Chapter 1: Cross My Heart
Carmilla banged on the door as hard as she could until it flew open and one Sherman Hollis stood tall and stark before realizing who was there and letting himself take a much-needed breath. She could only imagine what she must look like to him- face beading with sweat, hair tousled, and clothes in disarray. Her shirt was half-tucked with the tops unbuttoned, her tie loose around her neck. Her face was flush from the wind whipping past her mercilessly. She looked unlike herself, she knew it. And she knew he knew why. He could see it in the smudged mascara and red tint in her eyes.
“Where is she?” Carmilla breathed in haste.
Sherman’s eyes were sorrowful, angry, a range of emotions nobody but a parent could possibly properly explain. Like his emotional timer went out and every emotion he could feel in that moment collided. In all his pain for his daughter, there was pain for Carmilla as well. If he knew anything about Laura or Carmilla, he knew neither would let the other go through anything alone. One would always show up for the other, regardless of if it were wanted. He need not worry about loneliness. However, never had both girls been in such troubling situations at the same time; so, of course it was a shock to him to see Carmilla at his door. Though, this was the same girl who walked to his house with a sprained ankle at 10 years old with soup for a flu-ridden Laura. He really shouldn’t be surprised.
So, in Sherman Hollis fashion, he let the conversation of emotion remain between the girls and stepped aside so Carmilla could enter. “She’s in her room. I tried consoling her, but she just keeps crying. Should warn you, she may not talk.”
“She’ll talk for me. Thank you, sir.” Carmilla went rushing up the stairs, taking them two at a time. Taking a deep breath, she turned the knob to Laura’s bedroom door and stepped inside.
Laura was still in her dress, corsage and all, lying on the floor staring up at the ceiling. When they were 14, Carmilla spent weeks drawing constellations on the ceiling, a full night’s sky with he stars most prominent, so that when Laura was in a sad mood and Carmilla wasn’t there, they could look up at the same sky and Carmilla could teach Laura about a new star or constellation. It was a nice distraction away from the world past that door. Tonight, though, Laura was peering through to the bare color that was covered those two years ago. She paused to acknowledge Carmilla’s presence after it was clear that it wouldn’t be disappearing anytime soon with a simple glance before returning to her gazing.
“Why are you here?” Laura huffed.
“My best friend needed me.” Carmilla stepped further into the room. “You’re still in your dress.”
“You’re still in your suit.”
Carmilla offered a quick smirk. “I thought snark was my thing…”
“Yeah, well, things change.” Laura’s voice broke on the final word. She whispered an insult to herself, covering her face in her hands. A shuddering sob broke through. “Why did she do this to me?”
Carmilla sat on the floor next to her best friend with her hands in her lap. It broke her heart to see Laura like this. She was usually so strong, resilient; but she resembled a broken woman. She was a broken woman. And she wasn’t the only one.
“Some people just aren’t mature enough to take care of their business face to face. Danny Lawrence is one of those people. She was too scared, or self-centered, to tell you to your face that she chose someone else and allowed you to go to junior prom alone while she waked in two hours later with somebody else. She stood you up. It’s cowardly and selfish and I am so sorry, Laura; but it could be worse.”
“Like being verbally degraded in front of the entire school in the middle of prom?” Laura spoke through her fingers.
Carmilla cleared her throat, emotions returning. She had come over with nothing on her mind but Laura’s well-being. She’d chosen not to bring her own pain into the mix. Lucky for her, Laura could never leave Carmilla’s pain behind.
“Yeah, just like that.” She wiped defiant tears from her eyes before Laura shot up like the Undertaker after a lariat.
“Oh, my goodness! Carm, I’m so sorry! I wasn’t thinking! I didn’t mean that!” The blonde’s eyes were puffy, and her makeup was completely destroyed. Mascara ran down her cheek, lip stain against her chin. But Carmilla never saw a moment where Laura didn’t look beautiful, even in such a physically vulgar situation.
“It’s okay, Laura. Really, you’re right. I’d rather be in your place right now, honestly.” She sat up and moved hair out of Laura’s face. “Even though both of us were publicly embarrassed.”
Laura laughed once, nothing funny about it. “If this is your version of a cheering up speech, it needs a little work.”
“Yeah, well, I was called a ridiculous, unlovable ghost of a girl who lacks the capacity to feel anything for anyone else on the night of my prom; so, give me a break.” She shrugged, holding Laura’s face in her hands, finding more important things to worry about in the loss of gold specks in her eyes. “How about we get you out of this thing and get to bed?”
Laura nodded, letting herself be pulled to her feet before throwing herself into Carmilla’s arms as another wave of tears hit her hard. Carmilla quietly soothed her and stroked her hair as her own tears fell silently into blonde curls. After so long, Laura began to calm down enough to speak.
“Maybe I can blame it on this ridiculous dress. Red is so not my color.” She tried her hand at the self-deprecating joke. She should’ve guessed it would fail against Carmilla.
“Stop it. Of course, it is. You look gorgeous, Cupcake.” She wiped at Laura’s mascara.
“You have to say that. You’re my best friend.” Laura sighed.
“Then it should earn me some brownie points, now, shouldn’t it?” Carmilla grinned, pulling Laura towards the bathroom. “Come on, cutie.”
They worked together to get Laura’s face cleaned and changed into pjs. A few more tears were shed, most from Carmilla’s purposefully awful jokes. She even managed to get Laura to face Sherman and hug him goodnight. He silently thanked her as she followed Laura back to her room.
Laura lay in bed as Carmilla hit the lights and get in next to her. She lay on her back with her arm behind her head staring at the constellations above as Laura curled into her side with her arm across her stomach and her face against her neck. This was a normal thing for them, but it never failed to make Carmilla’s heart speed up. She never expected Laura to notice since the girl was oblivious to the most obvious of things.
“I’m sorry Elle was such a meanie to you.” The blonde muttered, playing with a piece of Carmilla’s hair.
“Eh, she was just a bad luck of the draw. She’s not the most important person in the world, even if her words sucked worse than a kick in the crotch.” Carmilla lay her arm across Laura’s shoulder. “I’m sorry Lawrence turned into such a dick.”
Laura shrugged with a shudder, shoulders tensing at the reaction. “Yeah, me too. She’s a good person. She just…hasn’t finished growing yet.”
Silence took over, both choosing to agree to disagree. Neither wanting to let things go so easily, like these people weren’t the worse things they had gone through on prom night.
“Do you think we’ll ever meet people who will stay?” Laura asked, fingers curling around loose fabric on the brunette’s shirt.
“You met me. I stay.” Carmilla replied.
“Yeah, but I mean people we can marry. People that will still be here when we’re hurt or scared. Someone who can handle us when we hit our 30th birthday and go through the crisis of getting older. Those people.” The blonde frowned to herself, believing everything she’d said to never come true.
“How I stick around with all this quease-inducing mushiness is beyond me,” Carmilla rolled her eyes, stroking Laura’s hair and lulling her into sleep. “I’ll tell you what, we’ll make a deal. If you aren’t dating or married by your 30th birthday, I’ll marry you myself.”
“But you have to do it right! A proposal. A wedding. All of it!”
“Fine. If you’re single at 29, I’ll propose.”
“Mm…make it 26. I don’t want to be 30 getting married and going through a midlife crisis.”
“Alright! Now, sleep.” Carmilla chuckled.
Laura fiddled with a button on Carmilla’s shirt, interested in how many times she could twist it until it broke off. “Carm?”
“Yes, Cupcake?” She sighed.
“Cross my heart.” The brunette yawned silently. “I promise, Laura.”
Content enough with hope, she finally began to drift off to sleep.
Chapter 2: Stay
*One year later*
Laura paced back and forth between the TV and her father sipping coffee in his recliner staring calmly at the front door. In any other situation, if this was anybody else, he would be staring death daggers with a super soaker full of bear spray. Extra strength. But, not tonight- even if he had one set aside for precaution.
“What if she doesn’t show? This is not her thing at all. We saw what happened last year! No way she’ll go through with it!” She fiddled with an open string on the corsage she bought for tonight.
“Um…are we remembering the same night?” Her father frowned, confused, over his coffee mug.
“Oh, you mean my Junior prom night that I was looking forward to? The one where I got all gussied up for my knight in shining armor only to find I wasn’t the dame worth saving. Talk about Princess Fiona. I didn’t even get a Shrek. Instead I was embarrassed in front of the entire school and spent my prom night in my room staring at a ceiling of fake stars where I wallowed in sadness.” Laura’s face went bright red at the lack of oxygen.
Sherman blinked rapidly, cartoonishly rapid. “Yeah, that night.”
She huffed, trying to stabilize her nerve before they caused her death. “Yeah, that night. A night that has the possibility of repetition.”
“Do you really think she’ll let that happen again?”
“Who’s going to stop it?”
Three rapid knocks at the door and Laura’s attention was off the memory of her terrible Junio prom like it had been tossed with a gust of wind.
“Who do you think that is?” She approached the door with caution.
“Shrek.” Her father shrugged.
“Do-do you really think so?”
“You’ll know if you open the damn door.” A humored voice came from the opposite side of the threshold. Blushing, Laura let the door come ajar to reveal a smirking brunette with a rose in hand. “Was that so hard, cutie?”
Why was it so hard to dance? She bought the ticket, the dress, the shoes. Why was it so hard to dance? This was her Senior prom. This night would never come again. Yet, she was sitting against a wall staring at everyone else having a good time. A wallflower.
“How long are you going to replay that inner monologue? I can hear the thoughts bouncing around in there.” Carmilla spoke up beside her, a bang nearly covering one of her eyes. It was beautiful in the blue light.
“Until it gets me off this wall.” Laura sighed.
Carmilla huffed, shifting her bodyweight. When she asked Laura to prom, she never thought she’d be the one aching to get off the wall and join their colleagues. “You’re not the only one who put a lot of effort into tonight. I did my hair- with effort this time! I bought a new dress. I rented a limo. The rose. And I think we should get out there after so much effort. It was tiring!”
“Putting effort into your hair takes a lot out of a girl.” Laura giggled, handing the box to Carmilla. “Here. I probably should’ve done this back at my house.”
Carmilla took the black rose corsage and put it on her wrist. It went well with the black and purple dress she’d decided to go with. It was a beautiful corsage, but the look on her best friend’s face wasn’t; and, she was sure she knew why. “You’re afraid last year will repeat itself. Why?”
The hesitation made her sure Laura wouldn’t answer her. Until she did. “Because what if it does? What if you get so bored you leave me on this wall to go dance with…Elsie Fisher or somebody? I wouldn’t blame you. She’s a blonde, too.”
“She’s not my type. Besides, the best person for me is standing right here.” She wanted to punch herself in the gut for being so gross, but it needed to be said. Laura was vulnerable. It didn’t help that she was watching Danny Lawrence dance the night away with the same girl that infiltrated Laura’s Junior prom. Maybe she’d feel better if she noticed how ridiculously miserable Elle looked after falling victim to the same embarrassment she’d dished the year before; except hers was more secluded and still super visible. It definitely made Carm feel better. “If I haven’t left in all this time, why would I go now? I keep telling you, Laura, I’m staying.”
“I know, Carm. But- “
Carmilla joined their fingers together and began pulling Laura towards the dance floor just as a slow song began to play. A familiar slow song.
“Wh-? Carm, no, I- “
“Shut up.” She rolled her eyes, putting them in a starting position. “You’re not here with Lawrence. You’re here with me. And, with me, you dance and have the best night of your life. Enjoy it and just- just hold on to me. I won’t let you fall, Laura. I’ve got you; so, suck it up.”
Letting herself be swayed with the music, Laura eventually gave in fully. It felt nice to be held in strong arms that she could trust more than anything else in this world that wasn’t her father. She couldn’t help wondering if every girl on the dance floor felt this strong energy for the person they came with like she did. If they felt as if nothing else mattered but them being together. How strong that feeling of trust could be.
It could be the only reason that Laura and Carmilla were locked in each other’s eyes as Ed Sheeran continued to capture souls in the background. Trust. The only reason Carmilla cupped her cheek and her thumb traced patterns that made her skin burn in ways that she could only describe as passionate heat. The only reason their heads inched closer together until she was kissing Carmilla. And Carmilla was kissing her back! It had to be the only reason they trusted each other enough to have this intimate, vulnerable moment together and know it meant nothing between best friends; which totally explains her reaction when they let go:
Deer in headlights eyes and, “EEP!”
*Six years later. Present day. *
“If you keep staring at that wall, you’re gonna lose your breakfast.” Carmilla snatched a strip of bacon from Laura’s plate. “Like that. You lost your bacon. The hell were you drooling about anyway?”
“Oh, just remembering our Senior prom. That little- that moment we had.” Laura snatched what she could of her bacon back from Carmilla’s mouth. “My bacon.”
“I thought you never wanted to talk about that again…” Carmilla snatched a pillow and stuffed it under her elbow.
“I know, which was why it was only a remembrance.” Laura placed her plate on her bedside table. “Are you here just to give me crap or did you bring me coffee?”
“Since when do you ask for coffee?” Carmilla scoffed, pulling Laura’s cocoa from the carrier she’d brought over.
“Since I began to feel more like Squidward than I ever have in life.” Laura took a sip, uncaring of the burning of her tongue. “Mm. There’s the youth.”
“Wow. Your 24th birthday is going to come with a midlife crisis, isn’t it?” Carmilla cackled.
“It’s an important year.” Laura pouted.
“Oh? What’s the occasion?” Carmilla played oblivious, a Laura classic.
“Someone is supposed to ask me a very important question tomorrow.” She replied.
“Oh, yeah? Must be a very important person.”
“The most important person.”
“My best friend.”
Laura sighed, exasperated. “Carm…!”
“Alright!” Carmilla rolled over. “You can still change your mind, you know?”
“No, I can’t.” Laura tucked a lose strand of hair behind her ear. “We promised.”
“I promised, Laura. If you don’t want this, we don’t have to do it.” Carmilla pressed.
“Carm, we don’t break our promises. We agreed that this would happen if neither of us were seeing anyone. That’s that. You’re not dating anyone and I-…”
Carmilla’s frown deepened, a part of her starting to quiver and twist in pain. “You’re what, Laura?”
The plate made its way back onto her lap. She focused on what she was eating. Her last strip of bacon. The half of omelet she had left. Anything to not look into the eyes of her best friend. She didn’t know why, but something was going to change the minute she let the words come out of her mouth. It had already begun. Maybe if she didn’t look at Carmilla, she wouldn’t have to deal with it. It wouldn’t happen. It would simply fizzle out. Go away. Be forgotten.
“Laura…” Carmilla sighed, preparing to alter her position in an angle she had hoped she never would. “You’re what?”
Chapter 3: Turn
Paint splattered across the tarp. Splashes of blue, orange, and pink making new colors, creating new patterns. The canvas was in artistic disarray, a sweet disaster of abstract disillusion. Underneath the unmeasured streaks of paint were the sharpest trace of brown eyes peering through the rainbows of colored mist. They were so innocent, so full of hope and wonder and magic. The golden specks in the pupils clashing brilliantly with the streaks of blue and tiny pockets of purple. The colors, as whimsical as they seemed, were the most silent display of sadness. The spilling of so many tears disguised as anything but, lest they be exposed for who they truly are.
Carmilla came down from her room in a pair of navy slacks and a white button-down dress shirt with the top three buttons left undone, hair loose and curly. A black watch on her left wrist and a velvet red box in her hand. She looked ready to stand before a crowd and present the award by her dress. Her face, however, didn’t look so sure. Her eyes were dark, something of a storm building in their depths. Her lips were pursed, firm and unwavering. Those chiseled features nothing less than solid stone. A beautiful statue.
“Wow, kitty. You clean up nice. Did you buy that in a medium? I may borrow it this weekend.” Will sat at the island eating a bowl of grapes.
“After today, you can have it. It’s not like I’ll be needing it.” She pulled a cigarette from her pocket, placing it in her mouth.
“I thought you hated those things.” Her brother frowned, walking away from his grapes, admiring the colorful disaster on the opposite side of the foyer.
“I need it. I’m frustrated.” Carmilla replied, adjusting the watch on her wrist.
“Is that why you turned your living room into a 3rd grader’s art project?” He snatched the cigarette from her lips, breaking it in half. “You should be excited. You’re proposing today.”
“Potentially.” Carmilla rolled her eyes, shoving the rest of the pack into his hands. He was right. She hated smoking. She only considered it when she was angry. It’s a horrid habit their mother had.
“What do you mean?”
She took a handful of grapes from the bowl, leaning back against the marble. “Laura will be seeing someone from her office. Potentially. One of the writers for the food section of the magazine. She’s not sure yet.”
Will blew out a breath, arms folded and shock on his face. He listened to his sister and Laura talk about this day for 7 years. He even helped Carmilla pick out a ring, he and Mattie. It was never a thought in anybody’s mind that anyone else could step in between them and keep the proposal from happening. They didn’t think Carmilla would give anyone a chance to, or that Laura would want anyone to.
“Well, what’s the plan? Are you just going to play it by ear?” He nudged her.
“Sounds pretty good to me. It’s not like I’m gonna stop her from dating. I’m not her father. I’m just- “
“You’re the girl who spent the last 7 years holding on to a promise that you vowed to never break.”
“It’s different now. If she’s no longer single, the pact ends.” Camilla shrugged.
“Then ask her before it’s too late. You have lunch together now as it is. Ask her then. Give her what you promised.” Wilhelm pointed to the painting in the living room. “Don’t give up and turn into that.”
Laura stood outside the conference room waiting for Carmilla to finish discussing a design. She watched through the glass as Carmilla pointed to different areas of the blueprint, showing her client each area of her plan. It always made her happy to see Carmilla so passionate. It happened more when she spoke to clients about the potential of a fresh perspective. It was what she was good at. It was a joy to walk across the street and get a glimpse.
When Carmilla saw her standing there, she wrapped up with her clients, leaving them with her partner, J.P. Armitage, before walking out to join her. She came out with a bouquet of flowers and a single cupcake in a pink box from Laura’s favorite bakery, LaFerry Confectioneries.
“For you.” Carmilla wrapped her arms around her. “Happy birthday, cutie.”
“Thanks, Carm.” Laura blushed, taking the flowers and nodding at the box. “What flavor did you get this year?”
“Blueberry cheesecake with a chocolate ganache. The chronicles of cupcake cannibalism continues… But you know the rule. No cupcake before we have dinner. Come on.” Carmilla held open the door and the two took a short walk down to LaFerry. They weren’t just a bakery; they were a diner. The owners were Laura’s neighbors in college, and they all kept in touch even after graduation.
“Hey, Perry! Thanks for the birthday cupcake!” Laura waved to the curly redhead behind the counter.
“Always a pleasure, Laura. Go have a seat. Dinner will be out shortly.” Perry’s face lit up at seeing them enter. She gave a tart look Carmilla’s way, almost stern. “Any requests? Blood sausage again, Carmilla?”
“Something light today, Curly Sue. Get the birthday girl something special. I’m buying.” Carmilla slid into a booth across from Laura, checking to be sure the box was still in her pocket. “You look nice today. That dress really suits you.”
“Thanks. It was a gift from my bad. But you look quite fancy. Special occasion?” Laura placed a napkin over the lap of the beautiful maroon dress she was sporting.
“Maybe. Dress to impress and all that.” Carm shrugged.
“I’ve seen you go to work in your leather pants and a flannel.” Laura scoffed.
“It’s not clients I’m trying to impress today.”
“Oh, will you just say it?” Laura bounced in her seat, excitement coloring her entire face.
Dark curls bounced gently as Carmilla laughed quietly to herself, taking a deep sigh. It was like Laura to ruin a good plan.
“Do you want you ring before or after you eat? I paid a pretty penny just to see it covered in chocolate a millisecond after I give it to you.” She quirked an eyebrow playfully. “To be honest, I’m shocked you want it at all after your little revelation yesterday morning.”
“Well, she hasn’t asked me yet, so the pact still stands; does it not?”
“Are you waiting for her to ask you?”
“No. I’m waiting for you to ask me. Seven years now by my calculations.”
Carmilla brushed a stray strand of blonde hair from Laura’s playfully pouting face, eyes smoldering as she looked at her with a devilish grin. She saw it affect her, the playfulness failing to hide the dilation. “Food first and then dessert. Wouldn’t want you spoiling your dinner.”
“Speaking of dinner, may I ask why you two weren’t here for lunch?” Perry placed meatloaf and potatoes on Laura’s side and a steak and salad on Carmilla’s. So much for light.
“I had a client come in. New. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to design such a unique property.” Carmilla explained. She wanted to be here. It plagued her mind the entire day, which was why she was so grateful for Laura’s availability now.
“I went to lunch with a colleague to discuss a new project. I did recommend them to come by and try your baking though.” Laura grabbed a fork and the salt.
“Well, I guess I can excuse that. Eat up. You have a special night ahead of you.” Perry gave a nod and made her way into the kitchen.
Dinner was normal, not at all impacted by Perry’s bluntness, Laura’s blushing, or Carmilla’s…normalcy. They made jokes. Someone’s nose ended up covered in steak sauce. Not a bad way to end a night.
“Okay, Cupcake. I believe you’ve earned dessert.” Carmilla whipped out the box and set it on the table next to Laura’s still unopened cupcake.
“Wait!” Laura exclaimed. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “Okay, I’m ready.”
Carmilla chuckled, clearing her throat. In another world, she would be on one knee at a dinner surrounded by their friends and family. In another world, she would have had the salad only. She wouldn’t be so nervous and out of character.
“Laura Hollis, the greatest person I have had the pleasure of knowing. We have spent years throwing food at each other, giving piggyback rides through parking lots, and midnight peanut butter sandwich picnics that ended in constellations. We’ve laughed, cried, and occasionally wailed together. And 7 years ago, I made you a promise. We made a pact; and I sit here before you ready to honor it. So, Laura, will you- “
“Hey, Hollis! You’re here!”
A tall redhead in collared coat and striped slacks approached the table with a big grin on her face. Laura’s eyes brightened and then slightly dulled in her presence. There was something familiar about her that made Carmilla want to toss her out for more than just interrupting, but she couldn’t place it. She looked to Laura for confirmation; or, at the very least, an introduction.
“Hey! You decided to come by after all.” Laura smiled. She looked at Carm and it faltered. Something changed. “Carm, you remember Danny.”
“Lawrence? She’s the food journalist?” Carmilla could’ve kicked herself in the gut, but an invisible force beat her to it.
“Vampirilla! You two still good friends after all these years? That’s great.” Danny gave Carmilla a brief look over before turning to Laura again. Something in her eyes before she avoided Carmilla’s gaze was…impressed. “I actually was hoping you were here. I must’ve gotten lucky. I wanted to invite you to a movie, if you’re interested.”
Laura’s face was so hopeful, so full of wonder. Carmilla knew what she was thinking. She was thinking that the past could be rewritten, and Danny could come out to be a good person after all. Maybe this time she wouldn’t be abandoned. And she knew she couldn’t win here. With a silent sigh, she pulled the box underneath the table once again.
“I-. Uh-.” Laura gave Carmilla a pleading look.
“Go on. It’s alright. I’ll be fine here.” She encouraged her.
“Thank you. For everything. It was a really good birthday.” Laura stood and followed Danny to the door.
“Carmilla.” Danny held the door for Laura to walk through.
“Xena.” Carmilla nodded back. Defeated.
Perry came out carrying a ‘she said yes’ slice of pie. She frowned when she saw Laura was gone and Carmilla slouched in her seat.
She took a hesitate seat next to her, turning the plate so Carmilla couldn’t read the tiny flag. “Should I call Laf and tell them not to bring champagne?”
“Not unless you want me to drink the entire thing.” Carmilla shrugged.
A look of sorrow for her friend, Perry took the box from her hand, opening it. The ring wasn’t huge. It wasn’t small, but it wasn’t huge. It was simple. Elegant. Strongly overlooked in stature. Perfectly designed for someone strong enough to embrace it.
“It’s beautiful. She would’ve loved it.” Perry gave it back, gently resting her head on Carmilla’s shoulder. “Just hold on, my dear.”
Cupcake: I hope you’re not made at me.
Best Friend: I could never. Shocked. Not mad.
Cupcake: I’m sorry. I should’ve told you it was her. I knew you would disapprove.
Best Friend: I’m not your father. Your decisions are your own. You know that.
Best Friend: I still don’t trust her. Not after what she did to you. But if you want to try, I won’t stop you. I’m sure you have your reasons.
Best Friend: Don’t think I agree with it, because I don’t. I don’t believe people like her can change. Not easily. We’ve discussed this. It’s your life, Laura. Do what makes you happy.
Best Friend: I just want to go on record saying I don’t like it. But I respect your decisions.
Cupcake: Thank you…
Cupcake: I love you, Carm
Best Friend: I love you too, cutie
Best Friend: Happy Birthday
She lay her phone on the bedside table, Conan Gray playing overhead as she walked around her room in a black lacy bra, black silk bottoms, and a sheer black robe holding a glass of red wine. Here she was, 25 years old and reliving age 17 in its most unattractive light. It felt horrendous. All that was missing was Ell to let her know how perfect this was since she was incapable of handling such a responsibility as marriage in the first place. She was reminded of the painting downstairs, thinking of a new color to add to the mix.
Downing the remnants of her glass, she disrobed and settled in underneath the cool sheets and let the music overtake her senses.
You think you’re funny, right?
Calling me a drunk when it’s too late at night
Telling me truths that you know are lies
Yeah, you’re think you’re funny, right?
You think you’re super sly
Flirting with them but telling me you’re mine
Buildin’ me up, but buttercup, you lied
A part of her wanted to call Will, to release the frustrations she was feeling inside like a cough she didn’t know she was holding, except she wasn’t fully sure she wanted a release. She was content letting it build and overflow until the confines of her mind managed to stretch and construct another dam to hold back the river. It hurt. A release would only linger out the pain until she was shriveled up, curled into a ball, and even more defenseless than she already felt. Behind the dam, the pain was bearable. It was worth dealing with.
“How drunk are you?” An annoyed drawl came from her doorway.
Mattie, clad in her most comfortable silk pajama bottoms and tank, stood there waiting for an answer. She only left her place dressed like that if it’s dark out and her only stop was to see Carmilla or Will; or, if one of them calls her in the middle of the night needing emotional support. One time, their mother accidentally took a hit to the head with a baseball and Mattie had to rush her to the hospital because she was sure she needed stitches. Mattie didn’t stop complaining about it for a week.
“Not as drunk as I want to be. Completely sober. It has its downfalls in the face of disappointment.” Carmilla huffed, inviting her sister in by a wave of her hand.
“I believe the word you are looking for is ‘sadness’.” Mattie sighed, taking a seat on the bed. She noticed Carmilla tying the robe back around herself and rolled her eyes. “It’s nothing I haven’t seen before, Mircalla; besides, it won’t help. Sheer is see-through if you’ve forgotten.”
Carmilla sighed, getting up and putting on an oversized T-shirt over her head, replenishing her wine before plopping back down on her mattress and taking a sip. “What are you doing here anyway?”
“Our dear brother thought I should come check on you since you have not blown our heads off in celebratory fashion. I can only assume something went wrong.” Again, she waited.
“Danny Lawrence went wrong, that’s what happened.” Carmilla’s hair stood on end just thinking about it. She wanted to go back in time and tell the giant Crayola marker what for, but Laura wouldn’t like that. In the moment, she didn’t quite care. “Seven years I stick by her side and help her get over Xena’s little prom stunt and she backpedals to the walking fire hydrant like me proposing wasn’t our plan!”
“She left you in the middle of the proposal?”
“Right before I could pop the question…”
It was their conjoined silence and the beginnings of piano flooding the room. Mattie plucked the glass of wine from Carmilla’s fingers, putting it to her lips. With a content sigh, she gave it back and faced her younger sister with inquisition in her eyes.
“Is it fair to say that you have feelings for Lois Lane, far deeper than you try to lead on?” She queried, a finger grazing her bottom lip as she continued. “Because it seems to me that this proposal meant just as much to you as it did to her. That I have not seen you so much as look at another girl for more than just a coffee order.”
“Laura’s my best friend. She wanted someone to care. I care. She wanted someone to care enough to stay, so I- “
“Agreed to marry your best friend with no emotional attachments at all. Pardon my saying, dear sister- or don’t, I don’t care- but if a 17-year-old Carmilla can promise herself to Laura forever by the time she reaches the age of 24- “
“30.” Carmilla mumbled.
“It was originally 30. Then 29. Then 26. 24 was established on graduation night when she remembered her parents were married at 25 at the graduation party. She wanted to be like them.” Carmilla explained, the hint of a sad smile on the corners of her lips.
“…If a 17-year-old Carmilla can promise herself to Laura forever by the time she reaches the age of 24, don’t you think it’s possible the promise was made for more than just friendly satisfaction?” She waited for an answer. Carmilla’s silence was answer enough. Her eyes weren’t even searching for a way out of it. She had accepted it a long time ago. It made Mattie’s heart ache, something only her siblings could do. “You’re in love with her.”
Her eyes wanted to cry, wanted to knock the dams down to the last cinderblock and turn it to dust. To let the waves wash the remains to the bottom of a river and glisten like sand in the sunlight. She controlled the dam, held the barrier up with her very essence. None shall pass. But she couldn’t hide the emotion there. Not from her eyes. Not from her face. Not from her voice. Not now. Not today. There was no look of indifference strong enough to force back seven years of unbridled hope. Trust in what felt inevitable.
“She’s my best friend.” She shrugged, trying for impassive but giving off all the sadness weighing her down. Betrayal in its finest.
Mattie took the glass and placed it on the table, crawling over her sister to lay beside her. Carmilla planted herself against her chest, letting gout a deep sigh as she felt warm arms around her in comfort. She felt like a child again, being brought into her sister’s arms whenever she heard the neighbors fighting or there was a bad storm outside. Even after she learned to take care of herself, being in Mattie’s arms was nothing less than comforting.
“What are you going to do, my darling?” Mattie whispered into the dimly lit space.
With sorrow in her heart, Carmilla shook her head, ‘nothing’, and buried herself deeper in protection. Knowing there was nothing she could do now.
And the dam started to crack.
Laura came strutting out of the office with her lunch bag in her hand. It’s Friday. LaFerry is closed on Fridays, which means Laura is left to her own devices. She was starving and could see no better fix than a nice turkey sandwich with grapes and cubed cheese. She even remembered her juice box this time. She was going to walk to the nearby park and enjoy the ducks when a familiar figure in dark sunglasses and a dazzling pantsuit caught her attention.
“Good afternoon, Ms. Hollis. Out for lunch?” Mattie held out her hand, gesturing for Laura to lead the way. “I thought you and I may have a little chat. Shall we?”
The walk to the park was quiet, just the usual hustle and bustle of business owners and hot dog salesmen. Mattie kept her eyes straight ahead the entire time. Even as they sat on the park bench together, it was radio silent. Laura finished her lunch in record time, sipping her juice until all she got was air; she got the feeling she would probably regret it. Mattie seemed upset.
“Do you know why I decided to pay you a visit today, Laura?” Mattie asked, removing her sunglasses, but keeping her eyes on the view before her. A mother duck was washing her ducklings in the lake.
“You wanted insight on the scandal at the wedding boutique?” Laura offered, shutting down quickly when those piercing eyes finally focused on her.
“You and my sister have been friends since you were old enough to peak your eyes over a kitchen counter. You’ve gotten one another through a lot together.”
“Of course. We’re best friends. I will always be there for Carm.” Laura frowned, confused.
“My sister promised you something quite sacred, little one. Valuable. A proposal. Not only that. A marriage. Plans it out with heart felt words. Busy an outfit that she hopes just screams fiancé material. Spends 3 excruciating weeks dragging Wilhelm and myself to the jewelers to pick out the perfect ring. ‘This one’s too bulky’. ‘Laura doesn’t like this type of cut’. ‘This one has too many diamonds’. She plans out where she wants to propose. Which table, what to eat, the whole enchilada. And what do you do, Ms. Hollis? You run off with the mighty morphing red ranger before Carm can even ask for your hand!
“Tell me, Laura, what in God’s name were you thinking?”
Laura opened and closed her mouth a few times, trying to push out an answer. “We vowed that it was if I was single. Not- “
“So, are you not single now? Did you choose to pursue other opportunities?”
“As a matter of fact, I- “
“Because, Ms. Hollis, if you knew you had resurfaced feelings for this woman- that stood you up and publicly humiliated you with a sober mind without a second thought for your feelings- and you chose to allow my sister to continue in this little vow business with you without a care for her feelings, I would consider that to be quite selfish.” Mattie tsk’d, and her eyes actually softened. “I don’t consider you a selfish person, young Laura. I actually consider you to be very giving, believe it or not. That said, I cannot deny the anger I feel towards you in this moment. You hurt my sister, and we both know her soft spot for you won’t let her admit it.”
“I never wanted to hurt her. I- just…wanted to try again.” She felt terrible. She felt ashamed. Selfish even. Carmilla had put so much care into all this and she never even took notice. She just walked out with Danny and didn’t look back. How could she be so foolish?
“You have every right to see who you please. But it would have been nice of you to tell my sister by way of more than just a passing thought of potentiality during breakfast. Mircalla would have understood. I hope you plan on making amends.” Mattie pat Laura’s knee before rising to walk away. “At least before I force you to do it myself.”
She tried calling Carmilla’s phone all day, but no answer. No response to her messages. She wasn’t in her office when Laura left work. She finally got her location from her partner after asking around. It was only a short drive out to find her. She was standing in the living room area of a newly built home that Laura could only wish for in a couple years with a few others, clearly explaining her plans for the space. Laura stood off to the side in waiting.
“Okay, the first thing I want to do after you finish checking the light fixtures and the wall plugs is double check the crown moldings. I want those to be immaculate. Finish up there. We’ll start the painting process tomorrow. Everybody bring an extra pair of overalls. We all remember what happened last time.”
Laura snickered, catching Carmilla’s attention. Her face lit up ever so slightly upon seeing her, and she silently asked for a minute to finish consulting her crew. She was wearing a pair of round framed glasses that Laura found adorable, sporting a pair of black jeans and a loose top with a zip-up jacket thrown over.
She finally made her way to Laura, giving her a small hug. “What are you doing here, Cupcake? Got a story on buried bonds on my site? I call dibs.”
Laura giggled, blushing. “No. I came to see you, actually.”
“Uh…okay.” Carmilla’s eyes roamed around before she grabbed Laura’s hand. “Come on.”
She led her upstairs to an empty master bathroom, probably the only room they hadn’t begun checking fixtures in yet. Laura felt small in there. Everything seemed to echo. It was so strange.
“So, what’s up?” Carmilla leaned against the countertop.
“I, uh, wanted to talk to you about last night.” She sat on the…is that porcelain…floor and folded her legs. “I’m so sorry I ruined your proposal and ran off with Danny.”
“Laura, I already told you I’m okay.” Carmilla shrugged. “Seriously, there’s no need.”
“You used my name.” She frowned.
“You don’t say my name unless you’re mad at me or there’s something wrong.”
“Don’t do this right now. Everything’s fine.” The brunette huffed, looking anywhere but Laura.
“It hurt! Okay!”
The echo crashed into nothing, but it rang in her ears. It was on Carmilla’s face. She was hurting and it was all her fault.
“You didn’t do anything wrong, Laura.” Carmilla shook her head, black curls doing a little dance. “I just thought last night would’ve ended differently. You left me alone for Danny frickin’ Lawrence! That…sucked, Laura. You didn’t even let me finish proposing. You just left me.”
“You could try again…” She whispered, feeling her heart spasm at Carmilla’s pain, wishing she could erase it. Any pain she could ever feel just gone like a gust of wind took it home.
“I don’t want to propose again unless I’m sure you’ll say yes.” The counter creaked slightly as she adjusted.
“What does that mean?”
“It means I don’t want this proposal to be one-sided!” Damn her big mouth. She could see the wheels turning in Laura’s head. The one time she couldn’t be oblivious, and Carmilla wasn’t sure she should take advantage. “It means you have a choice to make.”
A tiny frown on her face, she left Laura upstairs with her thoughts. It didn’t take long for the looming silence in an unknown space to send her out and to her car. She didn’t leave though. She just sat there, staring at the wheel. Her best friend, in certain words, just admitted to having feelings for her. Feelings deep enough to want to walk down an aisle with her. To pledge to be by her side through sickness and in health. Through rain and sunshine. Through cookies and empty plastic containers. And, her high school Junior prom date and then not date was here asking to try again as mature adults. A girl who devastated her for a long time; a wound Carmilla fixed. Carmilla fixed everything. She always did.
Knuckles rapping the window mad her jump. Carmilla had a concerned look on her face as she opened the door.
“Do you want to get out of here?” She asked.
Still lost in translation, Laura nodded. “Okay.”
“Fine. I’ll drive. Scoot.” Laura climbed over the center console and strapped in.
Even with the roar of the engine doing unknown wonders for her anxiety, Laura couldn’t help thinking of what all this newness and revelation meant. It took her on a thought path through the years since they made that vow in her bedroom that night. She thought about graduation, college, their professions. She thought about it and she felt a pang in her heart so strong she would’ve hit the ground if she wasn’t already sitting.
“Carm, when is the last time you’ve been on a date?” She mumbled, staring at the sights passing her by. There were a bunch of trees. A kid kicking a ball at his brother. Her office. Everything passing her by. What did Carm pass by?
“Uh, that’s not important.” Carmilla glanced over at Laura briefly before she focused on controlling her breathing. “Why are you asking me that?”
“Have you even kissed another girl?” Her eyes couldn’t take the moving figures outside anymore. They were just too much. It was too consuming to think of. She focused on her lap and her feet instead. At least they didn’t look like they were moving. They never moved. Why do they never move? Do they want to move?
“Does it matter? Why are you doing this?” She ran a hand through her hair, anxious.
“Have you had sex? You would’ve told me if you did, right? I would know.”
The car came to a stop in Laura’s parking spot. Carmilla opened her door, looking at Laura with a hidden fear in her eyes that Laura hadn’t seen since the day Carmilla came home from school and Mattie was gone.
“Come on, cutie.” Her voice was small, quiet. It was uncomfortable. Like being pants’d in front of the entire school and then sitting front row in history class. She’d question it, but Carmilla was already out of the car and at her front door. She was just waiting, standing there with a hand in her hair like she didn’t have a key.
She barely registered stepping into her apartment, like she was the blur that the world was dragging around. What she focused on with sharpness and clarity was Carmilla. Carmilla who was pacing. Pacing! A rarity. She unzipped her jacket, removed her glasses, and sat on the arm of the sofa and tossed her jacket on the cushion.
“I’m not doing this to punish you.” There it was again, that quiet voice. It did strange things to Laura’s heart. Bad, strange things. She didn’t like it at all. “I didn’t tell you I had feelings for you to punish you for derailing my proposal.”
“You didn’t tell me at all. Not in those specific words.” She whispered, staring at Carmilla’s shoes. Are those new boots?
“Laura…” Carmilla laughed, no humor there at all. Her hands went down her face in frustration and a firm line covered her lips, and she looked at Laura and nothing else. “I haven’t been on a date with another woman, that I know of, since sophomore year of college, after finals. She was some cinematography major with blue hair and hazel eyes freckles on her cheek. I remember because they weren’t as cute as yours, and I couldn’t understand why. We went to see a movie and then we split a pretzel at the mall before we parted ways. I never saw her again.
“She tried to kiss me twice. Once at the theater, once on the elevator at the mall. As much as I wanted to shove a girl into elevator paneling, I didn’t! If that in any way does not answer your next question, I did not have sex with her. I haven’t fucked anybody! And, if I did, you would be the first to know! I hope by now I don’t have to explain why. Because I swear to Rao if I have to spell it out to, my brain might just spill out of my ears!”
Peace. No explosion. No intense feeling of passion. No yelling. No questions. Not even simply silence. Just peace. Peace that made the ticking of the clock sound more like the charge of an elephant. Carmilla could hear children in the distance crying about this newfound quiet. Laura was peaceful, Carmilla was brewing.
“LAURA, FOR FUCK SAKE, SAY SOMETHING! 15 YEARS WITH YOU AND YOU BE QUIET NOW? SAY SOMETHING!”
Chapter 4: Try Try Try
You can thank plenty of pleading (which made me cry happy tears because it's been a long time since that's happened) for this extra chapter. It's a little short, but I hope it's enjoyable all the same.
Also, I'm late in saying, but HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO OUR FAVORITE BROODY VAMPIRE PLAYING ACTRESS, NATASHA NEGOVANLIS
“What the hell did you just say to me?”
The brewing was done. It was subdued. Stable and quickly chilled.
“You heard what I said, Carm. Marry me. How many times do I need to say it? Marry me! And, please, the next time I say it, give me an answer! Sweet Hermione!” The only time Laura got this worked up was when she struggled with schoolwork or missed the latest Doctor Who episode.
One time she had the opportunity to do a story on the owner of the local grocery store and nearly flipped her lid when what she thought was a family oriented, caring grocery store owner turned out to be having relations with register 13’s bag girl in the stock room every Thursday afternoon while his wife was home with their 3 children. Between all the times Carmilla had seen Laura like this, all full of pressure and frustration and determination, raising her voice because of the stress, she had never seen Laura raise her voice like this. Never saw her be so shrill. Never saw her have to compose herself just to have a conversation with her.
But there she was, adjusting her body, relaxing her shoulders like this wasn’t a conversation in the living room of her own home. She crossed her legs and cleared her throat, hands on the arms of her chair like this was an interview- or a counseling session. Laura Hollis transitioning to Lois Lane. “So, marry me.”
Was she serious? Carmilla had to scoff at that. She had to smile just a little, because she was…shocked. She had to.
“This isn’t some kind of consultation, Laura! This is marriage we’re talking about! This isn’t even about the damn vow anymore! What are you trying to do?”
And here it was, a Laura she never thought could be aimed towards her that couldn’t be calmed with some light flirting and a flash of teeth. Flared nostrils, hardened eyes, furrowed eyebrows that reminded Carmilla of Sherman every time she was in trouble for fighting at school and they called him because they couldn’t find her mother. If only he knew why she was fighting in the first place, if either of them knew. But, no, she just let him be angry. She let him yell, something she never really had with her real father. Not really. So, she let him yell. Now she was here with this. Angry Laura.
The foot that was dangling across her leg smacked the floor with enough force to make her flinch, and Laura was staring her down; and she finally understood what a taste of her own version of that look could do.
“You said you would not propose to me again until you were sure I would say yes. You did not attempt to attract another woman since this stupid vow was made for me. You didn’t even have a line of eligible bachelorettes banging on your dorm room door like you so flagrantly put it on graduation night at my graduation party! For me! Carm, you kept your V-card because of me! You haven’t even kissed another girl- even Ell- aside from me!
“Did it ever cross your ego-driven, black-colored brain- because I know it’s a real inconvenience for you when things don’t come in black, so your brain should be no different- that maybe Danny Lawrence wouldn’t be such an issue for you if you had stopped boasting about how many prospects you’d have and flirting with the waitresses at IHOP for free flapjacks and maybe just been honest with me, instead of making me believe that you would rather be my best friend and throw me a pity proposal than date me because I wasn’t some busty blonde in fishnet stockings and black lipstick and actually marry me for more than just because I wanted you to? God, I wanted you to!”
“Laura, I didn’t- “
Carmilla stood to her feet, arms reaching out to cup Laura’s face in her hands. She was almost there, inches away, when Laura jumped up and shoved her away. Repeatedly shoving a finger against her chest accusingly. She had to press her feet flat against the floor, toes digging into the front of her shoe, to keep herself planted instead of being pushed across the entire apartment.
“CARMILLA KARNSTEIN, DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT I AM TRYING TO SAY TO YOU HERE? DO YOU HEAR ME?”
“I hear you, Laura! I do! I just- “
“Then, marry me!”
Her finger was starting to really hurt Carmilla the harder to pushed. Carmilla could feel a bruise forming if this didn’t stop soon.
“Just think about this for a second!”
The finger became small hands balled into fists, beating and beating to get a point across. To get something clear. Trying to say what two words still could not fully explain.
“OKAY!” She grabbed Laura’s wrists, pulling her against her chest and holding her there, too afraid to let go. Not wanting another wave of violence to strike her down like the second coming. “Okay, Cupcake, okay. I’ll marry you.”
“Well…good.” Laura grunted against the fabric of Carmilla’s shirt. The worst of the storm had passed. The rain was beginning to slow. Gray clouds were drifting away to cover someone else’s tiny blonde. “Now, gimme my ring.”
“As you wish.” Carmilla tentatively released the angry ball of normally shiny, yellow things, but today, not so shiny, yellow things. She wished she could say she left the ring at home in its safe little box, but she’d carried it around with her out of what she considered habit, a reflex. Pulling it out of her pocket, she blushed slightly as she slipped it on her finger. “Wow. That fit better than I hoped it would. It’s beautiful.”
Laura’s eyes dazzled at the sparkly rock on her finger. If she moved her hand against the light, wiggled her fingers, it winked sunrays at her. It was gorgeous. It didn’t make her think of a rich politician bribing a pretty woman to hold his arm for 20 years in exchange for bland intercourse and shopping sprees in Milan. It was well thought out, and it felt like it was meant to be on her hand.
“Okay. Now that we’ve finally got that settled, I have some conditions.” She tore her eyes away from the beauty on her finger before she stared at it all evening, which she totally planned on doing.
“I should expect nothing less.” Carmilla chuckled, sitting on the arm of the couch again. “What do I have to do? Catch some doves? Wrangle a Hermione cosplay minister?”
“Go on a date.” Laura didn’t even blink when she said it. She didn’t wince. Whereas Carmilla’s veins froze over.
“Excuse me?” She frowned. “Did you not hear me agree to marry you? What about the Hermione priest? Should I do it again?”
“No. I heard you; but these are my terms.” She began her own little pace from the table tot a line in the floor. “I don’t want to feel like I’ve kept you from living, Carmilla. I want you to live. Go on a date. Kiss another girl. Know someone else other than me!”
“Do you hear what you’re asking me? First you talk me into marriage when I was sure you weren’t in love with me, and now you want me to disrespect our engagement three minutes in by seeing someone else? Are you insane? What; do you want me to sleep with her too?” How much more could she endure today? In just a short period of time, this day had put her through the ringer.
“Laura, have you lost your mind? You know what? Fuck it. Don’t answer that. I know you’ve lost your mind!” Now both of them were pacing, opposite directions from each other, perfect parallels. “I think turning 24 has gone to your frickin’ head.”
“Carm, just do this for me. You deserve to experience someone that isn’t me- “
“I don’t want- “
“You’re a virgin, Carm!” They stood in the center of the room staring at each other. “We’re virgins. You didn’t sleep with anyone because you were waiting for me; and I didn’t sleep with anyone because I thought the only person I could trust with my…lady bits, with that kind of vulnerability, didn’t want me. We’ve only kissed each other. Once in a passionate moment at our Senior prom the year after all our crap happened. We’ve never been on a date with each other or with anyone else we found as more than just a pretty face. You’ve let all those opportunities pass you by. I want you to have them before you promise all those parts of you to me forever.”
Standing there, having this conversation, was harder than she thought anything could be. They never fought like this before. It never got this bad. One of them always managed to give in. She hated fighting with Laura.
“Do you know why I never had a line of beautiful girls stalking my dorm room, or why I flirted with the waitress at IHOP?” She took Laura’s hands in hers, keeping her voice low.
“You have a type and you were too busy sleeping to entertain company.” Laura deadpanned.
“I do have a type, and it most definitely was not the gothic waitress with far too much lipstick and a thing for overlooking her customers at attempts to flirt with me behind your head because she assumed I found her lack of responsibility and secrecy attractive. Laura, I was in it for the flapjacks. I stayed for the cupcake. No more, no less.” Carmilla chuckled softly. “I have a type, Laura. It’s always been you. Just you. I just can’t figure out why that bothers you so much.”
“Because I’d like to think that there is at least one person in this world that could cross out the boxes for you for one night that I don’t see in the mirror.”
“Is that what you think you are to me, a bunch of boxes? You shouldn’t do that to yourself, Laura. You’re so much more than that to me.”
Laura sighed, the guilt hitting her hard. “Can we just try? Both of us? Just one night. We owe this to ourselves.”
Laura’s always been the most infuriating person Carmilla had ever had the privilege of knowing, and that has not changed in 15 years. It sucked more when she made sense, and worse when there was no possible way to make sense of her. It gave her headaches worse than a day-long bun updo.
“Do you really want this?” Carmilla held Laura’s face in her hands for the first time as more than just her best friend. “Because, I can promise you, I’m not going to enjoy it. I don’t know how I could.”
“We need this, Carm. We have to try.” Again, a shrug.
“Why?” She pleaded, searched those eyes for anything sensible. Nothing. “Why can’t you just let me love you and that be it?”
“I consider this my apology for years of waiting. And I owe it to myself to shut the door to my past before I tie the knot.”
Carmilla’s soft eyes glinted with humor. “Did my sister put you up to this apology spiel?”
“Uh…she may have dropped by for lunch. Helped me gain some perspective.” A tiny, shy smile finally spread across that beautiful face. Carmilla’s fiancé. “So, will you try?”
And so, it was, she was undoubtedly and forever in love with Laura Eileen Hollis, and would love no other, less it be with her.
A soft kiss to her forehead and pain in her eyes, she sighed. “As you wish.”
Chapter 5: Rage
She was annoyed and frustrated about all of this. If it weren’t bad enough that she was manhandled into her engagement, now Carmilla was being forced into a one-night stand with whomever she could find that was not her fiancé by her fiancé. When she imagined her and Laura getting engaged, she imagined the night going in the direction of corny, happy tears, a pie celebration per Perry, and some emotional Hollis speech- even though Laura knew the proposal was coming. Carmilla never expected to go home that night unable to sleep comfortably only to spend the next half of the day trying to think of any girl in her building interesting enough to handle an entire night with. No matter how hard she tried, they just didn’t catch her attention.
The receptionist wore too much perfume and spoke publicly about her sexual encounters. One of her designers was in an open marriage with a lawyer, and Carmilla would rather not cross that line without a level of comfort; or, risk getting sued. There was a janitor that had a nice smile. She always made sure her office had that crisp air scent about it. But she wasn’t on tonight, not until the weekend. She didn’t have many options; and she was not ready to consider using an app. It didn’t help that Laura text her to plan on eating lunch alone today so that she could talk to Danny about going out tonight. Just another thing to make her angry.
Of all the people Laura could choose to sleep with, it had to be Danny Lawrence. It couldn’t be some stranger from off the street? Anything was better than Lawrence. The idea of the jolly green giant being so close to Laura made Carmilla want to choke up blood. Laura was in such a vulnerable position to get hurt again; and, what’s worse is she was running right for it.
Frustrated, she put down the plans for a new structure and decided to go grab a sandwich for lunch. There was no way to focus with all this on her mind, and she would need a clear mind to finish those plans. Maybe meeting her team for the start of the painting process would give her some relaxation time.
The walk to the diner was too short to think through. There wasn’t enough room in her brain to complain about the situation she was pulled into and figure out her sandwich order in one short stroll. Lucky for Carm Perry knew her well enough. She wasn’t even in the door fully before she heard Perry calling out from behind the counter.
“If you wait by the counter, I’ll have your turkey club out to you in just a moment.” Perry smiled at a customer as they thanked her for their meal and walked out before turning her attention to Carmilla again. “I heard you ended up engaged after all…not that I applaud the delivery or the request there after. But what I can’t believe more than anything else is that you would go along with this!”
Wow. Word got around quick.
Carmilla huffed, handing Perry her card. “Have you ever known me to win against Laura when she really wants something? Have you known anyone?”
At that, Perry shrugged with the usual mother hen glare, taking the card with her into the kitchen. Carmilla rolled her eyes, turning to the drink cooler for a bottle of water when she caught glimpse of a familiar face, and the hair color to match. It seemed she was aware of Carmilla as well when she approached her with a bright smile, freckles, and all.
“Carmilla Karnstein. What are the odds?” She was face to face and never would she have thought it possible. “How have you been?”
“Jude. Wow. You look exactly how I remember you…I’m well, thank you for asking. How about you? How’s cinematography treating you?” Carmilla placed her bottle of water on the counter for Perry, who came out of the kitchen covered in inquisition.
“It’s nice. I can’t complain. I run my own radio show and I’m a producer and editor for a few youtubers.” Jude offered a hand out to Carmilla with a playful gleam in her eye. “I can honestly say that you look the same. Though I spent a lot of time staring at you while you tried to subtly avoid physical contact with me.”
Perry stifled a laugh at Carmilla’s reddening face, swiping her card before receiving the signature Carmilla glare. She knew Carmilla avoided Jude’s advancements for Laura, but she couldn’t help but imagine her trying to do it politely and look more like Laura than herself as she did.
“I-uh- should probably apologize for that.” Carmilla shrugged, reluctantly taking Jude’s hand. “Or not.”
It dawned on her that this could be her opportunity for te date Laura so endearingly asked for. Jude didn’t look upset by her actions from years before. There was still that playful relationship between them. Maybe this could work. She found something interesting in this girl before; surely, she could do it again.
Jude laughed, hazel eyes squinting in an adorable way. “Still an ass, Karnstein. I like that. You might just make it up to me someday.”
Perry handed Carmilla her receipt and a pen, a look on her face that Carmilla despised. It was knowing, sad, and disappointed. Perry knew Carmilla was dying inside over this but had hoped she was strong enough to resist it. Laura was one of her closest friends, but she didn’t always realize what her choices did to the people around her.
“How about tonight?” Carmilla signed the receipt and grabbed her card and her lunch from Perry’s hand. “You in? Up for a do-over?”
“I don’t know. Are you going to let me kiss you this time?” Jude smirked, taking a card out of her jeans pocket.
Carmilla’s eyes shifted so slightly that Perry almost missed it. Pain. Twisting, gut-wrenching pain like a white, hot branding iron was just catapulted against her chest. And then anger. And then, nothing. A dry, barren nothing. Not boredom or apathy. Just nothing.
“I can guarantee it…and more than if you can handle it.” She hoped the flirty smirk on her face looked real and lacked any real sense of energy.
“What are you saying?” Something about Jude’s demeanor shifted. It wasn’t just playful anymore.
“I’m just saying…the ball’s in your court.” Carm ran a hand through those raven locks, resisting the desire to rip them out of her scalp, choosing to focus on persuading her old blue whisper of a flame for a chance at redemption- no matter how much it hurt. “Can you dribble?”
Without a word, Jude placed her card in Carmilla’s hand, walking past her with a gleeful roll of her eyes. Turning around once, she pulled a pair of shades over her eyes. “I’ll see you at 7. Movie theater. Wear something…lacy.”
The air was breathable now that she was gone, before Carmilla realized what had just transpired. Before her heart crashed to the floor. Before she had to lean onto the counter for support. Before Perry had to grab her hand to bring her back down to earth.
“Carmilla, hon, are you going to be okay with this? It’s okay if you aren’t.” The ginger stroked her hand gently, thoroughly concerned with this entire ordeal.
Lips pressed into a hard line, tears frozen in her eyes, and a weight on her heart, Carmilla stood up straight and squared her shoulders. She offered one squeeze to Perry and began her exit. “Take care, Curly Sue.”
Not even painting could help her now. She just went back to her office, absentmindedly ate her lunch, and finished her plans as quickly as she could before taking off for home early. She let her team know to continue without her. She needed her private time now. She had 6 hours to prepare for tonight; and she would need all 6 of them.
Laura wiped the back of her hand against her forehead. Today was a day of never-ending paperwork and not the good kind. Spending the day editing journals and writing them beat run of the mill paperwork by a mile. She signed her name so many times it didn’t even look like her name anymore. It looked foreign. How could that be possible after a lifetime of signatures?
“Are you ready to go?” A knock at her door followed by one Danny Lawrence with her coat dangling across her arms came at the nick of time.
Laura smiled, putting her paperwork in the file cabinet to await placement. She grabbed her jacket and backpack, sliding past the desk and out the door, locking it behind her. Maybe all this paperwork would one day lead her to an office that didn’t require a shimmy around the desk, or only have room for one chair for clients. Yes, one day she will have two chairs; and room to slide her own across the space freely. She would paint it yellow and it would be hers and it would be her roomy, lemony office.
“I thought we would visit the museum, stop for a bite at that new sports bar, and maybe take a walk through the park to my place for a drink. But first, a cup of coffee from the diner before the museum. How’s that sound?” Danny pulled her jacket over her shoulders, red hair flashing against charcoal gray.
Laura hummed, curious as to how this idea came to fruition. “You want to go to the sports bar for dinner and not drink? Wouldn’t that be less fun? And I’m sure you don’t want to drink before going back to your place for more drinks?”
Danny stood in front of the door to allow Laura access to the outside. She frowned a little at her lack of thought at this plan. She did only have 4 hours to think of something. “I guess you have a point there, Hollis. Sorry, Laura. I guess I didn’t quite think that through. How about…that restaurant that only sells soups, stews, and chowders?”
“Broth Slurps? I love their vegetable soup and cornbread.” Laura gasped. “Did you know they have dumplings with every flavor soup inside? It’s like every flavor beans, but soup!”
Danny laughed at that, taking Laura’s hand as they grew closer to LaFerrys. Laura held the door open this time, set on not being the only one on this date who wasn’t a gentle woman. Her tall date gave her a nod and a thank you as she entered, pulling Laura in with her. This may be the first time since this place opened that Laura saw Perry greet a customer with less than full enthusiasm. She looked close to unwelcoming, which was not her friend at all.
“What can I get you ladies?” She wiped her hands on her apron, obviously glancing disapprovingly at their conjoined hands like she was ready to enforce the arms-length apart rule at senior prom.
“One cup of coffee and- “
“One hot chocolate.” Laura chimed in.
“Why am I not surprised?” Danny rolled her eyes. “One hot chocolate. Both to go, please.”
“Of course.” Perry smiled half-heartedly. “$5.25, dears.”
“Wow. What a steal!” The giant redhead pulled a twenty-dollar bill from her wallet and gave it to the owner. “Please, keep the change. I love supporting our local businesses.”
“Will we very well appreciate it.” Perry placed the money in the drawer, offering a receipt. “I will have your beverages momentarily.”
“Thank you.” Danny turned to Laura with a soft flash of a smile. “I’m going to run to the ladies’ room. I won’t be long.”
Laura nodded, turning to Perry as Danny walked off. Her curiosity was flaming. Something about her was bothering Perry. It wasn’t like her to treat a customer with less than her everything.
“Are you going to tell me what’s wrong or am I going to be playing the guessing game?” She put her hands in her coat pockets, ignoring the delicious smell of her cocoa brewing among the strong scent of bacon and homemade gravy.
“Do you even need to ask, Laura?” Perry put a lid on Danny’s coffee, placing a creamer and a few packets of sugar beside it. “You forced Carmilla and yourself to go out tonight and seduce two eligible women who have no futures with either of you and are completely unaware of it! You made Carmilla lose her virginity to someone that isn’t you, and for what? So, you could be sure that her feelings for you are real? Seven years of waiting to marry you isn’t enough? Even when she knew it possible you could choose someone else when she never would?
“It’s not my place to tell you what to do, Laura. I’m not your dad. I would just like to go on record saying I don’t like it. I really hope you know what you’re doing. I always hope for that. But you’re wrong, Laura. Very wrong.” Perry put the finishing touches to Laura’s cocoa and applied the lid. “I know your heart’s in the right place, but you’re really not thinking this through.”
“Perry, I- “
“I put cinnamon and a dash of powdered sugar like you like it.”
“I’m back. Are you ready to go?” Danny reappeared beside her, taking both cups from the counter.
Laura wanted to stay a little longer, tell Perry that she was doing this for a reason. Make her understand what she was feeling and how this made sense. But Perry had already bid them good evening and disappeared into the kitchen; so, she just took her cocoa and followed Danny back out into the crisp air in the direction of the art museum.
“So, have you ever been to the museum before?” Danny poured her creamer into her cup before emptying the sugar packets and tossing the trash into a nearby bin as they passed by.
Laura nodded, sipping her cocoa. “Once. In high school. Carma and I went so she could see a local artist’s exhibit. I’m not much of an artist, but I can appreciate a pretty painting.”
“Mm.” Danny replied, though Laura wasn’t sure if it was from her answer or the coffee. Perry was a wizard with coffee beans. “It’s more about the message behind the pretty painting and how it is portrayed. I’ll show you. Just stick with me, Hollis.”
“Okay.” She found herself hand in hand with Danny again, curious of what she was getting herself into.
An hour in the bathtub with a glass of wine did the bare minimum to her stress levels, enough for her to spend the next hour shaving her body in preparation for tonight’s events. Between the bath, shaving, and finding an outfit she would need another bath. She chose to take a nap instead, that way she passes time and relaxes. Win-win.
*3 1/2 hours later*
She stretched with an audible yawn, checking the time. She had 2 hours to get herself together and out to the theater. She still felt off, so she took a quick hot shower and lotioned up. Sighing deeply, she grabbed her black, lacy panties and matching strapless bra. Pulling on a pair of army green, skintight jeans, she went into the closet and pulled the black lacy crop top out and over her head followed by a white, sleeveless leather hooded jacket. Stalking to the bathroom, she swiftly curled her hair and put on her makeup, putting more attention into her winged eyelashes. Satisfied, she threw on her black biker boots and did what everyone does before they leave the house: mini photo shoot. Feeling a bit more like herself, she made her way out of the door and to her car.
Carmilla hated the reason she was doing this. All the time and energy put into her outfit and it wasn’t even for her fiancé; not in the way she wished. She was driving to the movie theater to meet someone who could never hold a candle to Laura, no matter how interesting they were. It simply isn’t fair. But she gave her word. The least she could do was put forth some effort.
After driving around the parking lot for what felt like ages, she found a decent park in the side parking. She was shockingly a little early, so she didn’t expect Jude to already be waiting for her. But she was, dressed in a white, knee-length dress with a blue jacket, black knee-high boots, and a black fedora. The closer Carmilla got she could see Jude’s shit-eating grin get more vibrant. And once she was right in front of her, she could see the makeup on her face really brought out the color of her freckles. She looked beautiful.
“Do you always match your clothes with the color of your hair?” She quipped, smirking at the woman before her just leaning against the wall like she was dressed as a greaser rather than the cinematography major she was.
“I could ask you the same thing, Karnstein. Black hair, black shirt, black shoes. Anything else black under there I should know about?” Jude’s tongue just barely exposed itself between her teeth.
Carmilla rolled her eyes and shrugged nonchalantly. “You’ll find out soon enough. Shall we?”
“After you.” Jude offered her hand. “Let’s see what would’ve happened all those years ago.”
“So, what’d you think of the museum?” Danny asked as they took their seats at Broth Slurps.
“I can’t believe there are so many talented people in this town. The art was phenomenal. I especially enjoyed the painting of the shooting star above the roof of a tall building surrounded by smaller empty buildings.” The tiny journalist placed her napkin in her lap as her eyes scanned the menu.
Let’s see. I could always go with the classic chicken noodle. Though there is a special on gnocchi soup! Interesting! OH! Potato bisque!
“Did you understand what the painting meant?” Danny sat her menu in the center of the table, sure of her decision already.
Laura had forgotten the topic of paintings the second her eyes had run across gazpacho and Italian wedding soup. If only she could get three different soups as an appetizer like she could at the sports bar with mozzarella sticks, eggrolls, and beer cheese and pretzels. Holy smokes, beer cheese soup! What couldn’t be souped?!
She blinked rapidly, remembering that she was here with someone else and not just the bouillabaisse.
“Um…I assume the artist is trying to express their love of the stars and encourages others to marvel in the beauty of the night sky.”
A waiter came over to take their drink order. Danny ordered water for them both. Laura would complain, but tonight was the best night of any to refrain from alcoholic beverages; at least until they were in the safety of Danny’s home. If she was that thirsty, she would just drink her soup. Problem solved!
“You were quite close. Nice job, Hollis.” Her taller date for the evening finally shrugged out of her jacket, resting it on the back of her chair. “So many nights we miss the stars because the glow of city lights drown them out. It usually takes the roof of a tall building to get an idea of just how many stars are out there. You notice all the lights in the smaller structures were off. You turn off the artificial glow of the city, you find a natural glow.”
Jeez. I thought Carm had a thing for stars.
Again, the waiter made his appearance, saving Laura from searching for a response to Danny’s art lesson. If only she had decided what she wanted for dinner. Closing her eyes, she ranked her options from 1 to 5, counting to 3 and holding a number up on her hand before opening her eyes. Danny ordered the vegetable soup while Laura’s choice landed on potato bisque.
“Care to make a wager, Hollis?” Danny put her hands on the table, eyes dancing. “Whoever finishes their meal last pays.”
Laura scoffed. This was soup. How hard could it be? “You’re on, Summer Society.”
“Good deal…but there is one thing you forgot to learn about this place,” The redhead leaned into her chair, satisfied and a tad cocky, “The portions are massive.”
Carmilla sat in the dark of the theater like a teen who snuck out to meet their bad influence boyfriend on one of those cheesy TV shows. It felt sneaky to be sitting there holding Jude’s hand in the dark. Maybe she should’ve asked Perry to chaperone. At least she’d act more like herself than the dribbling child she resembled. Jude had kissed her cheek twice so far; it was only a matter of time before she would no longer be satisfied with such elementary antics.
It made her upset to think that Laura was out with someone else right now, and not just any person. A 6 foot plus leaning tower of gingerbread with a history of unapologetically breaking Laura’s heart. Laura was no doubt enjoying herself while Carmilla was internally praying that Jude would avoid kissing her tonight so she could break her promise on a technicality. Maybe this would turn into Jude realizing how awful she could be and go running for the hills. Or this was her way of getting back at Carm for their first date. Anything was better than sitting in her seat with an ever-growing pool of sweat engulfing her armpits waiting for this girl to make another move.
Luckily, she survived the movie without any more advances from her date. Letting Jude pick the movie went well in her favor. Maybe things would work out after all.
“That was such a good movie.” Jude gushed as they walked along the sidewalk, hands still intertwined. “I guess you could say I have good taste.”
“Maybe you could say you’re not as hard as you pretend to be. You nearly lost your shit twice.” Carmilla scoffed, feeling much better with the wind against her face instead of the suffocating darkness of the theater.
From what she focused on the movie was enjoyable. She couldn’t deny that the main character made her think of Laura, no surprise there, in both personality and physicality. Naïve, so sure the world worked in succession of the good man and not the corrupt, and just as confusing.
She heard a snicker from beside her and stopped walking to glance over at a now smirking Jude.
“Do I amuse you?”
Jude rolled her eyes, adjusting her hat. “You have something on your face.”
“Where?” Carmilla wiped at her face, wondering what it could be since she had yet to eat something. Maybe a piece of fluff? “Did I get it?”
Her head snapped back against the cool, hard surface of the theater wall, a hand on her shoulder and another on her waist as soft lips took her own in their grasp. It took a second for her mind to catch up to what was happening, but she was already reflexively kissing her back by now. By the time she could make sense of the moment, it was over, and she was looking into lust-filled hazel eyes surrounded by freckles that may as well have been stars.
“Yeah, you got it.” Jude breathed, brushing her nose against Carmilla’s with a bite of her lip. “I’m tempted to skip the mall all together and just get you home.”
That’s a line she would use, how weird to have it thrown back at her. It did nothing to turn her on, only twist her insides. The wrong girl was trying to seduce her while the right girl would rather seduce someone else. This night just gets increasingly more painful the longer it goes on, and Carmilla was not looking forward to Jude’s ending.
“I don’t think it wise to indulge in such an activity on an empty stomach. Do you?” She took a quick breath, trying to stall for as long as she could before she wound up pinned against something else.
“But I know what I want to eat already.” Jude smirked, but stepped back out of Carmilla’s space. That look was still there. That look like she’d won. “Meet you at the food court?”
The blue-haired minx began walking towards her car before Carmilla could even nod a response. She didn’t complain. This gave her room to breathe. And once she made it into her car, she knew she’d need it when a tear began to make its way down her face.
“Wow…” Sitting across from Danny was a large empty bowl of what used to be potato bisque and her blonde date still eating on the rolls from their meal. “I guess I’m paying.”
Laura wiped a streak of bisque from her lip with her napkin. There were patrons from other tables gawking at her, trying to figure out how so much liquid fit into such a small package. Some parents were attempting to restrain their children as they scarfed their soups and tried to plunge their heads into their bowls. A few succeeded while others were stopped short by the anxious hands of mothers and fathers. Even a couple adults took on the challenge of successing over their soups; hot, brothy liquid visibly slinging against tables and floors.
“Shall we go before your incredible accomplishment starts the ongoing battle of man vs soup?” Danny lay a tip on the table for their poor waitress who would have to deal with the aftermath of Laura’s war, helping Laura to her feet with a humored smile. “Don’t bite my head off or anything.”
The walk through the park was just what a Hollis needed after an obscene liquid overload. The breeze was life giving and the light cardio relieved the stuffed feeling in her gut- a small price to pay for a victory achieved. Danny’s hand in hers as the dark yielded to the glow of the lamp posts offered an alternative to the breeze that Laura welcomed without complaint.
There was something to be said about a mostly deserted park under the right of a row of lanterns in the late of night that made you realize just how alone you really are. No one around to stop the pursuit of temptation. No reason to restrain. No excuses. Just two people holding hands on the sidewalk.
“Stop looking at me like you want to jump my bones, Hollis.” Danny scoffed, nudging Laura’s shoulder with a faint chuckle.
“Would you be opposed to the idea?” The way she said it she may as well have been pouring chocolate maple syrup on buttermilk biscuits.
Danny’s hand twitched ever so slightly. Laura could see her throat contract and release in fast succession. If she weren’t facing forward, she knew she’d see her pupils dilate.
“Um, Laura, you know I do my best to be respectful- especially after the incident between us at prom- but if you are going to insist on teasing my restraint then- “ The Amazonian ginger spoke through clenched teeth, as if she were struggling to hold on. Like she was hiding fangs. Resisting thirst. “We’re in a public park, Laura. It isn’t a safe place for me to release. It’s not sanitary. There are… squirrels. What would your father say?”
“I don’t want to think about what my dad would say right now.” The shorter girl took position in front of the other, stopping all movement. She put her hand flat against Danny’s chest, her eyes reflecting the moon, feral and hungry. “You just tell me if you want to have our own prom night right here, right now.”
The ginger tried to laugh to hide the anxiety rushing her face. The tinge in her cheeks growing brighter. Her desire rising. “I- It’s not safe out here, Laura.”
“So, how fast can you get me home?”
She wasn’t sure where this sudden burst of dominance was coming from, but it felt good. It felt like the warmth of a lit candle pressed right against the center of her back. She felt tall, taller than the woman looking down at her in need and obvious nerves. Temptation was alive and well, reason and restraint had no place here. Anything could happen in the park.
“You can say no if you want.” The blonde’s words were comfort wrapped in pure seduction. She didn’t mean to make it sound that way. Her tone was no longer hers to control. Control could be lost in the park. “But I do really hope you say yes.”
“Yes.” It was so quick, even Danny had to question its reality. “I’m saying yes.”
Laura’s grin was caramel. So inviting. Tempting things can happen in the park. “Good girl. So, how fast?”
Now it was Danny’s turn to smile, taking Laura’s hand again and continuing their walk with no increase of pace. “You have no idea what you’re asking for, Hollis.”
The mall was short lived. There were far too many teenagers and wannabe young adults for either of their tastes; so, they made quick work of dinner, deciding to go back to Jude’s place for dessert and conversation. Though Carmilla was unsure if one would be eating dessert or becoming it; either option was a power spin on her stomach. As she followed Jude in her car- a request she made for safety and convenience as well as comfort- she realized just how possible a sexual encounter was with this woman. It was more than possible. It was unavoidable.
Maybe she did owe it to herself to have this experience with someone who wasn’t Laura. Maybe the cupcake had a point. Maybe this entire idea was bullshit and, if she were smart, she should turn around and go home. Maybe she was an idiot.
“Would you prefer to stay in your car all night? Because I can adapt to a change in leg room. I’m pretty versatile.” Jude leaned into the open window, winking suggestively. “In more ways than one.”
Carmilla played off her nerves by shoving Jude’s head back through the window, letting it up and making her way out. “Don’t tell me. Show me.”
Eyebrows raised, Jude motioned for Carmilla to follow her inside. “Prepare for a show.”
Oh, fuck. Fuck. Fuck. You really did it this time, Karnstein.
How believable would it be if she got food poisoning right now? She could pull it off. Some painful groans here and there, a clutch of the stomach, some doubling over. Who’ll know? It’s not like she’d ever used the excuse before. Now is as good a time as any to give it the old college try.
“You okay? Not copping out on me, are you?” Jude stood aside in the now open doorway. It felt more like a dare than a request, her stance. The kind of dare you can’t ignore. Like being chicken clucked on the playground to climb the monkey bars. “You’re not about to pull another bullshit excuse out of your ass like you did last time! What was it again? Food poisoning?”
“No.” Carmilla stuffed her keys into her jacket pocket, deflating internally. “It was menstrual cramps.”
Jude cackled as Carmilla hesitantly walked over the threshold. Seriously, why did her freckles have to be so noticeably cute next to those hazel eyes? And why does this bother her? Why can’t she just not be so cute? Isn’t there an off button?
“Nice place.” The brunette mumbled.
Jude really wasn’t far off from Laura. Some fiery attitude. Some smart mouth. Though much more sexual advances than Laura could even attempt with a straight face before going on a tangent embroidering Firefly dialogue on the curtains. Even their color schemes matched, just not the hue. Laura was every bit as yellow as a Coldplay single: bubbly, bright, and occasionally far too overwhelming. She pulled sunshine out of her pocket and called it loose change. She radiated. Jude…Jude was the moon. She was every bit as overwhelming, but with a chilling twist. She had a smile that could walk the sidewalk with feigned innocence just to cut a corner into an alleyway and show you the rush of the night. If she reached into her pocket, she’d probably pull out a switchblade and make you feel like she brought the sun. Such a contradiction from yellow to blue. From the hair to the aura, Jude truly was a reminder of Laura in ways and the emptiness of her presence in another.
“Thank you. Just wait until you see the bedroom.” Carmilla nearly jumped as a cork popped and Jude began distributing the contents of a bottle into some glasses. She hadn’t even noticed Jude grabbing any of the items, too busy noting the difference in vibe. “You can have a seat if you want. The couch doesn’t bite…I can’t say the same for the owner.”
When she thought about losing her virginity, this was not what she envisioned in the slightest. She imagined a ring on a finger brushing cold between her own and honey blonde hair cascading across white sheets and the sounds of piano playing in the background while candles lit the surrounding area. She imagined two bodies tangling around, sloppy kisses, and laughter at the constant mishaps and a shit ton of eye contact. Stopping to look at the flush face of the girl she loved since she registered the meaning of the word. She imagined trust, understanding, comfort, and love. Never would she have imagined that she’d end up with lies, deceit, lust, and, if she were being honest, anger.
Carmilla was royalty pissed that Laura asked her to do this. What’s worse is she agreed to it. She said yes to this ridiculous notion that she needed to ensure sexual connection with another human being to ensure her marriage to Laura. That she needed this as validation. As if she wasn’t already certain that the only person she wanted was Laura. And it angered her.
“Can we just skip all the pleasantries and get to the point?” She shrugged out of her jacket, laying it across the back of a white armchair.
If Laura wanted this, then fine. As painful as it was to do, maybe it would be just the reality check Laura needed.
“Someone’s eager. I admire your enthusiasm. Are you sure you don’t want a glass of wine before we start ripping each other’s clothes off?” Jude stepped around the island with glasses in each hand.
Throwing on the strongest face she could manage, Carmilla proceeded to kick off her leather boots. She could feel her heart beating harder. With nearly inaudible sigh, she pulled the crop top over her head, letting it drop to the floor. Giving Jude one dark look, she stalked forward and pulled a glass from tan hands and into her mouth. Jude’s face remained shocked; body immobile while she drained the glasses content.
“There.” She wiped her lip with a grin.
Putting the remaining glass down, Jude takes Carmilla by the hand, dragging her into the bedroom. Shoving her against the nearest wall, Jude slams their lips together as she clawed at her own clothing. There was no piano, no laughter, no eye contact. Just the sound of her resolve shattering and her heart crushing.
Laura’s hands tore at Danny’s hair as they drew deeper into the safety of privacy. The key was barely in the lock before Laura had the taller woman by the hips trying to thrust her forward into a frisk. Before she managed to finish the deed, the door slammed open and a firm arm wrapped around her waist, pinning her to the door of the inside a fraction of a second after its close. Her hands splayed against the cool metal while experienced hands positioned themselves on her hips, fingers scratching at the flesh. Her breathing rapid, Laura could do nothing but stand there as hot breath against her neck made her muscles clench.
“What do you want, Laura/” Danny whispered, ravishment so audible that there may as well be no need for the removal of any clothing. “Say it. Out loud.”
There were several things that could’ve come out of her mouth in that moment while there were teeth against her throat. She could’ve asked for the number of daydreams she had in high school. The ones she’d never even wrote in her diary because she could never ever explain it to herself. In the moment, it felt like a cop out to take so many steps back. She’s an adult now with so much more to consider than that of her mind at 16.
“Surprise me.” She blushed at the mere thought of what Danny could do. All she had was what she saw on TV, even that was enough to melt her insides.
Danny’s laugh was a rendition of Carmilla’s signature sensual chuckle. It wasn’t as intoxicating, nowhere near the flames in her chest she has every time it happens.
“You asked for it.”
Why she wasn’t thinking of the girl ripping her clothes off dragging her into a bedroom was beyond her. All she knew was it increased her need for the fun she was hoping to have. It wasn’t hurting anyone. Why not?
Carmilla fumed internally, staring up at a ceiling in a room she wouldn’t readily recognize. Her clothes were strewn between the bedroom, the living room, and the hallway. Her body had the proof of tonight’s encounter by way of hickies, scratches, and the unbearable tingling of the skin where unfamiliar hands touched. Not at all the softness nor the familiarity of one she had hoped for.
She peered over at the sleeping body beside her, and she couldn’t bear to lay there any longer, fearing what might happen if she had to face Jude again tonight. So, as stealthily as she could, Carmilla removed herself from the bed and made way gathering her belongings. By the time she made it to the living room, she had only her shirt and shoes left to place.
“I guess I was the only one that enjoyed it.” Jude’s shaggy hair and cracking voice nearly made Carmilla jump. It would if she didn’t expect it. “You’re quite the actress, Karnstein.”
She tossed her shirt over her head with a deep sigh. “I didn’t plan this.”
“You weren’t exactly cheering for it either.” Jude ruffled her tousled hair, her eyebrows furrowing. “So, I guess that means no post-sex chocolate chip pancakes then...”
If she could walk away from the look on Jude’s face and still feel like a decent human being, she would. Normally she would walk off without a second thought to her feelings; but this was different. This wasn’t just some annoyed woman in the grocery store upset that Carmilla grabbed the last mango that didn’t look like it was a touch away from deteriorating. She slept with this girl, led her own. And for what? Because she couldn’t say no to her fiancé’s antics. Why couldn’t she just say no?
“Look, last night was…nice. It wasn’t what I expected at all.” She sighed, locating one of her boots on the floor.
“I agree. It was better. So, what’s the problem?” Jude sat on the arm of her couch, arms folded, eyes curious. “Are you still into that girl, the same girl you used to talk about all the time in college? What was her name...Laura?”
“I’m shocked you remember her name.” Carmilla stuffed her foot into the boot, lacing up the strings. “Yes. Laura. Laura Hollis. She’s my fiancé.”
“You’re engaged and you still-!”
“Before you yell, just here me out, Harrison.” She grabbed for her other shoe; one hand raised to keep Jude from exploding. “She asked for this. She wanted me to do this. It was her condition.”
Jude’s mouth opened and closed. Again. And again. She’d finally relaxed her posture, leg dangling across the arm of the couch while her back rested against the wall. A finger against her lip, she gave Carmilla a curious look. “No offense, but she doesn’t sound like the smartest egg in the basket. Did she not think of what would happen if you changed your mind about her?”
“She knew I never would.” Carmilla replied, lacing the final shoe, standing to her feet. “I feel terrible about leading you on like this. I did it for her. You can feel however you want to feel about me. I don’t blame you in the least. You are an intriguing girl, Jude Harrison. You’re just- “
“I’m not Laura Hollis.” Jude nodded, understanding. “I get it, Carmilla. You love the girl.”
“But, a suggestion. Grow a pair! You’re lucky it’s me and not some girl from the Silas strip club. You may have ended up with a stiletto wedged in your ear or some shit. You do not have to agree to everything just because you love her. Some things are worth saying no to.” Jude punched Carmilla in the shoulder. “I got a good time out of it. I guess I can’t be too mad about it. But you had a lousy time quite clearly. It’s bothering you.”
Carmilla couldn’t deny that. She felt like crap. Her body didn’t feel like her own. She needed a shower and some time to reflect. She needed privacy. Staring at her newly laced boots, she gave a resigned nod.
Jude pulled her towards the kitchen. “We need coffee. In the meantime, why don’t you tell me how this whole thing started…?”
After what felt like hours of talking with Jude, Carmilla finally was in her car preparing to drive home. Jude showed no ill will, a kindness Carmilla certainly knew she didn’t deserve. She clung to the steering wheel as she stared out into the open street. A strong feeling washed over her, and she let out a scream so heartbreaking it hit her in a second wave. And she drove.
“Was it as good for you as it was for me?” Danny brushed blonde hair away from Laura’s face. Something in her eyes was hidden.
“I can’t feel my bottom lip.” Laura blushed, clinging to the sheets under her fingers. It was weird. She didn’t expect to feel so good and yet so…empty. “I think…Did we do it wrong?”
“Depends on your definition of the word wrong.” The redhead sat upright, pulling a t-shirt over her head.
“What do you mean?” Laura frowned.
“You called me by Carmilla’s name…”
Laura had left Danny’s place an hour ago. It was still dark, closing in on 2 am. Danny had offered to drive her home, albeit with little security in the offer. She chose to walk. She needed the air. She felt wrong, like she missed something. While her time with Danny was enjoyable, it wasn’t fulfilling. Something was missing.
She ended up at Carmilla’s place. She didn’t remember walking that way. But there she was at the door. Her key was in the lock and she was walking in just before it started to rain. Maybe she should’ve called first. Carmilla would probably be asleep by now.
“Did you get what you wanted?” She heard from the kitchen.
Carmilla was standing at the counter with a glass of water next to her. She was just standing there, staring at her.
“I had a good time. Danny and I…”
“Mm.” Carmilla replied. It was emotionless. “Did you get what you wanted?”
“What’s that mean, Carm? Did your date go well?”
Carmilla scoffed, eyes blazing the closer Laura got to her. “Yeah, Cupcake. I’m standing here fuming so late at night because everything went to speck.”
“Okay, attitude. What’s your problem?”
“The next time you decide that our relationship needs to be negotiated, leave me out of it. I feel like crap, Laura. You asked me to date someone else. To fuck someone else. You had me manipulate some other girl just to prove to you that I really loved you. I don’t need to prove anything that I haven’t already shown you, Laura! SEVEN YEARS! How was that not enough for you?” Carmilla shoved the glass of water into the sink, stalking closer until she was face to face with Laura. “I love you. That should be enough proof for you.”
“Carm, I- “
“I am not doing this shit again. Do you hear me? This is it. I will not go back to blindly following your lead again. Ever. I am done. What you asked me to do has hurt me, Laura. Do you get that? I fucked someone else when I wanted my first time to be with you. I wanted to go on a date with you. I wanted to kiss you. I didn’t get to do that, because I let you coerce me into going on a date with someone I didn’t care enough for! I am angry, Laura. I am beyond angry! How the hell did you think this was okay?”
There was a crash outside as rain turned to thunder and lightning. Carmilla’s ice hard glare burned deeper when lightening hit her eyes. It scared Laura more than anything else. Carmilla’s eyes did not calm the longer they stood there. There was no wavering.
“You can’t walk home in this weather, and I have no intention of driving right now. You can stay here. I am not in a position to share my bed. I want to be alone. You can sleep on the couch or take the spare upstairs. I don’t care. You know where to find a change of clothes if you need them. You know where the blankets are.” Carmilla’s voice was firm, careful. Her eyes never changed.
She turned for the stairs, leaving Laura standing there in disbelief and silence. Her fists balled tight; she began her ascent. Pausing midway, she turned and made her way back down. Looking Laura in the eye, “I love you.”
Turning again, she quickly made her way up to her room. The door slammed behind her before the sound of piano filled the house.
A tear streaked down her face as Laura made her way over to the couch. Her heart ached. Her head confused. Her body tired. She hurt her best friend’s feelings. She felt terrible. She cradled against the pillow beneath her, closing her eyes as the tears began to fall. She succumbed to her emotions.
*An hour later*
She opened her eyes ever so slightly as she felt something soft and warm drape over her body. She looked around as her eyes began to close again to see Carmilla quietly making her way back up the stairs. A soft blanket covered her body, tucked in the right spots. Closing her eyes again, a second wave of sadness came crashing down.
Carmilla lay in bed, cuddling her body pillow now wet with tears. Her eyes burned, nose red. Her eyes closed and she imagined the night in reverse, and soft, familiar skin under her hands rather than the silk of the pillow. And it lulled her away to a not so peaceful slumber.
Chapter 6: Storm
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She yawned, arms over her head as she cracked her back in just the right place. Her head lay back against the softness of the pillows. And then she frowned. These pillows were too soft to be the pillows from the couch. Carmilla’s couch pillows were soft enough to sleep on, but not this soft. Not unless they were enchanted overnight.
She opened her eyes to find herself in Carmilla’s room. There were no ruffled sheets on the opposite side of the bed, and she was tucked into her side. The room was empty. It was quiet, not like other nights she’d slept over and Carmilla had an acoustic playlist on repeat until after breakfast- if anyone would call toast and eggs at 10 a.m. breakfast. Now that she was awake enough to pay attention, not only was she in one of Carmilla’s shirts and pajama shorts, but the entire house was quiet, which meant Carmilla could not be there. Carmilla had never left Laura alone in her room for anything other than to cook breakfast; and there was no scent of near-burning toast.
Laura could only guess why she would be sitting in Carmilla’s house alone. Clearly, she was so angry with Laura that she couldn’t bear to sleep in the same house. The pain of Laura’s stupid decisions was too much to handle and she skipped town. Probably ran into the arms of her date from last night for solace. They could be in Mexico right now feeding each other fruit in a white blanketed hotel bed listening to the waves crash on the beach outside while her best friend took comfort in the chest of another person! At least she cleaned before she left Laura alone forever.
Making her way downstairs, the smell of cleaning liquids grew stronger. Even the stairs smelled sterilized. Once she stepped into the foyer, her eyes landed on raven-black hair positioned in front of the paint splattered canvas. Her back was straight where she sat on her stool, shoulders tense. There was a paint brush in her hand, a new color was being swiped and splashed across the piece. Green. It went well with the pinks, purples, orange, and blues; and the golden specks in the brown eyes that looked far too familiar.
“You’re here.” She breathed a sigh of relief as what she really meant was, ‘You’re here and not in Mexico feeding chocolate covered strawberries to a freckle faced, blue-haired girl who is probably much prettier than me and didn’t majorly piss you off’.
“Been here a while.” There was more rasp in Carmilla’s voice than normal. She really had been there a while. Probably doing more than just painting. Probably wiping tears from her eyes with the back of her hand while she tried to keep it steady with the paintbrush.
Laura nodded, stepping closer without getting to close. Not wanting to invade her personal space in case Carmilla was still too upset for close interaction.
“How did you get me undressed and up to your room without waking me? And why?” She asked. Her nose started to burn like it does when she enters the hospital. “And have you been cleaning?”
“Perry likes to come over and clean when she’s upset and runs out of things at the restaurant to clean. She saves her own house for last so she can rest afterwards. It’s either let her in when she blows up my phone or get even more annoyed when she bangs on my door.” Carmilla shrugged, never taking her eyes off her canvas. Laura looked behind her to see her friend aggressively scrubbing away underneath the kitchen sink. She thought she was the only one that had to deal with Perry and her cleaning supplies on a random basis. Why did they never talk about this? “We can discuss everything else when Curly Sue is gone.”
“Why is she upset? Did Lafontaine blow up beakers in the kitchen again?” Laura opted to sit on the arm of the couch. At least she got to see half of Carmilla’s face.
“No, she’s upset about our little agreement. To be more specific, she’s mad at you. And at me. Mostly you.” Carmilla drawled. “Not that I blame her.”
Laura felt like she could sink into the couch cushions, become one with the décor hidden in the darkness awaiting the crumbs to fall. “So, I take it you’re still mad at me too, then.”
“Yes. Yes, Laura. I am.” Te brush stopped flowing and brown eyes blinked rapidly, calming ever so softly. “I’ve tried not to be.”
“You have every right to be.”
“I’m glad you realize that.” Perry quipped, the only evidence of her under-counter sink dive being a single wet splotch on her apron.
Carmilla watched Laura deflate from the corner of her eye and internally sighed. This wasn’t easy. She turned her head just enough that Perry knew she was addressing her. “Are you quite done, Suzie Homemaker?”
Perry huffed as she pulled her apron over her head. “Yes. Unfortunately, I do too good a job tidying this place up. There’s nothing to clean! I’m going home. Maybe I’ll have burn marks to inspect.”
“Good luck with that.” The brunette turned back to her painting. “Thank you.”
“Mm.” Perry grabbed her supplies, holding the door open for her exit. “I expect to see you both at lunchtime this week.”
“Bye, Perry.” Laura mumbled with a hopeful grin.
“Good-bye Laura.” The ginger sighed, resigned. “Carmilla.”
The door shut behind her and the elephant was let in the room. Laura’s deflation did not erase the helium in her stomach. She felt like she didn’t understand her own emotions anymore. Last night was so confusing. She was so sure. Then, she wasn’t.
“I didn’t want Perry to wake you, so I put you in my room. I also didn’t want you complaining about back pain from my borderline crappy couch. And you would’ve died sleeping in jeans. No big deal.” Carmilla wouldn’t even look at her, just kept adding green to her color splash on canvas.
“W-where did you sleep?” Laura played with the soft fabric of the shorts. They were one of her favorites that Carmilla would wear. A pair of charcoal gray shorts Carmilla had gotten in college. They hadn’t begun to destroy yet. Fabric never hardened. Carmilla used to wear them all the time. Probably because of how closely they resembled black.
“On my crappy couch. It’s mine. My as well.” She shrugged. “I only managed to get 2 hours of sleep. I’ve been right here since.”
Carm you could’ve just- “
“No, Laura. I couldn’t.” The brush clattered down onto the easel; hard eyes trained on melting ones. “I couldn’t just lay next to you and spoon like last night never happened. It happened, Laura. And I am still angry about it.”
“So, talk to me.” Laura squeaked.
Carmilla scoffed. “Oh, now you want to talk. Little too late to discuss specifics, don’t you think?”
“Then- then yell at me.”
“I don’t want to yell anymore, Laura.” Fingers shakily ran through black hair in frustration.
“Then what do you want to do, Carm?”
“To know why!” She snarled. Her eyebrows furrowed as she gained composure. “Why in the hell did you put us through this? Do you even know?”
“Wow.” Carmilla frowned deeper if that’s even possible. “Great.”
“No! I mean, I-. I didn’t, but- “
“I didn’t like it! Not when all I thought about was you!”
There it was. Gentle. Almost transparent. But Laura knows she saw it: the storm ease in Carmilla’s eyes. A CAT-5 hurricane set in rewind. Cloud coverage retracting. Not out of the woods yet, but still enough time to either bunker down or evacuate. And there was nowhere left for Laura to run. Any place to run where Carmilla wasn’t waiting wasn’t a place worth running. Carmilla was worth the storm.
“Are you going to explain or leave me to my own imagination?” The bite still clear, thunder striking defense, just less heavy. Less loud. “Because we both know where that leads.”
She nodded in hopes of tiding Carmilla’s imagination over for just a second so she could attempt to collect her thoughts, like rainwater in stray buckets all over town. She knows how Carmilla’s imagination partners dangerously with her ability to overthink as much as anyone else.
When they were in middle school,, Laura had been taken to the hospital covered in bruises from head to toe, bruised ribs, and a bloody nose; and Carmilla had raced there as quickly as she could, sneaking out of her bedroom window to do so when her mother refused to drive her to the hospital. At first sight of Laura’s body surrounded by doctors and nurses tending to her wounds, checking her vitals, keeping her medicated, she immediately turned her anger toward Laura’s father, accusing him of abusing her. It took Sherman and Laura’s English teacher, Mrs. Cochran, to calm her down and get her in the hospital stairwell to explain that Laura had been attacked by some classmates on her way from school. A group of boys from gym class who had been busted for changing their grades in the computer system and barred from joining the track team, a bust that Laura had only accidentally caused- walking into the computer lab with the librarian at the right time; the most prominent moment in the beginning of her journalism career. Carmilla was still outraged, but she stayed by Laura’s side until Laura fell asleep and Sherman drove her home, unable to crack her on the absurd idea that he would lay a finger on his daughter. It only took him until the next day to figure it out when Carmilla showed up to Laura’s dismissal with bruises of her own for sneaking out the night before.
By the end of the week, that same group of boys were found basically crawling down the sidewalks after school bruised and bloody while Carmilla, Laf, Danny, Kirsch, and Perry were seemingly unscathed, unless you looked at their hands. Laura found out later that Perry kept watch for any adults from an aerial position, tossing rock at the retreating bodies, shocking her friends with battle screams of victory. Carmilla and the others handled the rest. No one was ever punished for the attack, a repeat of the same results of Laura’s own assault, and those boys never bothered Laura again. It was the one time that Carmilla and Danny ever did something together.
Things between Carmilla and Sherman were the same after that not that they understood why her imagination got the best of her; but because Carmilla wouldn’t openly admit to being abused, the relationship between her and the Hollis family strained every time the mention of arrest came about. After she finally did report her mother’s abuse, Sherman did his best to show her the true love of a parent every moment he could; and Laura never left her side. She never could. Carmilla was her best friend.
Her best friend who was sitting across from her waiting to see just what would come out of her mouth next. Her best friend who had tried to propose, and she ruined it. Her best friend that she had asked to sleep with someone else before they went through with their engagement. Her best friend that was the only face in her mind as she lay with Danny.
“Do you remember how it felt with your date? How it felt to hold her hand or kiss her?” Eyes on her own hands sitting in her lap, the bystander on the bridge before the storm. “As much as I was sure I wanted to do it, hold Danny’s hand, and kiss her, it didn’t feel right; like wearing clothes that don’t match who you are. I tried so hard to make it right, but she just wouldn’t fit the way I thought she would.
“Everything was fine until I was kissing her. I had myself convinced everything was fine until I was kissing her. I couldn’t understand why until I realized I wanted the person kissing me, touching me, to be someone else. But I kept going, sure I needed to see it through; and through it all and afterwards, I still only saw one face in my head. I regretted it before it even happened.”
She allowed herself a glance up into Carmilla’s eyes, the warnings of rain. “I am so sorry, Carm. It should’ve been you. I shouldn’t have asked this of you.”
“Manipulated.” Carmilla’s tone was soft, but the thunder still rang through. “You manipulated me. You knew I couldn’t refuse you.”
Her head hung low, lightening piercing her heart. “I know.”
Carmilla shuffled her brushes, refusing to put one to the canvas. “I can’t just blame you, Laura. AS upset with you as I am, I’m just as upset with myself. I shouldn’t have let myself be so easily influenced. I am my own person. I have feelings and thoughts and boundaries. You taught me that. And all of that doesn’t go away just because I love you.”
Maybe Carmilla wasn’t the storm. Maybe she was just the reflection of Laura’s feelings swarming around inside. Carmilla’s words only added to them in waves rather than reduce them. Gusts of 60 mph winds. Carmilla loved her. More than a friend. More than anything. It was the most certain feeling Laura had ever known. Which was why she said:
“I love you too.” Her fingers trembled, wanting to reach out but refusing. “I’m sorry I didn’t say it sooner and let us do something so stupid! It’s just so scary trying to figure all this out!”
“Because we were supposed to do it together, Laura. We were supposed to be stupid and confused and in love together.” There was a crack in her voice as she spoke, rising to her feet. It was then that Laura noticed the overalls. And then the determination and will. Blank face, eyes forcing themselves to freeze over. “I have to meet with my team. Feel free to stay if you want.”
Her fingers hovered over the doorknob and she could feel Laura’s tears from across the room. “Thank you for being honest with me. That’s a good start to making things right.”
Laura sobbed as the door clicked behind her.
She gave herself the time to linger in her emotions. Let the wave of sadness consume everything. The streets were flooded, cars cruising the waves involuntarily, buildings slowly succumbing to the waters. Lightening set fires to the trees, flames spread in total contrast to the rushing waves. Thunder rolled across the sky, an enhancement enacting fear in the hearts of the already fear-stricken citizens.
And then she pulled it together. Let the thunder silence. Reigned in the waters. Relaxed the lightening. She had to find a way to fix this. Carmilla deserved better than what Laura had given her, what she had taken away. Their feelings for one another was worth more than Laura had treated them. And she would fix it! Whatever it takes!
She paced the floor as the last flow of tears cleared from her eyes, formulating a Hollis-proof plan that was sure to make up for the previous night’s monstrosity. She may not be able to erase what she’d done, but she could try hard to change the results of a horrible experience. She deserved the consequences of her actions, but Carmilla deserved better than a night of romance-less pleasure- if she could call it pleasure.
Determination in her eyes, Laura pulled out her phone and made a very gutsy array of calls.
It was always calming to go an empty house and paint a new room. She had planned to be there just to see the progress the team had made, but she quickly changed her mind after her conversation this morning and decided to stay longer. She needed the outlet in a clear space where honey sad, confused, guilty honey-brown eyes didn’t watch her every move.
The bright side was that Laura had finally expressed her feelings without the addition of an ultimatum. It was just her words and feelings laid out on the table for Laura to serve and Carmilla to plate. If only the dish had tasted as delicious as Carmilla had always imagined. There wasn’t much on the way to immaculate about a dinner that was half-cooked; even if it was prepared by an adorable cupcake who was half-baked before she hit diapers. What taste there was in the admission as enough to leave Carmilla wanting more.
Maybe that’s what made her the angriest about herself. After everything Laura had asked of her, after she did it with little consideration for herself, she still craved her blonde-haired maiden fair. She was still so angry with Laura though. The cupcake was one cup of sugar short of a sweet mix their entire friendship. But this? The entire idea of seeing other people and losing their virginity as a final agreement to marriage was just too much. It was too far. It crossed lines. Carmilla understood Laura’s reasoning, even more now that she had hours with a bucket of paint and a blank canvas to let her thoughts roll out.
There were better ways for the start of a relationship. Laura had to know that.
Laura waited patiently on the doorstep until she saw Carmilla’s car pull up. Carmilla’s overalls were covered in paint. There was even a white smudge on the tip of her nose. She looked like she was covered in sweat, pieces of hair sticking to her forehead out of the man bun she’d sloppily created.
“Hey, Carm!” She rose with an excited wave of her hand.
Carmilla’s eyebrow raised and she stopped in front of Laura with a scoff. “You’re awfully chipper for someone who spent the morning in disarray.”
“Because I’m going to make up for it! For you! I-! I’m going to make it up to you.” Laura replied, getting closer to the pale, tired girl before her. “I’ve made some crappy choices lately. Really crappy. I know I can’t erase that, nor would I want to because that would be taking the easy way out. B-but I’d like the chance to try to fix this. To start. If you’ll let me.”
Carmilla noticed that Laura was wearing her favorite red dress, the one she was saving for a special occasion. She didn’t even wear it with Danny, or when Carmilla proposed. She would never tell what special occasion the dress was for when Carmilla had asked the many times before. It was a wonder she could remember now. It was hidden in her closet for years. Carmilla was shocked Laura remembered it existed.
“I’ll bite if you stop rambling.” She resigned.
“YAY! Go get dressed!” Laura beamed.
“Just do it, Karnstein!” Laura pecked her cheek quickly, bouncing to her car. “I’ll meet you back here in 2 hours!”
Chapter 7: Fresh Rain
If she weren’t so curious about just what Laura was going to do, she wouldn’t have stepped out again for at least 24 hours. A hot shower sounded wonderful right now; or a scolding bubble bath under the wisps of eucalyptus incents and her favorite Secret Springs candle. She had to settle for a rushed, hot-as-she-had-time-for shower instead. Her hair was dry and in its naturally curly stature with just enough time for her to get dressed and open the door for Laura. She hadn’t rushed, btu 30 minutes was not a long enough shower. Thought she could probably blame the 45-minute nap she’d taken before her shower.
Now she was sitting in the middle of an empty field on a picnic blanket placed outside a cream-colored pitched tent surrounded by a platter of cookies, grapes, sandwiches, and 3 thermoses of hot cocoa with Laura failing miserably to pop a bottle of sparkling cider.
The ride over had been fairly comfortable, silent aside from Laura’s random outbursts whenever a song she recognized popped up on what seemed to be a random Spotify playlist. Carmilla had tried to contain the small smirks behind the collar of her leather jacket, but some of them poked through with ease. She kept thinking about how upset she was with Laura, trying to stifle the thoughts of how adorable the blonde was, but it didn’t work; so, she succumbed. At least only she would know. Mostly though, she’d just looked out the window at the passing lights; getting more curious the further those lights got. Laura did not try to initiate a conversation even once. In fact, the ride got intensely more silent, it seemed, the closer they got to wherever they were going. Laura got intensely quiet.
She was quiet when the car stopped where road did. Quiet as she motioned for Carmilla to follow her up the small, grassy hill with excitement and fear evident in her eyes. Quiet as she scurried ahead, leaving Carmilla still trudging behind with her hands stuffed in her jacket pockets.
When Carmilla approached the tent, the blanket, the foods, Laura was still silent, already seated, as she patted the spot next to her on the blanket, smoothing the bottom of her dress. Laura was the first to reach for any food, almost as soon as Carmilla sat down. Still, she said nothing.
It wasn’t until Carmilla had at least eaten half a sandwich and Laura had consumed a whole one all her own and a few cookies and some cocoa that she finally cleared her throat. She tried and failed to speak several times; hands still gripped around the bottle of cider.
And this is where she was: watching Laura’s veins pop in her hands as she murdered a glass bottle full of nonalcoholic champagne. Because what the hell else is cider if not some sort of champagne?
“You look beautiful.” Laura mustered through an exasperated breath. A few blonde strands of hair were in disarray, some tattered on her forehead as small beads of sweat began to form.
Carmilla looked down as if she had not been the one to dress herself. She took in the black ripped jeans, gray, long sleeve tee and black boots, unable to see much of her hooded leather jacket without a mirror. She completely contrasts Laura in her dress, as always. They never matched, not in style, nor in personality. It’s how they’d always worked. Sometimes their colors matched or complimented, but Carmilla would always pale next to Laura. Laura was just too bright.
“So do you.” Carmilla replied, fondling a grape before she put it in her mouth. “I haven’t seen that dress in years. It looks lovely still.”
“Oh…thank you. It’s-. I just…dug it out.”
Laura’s teeth were gritted. Her focus was barely on Carmilla. The bottle had not yet been defeated. As if it had realized her stubbornness, the cork flew out like a white flag from an opposing army. Carmilla barely had time to dodge it as it came whizzing out without warning, and even less time to avoid the liquid spurting out of the bottle.
Laura was not so lucky, splatters raining down on her dress in splotches. She simply giggled and took a sip.
“Well, you can’t win them all.”
It was Carmilla’s turn to chuckle, snatching the bottle from Laura’s grasp with a playful smirk on her face. “Maybe now you can explain why you brought me all the way out here.”
She watched Laura from the corner of her eye as she brough the bottle to her lips. She watched the blush roll onto her cheeks while her teeth grazed her bottom lip. It made Carmilla’s throat tighten and she swallowed hard, reminding herself of the curiosity she had on her presence here instead of how it felt to have that lip between her own teeth.
Laura tilted her head to the side far enough that her hair gently blanketed her face, and the moon hit it beautifully. Her eyes shone brighter than Carmilla had ever seen them. There was a tiny, nervous smile on Laura’s face now, like Carmilla had missed something.
“I-it’s a date. Wasn’t it obvious?” She tucked her hair behind her ear, and Carmilla nearly shuddered.
She put the bottle down before her fingers shook so much that she was in the same raindrop state as Laura. The fizzing in the bottle matched the rapid succession of fireworks in her head and drum beats in her heart. How was it so that Laura still had such an affect on her even when she was so mad at her? She shouldn’t be entertaining this, should she? Yet, here she was, sitting here on a picnic blanket under a tent with dim string lights and sandwiches in the middle of the night with cider and hot cocoa and Laura, who’s innocent little quirks were doing more to her than Jude’s most explicit of touches could not.
There was a twinge in her stomach at the thought. She hated that she now had something to compare Laura to, whether it be a good comparison or not; and it wasn’t good, no disrespect to Jude. She just wasn’t Laura. And she was reminded of what led the here in the first place. And the fireworks ceased.
“Is this your way of apologizing, Laura? Because I can’t promise it’s enough.” Carmilla frowned, biting her lip.
She hated to say it, but it was true. Carmilla was nothing if not truthful. Where she understood what Laura had tried to do- to give them both a night to explore and take advantage of other opportunities- it still angered her that it was a consideration. She was angry Laura wanted it, had pleaded for it; and she was angry that she’d agreed. They didn’t take advantage of an opportunity; they took advantage of people. Laura took advantage of Carmilla’s feelings. There was no one left unscathed here. Not even Laura.
“It’s a start…again.” Laura used some paper towel to pat at the dark spots on her dress. “I thought that maybe if we took a little trip back to when we were teenagers that maybe we could find an easier way to discuss things. Maybe…”
Laura tossed the paper towel into a makeshift trash bag and clasped her fingers together against her knees before she said, “I couldn’t exactly get help reconstructing my childhood bedroom in 2 hours, now could I? Couldn’t consult the sole designer.
“You can thank Perry for the sandwiches and the blanket. Your sister helped me find the tent. I say helped, but she practically threw it at me when I told her my only options were this or an air mattress and some strategically hung bedsheets with some of Laf’s special spray paint…”
“Laura.” Carmilla scoffed, albeit grinning. As adorable as this was, she needed answers. She did have a hard time ignoring the fact that Laura had tried so hard to replicate the night sky she’d created. It did tug at her heart, even if she would always deny it.
“The night we made the vow- “
“Prom night.” Carmilla nodded.
“…on prom night, yes. That night, I didn’t realize how much it mean to you. I don’t think I’ve thought much about the importance of it all for you until recently. Very recently.
“I told you earlier that I did not enjoy my experience with Danny; that it didn’t feel right. Because I wanted it to be with you. Just like you wanted your experience to be with me. And I took that from you, from us; so, I know I can only blame myself for that.”
“You’re rambling, Laura.” Carmilla shook her head, almost unable to keep up with the whirlwind of Laura’s thought process. “Try to get to your point before you hurt both of us.”
Laura blushed- because of her jabber or Carmilla’s hand squeezing her knee, she wasn’t sure. It’s so strange how touches change with the revelation of romantic feelings. Where Carmilla’s touch used to send shivers up her spine, it now sent sparks of electricity.
She took a deep breath. “I think you deserve to have your feelings taken more into consideration. I haven’t been good to you. To have known and loved you since we were young, and to have always cared about how you felt, I feel horrible for not considering your feelings now. You deserve better.
“I understand if you would rather not have anything to do with me romantically. I wouldn’t blame you. But if you could ever forgive me, I’d like a second chance. Any decisions about us going forward we make together. I will never put you in a position like this ever again.”
Carmilla was too busy looking at her shoes to notice that Laura was crying. It was only after her voice started cracking that she turned to see the tears falling from her nose. Instinctively, she wiped them away, throwing an arm over Laura’s shoulder.
It was quiet again, Laura still crying silently against her shoulder. And three things Carmilla knew for sure:
- Laura really was on the same page as her when it came to their relationship now. It was a painful journey, but it finally happened.
- It would take some time to heal from, but they could learn and grow from this terrible experience. Laura could continue to learn to realize the extent of her own wants and how they affect others, and to take those affects into consideration; and Carmilla could continue to learn that her own needs also need to be addressed and considered. Just because she loved Laura, it didn’t mean she had to agree to everything; especially things that could cause her this much harm.
- No matter what happened between them, for better or worse, she was 100% in love with Laura Hollis.
“Hey, Carm?” Laura asked, sniffling.
“Hm?” She lifted her head to address her.
“How was your experience?” Laura’s nose was red from all the crying. “I know you hated it, but…how was it?”
She should’ve expected this. It was in typical Laura Hollis fashion to be so curious. If only it was a question about test scores or book chapters like they were in high school. This one was easy to answer, but hard to think about; hard to hear. Carmilla figured it was either Laura’s genuine curiosity or Laura wanting to know the full extent of just how deeply this hurt her. She almost didn’t want to answer her; though the answer could either further push her never to do something so ridiculous again. Maybe that’s why she responded.
“It felt wrong. The way she touched me I may as well have been somebody else. I wanted to be. If it weren’t for my anger at you and the alcohol pushing me forward, I probably would’ve gone through with it.” Carmilla sighed, remembering the unpleasantries of her mind. “I enjoyed it on a physical sense, but it was a horrible feeling to likeness; like when you disobey your parents and your conscious nags at you.
“I felt guilty. I didn’t want Jude. She didn’t deserve what I was putting her through just as I didn’t deserve it. It hurt to hurt her, and yet all I thought about was you. I felt guilty that she wasn’t you. If she weren’t such a forgiving person, maybe I’d feel better.”
Bugs were making themselves known around them. Two fireflies were chasing each other through blades of grass in the distance. One was always dodging the other in this game of tag. The other just couldn’t get there quick enough. But they never let each other get too far away.
“Do you think it would’ve been better if it had been me?” Laura picked the skin off a grape, admiring its vulnerable interior. “Would you enjoy it?”
Carmilla shrugged, attention still on the fireflies up ahead.
“I like to think I would.” She wanted to say it was absolute, that she would’ve glowed with carnal pleasure; but there was now a haunting notion that Laura would feel the same as Jude had: not good enough to mask the bad. She pulled the grape from Laura’s grasp just like she chose to temporarily erase the idea from her head and plucked it into her nose. “This is terrible date talk.”
Laura smacked Carmilla’s arm with a laugh, glad for the release of heavy tension, even a little. “Would you rather suck faces and get comfy in the tent?”
Carmilla rolled her eyes. “How Brokeback Mountain of you.”
The thought was intriguing. As painful as the previous night had been, she’d wanted this for years. She wanted Laura more than she wanted the decimation of misogynistic idiots. It wouldn’t do much for her to ignore her pain and take advantage of the offer, would it? There were enough advantages being taken already. But Laura was just being playful, wasn’t she? Did she really mean it?
“I don’t think you have it in you, Hollis.”
“Wanna bet?” The blonde’s eyes sparkled with challenge beneath the twinkle of the stars.
No. She couldn’t do it, not like this. This was too important, and she wouldn’t pull something Laura potentially would have done before this entire situation arose. She was still hurting. Laura was still learning. They’d ruin what small progress was just made if they went at it now.
“Alright, Hollis. Here’s the bet,” Carmilla shifted so she was facing the bright-eyed girl directly, “3 months.”
“If you can refrain from any more ridiculous suggestions- forever- and try to do this, us, right, we’ll do it. No more dates or sex with other people. You want me, Hollis? You do it right.”
Lightbulbs went off like streetlights at 6 p.m. The gears turned. Somebody came home. Laura Hollis got it. No confusion necessary. There was no room for it.
“You’re putting me on probation? The 90 day rule?” She nodded to her own questions, and it was adorable. “I have to woo you for 90 days?”
“Yes. And? Is that a problem?” Carmilla smirked and Laura could’ve melted right there.
Her shoulders straightened, fists at her hips as if she were channeling her inner Supergirl; preparing to win over Lena Luthor. “I’m going to woo your pants off, Carm!”
Lightening shot through Carmilla’s spine, lust clear in her gaze as her lower jaw slacked. Those delicious words invading her mind. Her core, her fingers, her toes, all spasmed in desire. The 90 days were just as much for her as they were for Laura. A discipline in the roughest of ways.
“Let’s get out of here before you put both feet in your mouth. I’ll help you clean this food up.” In other words, stuff her pockets with grapes and chug all the cider.
“No need. I promised Laf and Perry Id save them the leftovers, and the cleaning, if they helped me.” Laura offered Carmilla a hand as she stood.
They walked back to the car. Laura even opened Carmilla’s door. She was just as shocked when she found her own door waiting open for her and gave Carmilla a curious look.
“What? I never said wooing couldn’t be mutual.” The brunette shrugged.
Laura bit her lip as she sat idle with her hands on the wheel, a new curiosity in her features. “Can I kiss you?”
Carmilla pretended to ponder this, avoiding Laura’s eye while she counted backwards from 10 slowly to relax her overzealous heart. “One day.”
And that’s all Laura needed. For now.
The drive back was a lot lighter. Though Laura still sung to every song, a lot louder this time. Carmilla looked out the window with more joy than she’d felt the past few days.
This was going to be interesting.
Laura opened her door with an outstretched hand. She walked her up to her front door with blush on her cheeks.
“I had a good time tonight.” She smiled.
“Shockingly, so did I. But must you belt Harry Styles every time you get in a vehicle?” Carmilla ran a hand through her curls. The amount of times she could hear the words watermelon sugar were dwindling rapidly.
“Yes.” Laura gave Carmilla a funny face before making a slow retreat to her car. “Have a good night, Carm.”
“You, too.” She replied softly, biting her lip quizzically. “Hey, Cupcake?”
“The dress, why’d you wear it tonight? What’s the occasion?”
Laura grinned, something grateful behind it. “You.”
The car door closed and Carmilla watched it disappear with evident red on her cheeks.
She took one more glance at the stars and went inside.
She flopped onto her bed with a deep sigh.
And so, it begins.
Chapter 8: Clouds in the Sky
*1 month later*
The thing Carmilla loved the most about her team was their dedication. She never had to question their loyalty to a job well done. As she stood outside, blueprints in hand, she thanked the heavens for her ability to sniff out those who work hard and those just looking for easy pay. There’s nothing easy about building homes. These are not just houses. These are places where memories are made.
There was still some painting to be done, but that was the reason she was there so early. There were at least three more rooms to paint, the upstairs bedroom, and she could at least get through one before she let the rest of the team finish up. By the following week, the exterior paint and decorating begins before fixtures and flooring installations. It was coming along smoothly.
By noon, her painting jeans were covered in white and green splatters. She had hairs sticking to her face and her fingers had paint under the nails. Her team had gotten there hours before at this point, but she wanted to finish the room herself. Not a bad way to start a morning. Now she looked forward to a hot bath and a book before she checked some emails.
As soon as she opened the door to her house, she was hit with the smell of food cooking. While it made her growling gut happy, her paint covered body preferred water over lunch. Perry was just going to have to take it home to Laf.
“I can eat your cooking at the diner. Why must you break into my home to—” This is not Perry. “—Feed me.”
Laura Hollis was bouncing around her kitchen with a ‘kiss the chef’ apron on without a shirt. There were earbuds shoved in her ears and whatever song she had on repeat today must’ve been a Hollis-approved bop. Something was in the oven, something with tomato maybe. From what she could see, Laura was in the process of making a salad, even if most of it wound up across the countertop. So, Laura Hollis was dancing around her kitchen waving a knife around without a shirt. This could very well be the most dangerous thing she’s done since she almost lost a bet to a sky diving instructor.
Warily, Carmilla took a seat at the counter and watched as the blonde continued her show. One final turn, a grand array of jazz hands, and the knife clattered to the floor next to what Carmilla was sure was a few small piles of chopped lettuce as her presence was noticed. Her amused smirk put blush on Laura’s cheeks as she removed the music from her ears.
With a nervous chuckle, Laura asked, “Hehe. H-how long have you been sitting there?”
“Not long.” Carmilla shrugged.
“So, the dancing? You saw that?”
“And the krumping?” Laura wrang her hands together, staring down at her now dirty knife; grateful it didn’t catch her feet in the fall.
“Unfortunately, I missed the opportunity to hold that over your head for the rest of our lives.”
“Good.” Laura picked up the knife, tossing it into the sink. “Are you hungry? I’m making chicken parmesan and garlic bread; and, salad, obviously.”
“Mm.” Carmilla took a deep breath, soaking in the aromas around her. Her stomach growled so hard her body seemed to growl with it. But her filthy clothes were still bothering her. “Starving. But I need out of these clothes, so I’m going to—”
“Draw a bath? Already done. It’s waiting for you upstairs.” Laura pulled a new knife from the drawer. She shrugged at Carmilla’s arched eyebrow, ignoring the flutter in her chest before she dropped another knife, “Just go. I know you don’t like to eat covered in paint. It’s the one clean thing about you. Don’t make a big deal of it.”
Snickering, Carmilla went upstairs, undressing on the way up.
“I’M NOT PICKING THOSE UP, KARNSTEIN!”
Carmilla could hear her laughter bouncing off the walls as she left a trail behind her, all the way to her bathroom. There it was, a bath, steaming sweet salutations at her naked porcelain skin just aching to be consumed by its tempting ripples of boiling bliss. Her body craved it, the pure sight of it making her spine trimmer. Laura really was a Godsend.
This isn’t the first time Laura’s done something like this. Ever since that night under the stairs, Laura’s held doors open, pulled out chairs, and presented Carmilla with a single red rose on Mondays and Wednesdays. She’s baked cookies, planned lunch dates, and even went so far as to sneak cute little quirky remarks into Carmilla’s pockets that she’d created, printed, and stuffed into homemade fortune cookies.
The past month has been full of Laura Hollis woo. Running a bath, though, had to be the biggest woo of all-- which said something because those fortune cookies are top tier. It wasn’t overdone, just hot water and a calming bath soap and candles. It was perfect.
“I used sandalwood candles and bought more of that body wash you like-- rose water, cedar, and cypress. There’s also a Juniper bath bomb.” Laura appeared in the doorway, eyes covered with one hand and the other holding Carmilla’s clothes.
Carmilla smirked at Laura, though she couldn’t see it. Shaking her head humorously, she stepped closer to the tub.
“I thought you weren’t picking those up, Hollis?” She sneered.
“One of us had to. You can’t just rely on Perry to do your cleaning. She has her own house and the diner to care for. Don’t take her kindness for granted. We don’t take advantage of our friends.”
Laura had a point. While she never relies on Perry to clean every inch of her home, Carmilla could never deny the many times she purposefully left the scrubbing and polishing for Perry to do. It made Perry happy to clean, but maybe Carmilla could start cleaning her own house; or call a cleaning agency. Or pay Perry for her services and only use them when absolutely necessary.
“For?” Carmilla asked, a teasing grin on her lips. The hand finally fell from Laura’s face and smacked against her thigh. “Oh, I don’t know! How about, ‘Thank you, Laura, for picking up my dirty, paint-smeared clothes off my floor’? That’d be nice! Jeez, Carm! I’m not asking for a reward or anything, but some appreciation might be--. Sweet sourdough, you’re naked!”
Carmilla’s grin intensified, and she bit her lip to keep from laughing at the speechless girl barely able to keep herself standing in the doorway. With a gentle nod, she turned back towards her steaming bathtub—all too aware of the audible gasp behind her. Silently praising herself for holding her composure, she took four long strides to the tub and slipped a foot into the scolding water. It stung, but it was bearable enough for her to continue the show without falter; so, she eased the rest of her body down until the tips of her hair were dancing atop the surface of the smooth waves. Laura was practically drooling as she watched Carmilla tease the water with the tips of her fingers.
“How’s that for appreciation?” Carm purred.
Suddenly, the room felt like a sauna. Laura could feel her body start to sweat from the heat. She decided to take the apron from around her neck for relief. No sooner than she did, Carmilla breathed a raspy, ‘Fuck!’
Wow. Laura was…toned. Her abs had ripples deeper than this bath could ever dream of. Not to mention there’s six of them. Carmilla always knew Laura was active and into yoga, but she didn’t know yoga could do that to the human body. Though she had not the capacity to deal with yoga—or watching Laura do yoga—she was very appreciative of its results.
She could sit there and enjoy this sight for hours. The waiter could go cold, and her skin shrivel to mimic a raisin and she’d still be content sitting there watching the rise and fall of Laura’s chest and the shudder of her abdomen every six seconds as they have been so far. Her teeth will chatter. Her boobs will burn as they thaw from the cold. Her fingernails will have heartbeats. All worth it.
Laura clearly had other plans, plans that joined forces with her anxiety and overall embarrassment at her lack of memory that her shirt was still downstairs on the couch next to her bag. “I-I’m going to go check on things. Enjoy your bath.”
“Hope you’re doing it in that. I like it.” Carmilla smiled at Laura without hinderance of obvious desire.
“I’ll consider it.” Laura fumbled with the apron in her fingers. “K. Bye!”
Carmilla watched Laura bolt away with a wicked grin, sinking deeper into her bath.
Still killin’ me, Hollis.
Laura stepped into the building with what looked to outsiders as a newfound joy. In all actuality, this joy has always been there. She would say it’s just been rekindled. It is as if her effort to woo Carmilla with as many Laura Hollis fashioned woos as she could gave her new life. She spent such a long time focusing on her career—pinning down her feelings—that having them as her front and center forced her eyes open to a new world where there needn’t be any hiding. She could be Laura Hollis: Journalist Extraordinaire and Laura Hollis: Girlfriend of the Most Beautiful, Bad Ass, Annoying, Creative, Addicting Woman She’d Ever Met without an internal argument between the two. There were no memories to ignore, no exes to forcibly obsess over. Nope! Just her, her job, and her second chance at a lifetime of happiness. And she would NOT ruin it with ridiculous suggestions and ideas this time!
“You know, you have to actually go to your office to do your job. It’s not like the movies when the protagonist bursts in and our of the front door like a 13 going on 30 revamp.” A smirking Danny Lawrence appearing next to her made Laura very nearly leap out of her shoes. She gave the taller woman as angry a glare as her wild, frightened eyes could offer. Danny just laughed a response. “Jeez. Don’t bite my head off or anything. I just came over to say ‘hi’ when I noticed you admiring the crown molding. Took an open opportunity.”
“Remind me to return the favor next time I find your opportunistic face nose deep in the communal powdered donuts.” Laura took a deep breath and continued towards her office with new determination: getting as far away from Danny as possible.
‘Catch you later, Hollis!’ was all she heard as she disappeared around the nearest corner.
Hard as it was to say, she knew she couldn’t be too mad. Laura was the one who used her in the most horrible of ways just to prove to herself that she and Carmilla could have so much more than each other. She took Danny’s very obvious feelings and used them to play tennis. Even though a part of her really did want to rekindle what they’d shared in high school, a bigger part knew she was entertaining Danny more for the comfort of the nostalgia of an easier time. Though, no sane human being would call a once-serious-turned-unfaithful relationship that blew up in front of the entire school resulting in trauma and trust issues easy. At least she had Carmilla.
The night they were together, the night Laura realized everything she’d done was extremely wrong, Danny wanted to yell. Laura could tell even before Danny said it. She wanted to. But she didn’t. She did leave Laura with something to think about.
As she sat there in her bed, hands clasped together between crossed legs, still naked from previous activities, Danny looked almost relieved, like Laura had just given her an impossible yes rather than a resounding no. For a while, she looked at the wall. She didn’t say a word, except once. One moment. With one spoken word.
When Danny spoke again, Laura realized too quickly that she much preferred the silence.
“When we were in high school—when we were dating—I was quite happy with you, Hollis. For a while. You were so headstrong, naïve, always running to someone else’s aid, no matter how mild, and you never let anyone stop you when you had your mind set on something. I guess some things never change. That’s not something to be ashamed of. It’s admirable. It just got so unbearable. It was so hard to do anything with you without you fighting me.”
“You acted like my father! I already had one. I didn’t need another!” Laura released an exasperated sigh at the memories. “And when you weren’t trying to explain the importance of vegetables, you were trying to talk your way into my bed.”
“If I remember correctly, I’ve been in your bed. Carmilla know about that? Does she know how you’ve spent your evening, doing to me what I did to you back then? Doesn’t make us that different now, does it?” Danny smiled. Like a kid winning a prize at the spring carnival, she smiled.
“You needed guidance. Every time I looked around, you had a cookie stuffed in your mouth or saving Carmilla from detention or talking Lafontaine out of expulsion for another science lab explosion. I mean, aside from your grades, you were a train wreck. Your mother was gone, and your father was working so hard to keep everything afloat that there was nobody to take care of you. –”
“I had Carmilla!”
“Carmilla was worse for you than your cookie quantity; yet you just couldn’t be without her. Your best friend. She needed you more than you needed her. How could she have possibly taken care of you?” She had the nerve to chuckle. “I tried to take care of you. To make you happier, healthier. You wouldn’t let me. You were perfectly happy in your little Laura Hollis bubble, all cookies, Carmilla, and chaos. I guess I’m the one who popped it, huh?
“After you kept defying me and denying me, I couldn’t take it anymore. I was done with your resistance to change and I was a teenage girl with needs. There was nothing left for you to offer me, so I went to someone who could. It felt easier than breaking up with you. You were a nice girl, Hollis. Hurting you wasn’t something I wanted. I promise. But the closer it got to prom the more Mel grew tired of being a secret. She gave me a chance; and, honestly, even though both of you frustrated me to high hell, Mel was different. She fulfilled my needs and wasn’t on the lookout for trouble unless it was on the baseball field. I had to choose. I chose her. It didn’t last past summer after senior year, but we faired better than I did with you.
“So, when we started talking again after all those years, I was hesitant. You hadn’t done anything to change but grow older. I enjoyed your company, but I felt guilty about what I’d done to you in high school.” The smile grew wider. Laura couldn’t find the joy Danny seemed to be swimming in. All she felt was the opening of the wound she’d long ago bandaged off. “I thought I was horrible to try to rekindle a relationship with someone so innocent again. I was wrong. You and I are much more alike now than I figured. Especially after this.”
Maybe that’s the knock on the head she needed to get herself together for Carm, and to avoid Danny Lawrence at any cost. If only Danny felt the same. She started treating Laura like the at-work frenemy. Some days were easier to ignore. Today, she’d have to focus harder to get back to that beautiful mood.
After an hour of emails and research for upcoming stories, her mood had dimmed significantly. Her pulse was steady. Her mind was focused. Her work was superb if she did say so herself. She didn’t even need yoga to bring her to peace this time. All she needed was her assignments and slight meditation. By noon, she was half-done with her work. Carmilla was too busy with a new client to have lunch, so Laura spent her lunch hour in her office with a nice peanut butter sandwich and an apple for balance. She told herself she was staying in her office to finish work quicker so she could go home early, but she knew it was because the last time she ate lunch in the break room, she got way too many jokes about her juice box and bendy straw. Some people just don’t understand the need for whimsy during work hours.
By two o’clock, Laura was fishing for things to do. She’d run out of emails and typed up her stories. She was beyond done. Her quota for the week was finished. At this rate, she was just pretending to be busy just to please herself. After 30 minutes of mindless scrolling, she finally had to admit to herself that the workday was done, and she should just go home. Maybe there’d be a rerun of Doctor Who on and she could stuff her face with chocolate ice cream.
Carm: are you busy?
Carm: I shouldn’t even ask.
Carm: of course, you’re not.
Carm: How quickly did it take you to finish this time?
Laura: 6 hours. I’m losing my groove.
Laura: What’s up? Did you want to hang out or something?
Carm: Yes. But not now.
Carm: Later. My place.
Carm: Don’t be late.
Laura: Says the person who’s late to everything.
Carm: Exactly. It’s my thing.
Laura: That and stealing everyone’s food.
Carm: Which is why you’ve wooed me so intently for 3 months.
Laura: yeah put a sock in it, Karnstein.
Laura: Is there anything specific I should wear?
Carm: I’d say nothing, but then you’d just yell at me. So, I’ll say wear something easy to take off.
Laura nearly choked on her now cold hot chocolate. She quickly put it down before she covered herself in it. She already had some dribbling down her chin. A quick wipe with her wrist did the trick as she picked up her phone once again.
Laura: You’re funny.
Carm: Who says I’m joking?
Laura: Carm…I can’t tell if you’re being sarcastic or not.
Carm: Good. I’ll uphold my image.
Laura: I’m serious.
Carm: So am I.
Carm: You’ve spent three months showing me how much I mean to you. Wooing me as you call it. It’s my turn to return the favor.
Carm: in my way.
Carm: So, if you want, come to my place tonight at 7.
Carm: Whatever happens after that, happens.
Carm: Is that okay, Laura?
If she was serious, Laura had a lot more than reruns and ice cream to look forward to. And she had 5 hours to freak out over it. She could either let things play out naturally or run. If she lets it play, things with Carmilla could go further than ever, probably making her wildest dreams come true; and they were pretty wild. She gets the girl. She makes Carmilla happy. If she runs, she cancels out everything she worked hard to prove. She breaks Carmilla’s heart. She loses her best friend.
Laura: See you tonight.