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Vindicated

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Sometimes I give myself the creeps, sometimes my mind plays tricks on me, it all keeps adding up, I think I'm cracking up…

--

Laura snapped her (extremely "antiquated", as she was often reminded) flip phone shut after humming out a cheerful goodbye to her father. Yes, dad, totally doing great. Totally not stressing. College is fine. Totally not procrastinating. Yes, definitely went to class today. The list of awful, gut-gnawing feelings went on every time she talked to her father. There was a new version of guilt that came with the freedom of college. Her father would never have to know how many classes she skipped or assignments she fluffed the night before. And every morning that she wanted to ignore her alarm, the words "$300 a credit" rang in her head.

"You barely skip class, it's happened like, three times," Betty would say.

It felt like way more, especially when she spent the time she was actually in class completely checked out and more often than not scrolling down Twitter, or tumblr, or Facebook or looking up weird Wikipedia articles (she learned a lot about cephalopods and the history of ping pong).

And it especially felt like it when her Intro to Journalism midterm was due in exactly 8 days and she hadn't even started it.

Interview transcript.

3 page, minimum, article based on interview.

2 paragraph reflection on what was learned from the assignment.

It was a monster of a midterm. And the interview transcript was due 8 days from the moment Laura thought she was going to have a panic attack and practically broke down the door to her Floor Don's room.

"Laura!" Perry said, jumping out the way as Laura rushed in. "Is everything all right?"

"No, I'm going to flunk out of college!"

"Well, it's barely October, I highly doubt that's at all possible at this point."

Laura dropped onto the floor. She wasn't sure why she'd gone here. It should probably be the professor, or the tutoring center she should be seeing. But the last thing she needed was the professor knowing just how completely half-assed her project was going to be and the tutoring center would just give her a blank look and ask if she needed math help.

LaFontaine, Perry's roommate, looked up from their heavy-duty graphing calculator and notebook. They wheeled the chair around and looked, at least Laura hoped, sympathetic. But that also might have been amusement. Laura was pretty sure they weren't mutually exclusive in LaFontaine's case.

"Which GenEd is eating your soul, frosh?" LaFontaine said.

"It's the only class for my major I'm taking this semester. Which is probably some cosmic sign I should give up on that now," Laura said.

Perry bustled over and sat on her bed. She had in her hand a notebook, colorfully, hand-labeled "Floor Don Help Guide." She had one of those pens with a fuzzy bushel of feathers at the top. She seemed to be skimming down a list as she mumbled to herself.

"So Laura," Perry said. "It's common for first year students to experience these sorts of academic crises. The important thing to remember is more often than not, you overblow the situation in your mind—"

"Yes, you'd be surprised how easy it is to bullshit even the most ridiculous papers."

"Susan!"

Perry shot LaFontaine a look and they returned it in the form of a thinly veiled glare. Laura busied her eyes with the carpet and didn't bother to delve into any implications of Perry using LaFontaine's first name. It was a deal, Laura knew that much. But one crisis at a time and she only barely knew either of them outside of a professional, dormitory relationship. And the dynamics, or, really even the very existence of nonbinary pronouns was not something Laura was overly familiar with until she met them.

"It's not even midterms yet, and even if you do poorly on them, most professors weight classes to ensure you have a chance to raise your grade with finals," Perry said, jotting a note down in her book. "Your emotions are real and so is the situation, but it may not be as dire as you think."

"What's the major malfunction solider?" LaFontaine said.

"I've got a huge part of my midterm due in like a week and I haven't even started. We have to do an interview and transcribe it."

"Okay, totally doable, what are the requirements?"

"Someone in a professional field, outside the university, and the interview length has to fit to at least 5 pages."

LaFontaine was nodding, looking at nothing in the air as they thought. Perry was scribbling something down so more.

"Well, you've got plenty of options. There's a ton of businesses just off campus. It's short notice but, totally doable," LaFontaine said.

"Yes, make a few calls or emails, tonight, right now even, and set something up," Perry added. "You've got plenty of time, especially with the weekend coming up."

It was calming to hear it splayed out and timed. These two were third years, if they told her she wasn't going to die some painful academic probation death, then she believed them. At least for the next hour until she freaked out again. She wondered if this was going to be her life as a journalist, constant stress and deadlines. Then again, in the world of a journalist, 8 days might as well have been a month. If she couldn't even handle…

No. Stop it. This is a blip. She was a perfectionist, she knew. And she wasn't about to let that aspect of herself destroy the most important one. She dreamed of journalism since her mother bought her a journal when she was 5. Her first written words were in the form of some sort of weird, poorly written report on what they had for dinner one night. Her mother had it framed and everything. One school assignment wasn't going to ruin her life.

Mom knew I could do it…

"Okay," she said.

"Okay?" LaFontaine said.

"Yes. Definitely probably. For now," Laura said.

LaFontaine smiled and offered two thumbs up.

"Awesome, go tag-team," they said, turning to Perry for a high five.

She gave a weak slap to LaFontaine's hand and smiled thinly. She shuffled to her desk and replaced her notebook to its place of honor on the corner of her desk.

"Now, onto more important matters," LaFontaine said. "I am sick of coding DNA sequences and starving. Anyone up for a trip to the caf?"

Laura smiled and hopped up instantly. With obligations stowed for now, it made plenty of room for hunger and she was more than willing to let herself stress her way through the ice cream bar for an hour. Perry nodded and got up as well.

Laura H (5:34PM): Getting food, you want in?

Betty S (5:38PM): hell yes, i just marathoned jane eyre for my test tomorrow like it was my job

Laura rolled her eyes.

Laura H (5:39PM): Meet us at the caf in 10.

It felt something like a sigh of relief. For like, maybe two more hours.

----

Carmilla was hiding in the tour bus. She was certain at this point a riot may have ensued in the hotel. She'd tossed her phone when she entered the bus and didn't bother to even think about it from her perch in the extra twin bed tucked above the driver's cabin. She'd pulled the curtain closed on the small bunk for good measure and flipped on her string of fairy lights and opened her very worn copy of Wuthering Heights.

She'd gotten through four chapters, it had to have been an hour and half at least. She wondered who would give her a tongue lashing first, Scott, Rick, or her brother (whom had no doubt been called at this point). She'd have to remind Scott that making good on your threat to "hang you from the banister by your own skinny jeans" was probably not A+ conduct in the rule book of bodyguards. And Rick got paid way too much to care about yelling at her.

She'd apologize to Will later for interrupting what was, without a doubt, a completely fantastic rager at the zoo he called a house on campus. Though she was fairly certain that he only got nervous if she was missing for at least 48 hours, at this point.

She ignored it for now like she was in some kind of Cold War bunker and everyone else had to deal with that whole nuclear fallout thing. And so she read. This was her third go at the novel since she digested yet another awful adaptation of it (this one in the form of some sort of high school, modern day thing on Lifetime and she did her best to not actually throw up). People were gimmicky and it felt like a toothache. Maybe she could write a song on Heathcliff and Cathy, but that was probably gimmicky too.

Heathcliff managed to affirm himself as the world's biggest douche, at an early age, in the Earnshaw stables when the bus door finally opened with a crack of fiberglass on fiberglass.

"Carmilla if you are in here, I swear to god I'm quitting."

It was Scott. Better than Rick, at least. And she was starting to get hungry.

"It's my bus," Carmilla said, flipping back the curtain and setting the open book down on her chest.

"It's actually the record company's bus, you know that," Scott said.

"You've been spending too much time with Rick."

She pulled the plug of the lights and shoved an old Subway receipt into the page before closing the book. She hated pausing mid-chapter. But she was hungry, that Subway receipt wasn't helping and she figured refusing to get down would hurt her chances of Scott taking her to a Chinese buffet. And besides, last time she did that he threatened to call the fire department and tell them a cat was stuck up a tree.

"You're going to give me a stroke one of these days," he said, stepping over to help her down the last few rungs of the fold down ladder.

Carmilla was fairly certain Scott's contract specifically highlighted that, under no circumstances, was he supposed to form any sort of relationship with Carmilla or her team. It was supposed to be all "yes ma'am/no ma'am."

"I'm always in one of three places, it's not my fault you guess wrong every time," she said.

She stepped out of the bus into twilight air outside. There were residual tints of orange on the horizon that wasn't obstructed by the obnoxious resort, but it was darkening fast. The air was cooler, summer was over. The breeze made it worse and she thought about getting a jacket but she didn't want to delay her imminent meeting with wonton soup by 5 hours with a lecture from, what she imagined was, a very angry manager waiting in the hotel room.

Kitty(6:02PM): Asshole, you want a free meal?

"You hungry, Scott?" Carmilla said, sliding her phone back in her pocket.

"No, ma'am."

The phone buzzed.

Willy Boy(6:03PM): Depends.

Kitty(6:03PM): For fucks sake. Just be outside your dilapidated asbestos shack in 20 minutes.

She returned the phone to her pocket and replaced the space in her palm with a set of plain car keys. She walked without warning and she heard the sound of dress shoes on asphalt as Scott followed her dutifully. The streetlights of the hotel parking lot began to flicker on in a buzz of florescent pools and the last of the bugs for the season became visible, doing figure eights around the source.

Carmilla's was, currently, the only car in the VIP lot. Though she ignored the shiver at the thought of one other car occupying a spot come tomorrow at precisely 9:30AM.

All the more reason to gorge herself on Chinese and maybe even drink a little.

She plopped onto the leather of the driver's seat and pulled out her phone on last time as Scott, wordlessly, got in on the passenger side.

Carmilla (6:10PM): Call off your search party and try not to have an aneurysm. Getting Chinese, get your order in now if you want anything.

Then she tossed the phone onto the center console as she started the car and pulled out.

----

Perry all but forced Laura to at least eat a plate of fries before immediately diving into the piles of cookies in the desert corner. Not that Laura complained at a dinner of fries but the Eiffel Tower of chocolate chip cookies in front of her was the best temporary heaven she could imagine to distract from the journalism project that shall not be named.

"Just like, go to one of the tattoo shops or something," Betty suggested, picking through her plate of spaghetti. "Hell, maybe they'll give you a free tattoo."

"No thanks," Laura shuddered at the thought of a buzzing needle pumping ink into her skin.

"Or that bookstore, Callivan's," LaFontaine said. "It's got some crazy cool stuff in there. I found a really old copy of Grey's Anatomy for super cheap."

Laura devoured a cookie and resolved not to think about it until she got back to her room that night. The cafeteria was relax time, her desk was cry and pull an all-nighter time.

Of course that whole relax thing went out the window when a very familiar tall red-head caught her eye and immediately headed over. She felt Betty practically burst with excitement next to her, and could feel her face going red with her roommate's eyes glued to her and giggling and elbowing her. LaFontiane seemed to catch on quickly and their face lit up.

"Please, be cool," Laura practically begged Betty just before Danny was in earhot.

"Hey, Hollis," Danny said with a smile.

Should she be offended by the last name thing? Laura was pretty sure it was, like, a term of endearment for the Summer Society girls. It meant you were in the club or something. She told herself this anyway.

"Hey," she said. Was that too enthusiastic? Was it not enthusiastic enough?

Danny stood there for a moment, clearly waiting for something and Laura's brain did that lovely thing where it froze and gave a big giant middle finger to doing anything remotely normal. Oh, you want to do more than just stare at her like a weirdo? Ha ha, that's cute.

"Do you want to join us?" LaFontaine said, when it was clear Laura's jaw was in emergency lock mode.

"Yeah, if you guys don't mind," Danny said, evidently ready to overlook the awkward gaze of destiny Laura decided they were going to share.

"This is Danny by the way," Laura said, doing her best to save face. "She's my lit TA."

"Oh, I know," Betty said with perfect timing.

It was 50 Shades of Laura's Tomato Face.

Danny smiled though, directly at Laura. It was a thank you, Laura guessed. But it was enough to send flutters in her stomach. She'd thank Betty one day for her aggressive wingman tactics. But in the moment it was giving her heart palpitations. Crushes sucked.

"Betty, my roommate. And Perry and LaFontaine," Laura introduced quickly and Danny smiled at each of them in turn.

Perry began a conversation with Danny about the Summer Society and everything began to flow smoothly after that. LaFontaine expertly switched the topic to English lit to drag Laura into the conversation and she and Danny went at it over their lecture that day on Beowulf.

"It's a super important piece for the transitional period for paganism in a rapidly growing Christian society," Laura said and Danny shook her head and paused to swallow.

"The only reason anyone is talking about it is because of Tolkien's analysis on it. Essentially we're all just reading his reading of the piece. Without his interpretations, it doesn't stand on its own," Danny said.

"I mean, if she's the TA then I'm inclined to agree with her," LaFontaine teased.

Laura found Danny's knowledge, and more so, her opinions on literature entrancing. She was sporty and athletic and did tons of rec things and that alone was crush worthy because man was she in shape. But she treated literature like a hidden secret from her sisters and talked often about stowing copies of Les Mis in her duffel bag when they'd go out on camping trips.

It was cute.

And if nothing else, Laura responded very well to cute.

"Alright Hollis, would you like to make it interesting?" Danny said, leaning forward across the table.

"Interesting how?" Laura said, trying to fit the initial urge to lean back in panic at the proximity.

"If you can convince me in your paper that Beowulf is the majesty piece of historical literature you say it is I'll buy you Pad Thai from Spice Island," Danny said. "If you don't, you buy me the biggest burger from Burg Joint."

"Oh she accepts," Betty said immediately and Laura wanted to strangle her but couldn't seem to find a way to do that delicately with an entire table of witnesses. "By which I mean, Laura is not one to back down from a challenge."

The recovery was only 50% convincing but Laura decided to let it go because she did have a point, either way she was getting a date of this bet. Was it date? It could be, she could totally make sure it was.

"Deal."

The conversation moved on again to LaFontaine's work on DNA coding in her bio classes. The only person who found this interesting was Perry and Laura suspected that was simply for sympathy's sake since no one had any clue what base pairs or transcription factors were. Laura occasionally caught Danny's glance and they shared an eye roll at all the science talk.

That's when Laura heard a very masculine voice call her name and she turned.

A very tall, broad-shouldered boy in a button-up shirt complete with popped collar made his way directly toward her with a mountain of food and a smile that reminded Laura of a Labrador.

"Hey, Laura," he said once he was standing in front of her. He turned to the rest of the table. "Laura's friends."

Laura only barely registered that he was the lit class with her before he confirmed it with a double take and edgy hello to Danny who gave a mock salute of a wave and didn't look up.

"Any room for one more?" he asked Laura directly.

"Definitely," Betty said, eyes locked on his exposed arms and Laura resisted the urge to shake her head.

Betty moved over one seat and he took a seat between the two of them.

"This is Kirsch," Laura said. "He's in our lit class."

There was another round of waves before Kirsch dug into the first of two cheeseburgers and two plates of fries. Betty busied herself with fluffing her hair discretely while he was focused on his food and Danny did nothing but glare at him from across the table while jabbing her food with her fork.

"Any particular reason you're gracing us with your presence?" Laura asked, trying to sound as nice as possible. "I mean, don't Zetas, like, go all Manifest Destiny on the long tables by the pizza?"

"It's Big-Little Dinner night," Kirsch said, mouth half-full. "And my bro Will totally bailed on me. I mean I guess real siblings come first or whatever but, bonding nights like this are sacred you know? Plus I was really looking forward to demolishing the wings at Peter's."

"A thrilling tale," Danny said, dipping a crouton into a small pile of dressing she'd amassed. Kirsch either had a ridiculous amount of tact compared to what his appearance gave off or he simply didn't hear her.

"His sister's in town and she offered to pay, so I can't really blame him since she's crazy rich," he said, wiping his mouth for the first time.

"Wait, is your Little Will Eisen?" LaFontaine said, leaning forward. Kirsch nodded through his first bite into his second burger. "That would make his sister…"

"I heard she had shows in Vienna this week," Danny said.

"I was thinking about making a floor program out of going to the concert if it didn't sell out in exactly 14 minutes and 28 seconds," Perry said.

"Her concerts are like a cesspool of drugs and bar fights though," LaFontaine said.

"Why do those two have different last names though?" Betty said. "Like, I guess hers is a stage name?"

"Who are we talking about?" Laura finally said after recovering from the whiplash of bouncing between people who seemed to all be very knowledgeable suddenly at Kirsch's dinner problems.

"Will Eisen," Betty said. "His sister is Carmilla Karnstein."

The first name meant nothing, but Laura knew the second one very well. She'd be lying if she said she didn't have one or two of her songs on her iPod as they spoke. Though Laura wasn't overly attached to the idea of her or particularly excited at her six degrees of separation from her specifically, she did find the rush of being associated with any celebrity kind of cool.

"Whoa, have you ever met her?" Laura asked Kirsch.

"For like a hot second," he said. "She came in the house once. She always rolls up in this super shiny, all black 1967 Pontiac GTO."

"Is that a nice car?" Laura asked.

"Super nice, super expensive," Danny said.

"Sorry you got ditched for the millionaire older sister," LaFontaine said. Kirsch shrugged.

"He said he'd bring me an eggroll."

The conversation turned back towards Danny and Laura's bet when LaFontaine asked Kirsch's opinion on the book in question. When Kirsch, vaguely, and probably a little ignorantly considering his level of intelligence when it came to the topic, sided with Laura, Danny claimed bias since it was Laura in the first place who tutored him on the book for their first exam. They were all laughing though.

"Oh check this out," Kirsch said holding out his phone to the whole table. Snapchat was open with a Snap from "Will" waiting to be opened.

Kirsch clicked it and up popped a ten second selfie of a dark-haired boy Laura assumed was Will with an equally dark haired girl giving the finger to the camera with the caption "I told her to say hi" underneath them.

"Damn, that's really her," LaFontaine said. "It's kind cool almost knowing a celebrity."

"She's unfairly pretty," Betty said. "And if that's her Chinese buffet and Snapchat look I don't even want to see her done up for concerts."

Laura had to agree. It was cursory glance but the girl was extremely good looking. She vaguely recognized her from Yahoo! News articles or random posts on Facebook. She was pretty, she was young, she was insanely rich, and, apparently, drove a really nice car. Lucky her.

Kirsch took a picture of his demolished food plate, typed in a caption, and sent a reply. He left his phone out to share if any other pictures of her came their way.

"You know Laura," LaFontaine said. "If you wanted to be a real journalist—"

"Don't even start."

The thought went through Laura's mind for like .04 milliseconds before she banished it. No way was she doing that, no way. It was ridiculous. She said as much and then LaFontaine and her engaged in a battle of rolling eyes, glares, and glances as they fought over the topic silently.

"Care to farm out your debate?" Danny said, watching them exchange glances like a game of tennis.

"Laura's got a massive midterm for her journalism class and I thought…maybe…I don't know, aren't journalists all about using connections and hunting down leads?" LaFontaine said.

"She wants me to try and interview Carmilla," Laura clarified. "But there's no way in hell because I have 8 days to do this and she's like an actual human celebrity and I'm not doing that, not that it would ever happen anyway so drop it."

She'd have better luck with one of the store owners in town. Well, no, she'd have luck period, because in what universe would she agree to an interview with college student for a class project. It was embarrassing to even think about asking.

"You've got a connection though," LaFontaine said, nodding to Kirsch.

"LaFontaine," Perry said. "There's no need for undue stress. Laura's already got a plan for working out her project."

"No reason not to try and go above and beyond," Betty offered.

"Not helping," Laura said.

"Not to mention," Danny said. "She's, like, famous for giving a big 'fuck you' to reporters. She totally shit kicked one in L.A. last year."

"Wait, are you serious?" LaFontaine said.

"Yeah, some paparazzi dude I guess was trying to get a quote and whatever he said or did totally set her off. The only reason she wasn't arrested was they paid the dude not to press charges," Danny said.

"Holy shit you have to interview her," LaFontaine said.

"So she can stab me with my own pen?" Laura said.

The bickering across the table continued as everyone chimed in with pros and cons. And Laura grew more and more annoyed that everyone seemed to be considering this be a thing that was actually happening. Because it wasn't happening. And it was not a thing. She'd finally forgotten about her academic irresponsibility and now it was flinging across the table like pinball and she was getting more and more stressed the longer it went on.

"I could just ask him," Kirsch finally said. "Worst thing she says no."

"Kirsch you really don't—"

"I owe you for your help with the test, I totally got you on this, if you want it," he said.

Laura groaned. Her excuses were all but out now beyond Carmilla saying no and laughing into the sunset. A huge part of this was also her total nervousness at being in a room with someone with over 20 million Twitter followers and forced to be a human person and not a babbling mess. Kirsch was waiting for some sort of go ahead from Laura and she finally closed her eyes and nodded.

Worst thing that could happen is she says no.

Actually the worst thing that could happen is she'd say yes.

But that won't happen.

"Okay sent," Kirsch said after typing out a text.

"I'm still emailing that tattoo place tonight," Laura said.

"It's good to have backups," Perry said. "Either way, you're much closer to finishing the project."

Laura smiled and nodded.

----

LaFontaine put in their headphones almost immediately after dropping into their desk chair after dinner. Something random came on, they really didn't care what, as long as there was noise. Perry was probably shuffling somewhere behind them, cleaning something, labeling something, making her bed. Making their bed.

In their head LaFontaine kept a tally of how many times a week the name Susan came out of Perry's mouth. One was too many, but in this particular week it was three. The week before it was twice, the week before that it was a solid zero. It always came out in anger which LaFontaine preferred to think was out of habit instead of some subconscious attempt to strike a very low blow against them. Perry wasn't that cruel.

On the computer there was various base pairs typed out from their homework on the DNA coding of the Slow Loris which they may or may not have spent an extra 10 minutes staring at because it was adorable. DNA coding was easy, base pairs were easy, anatomy and body functions and the chemistry of the cells was all easy. LaFontaine knew what the human body was made up of, what they were made up of, and so they had a handle on their own destiny more than others. And decoding their inside was scary and new but it was freeing.

And at least once a week it got torn down from the most unlikely place.

"Did you do laundry yet?" came Perry's voice, miraculously over the sound of "Blank Space".

LaFontaine popped out one ear bud and turned.

"I was going to do it tonight and hope the left washer got fixed," they say. "Did the maintenance guy come by?"

"I was in class during the window, I hope he did. That's the second time in two months," she said.

This was easy, to ignore the topic, for Perry to talk about day-to-day activities, to avoiding calling them by name to their face, to not talk about it more.

I don't understand.

I just—I don't know, I don't feel like a Susan. Have you ever not felt like a Lola?

It's my name.

Well I don't want to be Susan. I didn't get to pick my name so...

So what do I call you?

I don't know, I feel more like LaFontaine than Susan.

Maybe Perry was just pretending to understand or even humor them. Their parents were surprisingly okay with it, didn't understand but stuck to it. They saw the notes they left themselves in random places around the house with their pronouns after the first week or si which quickly turned into little encouraging notes once they realized that LaFontaine was finding them.

Their parents got it. Even Laura, whom they'd known for all of two months, got it. It would just take some time. That's what they told themselves once a week.

----

"You're an idiot," Carmilla said. "It's like only 10% complicated."

Carmilla was demonstrating chopsticks for probably the fifth time that night. Every time they got Chinese she taught him how to use them to the point where he could basically make it through dinner with them. He'd forget by the time they'd go out again.

"I can just use a fork," he said.

"That's no fun."

They were tucked into the corner of, a very empty, Taiwan Café. With only one other group, a very awkward looking first date between two local high school kids, they had free reign over the two counter buffet. Carmilla loaded up on sweet and sour soup, deciding the wonton looked a little sad, and a mountain of eggrolls. Will felt the need to recreate a takeout meal with perfect spacing between dishes. Scott sat quietly, scrolling through his phone, with a glass of water.

Carmilla expertly picked up an eggroll with her chopsticks, dipped it in the broth, and took a smug bite.

"Yes, we're all very impressed, Kitty," Will said.

She kept her smile and held out the remaining section of the eggroll. Will plucked it from the chopsticks and popped it in his mouth.

"Remind me to get an eggroll to go for Kirsch," he said, impaling a piece of chicken with his fork.

Carmilla tilted the cup of soup to drink the last of it without struggling with the spoon. The then made quick work of demolishing the last of her eggrolls and wiping her mouth and passing Scott on her way back to the counter. He took a long sip of water before continuing to tap away on his Blackberry.

Carmilla wanted to just tell him to get something from the buffet and be done with it. But he was strict to follow his "absolutely no forms of bribery or secondary payment" in his contract. He never accepted any food Carmila bought him, even a cake on his birthday two years ago. It took a specific type of person to be able to resist the allure of the smell of Chinese food though. She'd give him points for self-control while she ignored any on her part if the pile of cookies on her plate were an indication.

The couple in the opposite corner were whispering to each other and Carmilla's periphery caught them once or twice glancing in her direction. It's totally her. No it's not. Carmilla was used to that game people played. She felt marginally bad for taking the spotlight in their date. Maybe in a year or so she'd get her 7,000th Twitter wedding invitation from them. She might even be willing to write a speech for that one.

Dear randos in the corner, why are you not serving Chinese food at the reception? I thought we had something special

When she got back to the table Will was scrolling through his phone and Scott had downed his water.

"Try not to break out in hives from accepting it," Carmilla said when she handed Scott a refilled glass.

"It's 90% ice," Scott said.

"No one likes room temperature water."

She let the plate hang in the middle of the table for Will to pick from but he was pursing his lips at his phone and thinking entirely too hard.

"Please don't tell me a one night stand told you it's yours," Carmilla said.

"No," he said. "It's from Kirsch."

"Did you get him pregnant?"

"Seriously?"

He tossed a crumpled straw wrapper at her and set his phone down.

"He was just asking about a friend. Well like, this chick I guess is in a journalism class and has to do an interview project and wants to know if you'd oblige," he said only 10% awkwardly.

Carmilla snorted and then let out a laugh. She picked up a cookie and took a poignant bite out of it before offering the other half to Will.

"That's adorable," she said.

"I had to at least ask you, he's my friend," Will said, putting the phone back down.

"I hope she has a plan B or else she's failing her assignment," Carmilla said.

After the pyramid of cookies was reduced to crumbs and residual pieces of chocolate chips, they paid their tab. Carmilla worked through the math quickly as she wrote $27.00 on the tip line beneath the total. As a rule she never tipped below 70%, unless of course they were total assholes or she suspected someone spit in her food. Her brother said she was being a show off.

That wasn't why she did it.

They exited the buffet with a bag of eggrolls in hand for Kirsch. Rick hadn't placed an order for Carmilla and instead sent a curt message of I will be here when you get back. It would room service pizza for him. His loss.

Carmilla whizzed around the college town and, as per usual, got an earful from Will after she anticipated a green light at their first intersection and barely stopped.

"If you die then you won't have to pay tuition," Carmilla said. "And you can stop bitching about that stat midterm."

He glared at her. From the back Scott was silent but Carmilla was certain he was white knuckling his seatbelt. Once or twice he'd make a comment about his job description didn't necessarily entail vehicular safety but he was certain nothing specifically told him not to make sure she didn't kill herself by popping a curb. Night driving was Carmilla's favorite though. It turned her black car into a chameleon on the streets.

"Last chance," Carmilla said, turning onto the campus. "You can stay in a five star hotel or spend another anxious night hoping your roof doesn't cave in."

"Honestly, the house is fine compared to some others."

"Yeah, tell that to the inspector I'm sending to condemn it."

They pulled up to the frat house in rev of the engine and a screech of tires as she slammed to a halt. Will stepped out and Scott took his place in the front seat.

"Tell your big bro I'll think about his girlfriend's dilemma," Carmilla said.

Will rolled his eyes and gave a wave.

"Ha ha. I'll see you tomorrow, Kitty," he said and shut the door.

Carmilla snorted. Ha ha indeed.

----

Danny slowed to a stop on the bounce of the track.

"You can do faster than that, Lawrence," said one of her sisters.

"I clocked a 10 second sprint," she said back in between huffs as she struggled to catch her breath.

"You clocked 8.2 seconds last week."

"Whatever, I just ate dinner."

She walked off the track to allow the next girl up. She sat on the cold metal of the bleachers as she pulled out her phone followed by a notebook. On the first page was handwritten schedule which, at this point, had been scribbled out and rewritten over enough times that there was three different colors of ink making up her week. She pursed her lips as she stared at a particularly offensive small block of time allotted for her lunch break tomorrow. Whatever, she could just eat a Power Bar (since someone who will not be named--Jessie--broke the house blender).

"Is this really the time to do the whole professor thing, Lawrence?"

"I've got a bet with someone about their paper."

"That's unethical."

She smiled and rolled her eyes and pulled out the paper labeled Laura Hollis in the top right hand corner. Beowulf and the Birth of the Western World. Well that was lofty and definitely pushing it. Then again her page count was one of the longest in the class, maybe she did have something worth saying.

Danny started reading with claps in the background as someone finished the spring particularly fast. She'd gladly relinquish her title as fastest in the dash for a week or so if it meant she got to spend more time with Laura. Not that she was about to let Laura win. She still required some convincing, but she was excited to be convinced.

Beowful was almost lost from history if not for them--

Her phone went off with a familiar ringtone and she groaned.

It was the colonel.

"Hey dad."

"How was your day?"

"Pretty good. I'm out at track practice. We've got an intramural meet this weekend."

"Atta girl"

Conversations with the colonel were better than conversations with her mother. Still, it was all business and professional and once or twice they both slipped in a "So when are you transferring to the Naval academy? Are you considering enlisting after graduation? What are you doing with an English degree?" and other such variations. She wanted to nip this one fast. She'd been having a good day. She'd keep having a good day.

"List dad, I'll talk to you tomorrow okay? I'm up for the sprint."

"Take 'em out kiddo.

She hung up and popped up, shoving Laura's paper back into her bag with as much grace as she could muster and putting her phone on silent for the rest of the practice.

"You're not up again, Lawrence."

She didn't say anything as she jogged back down tot he starting blocks and the sister keeping time just shrugged and reset her stopwatch. Danny wished it was a cross country training. She needed to run and just keep running. The kind of running where her feet were trying to crack the dirt underneath as she stomped and pushed. It wasn't about speed but it would be about force. It was about sweating out her frustration and breathing in some calm afterwards. It was about being a force of nature and maybe even punching something later.

For now she'd have to bottle all that up and let it explode as the whistle blew and she took off.

----

Will didn't go inside immediately. He waited until the car was gone along with rev of the engine and the screech of the tires before he pulled his phone out. He scrolled through his missed messages and saw nothing new since Kirsch's text. He felt a little bad for the girl, mostly because he didn't know how serious she was about the whole thing, but maybe it was for the best. She could be a stalker, or Carmilla might hit her, or worst of all she might sleep with her.

He scrolled into his contacts and left his thumb hover the call button on the page marked "Mom". It was still afternoon where she was, he wouldn't be waking her. That of course didn't mean he wasn't bothering her. He weighed the consequences of calling her, considering he'd see her tomorrow and knew what the first thing out of her mouth would be when she picked up the phone.

Have you talked to your sister?

As annoying as that whole debacle was by itself, now even Kirsch was getting in on the Carmilla train. And those were two worlds he really didn't want to have colliding.

He sighed and walked up to the porch of the house, taking a seat on the broken couch with the dip in the left cushion. One of the senior brothers claimed the couch had been used for smuggling hoards of cocaine in from Mexico or Guatemala or somewhere down in South America (the story changed every time). Some of the pledges got their heads shoved into it every once in a while and forced to pretend they got some kind of contact high.

Maybe Carmilla did have a tiny point about this place.

Still they were his friends.

That he paid to have.

That would do anything for him.

Because he rushed

Because he paid--

No. He'd go inside, he'd throw Kirsch his eggrolls, they'd play Grand Theft Auto for two hours and listen to loud music and laugh and hope he didn't get a phone call of disaster from his sister's manager. Again.