Actions

Work Header

Beautiful Stranger

Chapter Text

She did not believe in karma.

Or past lives.  Or any sort of cosmic atonement for the sins of the past.

Choices were made.  And punishments simply the effects of said choices.  With the world polluted with bodies, the universe didn’t give a shit about the individual enough to punish for past actions.

Except.

Here she was.  Sitting in a chair, Jaime on her lap.  This Laura next to her, a bloody tissue to her nose.  Listening as Beth droned on about the incident

How Jaime had been sitting, playing quietly, and some brat named Benjamin had tried to take his blanket.  How they had struggled and pulled.  How Miss Hollis had tried to intervene and Jaime’s hand had slipped; smacking her right in the face.

And Carmilla thinks.

She really must have done something fucked, to be placed here and now.  

Because she didn’t believe in karma.

Or past lives. 

But what kind of other, ridiculous excuse could there possibly be?  The cards she kept getting dealt only seeming to get shittier.

She never had been good at poker.

Out of the corner of her eye she sees Laura’s leg starting to bounce.  Uncontrolled.  And before she can help it a flash of the leg, shaking, wrapped around her shoulders flashes before her; the memory hot and warm.

Jaime shifts in her lap and the memory disappears.  

God, she really was pathetic.

But she thinks, or hopes really, because God forbid she be the only one sitting in her own embarrassment, that Laura—the word is weirdly unfamiliar and doesn’t seem appropriate—must be feeling some sort of semblance of the same.

Because her back seems to be even more rigid than before.  And she’s staring straight ahead.  Very pointedly not looking anywhere else but at Beth.

And her leg is threatening to drill a hole into the ground.

“I didn’t mean to hit Miss Laura,” Jaime is suddenly saying, a defiance in his voice that is new and blossoming and something Carmilla is really not at all prepared for.

Laura turns then, her eyes softening as she looks at Jaime, and she leans forward; resting her hand on his shoulder.  

Carmilla tries to pretend like she can’t feel the memory of her hands ghosting across her hip.

Inappropriate.  

The word comes to mind.  

“I know you didn’t sweetheart,” she’s saying, “It was an accident.”

Across the desk Beth lets out a long breath.  “Laura, do you mind taking Jaime into the hall while Miss Karnstein and I talk?”

Laura looks to her then, brief and fleeting, gaining some sort of permission to take her child, and the second she nods her consent, she’s looking away.  Taking Jaime’s hand and guiding him away with the idea of grabbing the drawing he had made that day to show his mom.  

Her voice had cracked on the last word.  Heavy with what could only be described as guilt.

“Carmilla,” Beth starts once they are out of ear shot.

“You want to tell me why I was called in here when my son was clearly the victim of a bully?”

“I assure you we’ve spoken to Benjamin and his parents about his behavior.”

“But?”

“I think we need to discuss Jaime’s attachment to his blanket.”

“I’d punch a teacher too if some kid was trying to take my toy without permission.”

She feels a small sense of satisfaction when Beth can’t help but smile.  

“He’s going to start Kindergarten in the fall.  They aren’t going to let him carry it with him wherever he goes.”

“It’s his favorite toy.”

“It’s a security blanket.”

“How long have you been waiting to make that joke?”

Beth sighs. 
Carmilla, I really—-.”

“No, no,” Carmilla shakes her hand, effectively cutting her off and exhaling.  She drags a hand through her hair.  And can’t help the sense of dread building in the pit of her stomach.  “I’m sorry, I know.  He…has an unhealthy attachment to it.”

“It’s not that it’s unhealthy—-.”  She wondered if Beth believed her own lie.  “But I would suggest that perhaps you take him to speak to someone.”

“What?”

“Professionals can be very helpful.”

“He’s five.”

“Children absorb a lot more than we realize or give credit.  And the effects of our choices can often go missed.”

Carmilla feels the heat settle in.  Swift and quick, a sharp retort biting at her tongue.  It wasn’t my choice.  I’m not the one who made him this way.  Who left the gaping hole.  

But she catches them and chokes them down.  Because it’s not about her. 

Not now.

“You got anyone you recommend or you just going to make me find someone on my own?”

Beth smiles and writes a number on a post it.  Passes it over.

“Is that all?”

“Have a good night,” Beth says with a nod.

Carmilla nods.  Gathers her things.  Turns on her heel, trying to ignore how unsteady her legs feel.

The post-it burning a hole in her pocket.

 ///

Her first thought upon entering the hallway is that she should immediately turn around.

Jaime is standing in the middle of the hall, rambling away as Laura—was she even allowed to call her that?  Introductions barely made, horribly, inappropriately late—bends before him; cradling his face as she wipes away the remnants of tears and snot; her face already cleaned.

His arms are flailing slightly as he talks, pointing at a picture in his hand.

There’s something blindingly striking at the moment.

In a horribly surreal way.

Unbelievable.

Laughable.

Horrifying.

Two years since any other human being in the world had seen her naked.  And now she was standing in a hallway, tending to her son.

“What have you got there?”  Carmilla asks, stopping a few feet away.  Somehow unable to bring herself to move any closer.

She thinks she can’t be imagining it when Laura’s jaw clenches.

“Momma!” Jaime is rushing over again.  “It’s a picture of Aunt Perry and LaF!”

She bends down to his level and she can’t help but smile as he immediately begins to tell her about the picture.  An odd combination of stick figures and shapes.  

How he wanted to draw it for Aunt Perry as a thank you for the extra brownie she gave him the other night.

She can’t help but smile when his eyes widen.  “I wasn’t supposed to tell you that.”

Carmilla hears Laura almost choke on a laugh.

“I’m promise I won’t tell,” Carmilla says, mock zipping her lips.  “Though I am disappointed no brownies were saved for me.”

“You weren’t at the sleepover!”  Jaime says, exasperated.

And Carmilla can’t help it.  She looks to Laura.

Watches as she swallows the laugh and her eyes go wide.

Carmilla turns back to Jaime and launches forward, grabbing him and pulling him into a bear hug; blowing a raspberry into the crook of his neck.

He was always the best and easiest distraction.

He shrieks and she smiles.

“Why don’t you go get your backpack and we’ll go home, hm?  Maybe see if Aunt Perry and LaF want to come over for dinner and you can give them your picture?”

Jaime’s running off towards his cubby before he can even manage to say yes.

Carmilla watches him for a beat and she knows she’s smiling.  Full and somehow bright.

Once upon a time pathetic, maybe, she would have thought.

But for now it’s the only thing that wasn’t.

Laura coughs and Carmilla stands.

“Hey.”

Laura nods.  “Hey.”  And Carmilla gets the feeling that Laura’s distinctly looking anywhere else but her.

“So this is…”

“Please don’t,” Laura clips.  An edge to her words that is foreign and not at all familiar.

Not that she’s familiar.

Known.  Maybe.  Biblically speaking.  

But not familiar.

Her eyes drift to her neck and, though her shirt is once again high and buttoned, Carmilla is certain she can see the faint remnants of the hickey she knows she left there.

“Don't what?”

Laura looks like she’s doing her best to keep from rolling her eyes.  “Whatever it is you were about do.”

“I wasn’t going to do anything.”

Fine.”  There’s venom in the way it rolls off her tongue that stings with embarrassment.  “Then whatever it is you were going to say.  Don’t.”

“I just thought—.”

“What exactly?”

Carmilla doesn’t really know what to do.  Or say, since the word seems to be imperative.  She’s loathe to admit that she feels thrown.  Completely off kilter.  

Embarrassing.

A thank you and a goodbye.

And yet here they were.

Perhaps if introductions had been made, the whole mess could have been avoided.

And the sheer animosity that Laura seems to be leveling her way does nothing to help the situation.

Though what exactly that situation was…

Who the fuck knew.

“Fine,” Carmilla snaps, a reflex really.  Can't help it.  Not that she wants to, because Laura—this Woman—is staring at her like she’s personally offended her.  

And Carmilla is pretty sure not two nights ago she did exactly the opposite of that.

Thank you’s had been involved.  Of the multiple variety.  Not whatever this was.

“Fine.”

Carmilla glares.

One night stand.

Jaime’s teacher or not.

She glares.

Jaime returns, his backpack bouncing, and Laura’s smile returns.  

She can see now how it doesn’t quite reach her eyes.  Her lips pulled tight and hard.

“Ready to go, Kid?”

Jaime nods  “Bye Miss Laura,” he says, and then she steps forward.  His head bowing.  “I’m sorry I hit you.”

Laura’s body immediately softens and she bends, adjusting Jaime’s backpack straps.  “It’s okay, sweetheart.  I’m just fine, see?  Don’t you worry about it, okay?”

Jaime nods.  

“Promise?”  She holds out her pinky and Jaime links his to hers with a smile.

Laura’s smile is toothy then.  Bright and full and Carmilla gets a brief sense of how it had looked beneath the colorful lights of the dance floor.

But then she’s standing.  And turning.  Her eyes hardening.  Swallowing some sort of something stuck in her throat.  Carmilla watches as Laura gives her a curt nod, her eyes landing just beyond her shoulder.

She turns on her heel.

Leaving Carmilla with the distinct feeling that she has no idea how the fuck she’s supposed to feel.

“Momma?”  Jaime asks catching her hand and letting her guide him from the building, his blanket clutched in his free hand. 

“Yeah, Kid?” 

“Can we have pizza for dinner?”

“I think that’s something we might be able to do.”

“With olives?”

LaFontaine hated olives.

“How about extra?”

 

///

 

LaF won’t stop laughing.

The pun is on the tip of her tongue.  

And she’d say it.

She would.

If she didn’t feel so mortified.

Somehow recounting the situation made the horribly exposed feeling that had settle into the pit of her core stronger.

The absolute glee that had spread across LaFontaine’s face did nothing to help the matter.

“Shut up.”

It only fuels their laughter.

Carmilla sighs.

Perry tutts.  “LaFontaine, really, it’s unbecoming.”

“I’m sorry,” they finally start.  Wiping at the corner of their eye.

Carmilla scowls.

“It’s just…”  They pause, looking to Jaime.  Situated before the television, completely taken by The Lion King.  “His teacher?”

“Teacher’s assistant.”

“Potato tomato.”

“This is exactly why the fuck I didn’t want to go out in the first place.”

“Because you knew you’d be sleeping with Jaime’s teacher?”

“I’m sorry, Carmilla,” Perry is chirping in, leaning back in her chair and resting her arm across the back of LaF’s.  “But that logic is horribly flawed.”

“You two have been together too long.”

LaFontaine smiles in a domestically proud way and it makes Carmilla’s stomach turn for a brief second of longing.

Or nostalgia.

The two went hand in hand most days.

“What are you going to do?”

“Finally pull Jaime from that pretentious hellhole and place him in a lower public institution?”

“You’re mother would have a field day.”

“The icing on the cake, then.”

“You’re going to ask her out, right?”

Carmilla laughs.  Loud and hard.  And she’s aware that half of it is forced and fake.  “You can’t be serious.”

“Why not?”

“It was a one night thing.”

“Yeah and here she is.  This mystery woman you’d never thought you see again.  Now suddenly in your life.  Someone who has been in your life this whole time.  That’s fate, right there.”

“I thought scientists didn’t believe in fate.”

LaF sighs, long and exasperated.  “The point of science is to poke and prod at the unknown, trying to explain it.  But sometimes stuff just can’t be explained.  My ego is contained enough to know that.”

“It is a rather sweet coincidence,” Perry pipes.

Sweet is hardly the word she’d use.

“I’m not going to ask her out,” Carmilla says, crossing her arms.  She has the feeling she looks like a child.  “Besides, she was a complete bitch about it.”

Carmilla!”  Perry’s whisper is harsh.

“What?  She was.”

Perry nods towards Jaime.  

Carmilla turns just in time to see Pumba belt out “When I was a young warthog!”

“He can’t hear me.”

“You really need to break the habit.”

“Fine.  She was a complete you-know-what about it.”

“Maybe she was embarrassed.”

Carmilla snorts.  “I at least tried to start a conversation.  She looked like she wanted to eat me.”

LaF chokes on a their beer.  “Is that so?”

Carmilla rolls her eyes.  

“Shut.  Up.”

 

///

 

Her favorite thing about being a parent was bedtime.

It wasn’t the alone time.  The chance to breathe for the day.  Though that was often embraced with open arms.

But the simple quiet.  

The lull.

The breath.

Right before his eyes closed.  

Half lidded and full.  

Fighting to stay awake even as they welcomed sleep.

An open honesty.  

No matter how good or bad the day had been.  It always ended the same.  

Simple and sweet.

“Momma?” Jaime asks, as she slips Where the Sidewalk Ends back onto the bookshelf.

“Hm?”

“I honest didn’t mean to hit Ms. Laura, I promise.”
There’s something heartbreaking in the way he says it.  Full of uncertainty and fear.  And Carmilla wonders if it had been present before.  And she had been so jilted by her own misgivings she hadn’t noticed at all.

“I know, Bub,” she says, using the nickname only reserved for the quiet and night.

He smiles then.  Pleased and snuggles into his blanket.  

Carmilla sighs.

“Hey, Bub?”

“Yeah?”

“What do you say we leave your blanket at home with me tomorrow?”  She can see his entire body stiffen at the mention.  Panic he doesn’t even understand settling in.  “That way no one can try to take it.”

“But I like my blanket.”

Carmilla keeps her sigh quiet, letting her shoulders fall.  And she can’t help but think of the night he had gotten it.  Elle placing it in his crib, a small smile playing at her lips as she had stroked his hair, the night before she’d left.

Something to cling to even as she disappeared.

Manipulative had been the word she’d described to LaFontaine.

“I know you do.  But it might be safer to leave with me.”

“I don’t want to leave it.”  She can hear the fight entering his words. Pulling him closer to the world and away from sleep.

“Okay,” she says, for now.  “We’ll see, okay?”

Jaime nods.  And settles back in.  And she begins to the weigh the options of forcing him to leave it and the tantrum sure to follow or the potential damage she’d surely be perpetuating by letting him take it.

She bends forward and places a kiss on his forehead.  “Sleep tight.”

“Love you, Momma.”

“Love you too, Bub.”

The soft glow of the nightlight leads her out as she closes the door softly behind her.

 

///

 

It’s dark by the time she pulls into the parking lot.

Her back is sore and her brain nearly none functioning.

She’d spent the morning listening to her Department Head droll on about email policies and department changes, sipping burned coffee.  Had two lectures.  Forgotten her lunch at home.  Her office hours had been spent listening to three students try to explain why they deserved better marks on their midterms.  Then spent the majority of her evening lecture arguing with some dude-bro-frat-boy who thought he knew everything after reading a book about Nietzsche in high school.  

She’d gotten to her car, tired and exhausted, only to find the battery dead.

And no one else around.

While she waited for AAA to show, she’d called Jaime’s daycare and told them she would be late to pick him up.

And pretended not to feel the failure settle onto her shoulders as she did.

Carmilla stretched as she stepped out of the car.  The lights of the building were dimmed, an eerie quiet echoing from it.  Strange and unusual for a place usually occupied by children.

She half expected to see Jaime sitting at a table, coloring, no doubt talking off some teacher’s ear. 

Of course, though..

He was curled onto he floor, fast asleep using Laura’s leg as a pillow as she read.

Carmilla sighs.

Of course.

Karma.  She thinks.  Of the variety she doesn’t believe.  

For complaining about the coffee earlier.

She clears her throat to make her presence known.

The quiet peace in the room seems to shift as Laura turns to her, eyes registering recognition for a brief second before hardening.

“Sorry to keep you waiting,” Carmilla says as Laura stands, carefully resting Jaime’s head to the floor.

She sees Laura nod and shrug as they switch and she bends to lift Jaime into her arms.

He barely budges.

“You make them run marathons today or…?”

“He had a bit of a rough day,” is Laura’s response, her words clipped.  “Benjamin tried to take his blanket again.”

Carmilla sighs.  “Beth told me that was being dealt with.”

“We’re doing the best we can.”

“I’m sure you are.”

She must sound as unimpressed as she thinks because Laura turns to her with narrowed eyes.  “What is that supposed to mean?”

“It means my son is dealing with a bully and little is being done to remedy that.”

“Plenty is being to remedy Benjamin’s behavior.  But since you are neither his guardian nor parent I can’t discuss it with you.”

“You can if it concerns my son.”

“I’m sorry Mrs. Karnstein, but I can’t.”

“Then I suggest you find someone who can, Ms. Hollis.”

Laura snorts and sort of throws her arms around, like she’s looking for someone.  “Then I suggest you come back tomorrow and speak to Beth yourself.”

And Carmilla knows exactly why she says it.  Because her back in throbbing and her feet are sore.  Her headache started around noon and had only increased since.  

And the coffee really had been shitty.

And this woman was doing nothing to help in any way, shape, or form.

So she knows exactly why she says it, but:

“Are you this pleasant with all of the kids’ parents or only the ones who’ve slept with?”

Tact never was her specialty.  

And it seemed motherhood had yet to give her any.

Laura’s hard eyes narrow in to an all out glare and Carmilla takes small pride in seeing a faint blush line her cheeks.  She pulls at her shirt, not a button up Carmilla notes.  

It looks strange.  

“I’m being very pleasant.”  She doesn’t sound convinced.

Carmilla snorts.

Laura scowls.

“Try it again and maybe we’ll both believe it.”

“You know, I don’t appreciate the way you’re acting.”

“Well I don’t appreciate you letting your embarrassment interfere with making sure my son isn’t being bullied.”

She must have said the wrong thing.

And maybe, she knows she did.

But if Jaime was being put in harms way because of a drunken mistake she made a few nights ago.

Laura’s nostrils flare.

“I simply don’t like being lied to,” she says, turning her nose up and the muscle in her neck clenches.  Her arms cross and she stares at Carmilla like she’s daring her to a challenge.

Carmilla wonders if she thinks she’s threatening.

“What are you talking about?”

A fire flashes in Laura’s eyes.  “You told me you weren’t married,” she seethes through a whisper as if someone can over hear.

“I’m not.”
Laura snorts.  “Sorry but you don’t exactly strike me as the single mother type.”

And Carmilla thinks it’s funny.

How animalistic people can be.  How quickly the instinct can take hold.  How one minute you can feel like a normal human being.

How the next you can feel like you want to strangle the woman standing across from you.

Carmilla tightens her hold on Jaime, bringing him close.  Letting his sleeping breath tickle her shoulder.

Reminding her that he’s very real and there.  Even as a hot, raging anger suddenly burns through her.

What?”

Laura seems to realize she’s crossed a line.  Because her eyes are suddenly wide and filled what could be described as remorse.  Surprise even.  Though at herself or Carmilla, it’s hard to tell.

Her mouth hangs open slightly.

“You know what, no,” Carmilla says, taking a slow step forward.  

Laura has the decency to tumble back.

“Just because we spent a drunken night fucking doesn’t mean you know anything about my life.”

Laura’s mouth is silently babbling.  Like she’s trying to find words to speak and can’t.

And Carmilla feels a small sense of satisfaction when she actually looks terrified.

“The next time you want to get your prissy little self into a twist, be sure to leave me and my son out of it.”

Carmilla turns and leaves, trying to walk as steady as she can so as not to wake Jaime.  Some strange sort of anger and embarrassment and frustration flushing through her.

She thinks she maybe hears Laura let out a shaky breath just before the night air greets her.

She was going to kill LaF for ever suggesting she go out to begin with.

 

///

 

When Carmilla begrudgingly recounts the encounter to LaF, they don’t stop laughing for ten minutes.

 

///

 

It’s a week later when her doorbell rings.

She had been corralled five minutes prior by Jaime, a pair of underwear upside down on his head, his blanket tied around his neck, proclaiming that he was a superhero and she was his dragon.

It hadn’t been difficult for him to convince her he needed a piggyback ride.

“Faster, Momma!” Jaime had shrieked into her ear as they zoomed around the house.

She regretted not putting shoes on, her socks sliding on the hardwood floors.  She hoped she didn’t collide with anything and send them both to the hospital. 

Really, Carmilla, She could already hear Perry’s voice, I told you you shouldn’t have ripped up the carpet.

“Momma?  I thought I was a dragon,” Carmilla had yelled as they rounded the corner into the front hallway.

“You are,” He has replied with exasperation like only a child could manage.  “But you’re also Momma.”

And then the doorbell had rung.

“LaF and Aunt Perry!”

“Shall we greet them Mr. Underwearman?”

“It’s Superhero Boy!”

“I dunno, you look like an Underwearman to me.”

She opens the door.  Ready to greet LaF and Perry and the lasagna the latter had promised for their weekly dinner.  But instead…

Carmilla nearly drops Jaime.

“Miss Laura?”

Laura looks as about bewildered as Carmilla feels.  An odd mix of certainty and nerves, her hands working together.  Her foot tapping.  And then she takes in the sight of them, Jaime perched on her back, underwear and blanket galore, and it seems she can’t help but smile.

“Uh…hi.”

Carmilla eases Jaime down and he steps around her.

“What are you doing here?”

“Well, I was hoping I could talk to your mom.”

They both look to her.  And she thinks Laura looks a little guilty.  Perhaps for cornering her in the one place she knew she couldn’t escape.

For whatever the reason.

“Jaime why don’t you go clean up your toys before LaF and Perry arrive, hm?”

Jaime nods, “Bye, Miss Laura!”  His makeshift cape trails after him as he turns the corner.

Carmilla crosses her arms.  “So you stalk all of your students too?  Or just the ones whose parents you’ve slept with?”

Laura blushes.  “Only the ones whose parents I want to apologize to.”

Carmilla feels her brow rise to her hairline.  

“I was—I over stepped and made assumptions—and then Jaime mentioned—.”

“Were you pumping my son for information about me?”

“What?  No.  No!  God,” Laura’s hand goes to her hair, running through it in frustration.  “His drawing the other day.  The picture of him and you and the dog?”

Carmilla remembers it.  His hints at wanting a puppy becoming more frequent and obvious.

“And yeah okay, so maybe I may have asked him if he was going to draw his dad too, and he said he didn’t have one.  So I thought, maybe another mom, which in hindsight I probably should have started with, all things considered,” she rambles, her arms moving about in a familiar way as she talks.  But her eyes trained to the ground.   

And Carmilla can’t help but think there’s something striking in the way Laura is right now.  So different from the stranger she’d met at the bar.  So different from the teacher’s aide.

No seduction.  No anger.

A simple woman.

Who apparently wore the same loafers everywhere.

“But then he said he only had one mom now.  I don’t really know what that means, kids are cryptic, you know?  Of course you know, you have one.”

Carmilla leans into the doorframe.  Crossing her arms.  “Is there a point to all of this?”

“The point is I was embarrassed.”  Laura finally looks back to her.  A small smile playing at her lip.  “And surprised.  And maybe still a little bit peeved that you left in the morning without leaving your number.”

Carmilla does a double take.

She watches as heat spreads across Laura’s cheeks.  But her smile grows.  And she gives a shrug.  As if Carmilla had asked a question.

She thinks she’d like to ask one.  A million suddenly buzzing at the tip of her tongue.  Because there’s no way she had heard that right.

It was a one and done.

A thank you and goodbye.

Not this mess.

Not anything more.

And yet.

Laura.

She does have a name.

Laura had thought that perhaps…

But no, you didn’t meet anyone worth dating in bars. 

No one ever did.

The conversation is interrupted as LaFontaine and Perry pull into the driveway.

No conversation, though, Carmilla thinks, because she’s certain she hasn’t spoken in five minutes.

Desperate.  Pathetic.  A lightweight.  An open book.

And apparently socially inept.  

Motherhood was a wonderful thing.

”Who’s this?” LaF asks as they walk up.  Smiling in a way that’s unbecoming.  “Got a new friend you didn’t tell us about?”

“Laura Hollis.”  Laura holds out her hand.  “I’m one of Jaime’s teachers.”  

“You don’t say.”  LaF’s grin gets Cheshire like and Carmilla has to resist the urge to slap them.  “Carmilla, you didn’t tell us you were inviting anyone else to dinner.”
“Oh she didn’t, I was just…interrupting it would seem.”

“No interruption at all.  Why don’t you join us?  What do you say, Carmilla?”

Laura’s eyes go wide and she looks to Carmilla like she needs help.  “Oh no, I couldn’t, that wouldn’t be—.”

“LaF I swear…” Carmilla groans.

Perry rolls her eyes, grabbing LaF by the arm.  “LaFontaine, why don’t you help me get the lasagna in the oven?”

“But—.”

Now.”

Carmilla and Laura watch as she drags an exasperated LaFontaine away.

“I should go.”

“Yeah, probably.”

Laura nods and she’s already stepping away.  “I am sorry.  For what I said the other day.  And, you know, the stalking.”

“Thanks.”

“See yah around.”

“Yeah, see yah.”

Carmilla watches as she walks to a small red car and drives away.

And she wonders if Laura Hollis makes everyone feel as unsteady as she does. 

 

///

 

“You disgust me,” LaF says as she enters the family room, alone.

She flips them off.

And Jaime makes her put a dollar in the swear jar.

 

///

 

Jaime had passed out on the couch.

After dinner he had somehow convinced the three of them to a game of tag in the backyard.  Though, Camilla knows, the somehow is easy.  His charm was hard to deny.

She supposed she had herself to thank for that.

His breathing is even.  Drool pooling on the cushion.  His arm hanging off the side of the couch, gripping his blanket.

She sits on the floor, resting her back against the couch and lets her hand trace over the fabric of the blanket.

He said he only had one mom now.

The words had played in Carmilla’s mind all through dinner.  

It had been a passing statement.  A jumble mixed in with the rest of Laura’s babble.

Surely as flippant as Jaime had said it.

A fact and nothing more.

Carmilla thinks there must be something inherently sad about it.

She often wondered if Jaime remembered Elle.  He had been so young when she left.  Barely old enough to start stringing words together.

And surely he did.  His attachment to the blanket was proof of that.  She had had to explain for nights on end that Mommy wouldn’t be coming back.  

And yet, somehow, in the past few years she had become the only one he knew.

Somehow she was it.  

The one and the only.  

Not that it was new information.

No.

But hearing it echoed back to her in the form of words he had relayed?  The information explained to a stranger through his experience?

Carmilla feels a lump form in her throat. A heavy pit settling in her.

Children realize and absorb a lot more than we realize or give credit.

She wonders how much else he noticed.  How much else he understood.

She wonders if he knew what her shaking hands meant.  If he understood that most nights she was up grading papers because sleep just didn’t seem an option.  That most days he was the only thing that kept her from drowning.

A horrible amount of pressure for any five-year-old.

She wonders if it’s suffocating.  Because if not now, then it surely will be.  

Carmilla lets her hand fall from the blanket.  

I only have one mom now.

She wonders if he wished for that to change.  Because he must know other kids’ parents came in twos.  Surely he had to understand what that meant.

She wonders if he’ll begin to ask.  Or if the dog is a much more pressing matter.

Jaime shifts on the couch.  Mumbling something quiet and incoherent in his sleep.  His fingers tighten on the blanket and pull it up to his chest.  

And Carmilla wonders just how long she and his blanket will be enough.

 

///

 

When Carmilla drops Jaime off the next Friday night, LaF doesn’t say anything.

They simply smile.  Wide and knowing.

And for that, at least, Carmilla is grateful.

 

///

 

She spots her at the bar.

A part of her is surprised.  She had only come to check.  Because doing it anywhere else seemed like an awful idea at the moment.  Unsafe and bare and exposed.  

But the bar was easy.

The bar was neutral.

The bar meant countless of other opportunities that surely were being taken upon.

So really, maybe, it was a stupid idea.

But she seemed to be chalk full of those lately.

So what was one more?

And she is there.  In the same seat she had been in before.  Wearing a dress that Carmilla is glad she wasn’t wearing the last time.  

She would have suggested the hotel an embarrassingly earlier amount of time than she had.

But her head is bowed this time.  And she’s twirling her drink in her hand like it’s the most interesting thing in the world.  As if she’d really rather be anywhere else.  Ignoring the eye-fucking look the brunette down the bar is sending her way. 

Carmilla slips into the seat next to her, effectively cutting off said eye-fucking.

“You know, if you’re here to meet someone, you’ll have better luck if you look around and not at your drink.”

Laura’s head whips towards her so fast, Carmilla’s surprised she doesn’t give herself whiplash.  

Her eyes go wide and she looks like she’d like to ask what Carmilla is doing here.

And she’s glad she doesn’t.  

She doesn’t think the not really sure would suffice.

But then she’s smiling, in a knowing sort of way.  

“Who says I’m here to meet someone?”

“With a dress like that and shoes to match? 
You’d be throwing away a perfect opportunity.”

Laura laughs.  Loud and full, even as a faint blush paints her cheeks.  “Buy you a drink?”

Carmilla nods before she can think or guess.

“Same as before?”

“Same as before.”

And Carmilla watches as Laura waves down the bartender.