The house was empty. Her dad was gone on a business trip. That meant only one thing.
Laura burst from the bathroom, wrapped only in a towel, and started singing into her hairbrush at the top of her lungs as the radio played. She danced across the hallway, shower wet hair flinging droplets back and forth as she swung her head to the beat. With a jump, she slid across the floor and into her bedroom, the towel barely staying place as she bobbed to the music.
With a spin, Laura threw her head back and sang louder into the hairbrush as the song burst into the chorus. She gave herself permission to silly dance, twisting on her toes and bouncing more than dancing as her arms flailed about. When the song moved to the bridge, Laura shredded an epic air guitar solo, grinning wildly as she did so. She embraced the final chorus with gusto, giving it all she had and jumping about her bedroom. She held the final pose, arms raised to the ceiling, hairbrush pointed up, until the final notes faded away.
A slow clap cut through the air.
Laura spun, trying to identify the sounds that was too close considering she was on the second story of an empty house.
“Well now, cutie,” the voice that filled the room was female and husky, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen dance moves quite like that before.”
Her eyes bounced to her window, freezing as she spotted a dark haired girl with a wicked grin leaning against her neighbours open window. Red rushed to Laura’s face. She’d always wondered who’d designed the houses that way. Maybe a foot between the houses, the two windows lined up perfectly.
Clearly a design flaw.
“Who the hell are you?” Laura demanded, moving over to the window.
The girl rolled her eyes, “I’m Carmilla, sweetheart, your neighbour. Obviously.”
“Um, no,” Laura said, “that bedroom has been empty for months.”
“And now that I’ve been dragged here to live with mother dearest,” Carmilla said, “the bedroom is full. Of me. Although, to be frank cupcake. I don’t think I would have resisted moving here quite so much if I’d known what a spectacular view I was getting.” Carmilla’s eyes raked over Laura and she gave her a slow wink, “Love the towel.”
Laura’s hands jumped to her chest. The towel. She was still wearing nothing but the towel.
With a small shriek Laura jumped away from the window.
A snort of laughter barrelled through the window.
“Who just blatantly oogles their neighbours through a window?” Laura shouted as she shimmied into a pair of jeans. There was no way she was letting Carmilla see her in her pajamas.
Carmilla gave a small snicker, “Well I just assumed that your little dance routine was for my benefit. After all, I was just innocently minding my own business when the loudest pop music intruded on my quiet evening. Of course, I was going to investigate.”
Laura threw on a shirt, “I don’t even know you! Why in the world would that be for your benefit?”
“Well then cutie,” Carmilla said, “why wear the towel at all if you didn’t know someone was watching? You almost lost it a few times anyway. That really would have been a show.”
Deciding that her best course of action was just to ignore Carmilla, Laura made to leave the room and drop her towel in the laundry room. Unfortunately, she had to cross in front of the window pane to leave.
“Of course,” Carmilla added, the moment she was back in view “if it was that kind of show then I would of had to join you. I’ve been with my share of ladies but never a tease like you cupcake.”
“I am not a tease,” Laura hissed, trying to ignore the self-satisfied smirk on Carmilla’s face as she turned back towards the window, “and I find it extremely hard to believe that you’ve had your ‘share of the ladies’ if you’re such a raging bad person! Who would date you?”
For a second, Laura almost thought she something like hurt flash across Carmilla’s face, then it was gone, replaced with the now familiar cocky grin, “Who said anything about dating them, cupcake?”
Laura snorted, leaning against the window frame and rolling her eyes, “Well good luck. I’d like to think the girls in this town have slightly higher standards.”
“Oh, I don’t know cupcake,” Carmilla leaned out the window, if Laura had done the same, she could have touched her, “if you like, you can come over and be my first test case. See if I can’t woo you with my charms?” Carmilla put a hand to her chest and batted her eyelids in an over exaggerated manner.
“Carmilla,” Laura replied, “At this point, I sincerely doubt you have any charms.”
Carmilla shrugged, “Well, we can’t all dance around in tiny revealing towels.”
Laura chucked said towel at Carmilla’s head and stomped out of the room.
Carmilla’s laughter followed her down the hall, “Thanks for the souvenir, cutie!”
In less than a month, Carmilla had thoroughly demolished Laura’s opinion of the women in her town.
Laura gritted her teeth and pulled the pillow farther over her ears. It absolutely was not helping. She was still being treated to the late night Carmilla Karnstein sexy time special. Complete with sleep preventing moans and one giggly girl.
Giving up, Laura flicked on her light and trotted over to her window. She sighed in relief when pulling back the curtain didn’t give her a front row view to the previously audio only show. At least Carmilla had the sense to not parade in front of her window. She glared at the offending pane of glass. It really wouldn’t have been that hard for Carmilla to just close the thing.
Another giggle drifted into the room and Laura rolled her eyes. Normally she wasn’t one to intrude on private moments but with a test tomorrow she wasn’t willing to give up her sleep so that broody mcleatherpants could score. Grabbing a rock that she couldn’t remember why she’d bothered to keep, Laura lobbed it at the window.
The resulting clatter was impressive but when the moans from the other room only increased, she looked for plan b. A bottle of air freshener caught her eye. She wouldn’t.
Before she could convince herself otherwise, Laura grabbed the bottle, tied an elastic band around the trigger and chucked the whole thing through Carmilla’s open window. Watching it spray widely as it went.
She was rewarded with immediate shrieks.
The cannister came soaring back out the window, hitting the side of Laura’s house and dropping to the ground. Carmilla’s head popped out the window, gasping for air as a faint mist of air freshener spray floated around her.
Laura smiled and waved as she took in her neighbor, all mussed hair and angry scowls.
Carmilla’s eyes narrowed as she took in Laura, “You.”
“Hello!” Laura said.
“What the hell, Hollis?” Carmilla snarled, “One minute I’m having a very enjoyable evening and the next you decide to launch a scent grenade into my room? Seriously?”
Laura leaned against the window and smiled innocently, “I was worried that your room might smell musty.”
A bang interrupted whatever Carmilla had been about to say. They looked down to see a blonde haired girl scurrying out of Carmilla’s house
The girl paused and looked up at the window, “Call me!” she shouted.
Carmilla ignored her, choosing to continue scowling at Laura.
Leaning farther out the window, Laura rolled her eyes and shouted, “She probably won’t!”
“A little presumptuous there, cupcake?” Carmilla said.
“Were you planning on calling her?” Laura asked, “do you even remember her name?”
Carmilla considered for a moment, “Elise? Elizabeth? Lizzy? Meh,” Carmilla shrugged, “she was a little too clingy anyway.”
“Heaven forbid a girl want to get emotionally invested,” Laura said.
“Well she never got the chance, with you chasing her off,” Carmilla clambered forward to sit on the window ledge, “maybe you just ruined my one shot at true love, cupcake.”
“Oh please,” Laura scoffed, “you’ll have another girl here in five hot seconds. She’s, what, the third girl this week?”
Carmilla leaned her head back against the house, staring up at the stars with a small smirk, “Didn’t realize you were keeping track. I’m flattered that you take such interest in my personal affairs. I don’t suppose it’s jealousy?”
“Try an inability to sleep due to sheer volume of your study buddies,” Laura said, “you know, some of us actually have to study and sleep before tests. If you wouldn’t mind toning it down a little?”
“I can’t help the volume,” Carmilla stretched and Laura worked very hard to keep her eyes off of the smooth skin that was Carmilla’s belly, “I’m just very good at what I do and the ladies like to show their appreciation.”
Laura closed her eyes, fighting the scowl.
“That bunched-up face you make when you’re angry is hilarious, buttercup,” Carmilla drawled.
“Fine,” Laura snapped, “whatever. Sorry, I asked. Please, feel free to be as loud as you want at 2 in the morning. No-one else could possible need sleep or have important things in the morning or just not be interested in constantly hearing sex noises. I mean seriously. Those girls deserve better than a 2am quickie. Heck, even you deserve better than that. But by all means. Please, continue.” She pulled back and slammed the window shut. The curtain was forcibly pushed into place as though she could block Carmilla from her view forever.
Laura hopped back into her bed, fuming. There was no way that she was actually going to fall asleep like this. Again, all stupid Carmilla Karnsteins’s fault.
There was a light knock on the window. Laura ignored it.
When she got up the next morning and opened the curtain. There was a pack of cookies sitting on the windowsill. Carefully, Laura opened the window to grab them and read the sticky note carefully taped on top.
“Love the pajamas, cupcake”
Laura looked down at her Doctor Who pajamas and groaned.
Laura’s current plan was to avoid Carmilla as much as humanly possible. Sure, maybe she hadn’t actually heard any loud late night moaning from Carmilla’s room since their last encounter but that didn’t mean she was particularly interested in Round 3 with the girl. Besides, she was busy with exams. She practically lived hunched over her desk these days.
She was hunched over her desk when something hit her right between the shoulder blades. Laura turned, looking behind her and straight out the open window. Nothing. FIguring it was just another confused bug ramming into her back, Laura returned to her books.
The next thump hit her in the back of her shoulder. This time she turned completely, staring suspiciously out the window. Carmilla’s room was dark. Looking down, Laura’s eyes narrowed as she bent and scooped up two tiny orange foam darts.
“What the?” Laura mumbled. She got up and ambled over to the window.
Peering into the darkness, Laura leaned forward. The moment her head cleared the frame a dark shape leapt up from the opposite window and another dart hit her square in the forehead.
“Bulls-eye!” came the cry from the other window. A light flicked on to reveal Carmilla, grinning at her and twirling a small nerf gun on her pointer finger.
Laura opened her mouth to yell at Carmilla when another dart hit her in the chest.
Carmilla blew on the end of the nerf gun, “Come on cupcake, it’s like you’re not even trying.”
Laura had to fight the small smile.
Two days and a trip to Laf’s house later, she was perched beside her window, just waiting. Finally, Carmilla came home. Laura counted slowly to three and burst forward, filling the opposite room with tiny projectiles and frantically pumping the weapon until it was empty.
“Really, cupcake?” came the resigned shout, when the hail of projectiles had ended, “really?”
When she finally caught sight of Carmilla, Laura burst into giggles. Carmilla was coated in tiny marshmallows. They were stuck in her hair and her clothes and almost seemed to glow against the black fabric.
Carmilla frowned at her but Laura couldn’t quite bring herself to stop giggling. Every time she looked up, all she saw was the marshmallow handing off Carmilla’s eyebrow. Eventually, Carmilla’s frown faded into a smirk.
She gave Laura a small salute, “A marshmallow gun cupcake?”
“Way better than nerf darts,” Laura said, leaning the gun against her shoulder and striking a heroic pose, “quantity over accuracy.”
Carmilla plucked one of the marshmallows off her arm and ate it, “But now I’ve got all the food.”
“Well, you could always share,” Laura said, “I mean, I was just getting you back. So now we’re even.”
Something glinted in Carmilla’s eyes, “Oh no, you threw a towel and an air freshener at me before I ever hit you with a nerf dart. We’re far from done.”
Somehow, the idea didn’t quite bother Laura.
“Still,” Carmilla said, “I suppose I could share.” She popped her fingers into her cleavage and pulled out a single marshmallow, tossing it to Laura with a smirk, “Enjoy cupcake.”
Laura stumbled over a comeback as Carmilla walked away.
A week later and Laura found herself soaking wet, spluttering, and standing in front of her window. She should have known better than to go anywhere near the thing but Carmilla’s bedroom was definitely empty so she’d thought that she was safe. She would know, she’d been paying a lot of attention to the girl across the way. For purely tactical reasons of course.
Figuring at this point that it couldn’t get much worse, she peered down to see Carmilla cheerfully standing on the ground between their two houses and holding the nozzle of a garden hose. When she saw Laura, her face lit up and Laura was too caught up in enjoying the smile to step back. She got hit full in the face with a spray of water, again.
Laura reeled back. Eyes narrowing as she considered her options.
“Come back, cupcake!” Carmilla called in a sing-song voice.
Laura grinned, went to the laundry room, filled up a bucket, and dumped it out the window. This time when she looked down it was Carmilla spluttering and cursing. The brunette's hair was plastered to her head and her shirt showed off every curve.
Certainly not a terrible view.
Of course, she probably should have realized that Carmilla was just going to hit her in the face with the hose again.
After two days of silence, Laura wasn’t entirely sure who’s turn it was but decided to take the initiative. Laf, intrigued by Laura’s stories, had gone all out and Laura was itching to use the giant gun that she’d been presented with. She had it all set up and perched on the window ledge when the sound of shouting blasted from Carmilla’s house through a downstairs window.
It lasted for nearly 15 minutes. A single voice screaming. Laura couldn’t make out the words but she could understand the tone and even that was enough to make her wrap her arms around herself.
She was just starting to take the new gun down when Carmilla burst into her bedroom. Her neighbours shoulders were stiff even though her eyes were dry. Carmilla looked impossible small, as though she’d somehow collapsed in on herself and the only thing holding her up was an invisible set of string held by a puppetmaster Laura couldn’t see.
It only took a moment for Carmilla’s eyes to find Laura’s as she stood there with the giant gun. Then Carmilla just opened her arms and closed her eyes. Waiting for the shot.
Dropping the gun, Laura ran over to the corner of her room and, after a brief moment of consideration, picked up something soft and squishy. She chucked it at Carmilla, letting it gently bounce off the other girl’s chest.
Carmilla opened her eyes with a frown. Laura registered the briefest flicker of surprise as Carmilla looked down and saw the plush yellow duck lying at her feet. She picked it up gently, cradling the stuffed toy.
She briefly locked eyes with Laura again, before fading from view elsewhere in her room.
Still, Laura couldn’t miss the single stifled sob the drifted through the windows.
Laura hardly saw Carmilla over the next few weeks. Well, to be fair, she saw her through the window, stealing glances wherever she could as the girl read or bobbed slowly to music or even just sitting and watching the stars. Once, she had even caught Carmilla in a solo dance as the girl seemed to waltz around her room.
She wondered how much Carmilla was watching her.
She trudged up the stairs, a new semester’s worth of books in her backpack. Swinging open her bedroom door, Laura let out a groan of relief as the heavy bag slid to the floor.
The room was instantly filled with a continuous stream of fast moving bullets, each slamming into Laura with a rat-a-tat-tat. With a small shout of surprise, Laura scurried across the room but the hail of gunfire seemed to follow her. She dove behind her bed for cover.
When the attack finally ended, her floor was covered in a sea of tiny nerf darts.
She crept over to the window, tentatively poking her head out.
“Don’t worry, cupcake,” the joy in Carmilla’s voice made her heart jump a little, “all out of ammo.”
“Somehow I don’t believe you,” Laura called back but stepped out anyway.
There was Carmilla a bandana tied around her head, a serious expression on her face, and a giant nerf machine gun strapped to the window ledge that was nearly as long as Laura’s arm. Laura gaped at it.
“Sorry, I took so long, cupcake. But I was waiting for this beauty to arrive,” Carmilla stroked the gun’s nozzle, “I took your advice on quantity.”
“Oh, you are so going down,” Laura threatened even as she smiled. Her eyes darted over to the large gun still sitting the corner of her room.
Carmilla’s smile finally bloomed, “Please, there’s nothing that beats 300 nerf darts in a minute.”
“You just wait Karnstein,” Laura threatened, “when you least expect it. BOOM!”
“I look forward to it, cupcake,” Carmilla said quietly.
Laura’s smile only grew. Then, Carmilla frowned and disappeared. When she came back, Laura’s yellow duck was in her arms.
“So, I guess,” Carmilla said, looking at her shoes, “you want this guy back?”
Carmilla was holding the duck tightly, pressing him deep into her stomach.
Laura’s answer was easy, “Naw, you keep him. He seems happier over there anyway.”
Carmilla didn’t look up, but the smile returned to her face.
“Besides,” Laura continued, “consider him payment for all of these fine nerf darts that I just acquired.”
Three weeks. Laura had let Carmilla stew for three weeks, just waiting for her next attack. They’d spoken, frequently actually. Carmilla throwing quips out as Laura got ready for class. Laura bouncing homework off Carmilla at night.
But today. Today was the day of The Gun. Once again, Laura had it all lined up expecting Carmilla to walk in the door at any moment. She was crouched against the floor, jittering with anticipation. Carmilla’s schedule was a predictable as they come. Home from work any moment now.
Twenty minutes and no Carmilla.
Forty minutes and no Carmilla.
Finally at the 53 minute mark, Laura heard the familar creak of Carmilla’s door. Without looking up, she hit the trigger and feeling the rush of air as the unconventional projectile went whipping through the air.
There was a moment of triumph when she heard the thump of impact and a sharp inhale of breath. But then, the wrong voice started shouting.
Laura’s eyes widened in horror as she took in the sound of Carmilla’s mother yelling. Laura yanked the gun down against the floor next to her and huddled against the wall. She heard Carmilla’s mom come to the window, shouting wildly. Laura almost popped up to apologize when she heard Carmilla’s voice insisting that there was no-one there. That it had been a prank by someone named ‘Will’. That it was all Carmilla’s fault.
The desperation in Carmilla voice, insisting that no-one was there, saying the words over and over in a voice too loud to only be meant for her mother, kept her down.
Mrs Karnstein’s voice went from loud and angry to quiet and angry. That was much worse.
The window slammed closed and Laura couldn’t hear anything anymore. Still she crouched by the window. Waiting. Praying. Begging.
Finally, Carmilla’s window opened again and Laura tentatively popped her head up. Carmilla looked back at her, hunched into herself and hugging her torso.
Laura leapt up, “Carm. Carm, I’m so sorry. I didn’t know, I totally should of looked first but I just assumed it was you and I hit the fire button and then I hit your mom and I’m so sorry. I really thought it was going to be you and I figured that you wouldn’t mind if I hit you. I mean, i’ve never even seen your mom in your room before but I still shouldn’t have assumed.” Laura clambered out onto her window ledge, sitting on the concrete rim as though increased proximity would demonstrate increased apology.
“And she sounded so mad,” Laura continued, “and first I panicked and I hid because I don’t know your mom. But then she sounded really really mad and then I was going to pop you and tell her it was me and give a big apology speech but then you were talking and it sounded like you didn’t want me to do that although I don’t know why you wouldn’t want me to, because it was all my fault. And I’m sorry if that wasn’t what you wanted and i can go to your mom right now and tell her that-”
“Laura,” Carmilla interrupted, “Laura, it’s fine. Please don’t talk to my mom. Please.”
Laura took a deep breath, wanting to argue but she bit her tongue and nodded sharply. She swung her feet lightly against the side of the house and watched Carmilla who still had her arms wrapped around her body.
“I’m really sorry, Carm,” Laura said again.
Carmilla straightened slightly, “I know.” Then Carmilla hopped up onto her own window ledge, swung her feet down across from Laura’s and looked up at the sky. She was almost close enough to touch.
Instead Laura followed her gaze. The stars twinkled overhead as clouds whisked across the sky to create intricate patterns of light and shadow that changed with every second but somehow seemed constant.
When Laura looked back down, Carmilla was staring at her. The moonlight illuminating her eyes. Carmilla was sitting a little straighter and, as Laura returned her gaze, Carmilla’s arms fell to her sides.
“Cupcake,” Carmilla said softly “Thank you.”
“What? Why?” Laura asked, keeping eye contact.
“I can’t think of a memory,” Carmilla said, “that I’ll treasure more than the image of my mother being hit in the face with a potato.”
Laura smiled and, after a moment, reached out and simply wrapped her foot around Carmilla’s. Joining them at the ankle.
Carmilla’s smile outmatched the stars.