

“Carmilla, it’s… it’s fine. You… you didn’t do anything wrong,” she said, trying to quickly move passed the topic.

“Laura, I just… I was angry and… really fucking stupid. It was a terrible idea.”

Laura sighed, sagging further in on herself as she unwrapped her arms from around Carmilla’s waist and pushed away. Just because she didn’t technically do anything wrong, Laura honestly didn’t think she could stand there with Carmilla holding her close as the older girl talked about sleeping with someone else.

“Really,” she said, swallowing down the fresh batch of tears she felt stinging at her eyes. “It’s fine. I mean, like I said, you can-”

The startling sound of her phone ringing from her back pocket thankfully cut her off from the words she really didn’t want to say. From telling Carmilla once again that she was free to do as she pleased. But reaching for the device, she glanced down at it and sighed, realizing it wasn’t important.

“Who is it?” Carmilla asked, her voice cautious.

“Just Danny,” she said, silencing the device and shoving it back into her pocket. “I was supposed to hang with her tonight but… well, I texted to cancel when I was on my way here.”

She looked up just as Carmilla looked away, her face fallen and defeated. And suddenly, Mel’s words from earlier that day echoed through her mind.

‘She asked me about you and Lawrence. She asked if there was something going on between you two.’

“Carm, you know that you’re the only one that… that I’d ever do this with,” she said, taking a cautious step forward. “And I’m not just talking about the sex. I’m talking about everything.”

She waited for Carmilla’s eyes to meet her own again, tinged with worry, and it hurt to see. To think Carmilla didn’t understand just how much she mattered.

“Carm… I don’t want…” she started, wringing her hands in front of her, knowing she had to tread lightly here. that she couldn’t scare Carmilla away. “What we have… all of it… I only want with you.”

She paused again, feeling her cheeks overheating as she waited for a response. But Carmilla simply stared back, jaw set, eyes searching and Laura had to look away before it overwhelmed her. Before she grabbed onto the older girl and blurted out the one thing that she could never tell Carmilla.

“Again, I just… I’m sorry,” she said again, voice still so quiet. “I didn’t mean to screw up and… well, thank you for letting me say all this. Thanks for not slamming the door in my face.”

She let out a humorless huff and nodded.

“So… I’ll just go now. Let you get back to… you’re night.”

She turned but suddenly, her feet wouldn’t move. They were heavy and sluggish, sticking to the floor. Using all her might, she finally got one to budge just as Carmilla slowly stepped forward, stopping when she was standing directly in front of Laura.

The feeling of Carmilla’s lips suddenly against hers surprised her. As did the feeling of Carmilla’s hands cupping her jaw. But what took her breath away even more was how soft it was. How Carmilla’s hands moved across her cheeks, slowly pushing her fingers into Laura’s hair. How she seemed to lean into Laura. How it was so incredibly slow and so amazing.

This. She could go on doing this forever, just the two of them. Nothing else in the world registering except for the feeling of being so close to the woman she was absolutely and totally in love with.

So in love.

“I didn’t sleep with her,” Carmilla said, voice quiet as she pulled away a moment later, fingers gently twirling in Laura’s hair.

“What?”

“That girl at the bar, whoever she was.”

Feeling her heart jump in her chest, Laura forced herself to slowly look up, finding softness at the edge of Carmilla’s gaze.

“I didn’t sleep with her.”

“You didn’t?”

“No,” Carmilla said, shaking her head. “I didn’t want to. I… I don’t want to.”

“But-”

“No,” Carmilla interrupted, resting her forehead against Laura’s. She barely brushed her lips to Laura’s, pulling the smaller girl closer. “Don’t go.”

“Are you… are you sure?” Laura asked, gripping tighter to the older girl’s hips. “Because I understand-”

“Don’t go,” Carmilla whispered, lips still tickling at Laura’s. “Please.”

Laura smiled softly and nodded, leaning in to meet Carmilla’s lips once more.

 

Chapter Text

I see your face before me, as I lay on my bed

I kinda get to thinking of all the things you said

You gave your promise to me, and I gave mine to you

I need someone beside me in everything I do

Saturday, July 20th, 2019

The Beekman, Financial District

“This is most definitely not what our clients are expecting.”

“It’s fine.”

“And these events are very important. Presentation is everything in this business, Carmilla.”

“I’m well aware of that.”

“The colors are all wrong.”

“Oh my god, mother, stop,” Carmilla sighed from her spot next to Lilita Morgan at the edge of the incredibly lavish room, the rest of the space filled with many of Opaque’s more prestigious clients and a few they were hoping to swoop in on. “The colors aren’t wrong. The food isn’t too casual. The music isn’t too ‘hip.’ Everything is fine. Mattie did a great job putting this all together and everyone is having a blast.”

“These dinners aren’t designed to be parties,” Lilita argued, gesturing toward the crowd with her martini glass, the lights from above glinting off her diamond bracelet as she did.

“No, but they also aren’t funerals,” Carmilla chuckled quietly, glancing over just in time to see the horrified look on her mother’s face. “Seriously, mother, it’s fine. If we’re skewing toward a younger clientele, this is what they want to see. This is what is going to get them in the door. We can save the wakes for the old folks next month.”

“I cannot believe you are referring to my gatherings as wakes.”

“They’re stuffy as hell,” she laughed again. “Besides, we have to do this ourselves since you’re not going to be around forever. I mean, you do realize what retirement means, don’t you?”

“I’m well aware of the definition, however, I’m not out the door just yet,” Lilita huffed, nose slightly upturned.

“Oh, I know, we’re counting down the days. There’s a big clock in Will’s office that will sound off in celebration when you leave the building on your last day,” Carmilla said, taking a slow sip from her champagne flute before turning back to see Lilita’s less than impressed expression. “I’m kidding.”

“You get that sense of humor from your father,” she said, rolling her eyes and looking away. But not before Carmilla caught the barest hint of a loving smile pulling at her lips.

“Yeah,” she said, fondly smiling as well. “I know.”

She glanced down at her dress, smoothing out an invisible wrinkle in the fitted black skirt, the mention of her father one that always left her a little wistful. He wasn’t a topic that often came up in conversation, whether with her mother or her siblings. But she knew her mother was right. She knew if her dad was there at that moment, he’d be poking fun at Lilita as he smiled at her with pride.

“I suppose you have a point about skewing younger,” Lilita said, schooling her face once again. “But there’s a line that we don’t want to cross. It would be wise to remember that, Carmilla.”

“We’ll keep the strippers in the back, I promise.”

“You know, you’re not even the slightest bit amusing, darling.”

“Look, I know. We know,” Carmilla said, meeting her mother’s stern eye. “We’ve watched you do this for years, so trust us. The events will remain professional, mother. I promise. All we have to do is keep Will out of the planning and we’ll be fine.”

“I knew my girls were smart,” Lilita said, taking another sip of her gin martini as she glanced around the room. “Besides, we both know your brother is far too lazy to care.”

“If it were up to him, he’d throw out a pizza and some beer and call it good.”

“I think you’re being a bit generous,” Lilita said, chuckling softly. She met Carmilla’s gaze once more before continuing to peruse through the faces of the guests, her eyebrows just barely arching as she caught sight of something in particular. “And while professionalism is incredibly important, I am aware that this evening isn’t all business.”

“Oh?”

“Yes. I see you’ve invited your… friend.”

Carmilla turned in the direction Lilita was facing, her eyes scanning the crowd for a moment. And she felt her breath instantly catch in her throat as she finally caught sight of Laura entering the room, hair up, makeup soft, and a deep red cocktail dress that had more than just Carmilla staring.

She’d asked Laura to come to the dinner a little over a week earlier, as they’d been sitting in Sherman’s living room, the elder Hollis having just retired for the night after yet another Phillies defeat and his own loss to Carmilla at chess. There had been light brushes of fingers across arms and hands, shoulders pressed together as they sat side by side.

“You want me to come to a fancy business event?” Laura asked, obviously surprised when Carmilla cautiously broached the subject.

“I wouldn’t have asked if I didn’t want your company.”

“Yeah, but… your family will be there,” Laura said, pulling at Carmilla’s ring finger. “I mean, is that okay?”

“We’re all allowed a plus one,” Carmilla answered, smiling at the way the smaller girl continued to nervously fidget. “We are the heads of the company after all.”

“Yeah, I know. I just…”

Carmilla waited for a long moment as Laura trailed off before linking their fingers together and pulling Laura’s hand into her lap, the gesture bringing Laura’s sweet brown eyes back to her own.

“It’s just… well, after the other night,” she started. “I mean, what will they think? Me showing up with you?”

“I don’t care what they think or what they’ll do or what they’ll say,” Carmilla said, leaning in closer. “I’m going out of town the day after and I just want you there. I want… I want to spend the night with you at my side.”

Jesus, pull it together, she chastised herself, the words not ones she would ever expect to say. To anyone. But one look at the smaller girl’s face told her she needn’t worry.

“Yeah?” Laura practically whispered, smiling wide.

“Yeah,” Carmilla answered with her own soft smile, pressing their foreheads together, sagging a little in relief.

Laura had giggled once and nodded, bringing her free hand up to cup Carmilla’s cheek, thumb running back and forth along her jaw.

“I’d love to be your… your date.”

I’m in so much trouble, Carmilla thought as she continued to stare into Laura’s gorgeous brown eyes, the flecks of gold only drawing her in even more.

And now, a week later, standing there in that ballroom watching Laura enter, the same thought rolled through her brain. Because yes, at this point, she could admit it to herself. Carmilla liked her best friend. Carmilla wanted her best friend. Carmilla was only getting in deeper and deeper as the days went by. And there didn’t seem to be anything for her to grab onto in order to stop from falling completely. Which was absolutely and utterly terrifying. But what was even scarier was the fact that she was actually starting to wonder if maybe these feelings weren’t completely unreciprocated.

When the tiny brunette had shown up at her apartment a little over two weeks earlier after their minor spat at the bar, wanting nothing more than to talk, Carmilla had been unable to fully turn her away. And the words pouring from Laura’s mouth that night had her heart lightening with each second.

‘You’re like my favorite person in the world because you’re you.’

‘I trust you and I care about you.’

‘I adore you, Carmilla Karnstein.’

‘What we have… all of it… I only want with you.’

It wasn’t like she hadn’t heard similar declarations from Laura before. But there was something different about the way she said it that night. Something behind the words. A hidden message that Laura wasn’t willing to show just yet. And that night, the possibility planted itself into her brain, leaving Carmilla to wonder if she meant more to Laura than she originally thought. If perhaps Laura saw something else between them. If Laura wanted to take this further.

They’d been practically inseparable since, but it wasn’t their normal routine. They’d had dinner one night at an intimate Italian restaurant, sitting across from each other at a small candlelit table, knees brushing below and hands above. Laura had treated and smiled at her throughout the entire meal, no traces of uncertainty or hesitation. They’d left the restaurant hand in hand, slowly meandering down the street, completely content in each other’s company. And when they’d parted in front of Carmilla’s building half an hour later, Laura’s eyes had searched her own for a long moment before the smaller girl went up on her toes, leaving the most tender kiss against Carmilla’s lips. She was blushing when she pulled away, her anxiety obviously getting the better of her. And before Carmilla could even ask what was wrong, Laura had stepped away with a quiet goodnight and quickly strode off down the sidewalk.

Carmilla had spent the rest of the evening and most of the next day wondering about the interaction. But when they met that night and spent their time walking around the park, Laura’s arm linked with hers, fingers tickling along her wrist as the sun had set, she’d found herself unable to think of anything but what was happening at that moment. They’d stopped to stare out across the water near the end of the evening, the silence around them so comfortable. Perfect. She’d turned to Laura after a few moments, curious to find the younger girl’s eyes already on her, silently giggling. Carmilla ha