“A bloody blizzard,” Dan scowled, rubbing away at the smog covering the doors, “a bloody blizzard on Christmas.”
“It could be worse,” Laura reasoned, trying desperately to reassure him from her place in the corner, rubbing her gloves over her knees in an attempt to warm herself. She was right, though, it certainly could be. The majority of the stores on the block had lost power, or worse, heat, and they seemed to be the only one afloat in the midst of it.
“People don’t come for coffee in blizzards, Laura,” Dan retorted, giving up on cleaning the door, “they stay in their houses. Warm.”
“I like that idea,” Carmilla groaned, closing her eyes, “warm.”
“Carmilla,” Dan said, shooting her a look, “it’s warmer in here than it is anywhere else on the block. Maybe you should talk to Lafontaine about hogging the space heater.”
Carmilla perked at the idea, opening her eyes and surveying the room to find the graduate student red-handed, sitting directly in front of their only source of warmth.
Lafontaine shook their head quickly, pointing a finger at Carmilla before she could pounce, “Heat does not work like that, Carmilla, and I know you know it because we are in the same advanced Chemistry class and we just covered this.”
“Whatever,” Carmilla rolled her eyes, raising herself from the ground to plop next to them on the floor, warming her hands around the heater. Laura smiled at the scene and debated joining them, but decided against it. Things with Carmilla had been… icy, to say the least. Carmilla hadn't been ignoring her, no, but it felt miserably similar. She had asked Carmilla out a variety of times in the weeks since their espionage to Target, and the other girl seemed to have an excuse around every one of them. It was almost offensive that Carmilla seemed to think Laura would believe that she attended that many rock concerts per month.
However, In the face of these kinds of situations, what Laura never lacked was determination.
“Holy shit,” Dan gasped, rabidly clearing the glass door with his hands, “I think I see a customer.”
“Please don’t wet yourself,” Carmilla smirked.
“Hilarious, but seriously, get your asses behind the counter.”
“Just one more minute?”
“No,” Dan replied, if a bit menacingly. He quickly shuffled out of the way of the door, guiding his staff behind the counter and making a quick trip to his back of the shop office.
“Are you guys open?” a voice questioned from behind the door, knocking on it innocently.
“The door literally has an open sign on it,” Carmilla shook her head, rolling her eyes.
“Yes!” Laura squeaked out, joining the rest of them from behind the counter.
“Laura? Is that you?”
Kirsch quickly shoved the door open, entering the shop with a backpack on his shoulder and a basket in his right hand. Carmilla groaned and muttered something undoubtedly insulting under her breath before walking around him to shut out the incoming breeze.
“Are you here to purchase something?” Dan asked, eyebrows furrowed.
“Uh…” Kirsch scratched at his head, eyes sliding from Carmilla to Dan to Laura and back to Carmilla again, “yes?”
Kirsch nodded and stepped up to the counter, avoiding Carmilla as the girl slithered around him. Laura looked at him questioningly, and took a cautionary step away from Carmilla as she joined them on the other side of the counter, earning a confused look from Lafontaine.
“Well, uh, anyway,” Kirsch coughed awkwardly, holding Laura’s gaze, “I came here to tell Laura… something. I guess I’ll have the coolatta, though.”
Dan nodded and signaled some abstract gesture to Lafontaine, who nodded and began to tinker with the underused coffee machine in the back. With eyes no longer burning into his skull, Kirsch took the opportunity to take Laura away from the rest of the bunch.
“Merry Christmas,” Kirsch grinned, stuffing his hand in his bag and pulling out a package wrapped in american flag wrapping paper. Laura raised an eyebrow, smirking at his choice of decoration.
“It’s the only one I had around,” he shrugged, handing it off to her. Laura took it and examined it quickly, eager to open it. Unable to tear into the wrapping with her fingernails, she borrowed a bread knife from the preparation table and sawed into it.
“A scrapbook?” Laura said, biting her lip as she revealed the present. To say the gift was a bit unexpected was… not a far reach. Kirsch wasn’t really the sentimental type. Flipping through the book in her hands, she admired each photograph with a bit of nostalgia. So much had happened―had changed―since she had started working at the coffee shop. She looked so different months before; her hair was curled, and she was easily wearing three layers of eyeliner. It’s almost as if meeting Carmilla had set off a chemical reaction in her, changing every aspect of how she saw herself.
Alright, that may have been a stretch. But looking at these pictures, she thinks she may throw away her curling iron all together.
“I love it,” Laura said, giving Kirsch a one-armed hug as she looked at Carmilla from the side of her eye. Carmilla looked back at her, a sad smile playing at her lips. It was still a smile, though, and a lot more than the girl had given her recently. All Laura really wanted to know was how to go back to how they were, because she really didn’t want to go back to how she used to be.
“One coolatta for you, big man,” Lafontaine grinned, pulling Kirsch away and offering him the drink. He highfived them in response. Lafontaine had to remind him that he had to actually pay for it.
“Hey, Carm,” Laura began, seeing an opportunity. Carmilla turned to face her, if a bit apprehensive.
“I was wondering if you wanted to, uh, if you weren’t busy, err―” Laura scratched at the back of her neck. She hadn’t expected to be this nervous, “we could do Christmas tonight together?”
Carmilla’s eyes seemed to soften, a stoic look passing by her face. Laura couldn’t read her in the slightest, though, and it scared her.
“You don’t have plans?” Carmilla asked, her eyes bowing down the floor. Laura gave her a quizzical look; as if she would have Christmas plans that didn’t involve the girl she was completely head over heels for.
“Alright,” Carmilla shrugged, “I guess.”
Laura squealed, bringing her arms around Carmilla’s center and breathing into her. She hadn’t realized how much she had missed sharing the same space. Carmilla seemed to have the same thought, because she just pulled her in tighter.
“Did you know I hate coffee?” Laura asked, making a wholeheartedly disgusted face as she cleaned up the remnants of her last shift of the day.
“What?” LaFontaine spit back, horrified.
“I’m serious,” Laura shrugged, looking over her shoulder to check the clock; it was almost clock out time, 7:58 PM.
“Then why,” LaFontaine began, twisting two jars closed and putting them back on a shelf in unison, “would you ever work here?”
A beat. Laura looked bashful.
“Oh, wow,” LaFontaine smirked, momentarily stopping their cleanup to put a hand on their hip, “why did I even ask?”
Laura rolled her eyes, returning to the task at hand. She had only a minute until her shift was up, and she had promised Kirsch that she wouldn’t get home super late this time, since it messed up his self-proclaimed “sleep mojo, dude”.
“Speaking of the devil, where is Carmilla anyway?” LaFontaine asked, finishing up their portion of the cleanup and untying their apron, hanging it up for the day. Laura froze up as LaFontaine’s question dawned on her.
“I actually don’t know,” Laura admitted, her eyebrows scrunching up in wonder, “we all end at the same time, so she shouldn’t have clocked out already.”
LaFontaine raised an eyebrow, their face full of curiosity.
“The game is afoot, Watson,” LaFontaine joked nerdily, heading towards the bathroom to check for possible places the girl could have run off to. Knocking at the door calmly, LaFontaine found no response.
“Not in the bathroom,” LaF called back. Laura began to worry.
“What was she even doing? Wasn’t she here five minutes ago?” Laura asked, now completely giving up finishing her cup re-stacking and coffee bean re-filling and opting to look under the counters in the off chance that Carmilla was playing some kind of elaborate prank.
“Now that I think of it,” LaFontaine paused, closing a closet door that they had previously been investigating, “I think she mentioned that Dan wanted to talk to her privately for some reason.”
“Oh,” Laura relaxed, raising up from the ground with a sigh of relief.
Before Laura could inquire further, however, the usually barrackaded door which led to an unrenovated employee restroom slid open with a creak and a disheveled Carmilla peaked out behind it, stepping away quickly and leaving a worried Dan in the dust.
“Carm?” Laura asked, reaching out to touch Carmilla’s elbow, but Carmila shrugged her away with little explanation and a cold “Don’t.” and started for the door, slamming it soundly behind her.
“Okay,” LaFontaine gaped, switching their gaze wildly from Laura to Dan in a matter of seconds, “what the fuck just happened?”
Dan sighed, shaking his head and leaning against a table. Laura’s face was unreadable, a mixture of hurt and confusion shielding her expression.
“I just wanted to inform Carmilla that I secured a business deal today with the Karnstein Corporations for acquisition of the shop,” Dan looked away, a bit of regret sitting in his usually peppy expression, “which, if you didn’t know, is run by Carmilla’s mother.”
“We’re being bought out? For how much? Do we have job security?”
“LaF,” Dan glared pointedly at them.
“Sorry, Carmilla, right.”
“Is she okay? Why did she get so upset?” Laura asked, increasingly worried.
“Carmilla isn’t on the best terms with her mother, as far as I know,” Dan admitted, sweat creasing his brow. He attempted to preoccupy his hands with something to do, expertly rolling some dough in between his thumbs and forefingers.
“I have to go check on her,” Laura reasoned, untying her apron and heading towards the rack, a mission in the forefront of her mind.
“Laura,” Dan said, exasperated, “I don’t think it’s a good time.”
“Why?” Laura bit back, her voice uncharacteristically spiteful.
“Carmilla doesn’t really like to be bothered when she’s dealing with… things,” LaFontaine informed her, unable to meet Laura’s eyes.
“How do you know that?” Laura said, “maybe she just doesn’t have the strength to reach out.”
“Laura, I’m serious.”
“Yeah?” Laura gripped her apron tightly, finally getting it over the rack, “well I am too.”
“Carmilla,” Laura breathed in, her third knock radiating against the surface of her coworker’s door, “please let me in.”
With an almost silent shuffle of feet and a long, animated sigh, Laura heard the lock click. When Carmilla made no moves to open it, Laura opened it slowly and peaked in, watching as she saw Carmilla’s figure back away and into the dark, unlit room, slinking towards her familiar couch.
“What do you fucking want, Laura?”
Laura cringed, watching as all the tenderness and trust she had thought they had begun to build up began to shatter. In all honesty, Laura wasn’t sure why she was here. At the time― determined and furious as she ran out of the coffee shop and caught a bus that was nearly leaving―she was driven by merely a feeling. A fleeting, sympathetic and worried feeling that Carmilla needed her right now. Maybe she was wrong.
Laura shut her eyes, all the adrenalin in her body building up to an answer, “I needed to comfort you,” she whispered hoarsely.
Carmilla scoffed, and it hurt. Laura flinched, stumbling on her unsteady feet and leaning against the door she had wanted so badly to overcome. Now all she wanted was to dash back through it.
“You needed to?” Carmilla bit back, the usual poison seemingly diluted in her unstable mood, “Give it up, cupcake, I’m not some fluffy, emotional puppy you can go to when you’re feeling upset. I’m not here for you to fix.”
“That’s not what I think of you,” Laura said harshly, finding her footing and approaching Carmilla slowly, anger but also something else driving her footsteps, “I don’t think you’re broken. I don’t think you’re perfect, either. I think you’re a human being with feelings and I think you forget that sometimes.”
Carmilla didn’t offer a response to that, but seemed to shrink in her seat where she sat, her face unreadable through the dark. Laura, now standing above the couch, sat down and faced Carmilla, the silhouette of her face still piercingly beautiful in the dark.
“I don’t get it,” Carmilla whispered. Laura could see Carmilla wrap her arms around herself, all the usual power that surrounded her fading, “I don’t fucking get why you care about me so much. I'm a mess with enough baggage to stuff a fucking plane."
Laura felt her whole body shiver, completely shellshocked by Carmilla’s abrupt confession. It was completely unexpected; Laura knew everyone had insecurities, she knew everyone had doubt and shame, but something about Carmilla had made her forget that people aren’t just what they seem.
“What?” Laura breathed out, “how could I not?"
"Because some people aren't worth caring about?" Carmilla scoffed, refusing to meet Laura's eyes.
"Yeah, maybe," Laura led her hand to Carmilla's chin, turning it delicately so that she was facing her, "but you're not one of those people, Carm." Carmilla shrugged off her hand, letting out a strained laugh.
"I'm sure he told you what happened,"
“He did,” Laura admitted, taking a breath and reaching out again to touch Carmilla’s face. This time she didn’t resist her, “and I can’t believe he would do that, but you can’t just run away from it.”
“That’s kind of what I’ve been doing for my entire life,” Carmilla whispered harshly.
“My mother hates me, Laura,” Carmilla said, her breath hitching slightly. It was too dark to see, but Laura rubbed a finger up Carmilla’s cheek to brush away the tear that fell anyway, “she’s hated me ever since I came out to her. God, she’s probably hated me before then, too.”
“If she bought the company, I have to leave. If she sees my name on the employee list she’ll just fire me anyway.”
“She can’t do that,” Laura said weakly, more to herself than anyone else.
“She can, and that’s the fucking issue. There’s no way out.”
“There’s always a way out, Carm,” Laura countered, straddling Carmilla’s lap in an attempt to get closer to her. Carmilla’s breath hitched again and Laura lowered herself on top of her, curling her arms around her and planting a kiss on the nape of her neck.
“Laura, I―you don’t deserve all this shit,” Carmilla breathed out, her breath shaky. Laura shushed her and trailed kisses up the back of her neck, finally stopping at the jawline.
“I like you, Carmilla” Laura whispered into her ear, “and if liking you comes with baggage, then I’ll deal, okay?”
Carmilla, not trusting her words, hummed out affirmatively and closed her eyes. She had no fight left in her. Laura took this as an opportunity to plant another kiss at her jawline before nipping Carmilla’s lip and kissing her. Laura had never been really good with lots of words, or comforting, or really expressing herself in general, but Laura wanted her to know how much she cared. How she would be there for her even if it meant losing her job; she’d be there always, really, as long as Carmilla wanted her to be.
“We’ll figure something out,” Laura affirmed, breaking their lips apart briefly, “I promise.”