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Vindicated

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And I will work this body, I will burn this flame, in the dead of night and in the pouring rain, I'm a workaholic and I swear I swear: one day I will beat you fair and square…

--

Will let himself sink into the misshapen couch. The patch that covered the portion of fabric that had been thrown up on was peeling and stuffing was coming out of opposite arm. Kirsch was in the loveseat, shoving the eggroll into his mouth. A few brothers were in the kitchen yelling loudly about the implications of reheating a corndog from the Fall Fest last week.

"Sorry for bailing," Will said, opening a Snap from Carmilla. It was a video of a PDA couple on the sidewalk with the caption "which one do you think is giving the other mono?"

"It's cool bro."

Will considered inviting him for a minute but Kirsch's lack of sense of humor when it came to making fun of fraternity life would clash horribly with Carmilla's affinity for it. Besides, she rarely associated with anyone outside a standard deviation below average IQ without multiple comments.

"Who's this journalism chick?" Will asked as Kirsch held up a finger, chewing the last of his eggroll.

"She's in my lit class," he said through a half full mouth. "She's like the only reason I passed my Beowulf exam. Had to try to help her out."

"Well I hope she's got other options 'cuz Carmilla pretty much laughed in my face."

"Pretty sure she does," Kirsch shrugged.

Will popped open his laptop and logged into Facebook. He ignored the five new friend requests of the day from random fans. A second tab opened his email and he immediately recognized his mother's address in bold letters at the top of his inbox. He sighed and clicked.

Will,

My flight's on time for tomorrow and getting in at 10am. I hope we can get lunch in between your classes. I will be back on a plane by 4pm. Not to repeat myself (again), but please talk to your sister. See you tomorrow.

Sent from iPhone

Will frowned without meaning to. He picked up his phone and scrolled to his text conversation with Carmilla. He hovered over the keyboard. What was left to say? He'd exhausted the long winded pleas of mom just wants to talk and I don't want to keep playing messenger, can you at least try for me? There was no way some small comment of mom, once again, asked me to talk to you was going to change anything. She was determined in her anger.

Not that Will blamed her. But that didn't mean he didn't hate the whole thing. And he, more than anything, hated being fought over. Holidays and birthdays had been a day of Will running between houses and passing messages for a year now. Having to find things to do with mom's gifts to Carmilla was always full of anxiety because either way they ended up in the garbage, it was just a matter of whose disappointment and tears landed it there.

Instead he locked the phone again and slid it back into his pocket. Carmilla was an adult, his mother was adult. They could do what they wanted or not at all. For now at least.

"I had to deal with a Pyscho Society today at dinner," Kirsch said and Will's face immediately cringed.

"Ouch, which one?"

"The tall redhead."

"Oh, shit. What's her name? Lawstein? Lancaster? Something like that."

"Lawrence."

Will raised an eyebrow but Kirsch was looking at his phone.

----

Laura wasn't entertaining the idea of interviewing Carmilla, not really. She already had an appointment set up with the owner of a tattoo place just off campus. She'd been in the middle of figuring out interview question number three when she finally decided to breakdown and Google her.

Born Mircalla in Graz, Styria in 1993, Karnstein was adopted by…

So she was adopted. Laura felt a pang of sympathy and thought of her mother. Her Wikipedia page said she was raised predominantly in the United States, adopted by a wealthy family, and enjoyed life as musical prodigy from a young age. She began performing professionally at age 14 when she, according to Wikipedia, snuck out to local open mic nights and lied about her age or simply went on until someone yanked her and kicked her out.

The record deal came at age 16 after some manager was drinking off the most recent CD flop from one of his clients when he heard her singing at a dive club she snuck into. Richard Rosen was his name and Carmilla was his first major hit, a gamble apparently. And it paid off big time courtesy of her first single.

Laura scrolled down the damning section labeled "Controversy."

On August 7th 2013, Karnstein was involved in an altercation between herself and a TMZ reporter Todd Klein. According to witnesses, Karnstein instigated the fight which resulted in a broken nose and two broken fingers for Klein and minimal injuries for Karnstein. The cause of the altercation was officially recorded in the police report as "assault." Klein did not press charges…

Laura sat back in her chair with a squeak and laced her fingers across her stomach. Things she knew about Carmilla Karnstein: she was adopted, she legally had a different last name than her mother and brother (also adopted according to Wikipedia), she punched out a reporter for unknown reasons. She thought about these things as she listened to the two songs on her iPod.

The first song was her first hit, from what Laura could remember and what Wikpedia told her. Laura had the distinct memory of dancing to it at prom trying to ignore how the lines about wanting to kiss someone made her cheeks flare up. It had been the first time she ever danced with a girl, even. She smiled at the memory and smiled at the song, it was upbeat and total top 40 pop punk. The second song was much more melancholy and just kept repeating the line "I miss you" in the chorus.

A few clicks later and Laura learned this song was the first single released after the reporter incident.

Laura felt like that was important but she got caught up in just how sad and alone that phrase sounded in her voice, repeated and repeated. I miss you. It was good. Really good.

Laura clicked to a Spotify playlist of Karnstein's songs.

"So has Danny texted you yet?" Betty asked, looking up from her notebook on her own bed.

"She doesn't have my number," Laura said.

"Oh my god, Laura, get on that," Betty said. "She basically asked you out on a date in that weird English major way you guys do things."

Laura couldn't help but giggle. She clicked on that upbeat love song again and Betty smirked.

"Speaking of dates," Laura said, swiveling her chair over to Betty's bed. "I saw the way you glued your eyes to Kirsch. Well, his arms anyway."

"What can I say? I have an eye for art."

Laura rolled her eyes and scooted back towards the desk as the song came to an end. A new song came on, one Laura hadn't heard before. It was a lot of guitar and drums. It was very angry and she was on the verge of clicking skip before the verses stared.

It was poetic. All about candles and stars. The chorus was sing-songy and it stuck in her head immediately.

Laura pulled out a notebook and scribbled the song names down. She wasn't really making interview notes. But, just in case. And besides, it was interesting and the topic alone was worth at least some extracurricular investigation, tracing an artist's transition in the context of life events. Investigative journalism called to Laura but this type storytelling was…fascinating.

But, reserved, probably, for sometime later in Laura's life when she had the credentials to ask a celebrity for their time. Still, the music was good, she decided to listen through the playlist while she worked on her literature homework.

"What are you so smiley for?" Betty asked.

Laura felt her face go read as she looked up and saw Betty, as usual, smirking at her.

"Just something in my reading," Laura says. It's not a lie.

"And it has nothing to do with the TA whom you'll be discussing the reading with tomorrow?"

"Not everything in my lit class is about Danny. I was an English major all on my own before I met her."

Betty snorted.

"But…I may or may not be picturing in my head exactly how I'm going to debate Things Fall Apart I totally know she's going to ignore the Heart of Darkness reading and I'm going to—what?"

"I'm sorry but you are a dork and she's a dork and you're basically in dork love so please get her number tomorrow," Betty said.

Laura rolled her eyes but followed that with a thoughtful sigh. She did like Danny. And she was very interested to see where it would go (if it would go anywhere). But Laura only ever had one girlfriend in high school and it lasted all of three months before they graduated and separated with little despair. And Danny was athletic, and pretty, and popular, and smart, and all sorts of things that put her farther and farther out of freshman tiers in the dating pool.

Still, maybe it couldn't hurt to let herself believe her friends in how much they all seemed to claim Danny liked her back.

"You get her number tomorrow and I'll buy you dinner," Betty offered.

"Deal."

----

Carmilla stayed out of the hotel as long as possible. At first she just drove around with Scott in the passenger seat, mostly silent, but occasionally making comments about texts he was getting from her manager and how late it was getting.

"We should be getting back. We should, actually, already be back," he said.

"I wanted to go for a drive."

"We've passed the Silas campus 4 times now."

It was getting late. Late enough that much fewer cars were on the road and Carmilla opened up her own to the loud sounds of an engine rev and Scott gripping his seat just a little tighter. Streetlights were on and few pedestrians were out and Carmilla was running out of reasons to stay out.

"That hotel room is stuffy," Carmilla said.

"Then open a window but can we please get back?" Scott said.

Carmilla knew he knew. Maybe he wanted to help, or maybe he just didn't want to lose a paycheck. She wanted to think in some secret, mental way Scott was her friend. He was there when it all happened. He pulled her off the reporter and even gave the man a shove himself. He personally cleaned up her bleeding knuckles after the whole thing.

And he knew. His opinion on the situation was where the secret lay.

She made a hard turn and speed down the road.

"I'll take you back but I'm going out for a while. I don't need you to follow me," she said.

"If you're out, I'm out."

"Yeah, well, unlike Rick and, apparently, my tour bus, you don't work for the record company. Which means you must work for me, so chill. Take the night. Eat pizza with Rick."

Scott said nothing and she continued her route back to the hotel, zipping in and barely coming to a stop at the gate. He handed her the room key from his inner jacket pocket and she slide it in and out fast, watching the light go from red to green and the red and white arm in front of her lifted for the car to pass through.

As soon as she was through, she took to speeding around again, weaving between spots until she got to the entry way double doors that lead to the front desk.

"I would really prefer if you parked it for the night. You've got an early day tomorrow," he said.

There was hope in his voice. Hope that tomorrow could just be treated as any other busy day, even with him omitting the phrase "your mother's coming tomorrow." And hope, perhaps, that she'd decide to exchange a word with her. How long had it been now? Carmilla didn't care.

"And I'd prefer not to have to gouge my eyes out, so I'm going to play hide and seek for a while," she said.

"Do you have a room key?"

"Yes."

"Is your phone charged?"

"Yes."

"You send me a text every hour."

"Yes, dad."

Carmilla rolled her eyes and Scott backed away, dialing his phone, no doubt to inform the fuming manager several floors above that his client would not be joining him and he was in for a night of disappointment.

As she rolled the window up, she wondered if she really had heard the mumbled "be careful" or if she just hoped Scott cared that much.

She ended up at a bar. Not surprising. But the clubs weren't open until the following night because apparently Wednesday nights were actually work nights for people not buzzing around town in a GTO jonzing for a ticket. It was, at the very least, a gay bar.

Not, of course, that Carmilla was looking to hook up with anyone. But she didn't feel like seeing a group of dudebros screaming over tequila shots while they one by one attempted to hit on her. And besides, on the off chance some girl not only caught her eye but had her attention, a walk of shame would certainly give her excuses to avoid the hotel tomorrow. And she'd get laid. Everybody wins.

The bar was practically empty though. The only other person there was some sorority girl who, according to her loud phone conversation, was under the impression she was meeting her friends here before she learned that they had in fact started a pregrame without her at someone's apartment. She promptly left, leaving Carmilla alone at the bar.

"I swear to god, if one more Lady Gaga song plays I'll be paying to fix your jukebox," Carmilla said to the bartender as the familiar beat of "Poker Face" started.

He dug under the bar and pulled out a pair of keys, tossing them to Carmilla.

"All yours."

Carmilla thanked him and headed to the jukebox, one turn of the key and the money requirement was unlocked and she began shuffling through various artists. Would it be too self-serving to put her own music on?

The bartender was nice. His name was Kurt and he was a native in a college town of internationals. On both arms he was covered in two full sleeve tattoos that had everything from magic creatures to beautiful landscapes to what looked like a pet housecat. They bonded when Carmilla began speaking to him in German, telling him she was born here to some pair of unknown parents but her adoptive mother made sure she was speaking her native tongue by age 8.

Kurt ended up giving her the first round for free.

She flipped on Artic Monkeys on a whim and returned to her seat.

By the time the album played through, Carmilla was three shots, and two beers deep. The buzz was certainly evident enough that she was going to be walking it off for at least an hour before she got back to her car.

"You got a ride?" he asked in heavily accented English.

"Yeah. My brother's on his way."

It wasn't lie, but Carmilla didn't feel like dealing with him giving worried looks over the idea of her walking the street for who knows how long until she sobered up and dragged her ass back to her penthouse hotel room to face the wrath of her manager, who, no doubt, was waiting up for her.

Carmilla ordered a bottle of wine to go, slapped down a 60 euro tip and sped out just before last call but not before her one-time friend was calling after her, pleading that she accept change from her ridiculous gratuity.

But then Carmilla was on the street, bottle of wine tucked away in a brown bag in the crook of her elbow. It was 2am, the only thing open was a McDonald's and some all-night convenience store that swore in big, bold Sharpie letters that the colorful glass pipes in the front window were for "TOBACCO USE ONLY."

Carmilla (2:02AM): Still alive, don't worry.

Even inebriated, Carmilla made sure her sentences were as fluid and grammatically correct as she could get them. She also had a record streak for not tripping. She was an elegant drunk, as far as she was concerned.

The walking lasted until around 3:30am when she finally was clear headed enough to be cold in the night air and annoyed at how far away her car was.

----

Laura liked to sit up front in classes that she liked. She was tucked neatly in the back of her stat class and her Russian history class. But she was upfront in Intro to Journalism and as well as her European Lit class. And, of course, the recitation that went with it. It was a smaller section, too early of a time for anyone to really sign up for it.

"So, I've got some passages here from Heart of Darkness I asked you guys to look at," Danny said, pulling out the papers and sitting on the front desk. "What we're looking at is direct response that Achebe is giving to Conrad."

A few hands went up but Laura's was not one of them. She had a plan. Step 1 was getting Danny out to lunch with her today, step 2 was wooing her with all sorts of awesome things she wrote in her notes but was keeping quiet about in recitation, and step 3 was getting her phone number. Additional step 4 was, of course, dinner courtesy of her roommate but that was beside the point.

Danny did look over at Laura consistently throughout the lecture though, as if waiting for her hand to go up. On the third time they made eye contact, Laura decided to give her the closest thing her own face could muster to a smirk and Danny seemed to catch on because she furrowed her brow and held back a smile and called on the boy next to her.

When the 50 minutes were up, Laura waited until the last of the students who stayed after to ask questions were gone.

"Care to share?" Danny said, when Laura approached her. "I've never seen you so quiet in all the recitations so far."

"Well," Laura said. "I actually have a lot of thoughts on it, but knowing that you were, as I predicted, going to disagree, I decided the best way to get at this was debating them with you directly…over lunch?"

She must have looked a lot more calm and cool than her pounding heart and sweat palms felt. Danny was smiling though, and while it definitely relieved Laura, her heart only quickened at it. Then she gave a nod.

"Alright, Hollis, you're on. And you're buying," Danny said.

Laura laughed and they walked out of the room together. She had to prevent herself from doing any sort of happy dance.

----

Will tapped his foot at the corner of the quad. He walked an extra half mile to avoid letting her see the house. He'd told it was some kind of university maintained complex for Greek life. Which, it half was. Carmilla wasn't wrong about the roof caving in thing though.

He hadn't worn these khaki pants and blue sports coat since pledge week and last night was spent ironing them twice and hanging them precariously on the door. Not that his mother had a dress code, but dressing to impress never hurt. Even if two brothers did their best to get syrup all over the suit at breakfast. But what are friends for?

A black Jaguar pulled into the parking lot wedged between the four buildings pushed together. A few other drop offs and pick-ups were happening and the lot tended to get clogged on weekends. It wasn't like anyone was going anywhere near a sleek black car with a Jaguar hood ornament. The passenger door opened.

Out came mother.

Her hair was in its typical tighter-than-iron bun, her skirt and suit were dark blue. In her hand was glued an iPhone and on the bend of her arm was a black purse.

"Will," she said with a smile. She looked up from the phone but it stayed in her hand.

"Hey," he said and stepped forward and into a hug.

"Just you then?"

She didn't mean it that way. But his lip still twitched in and out of his smile, just so slightly. Inside his head he saw the scroll after scroll of drunk messages she'd sent him last night. Mom's a bitch, Why do you keep defending her, She took her from me.

He nodded and she sighed and motioned for him to step into the car. He slid easily across the leather seats and waited for his mother to join before he spoke.

"I had this kind of cool reading for my Philosophy of Religion class," he said.

He wasn't lying. It had been cool. It'd been hard to understand but the internet's abridged version told him all about this guy named Kant who proposed that language was the barrier between humanity and actually understanding something of substance about the universe. It was the kind of thing Carmilla liked to read, she probably had read it actually.

Not that their mother particularly enjoyed hearing things like that but if he could talk about classes the whole time maybe this wouldn't be as painfully awkward as it always was.

---

LaFontaine wrote quickly with their right hand while the left turned the dial on the microscope. The hair sample was from human, female, age 25. The follicles were damaged as LaFontaine zoomed in slightly and scribbled without the pen ever leaving the page. They turned away to examine their notes. Yep. One big squiggly line. Right on track.

They sighed and pulled back from the microscope, blinking rapidly and stretching out from the squinting.

The only other person in the lab was some guy across the room, far more into whatever samples he was examining than they were. He'd been there when they'd walked in and hadn't so much as moved an inch. They tried not to be too loud when pushing the stool out to stand because they were half convinced he still didn't know they were there.

LaFontaine walked to the window and stared out at the groups of people taking advantage of the last few days of residual summer. It was already cold enough to wear a jacket this morning. That wasn't stopping the Frisbee players though, tossing the disk and launching themselves over people lounged out on the grass reading or talking.

They tapped their fingers on the windowsill and debated opening the window. They needed to get out, or get air. To not be extracting DNA strands from strawberries or identifying mammalian hair samples all morning. Not that they were about to go out and put together some kind of bio engineered breed of cat (how cool would that be though?) but anything would be more interesting than doing grunt work for the sake of being able to put "research assistant" on a resume.

"You interested in pizza?"

LaFontaine jumped. The workaholic in the corner was still eyeball deep into whatever sample he was examining but he had definitely been him.

"Huh?"

"Pizza," he repeated, still looking into the microscope. "I'm ordering, you want in?"

LaFontaine frowned.

"We can't have food in the lab."

"That's why they call it a break."

He finally pulled away from his microscope and turned. He performed a similar stretch ritual around his eyes before they focused in on them. He smiled then and stepped out from behind his lab desk, setting down his pencil. He was average height, dark hair, and young face.

"I'm J.P. by the way. We're on the same research project," he said.

"Yeah us and about 50 other undergrads."

Surprisingly his smile got even bigger and he laughed. When he was close enough he held out a hand and LaFontaine took it, remembeingr what their dad said about firm handshakes.

"LaFontaine," they said.

He nodded. No questions, no raised eyebrow, no snort. He took it and memorized it fast and pulled away with a continual cheery face. There was a burst of guilt as LaFontaine thought of Perry before they could stop themselves. They pushed it away. They had 10 seconds of conversation with him, there was no basis to compare. Even if in 10 seconds he was far more understanding than Perry had been in an entire year—

No.

"So, pizza?" they said fast.

"Yeah, technically we're only supposed to take a half hour break but I for one don't think the time waiting for delivery should count," he said. "So I'm willing to make a pact with you that I won't tell if you won't."

"You definitely have a deal," they said.

The pizza ended up taking almost an hour to get to campus after the delivery girl got lost twice and apparently approached by some Zetas who tried to bribe her into letting them take the pizza off her. But the two of them sat in the hallway outside the lab and ate directly from the box.

It was nice not smelling nothing but sterile floors and latex gloves for the first time all day.

"I read Dr. Moreau when I was like 12," LaFontaine said. "Dead set on bio after that."

His eyes went wide as he swallowed.

"No way, same. Except it was Frankenstein and I was 14."

"Hardcore."

LaFontaine held up a hand and J.P. quickly met it with a slap and a nod.

They are pizza in more silence after that because LaFontaine was crazy hungry and something about pizza was super addictive. He let them have the last slice which they protested mainly because he bought it and refused to let them at least tip the delivery person but after about four tries to do the right thing LaFontaine gave in and scarfed down the pizza happily.

"I've never seen you in one of Dr. Fleming's lectures," LaFontaine said.

"I'm technically a grad student, I know I don't look it," he said. "This was the only post graduation job I could get. Doesn't even pay but Dr. Fleming is a pretty well-known biologist and promised me a recommendation when I applied after school."

"Where are you looking?"

"Not sure yet. I've been doing research on genetics labs though."

"Don't tell me you're actually going to try and make some freaky Frankenstein's Monster?"

"Too far?"

"Hell no, I just want in on it."

They laughed for another five minutes before they decided they both absolutely had to get back into the lab. They talked more though throughout the afternoon. And suddenly the room didn't feel so stuffy.

----

Despite the fact that Laura was paying, Danny couldn't stomach another grilled cheese from the caf and convinced her to take a chance on some take out to eat on the lawn. The air battling between chilly and warm gave them the reward of beautiful sun but also gave Danny the opportunity to offer up her jacket to a goosebump covered Laura. The universe could be such a wingman sometimes.

"So talk to me, Hollis," Danny said. "Anything profound about Heart of Darkness?"

"Not profound but I certainly give it more credit than you do," she said.

"Credit for what? Being a derivative, racist novella that doesn't even have good enough prose to back up its existence?"

Points: Danny 1, Laura 0.

But then Laura was smirking as she chewed and worked to swallow her large bite of burger.

"Actually, I find the discussions surrounding the piece to be of a lot more value than you'd think," she said. "Sure as a standalone work it's less than spectacular but not only has it generated years of debate but also influenced other works. Just look at Achebe's Things fall Apart."

Oh now it was on.

"See Hollis this is why I'm the TA and you're the freshman. You focus too much on secondary sources when looking at works. If the book sucks on it's own then it should be judged accordingly."

"And yet we still today read plenty of old novels with awful prose and questionable themes and call it classic because of all it did for literature."

"Name one."

"Dracula. Widely regarded as poor writing and questionable form but considered the ultimate vampire novel, even if it borrowed super heavily from previous, less well-known, novels in the genre."

Danny rolled her eyes and stole a fry from the communal pile between the two of them. Laura was all sorts of persistent, Danny gave her that much. And as much as Danny would never agree to Laura's group effort theory of literature, she did love hearing her talk.

"Any luck on the interview front?" Danny said.

"I've got a meeting on Sunday with the owner of a tattoo place just off campus." Laura said.

"Which one?"

"The one that doesn't look like some demonic sex dungeon."

Danny smiled and took a sip of soda and thought about all the ways this wouldn't be possible to have fun like this at the Naval academy and all the ways she wouldn't be a TA and wouldn't have time to read and wouldn't have gotten to meet Laura.

----

Rick found Carmilla at 3pm that day. In the hotel hot tub. Fully clothed. With an empty bottle of wine.

"Are you drunk?" he asked.

"No, this is the picture of prohibition," Carmilla answered, giving the water a kick with her sock covered foot.

"Are you kidding me?"

"Not at all, Dick."

He shook his head with pursed lips and Carmilla hoped that vein in his neck was practically ready to burst out of his skin. She briefly wondered if she should have the audacity to take a swig of the bottle right in front of him but has enough presence of mind to hold back. She doesn't want him to have an aneurysm.

"Please tell me you didn't drive," he said. His concern is only 30% for you and others, 70% for bad press, the record company, and your car insurance.

"I'm not an asshole, this happened after," she said.

"When?"

"The pool opens up at 6am, so…"

He pinches his nose bridge and begins pacing, rapidly and violently. His $500 shoes click loudly against the tile and it gets the attention of the lifeguard and one of the kids playing with pool noodles in the main pool. In his ear she could see the blue light of his Bluetooth.

"Your mother was worried—"

"Oh please."

"Your brother was worried."

"Look, there's only like a 20% chance I'm actually dead if you can't find me."

"I'm not surprised, but I am angry."

"Is she gone?"

He sighed and nodded.

"She left for a meeting at a law firm in Graz, she's flying to London tonight. Back in the US in a few days," he said. It was supposed to be a consolation perhaps, listing all the ways her mother would be miles and miles away from her. But it wasn't worth much right now.

Then, after a moment of what looked like painful contemplation, he pulled up a plastic chair right to the edge of the Jacuzzi and sat down, phone shoved into his pocket and his ear piece even pulled out. It was the equivalent of being called by her full name, and even tipsy, Carmilla turned to give him her attention for a scolding.

"Your mother was worried," he said. And Carmilla immediately withdrew her attention. "I'm not trying to tell you how to live your life, but I am telling you that you need to be more careful and your brother is not happy—"

"Look I get it," Carmilla said. "But for the record I texted Scott every hour, you knew I wasn't dead."

"That's not the point," he said.

"Your job ends at my professional life, Ricky," Carmilla said, swatting the water. She liked the way it sounded. She began running her hands over the water's surface, listening intently.

"My job is to keep you busy, seen, rich, and healthy. I'm pretty sure somewhere between all of that is this business of you running off every time she shows up," he said.

"You know why. Drop it."

"I'll only drop it if you do something for me first."

She began experimenting with patterns as she let her fingers manipulate the surface. It was almost like music notes, very small music notes. She began trying to change them, make rhythms. Rick must have taken her silence for invitation to speak.

"I need something from you, just something. A commercial spot, a cameo in a movie, a damn interview, something," he said. "The record company is breathing down my neck. They want PR. They want people to know you're not disturbed or—"

"Did you know water is polarizing? It sticks to itself, that's why droplets form little puddles."

"For Christ's sake Carmilla—"

"Calm down, I heard you."

She played a few more fake notes in the water and then ran her hands down it like the keys of a piano. She sat back to the tiled edge of the hot tub and sighed, taking in the sterile scent of chlorine. There was a specific emotion here. She wasn't sure what it was. She needed the piano. But it was something.

"Do you have a pen?"

He huffed and rolled his eyes but obliged and Carmilla held out her other hand expectantly until he shoved a napkin in her hand as well and she quickly began scribbling quick lyrics and wrote random chords. She'd organize them later. It was a mess of awkward letters and ink, smudged further by water and the heel of Carmilla's own left hand but it was definitely something.

She began taping her fingers on the edge of the hot tub, imagining the keys of the piano in front of her and in her head you heard the chords strike and melt together and blend and it would all sound better on the piano but she's got a song here.

Something about water being music, perhaps rain is the comfort after all, depending on how you look at it, and struggling for the umbrella is just making you feel worse…

"Are you done?" Rick finally asked.

"You were practically jumping for a new song last week, you'll have it by tomorrow," Carmilla said, unceremoniously rising out of the steaming water.

"I'd prefer an album," he said.

"Lead single."

"We'll see."

Her loose phases of the moon shirt clung to her skin at all possible points and she was already dreading peeling off her skinny jeans later. Rick threw a towel at her and she handed up the napkin in return. He held it at arm's length while she squeezed out what loose parts of fabric remained and wrapped the towel over her shoulders. Rick tossed the wine bottle in the trash without warning and handed her back her notes.

"Song isn't going to cut it for the record company, they want publicity," he said as they entered the lobby which was a lot colder than Carmilla anticipated as the AC hit her wet body like the entire month of January.

"Fine, but I'm not doing a goddamn commercial," Carmilla said.

"Interview then."

"Preapproved."

"Of course."

"I choose the venue."

"Fine, but I approve it."

"Fine."

Who said they didn't get along?

----

Will didn't know which emotion to feel more: disappointment, anger, or confusion. His sister who, surprise surprise, went AWOL just in time for their mother to come to town, looked like a complete train wreck. Apart from the obvious bags under her bloodshot eyes and matted hair, she was soaking wet, wrapped in a towel, and full clothed.

"If only EW could see you now," he said, crossing his arms across his chest.

"Oh please this is hardly the worst thing you've seen me do," Carmilla said, walking across the living room towards the master bedroom.

"You're right and that doesn't make it better," he said. He followed slightly to keep her in earshot as she closed the door to a sliver of an opening while she changed. "You could have called."

"What part of, 'I texted every hour' are you people not getting?" Carmilla said.

"Oh yeah, hearing 'I'm alive' every hour was really comforting to mother," Will said.

She was quiet and there was a thud. She threw her clothes down, probably. Will sighed and dropped his forehead against the wall hard and poignantly. He didn't know what to do. It felt like the issues between the two of them were pulling him in twenty directions at once. Trying to appease one meant silently betraying the other. Will didn't know how to feel about their mother's constant repetitions of "I was looking out for my daughter" and Carmilla's rants of "She's an evil bitch". Mother didn't tell him, and Carmilla refused to talk about it.

He knew it had something to do with that girl though. The Californian.

Will didn't know if their mother's role in that tragedy was as accurate as Carmilla accused on nights when she drunk texted him. Nor did he truly know enough about what happened to even make an objective judgment on either of them.

Either way the girl was gone, mother was distant, and Carmilla was broken somewhere Will couldn't see. She made a ton of money of that song though.

And then donated all of it.

The papers called it an altruistic act to divert attention away from her assault incident. Will knew she wanted nothing to do with money made this way and it was the first time he thought she might give up guitar and singing and shows and just retire.

She was a fighter though. And he remembered that when she emerged wearing an old pair of his track sweatpants and a Ramones tee shirt, a copy of The Stranger tucked into her elbow.

"I'm sorry," he said.

"It's whatever."

It wasn't whatever but in an hour or so she'd pretend to forget the conversation and pick on him about something. She shuffled past up and into the opposite couch, peeling open her book.

"Does your cult brother's girlfriend still need to sell her Girl Scout cookies or whatever?" Carmilla asked, looking up.

"Huh?"

"The interview girl."

This was a surprise. And she looked serious too. Even more unexpected. Will instinctively went to his phone and quickly repeated Carmilla's question to Kirsch, hoping he put his phone on vibrate in his Shakespeare on Film class. Or at least stayed awake.

"Did you say interview?" Rick got up quickly and walked over. "We had a deal."

"Yeah, yeah. You can approve this girl it's fine. She's some local, she can sell the interview to whoever she wants," Carmilla said.

"Wait, who is this?" Rick said.

"Don't worry about it. You can background check her later. I'll do the interview, you can send it wherever you want. We all go home happy," Carmilla said.

"Carmilla…"

"It's fine."

Will would ask later. For now, he just smiled. This had to be a good. Maybe.

----

Laura was in the middle of unlocking room 307 when she dropped the key in mid-motion.

Kirsch (4:05PM): Carmilla agreed! :D