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Beautiful Stranger

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It’s the stupidest idea.

Exceedingly.  Exponentially.  The stupidest fucking thing she’s ever done.  And she hasn’t even done it yet.

Which makes her, quite possibly, the most pathetic person on the planet.  It’s avoidable.  All she has to do is turn away.  Preventable.  And if she were a better woman, she would do just that.  But she’s not.

Pathetic.

And desperate, apparently. 

But really, she thinks, they are often one in the same.

The door opens before she can think to do anything else and Jaime is pushing from her leg and barreling inside with a shriek of “LAF!”

LaFontaine lets out a barely suppressed “oof” as Jaime connects with their legs.  “Hey Kid,” they say, patting him on the back.  “You know, I think if you go to the kitchen you’ll find Aunt Perry making mac and cheese.”

“Mac and cheese!”  And then he’s off, stumbling down the hall, tripping over the blanket that’s constantly in hand.

Carmilla huffs.  “Bye, Kid, love you too!”  She calls after him and LaFontaine laughs.

“What are you doing?” they ask, as she steps past them into the house.

“Going to sit on your couch.”

“The direction of the bar is definitely in your car and across town.  Not my couch.”

“I got all night, right?” Carmilla asks, flopping onto said couch and taking up as much room as possible.  She puts her feet on the coffee table and LaFontaine kicks them away.

“You scuff that and Perr is going to have my head.”

“Poor, poor LaF.”

Carmilla watches as LaFontaine sits across from her, watching.  There’s something in the way they are looking at her.  Like they know she’s stalling.  And really, she’s not going to pretend like she isn’t.

Desperately pathetic.

Stupidest fucking idea.

“You look hot.”

“Fuck off.”

LaFontaine smirks.  Leans back into their chair.  “We going to pretend like you aren’t stalling?  Or?”

And she can’t help it.  She sighs.  “I was never one for denial.”

There’s a crash of pots and pans from the kitchen followed by a squeal of delight from Jaime.  She can hear Perry sigh.  And even though she’s a room away, she knows she’s smiling.

The Kid tends to have that effect on people.

“He had a rough day,” she says.  

“If anyone can handle it, Perr and I can.”

Carmilla sighs again and let’s her head drop back onto the couch.  

The stucco stares back.  Rough.  Punctured.  Familiar.  Shapes form in her memory.  And the feeling of a sleepless six months washes over her.  Months spent without a home.  Jaime in a crib beside her.

And Perry’s warm oatmeal for breakfast every morning.

If anyone could handle Jamie’s attachment anxieties.  It would be them.

Of course.

She knew.  

But a mother’s worry never ended.

And God when did she start sounding like her mother?

“Just go.  Have a drink or two.  Have fun.  Dance.  Meet a girl.  Make bad choices.”

“Being a parent means you’re not allowed to make bad choices.”

“Pretty sure being a parent means making every bad choice but hoping the kid comes out alright anyway.”

“When you and Perry decide to have a baby, let me know so I can petition.”

“Your stall tactics are becoming pathetic.”

Carmilla grunts.  And the next thing she knows, LaFontaine is standing and pulling her up.  Pushing her towards the door.

It opens and she’s shoved onto the porch.

“Think about the last time you went out and had some fun.”

“I never have fun.”

LaFontaine rolls their eyes and she knows they’re both remembering it.  

That night in the bar.  A last night of fun. The glimmer of blonde and blue smiling at her over a glass.  A welcoming tilt of the head.  A whispered hello above the music.  An inviting smile.  Dancing.  And sex.  Five years.  A sweet baby boy.  

Abandonment.

“You need to blow off some steam.  Of the sexual variety.  Let’s not pretend it hasn’t been a life time,” LaFontaine is talking again.  And Carmilla grunts. 

Technically, she thinks, about half a life time, if you measured by her son.

“Do something nice for yourself and have fun.  We’ve got Jaime.”

“I’ll be back to get him at ten.”

She watches as LaFontaine rolls their eyes.  And she can see frustration settle on their brow.  She scowls.  And really, they may be her best friend, but she’d like to smack it right off their face.  

“No.  You are not coming back at ten.  You are going out.  And doing whatever it is you are going to do.  And you can retrieve Jaime in them morning and tell us all the juicy details over brunch.  The only thing you need to worry about tonight is making sure you’re stocked up on dental dams.”

“Remind me again why we’re friends?”  Carmilla asks.  And though her heart is racing and she feels ridiculous.  And for some reason she wants to vomit.  Which, pathetic, only makes her want to vomit more.  

Though…

She smiles.

Smirks really.  Can’t help it.  

But if anyone understands the sentiment, it’s LaFontaine.

“Unfortunate circumstance.  Now would you please stop sulking on my door step?”

“If you need anything…”

“We will call.”

“No science.”

“That was one time.”

“Yeah and I had to spend four days cleaning goop off my son’s bedroom ceiling.”

“At least it was all natural.”

No.  Science.”

The door slams in her face.

 

///

 

The bar is hot.

Carmilla stares into her whiskey.  Barely touched.  Condensation slowly dripping down the side of the glass.

It’s like it all was the last time she was here.  Same stains on the wall.  Same bartender running the joint.  Same piece of shit jukebox in the corner.  Same shitty dance floor.

Seven years.

And nothing had changed.

She wasn’t quite sure if it was comforting or not.  But at least it was something.

Definitely not, she thinks.  As the feeling of nostalgia takes over.  

And it does nothing to ease her discomfort.

And it’s funny, she thinks.  

Because once upon a time this was the only place she’d been comfortable.

It had been LaFontaine’s idea to begin with.  A week ago when she’d gotten the call.  So next weekend I’m going to kidnap your kid and you’re going out.  They had said.

Pretty sure it’s not kidnapping if you tell me it’s going to happen.

Whatever, you’re doing it.

And just why, pray tell, do you think that’s actually something that is going to happen?

Because it’s been two years since you went out.

Technically, I think it’s been longer.

You know what I mean.  

No, I don’t think I do, she had said.  The bite already edging her words.

Elle left, Carmilla.

LaFontaine, I swear—.

No.  She left.  Okay.  It’s shitty and fucked up.  But you need to start moving on.

And pick up a random girl in a bar is going to solve that?

Gotta start somewhere, yeah?

She hadn’t said anything then.  And a static had filled the air between them.  She’d had half the mind to hang up.  But then LaFontaine had sighed.

Perry and I—-we’re worried.  

You don’t need to be.

You’re not happy.

I’m perfectly happy.

You’re existing.

She told them to fuck off.  To which the reply had been, I”m not going to stop badgering you until you do it.

They’d been good on your promise.

And, apparently, motherhood had given her a weak constitution

She’d wanted to go to another bar, should she have the choice.  But it seemed she didn’t have much choice these days.  And there was only one gay bar in the city.  And only one ladies night a week.  

So here she was.

Sitting on the stool that had once been her favorite.  With the same drink.  In the same place.

At least, she thinks, there’s no blonde debutante this time.  Watching from across the room.  Waiting to catch her eye.  Waiting to offer a flirtatious smile and a wink of the eye.

Waiting to suck her in.

Waiting to break her.

Carmilla sighs and throws back her drink.

Perry had told her she’d become bitter.  

Perhaps there was some truth to it.

Her phone buzzes on the counter and a text flashes across the screen with LaFontaine’s name.

Making out yet?

Your expectations for this night are exceedingly high.

And yours are low.

Shouldn’t you be watching The Kid?

I’m getting baking soda.

No.  Science.

Relax, it’s for brownies.

So your’e going to give him a sugar high?

Perr has everything under control.

Can I go now?

Please do.

Carmilla scowls and has half the mind to respond with ‘You’re the one who started this conversation.’  

But her glass is finally empty and she thinks a refill is a much better idea.

She waves for another.

Two hours, she thinks.

She’ll give herself two hours and then go home.  She’ll kidnap Jaime back and go home and sleep in her bed.  And in the middle of the night he’d have a nightmare and crawl in with her.  And in the morning Carmilla will tell LaF to fuck off once again, because if they think she needs anything more than that then they’ve been missing out the point of the last few years.

“Excuse me?” A quiet voice asks from her left.  

She turns to see a woman sliding into the seat next to her.  A button down shirt clasped tight up to her neck.  Skinny jeans rolled because, surely, they’re too long.  Loafers finish the ensemble.

“Can I help you?” 

And perhaps, maybe she should sound more inviting and open.  That is the point of the night after all.  But she’s here against her will, she reasons, so really she doesn’t need to do anything.

“I was wondering what you’re drinking.” The Woman replies, resting her elbow on the bar and turning her body towards Carmilla.

“Whiskey on the rocks,” she replies and, as if being summoned, her new glass slides before her.

“I’ll have the same,” the Woman says to the bartender.

And Carmilla can’t help it.  She snorts.

“Something funny?”

“Just don’t strike me as a whiskey girl.”

“And what kind of girl do I strike you as?”

“Virgin gin and juice.”

“Wouldn’t that just be juice?”

Carmilla clinks her glass against the one that slides before the woman and takes a generous drink.

She lets the conversation end and hits the home button on her phone.  Maybe some “2048” would make the night more passable.

“You know, if you’re trying to meet someone, it would be helpful to look around the bar instead of sulking at your phone.”

Carmilla turns and has half the mind to be insulted.  But the Woman is smiling at her, sweet and teasing.  As if they aren’t strangers.  Inviting.

Dangerous, no doubt.

“Who says I’m here to meet someone?”

The Woman laughs, takes a long sip of her whiskey and barely blinks as it goes down.  “Leather pants and eyeliner to die for?  If you’re not here to meet someone, you’re wasting a perfectly good opportunity.”

There’s something in the way she says it.  The way her eyes take in Carmilla’s appearance.  It’s heat inducing, in a way that almost doesn’t feel natural anymore.  “If my dress suggests such a thing, then what does your’s suggest?”

“An unpleasantly busy day with hardly enough time to go home and change.”

“Not like this place has an early closing time.  You really couldn’t spare a minute to change?”

“And get here after eleven?  No thank you.”

“What happens after eleven?”

The Woman smiles, takes another slow long drink.  “All the good ones are gone.”  Her eyes sparkle and her smile becomes a little too big.

And Carmilla can’t help it.

She laughs.  And clinks their glasses together again.

“So,” the Woman continues on, and Carmilla watches as she gets comfortable out of the corner of her eye.  “What’s your story?”

“My story?”

“Yeah, what brings you to a seedy bar on a Friday night?  Besides, you know, the outdated decor and stains on the ceilings?”

“My story.”

“Exactly.”

A sad and pathetic one, she thinks.  Hardly worth sharing.  Hardly appealing.  

Hardly worth time.

Hardly any stranger’s business.  

“I don’t have a story.”

Her answer seems to catch the Woman off guard because she’s suddenly looking at her like she’s a puzzle.

Quietly.  Carefully.  

It’s unbecoming and unsettling.

And then she seems to make up her mind because she’s raising her glass in a silent toast.  

“I’ll drink to that.”

And then she does just that.

 

///

 

It turns out, she’s the biggest fucking dork on the planet.

The Woman, introductions have been long since forgotten, references pop culture like she’s trying to prove a point.  

She sits like she’s got a rod up up back and everything that comes out of her mouth is said with the conviction and passion of a child.  She motions fast and seems to speak with her whole body.  

There’s something grossly infectious about it.

If not unbecoming.

And it’s somewhere in the middle of an argument about who makes for a better Doctor, Tennant or Smith, that Carmilla realizes they’ve each gone through four whiskeys.  

“You don’t strike me as the Whovian type,” the Woman says, leaning on her arm against the bar.  Closer than is probably necessary.  But it’s become crowded and loud.  

Carmilla shifts.  And maybe it’s just the whiskey, her legs suddenly feel loose and her arms light and she makes a mental note that she’s much more of a lightweight than she used to be.  But she leans in as well.

The Woman smiles like she’s won some sort of game.

“I’ve got nerdy friends,” she says causing the Woman’s nose to wrinkle.  And she leaves out the very important part that said nerdy friends have gotten her five-year-old son hooked and now the show pretty much plays on repeat at the house at any given moment.

“Assuming anyone who watches sci-fi is a nerd is a horrible misconception.”

“Assuming anyone dressed like me can’t be a Whovian is equally so.”

“Touché” Comes the reply just as a loud sort of techno echoes from the speakers and the crowd in the bar shifts.  People moving from tables and chairs to the dance floor.

And Carmilla’s not really sure but somehow the whole place seems to become more crowded.

“I see what you mean about arriving after eleven,” she says.  Her words slurring slightly.  And really, it’s pathetic, since when has she not been able to hold her liquor?  

She’s faintly aware that she’s past her time.  That she’d promised to leave an hour ago.  That this night was pointless, is pointless.  Because now she’s drunk, apparently, and that means she’ll need a cab back to LaF and Perry’s.  And will, no doubt, be crashing on their couch.  

The Woman smiles, smirks really, and it’s unbecoming because it certainly doesn’t match her demeanor or stature.  And then she’s standing and trips slightly and Carmilla is glad they both seemed to be at least a little bit inebriated.  

“Wanna dance?” She says and now that she’s standing, they’re close.  And Carmilla thinks she can smell vanilla and cinnamon above all the sweat and the booze.

Carmilla snorts.  

“What makes you think I’m the dancing type?”

“Absolutely nothing, but we’re both a little drunk.  So…”

“So you think I’m easy.”

The Woman rolls her eyes but she’s smiling and somehow standing closer.  “I think you owe me for forcing me to listen to your tirade about why Tennant is superior when you’re so clearly wrong.”

“You’re the one who brought it up.”

“I didn't realize it would get such a reaction out of you.”

The Woman’s head tilts and she’s smiling in a way like she knows she’s won.  And Carmilla thinks she must have done this before.  Surely, clearly.  Because she knows the smile well.

She wore it once upon a time.  

And once upon a time she wouldn’t hesitate for a dance.

But once upon a time was long ago.

Once upon a time didn’t exist anymore.

And she was supposed to be home.  In bed.  Because the night was pointless and only used for placating.

“You don’t have a story, right?” The Woman is saying and there’s a sort of softness to the way she’s talking now.  Like she’s trying to be supportive.  Like she knows it’s a struggle.

Embarrassing.  Horribly so.  Not only was she pathetic and desperate and a lightweight.

But apparently she was an open book, too.

“So why not dance?”

The Woman’s smile is back to dorky now.  And she’s holding out her hand.  And Carmilla really doesn’t know why she does it—the whiskey she thinks, because there’s no way in soggy hell she’d have done it otherwise—but she takes it.

And let’s herself get pulled to the dance floor.

 

///

 

The dork level seems to intensify once they find their rhythm.

Because the Woman has none.  Just loose arms and legs and a little flailing thing that makes her look like a dying animal.  But it’s cute, even Carmilla can admit that.  

But then somehow, it changes.  And more women flood to the dance floor.  And their bodies are pushed together, not by their own accord, surely.  Because surely she would have stopped it.  No amount of whiskey would allow her that.  

But then her body is turned and the Woman is behind her.  

And suddenly nothing about her is dorky at all.

Because her hips are moving.  Slow and sensual, despite the positively radioactive sound blasting around them.  There’s hands on her hips, light.  Almost as if she’s tentative.  But guiding.  Somehow pulling Carmilla closer.  Until she can feel every curve of the Woman’s body against her back.

And it’s funny, Carmilla thinks.  In the past two years, she rarely thought about sex.  Going to bed one night in love and waking the next morning a single parent tends to shift priorities.  

She was exhausted most nights.  And the others, her own hand was always enough to do the trick.

So she rarely thought.  Rarely thinks.  Really.  Because it’s not important.  Not a priority.

But suddenly.

Suddenly.

She is drunk.  And dancing.  And it’s hot.  And the Woman, she should probably learn her name, is doing things that are practically illegal with her hips.  And LaF’s voice is echoing.

Let’s not pretend it hasn’t been a lifetime.

And suddenly.

Very suddenly.

She is aware of how long it’s been.

And she thinks she should stop.  Because she is a mother.  And mother’s do not leave their kids for a night of wild hook-ups with strangers in bars.  

But there’s a throbbing in her core.  And her throat is tight.  And she’s suddenly aware of her pulse, coursing through her.  And the heat.  

And the hands, now firmly planted on her waist.  Moving.   Up her sides, brushing against the side of her breasts.  Her arms.   Guiding.  Brushing just at the top of her pants.  Teasing skin.

She can feel the Woman breathing.  Her chest pressing against her back.  Warmth hitting her neck.  

And she turns.  Before she can stop herself.  Before she can think.  She turns.  And it’s the whiskey, she reasons.  

Definitely the whiskey.

But she turns and they’re kissing.  

The Woman stumbles caught off guard and there’s a brief second that Carmilla thinks perhaps she misinterpreted.  But then a hand is weaving through her hair and pulling her closer.

“Let’s get out of here?” Carmilla says when they pull apart and she means it as a statement but can taste the uncertainty lacing the words.

“There’s a hotel just up the street,” the Woman says, and then she’s placing light kisses up Carmilla’s jaw.

“That where you take all the ladies?”

She can feel the smile against her cheek.  “Tonight’s not about stories, right?”

“I think you’re taking that literally.”

Is what she replies with.  And through the sex and the heat and the sudden want that’s pulling at every fiber of her being, Carmilla feels a small sense of gratitude settle in her.  

Because a hotel isn’t about stories.  Or explanations about toys scattered across the floor or pictures of a smiling baby boy and a woman who looks like she’s barely holding it together.

A hotel is neutral.  

A hotel is casual.

A hotel is …

A warm hand resting on the skin of her lower back.

“Is that a yes?”

 

///

 

Her back hits the door the second it’s closed.

And there’s lips dragging down her neck to her chest, pulling her shirt down; exposing as much skin as possible without actually taking it off.

Carmilla grabs the Woman’s hips.  Rolling them against her own and there’s a moan against her chest.  

She pushes and they stumble back onto the lumpy queen bed that’s probably disease ridden.  But then they’re rolling and there’s a thigh between her legs and Carmilla thinks she really needs to stop thinking.

She grabs at the buttons of the Woman’s shirt and tries not to focus on the fact that her hands are shaking as she unbuttons them.

She gets to the last one and then they both throw the shirt across the room, Carmilla’s following.  

She drags her lips across the Woman’s throat.  Palming at her chest.  

And it’s ridiculous, she thinks, how she was able to go so long without the softness.  And the warmth.  And the feeling of the lips dragging across her skin.

Down her stomach.  To her thighs as her pants are pulled away.  And the chill in the air around them makes her skin tingle.

And it almost feels foreign.  Different than she remembers.  Though different because it’s someone new or different since it’s been so long.  She can’t really say.  She doesn’t remember hands shaking as much, or the feeling  of not being able to catch her breath.  

The nerves that settle in are foreign.  And the more she tries not to think about them, the more persistent they seem to become.  

Could be the whiskey, she thinks.  Has to be.  Must be.

“Are you okay?”

“What?”

Carmilla looks down her body, to the Woman, situated between her legs.  Her hair tickling her stomach.

“You don’t seem okay.”

“I don’t think you know me well enough to know that.”

The Woman smiles and crawls up her body, laying against her side.  “You’re breathing heavy.  Your body is tense.”

“Generally signs of arousal you, sure you’ve done this before?”

Carmilla watches as she smiles.  “We can stop if you want.”

“But we already paid for the room.”

“So you’re not okay.” And Carmilla thinks there’s a smug sort of twist of her mouth, like she’s familiar with diversion, even as her brow furrows with concern.

“I’m fine.”

“I don’t want to do anything you’re not comfortable with.”

“How noble.”

And then the Woman is frowning and she’s putting space between them.  “I’m serious.”

And it would be an easy out.  To go LaF’s and grab Jaime and go home.  That was the plan.  Because the night was pointless.

But her body is throbbing and her throat is dry.  

And she can still feel the ghost of the Woman’s touch even though she’s pulling away even more.

“You’re not…” The Woman pauses, looking at her.  Almost worried.  But now more for herself than either of them.  “You’re not married are you?”

Carmilla wants to laugh.  Hard and bitter.  Because no.  Not ever.  Not technically.

“Because that would.  I would not.  That wouldn’t be…”  Carmilla watches as she rambles, putting more space in between them.

The opportunity slipping away.  And she didn’t want it.  Not at first.

Pointless.

But here they were.  

Throbbing.

And not dry.  

Definitely not dry.

Carmilla sighs and drags her hand across her face.

“It’s just…” she brings her hand to her eyes because there’s no way in her right mind she’d actually say this if she were in her right mind.  “It’s been a while.”

There’s a pause and she can feel the Woman shift again.  Closer.  “Like never-in-my-life-awhile or just a while.”

Carmilla snorts.  “A while.”

“So you’re not married.”

“No.”

“And you don’t want to stop.”

Carmilla looks at her, the concern still creasing her features.  And Carmilla swears she can see the trail of faint bites already lining her neck.  

And she smirks.  Moves until she’s rolled the Woman onto her back, rolling her hips until they both sink into the mattress with a moan.

“No.  I don’t.”

And they don’t.

 

///

 

It’s three a.m. when Carmilla feels sleep finally take hold.

The sheets thrown around them.  Their limbs tangled in it.  

It’s five when they wake again.  And the reason can’t be blamed on whiskey.  Only want and an insatiable need.

The sheets fall to the floor because they are too hot and too tight.

It’s seven when Carmilla slowly untangles herself.  A soft grunt and a snore protesting her movement.

She dresses quietly.  Stuffing her bra and underwear into her purse.

She pauses at the door.  Looking back to the body now sprawled across the bed, the Woman’s back gently rising.  And she thinks, perhaps, she should leave a note.  

But once upon a time, she wouldn’t have done.

And somethings never change.

She makes sure to close the door quietly behind her. 

 

///

 

“Just tell me her name.”

Carmilla smirks and leans back into her seat.  Pressing the phone to her ear with her shoulder, she clicks through her emails on the computer screen; downloading midterm papers as students begin to send them in.

“For the last time, I don’t know it.”

She hears LaFontaine huff into the phone and her smirk widens.

“There’s no way you spent an entire night bumping uglies with a woman in a bar and didn’t learn her name.”

“The fact that you think that isn’t me is really indicative of my losing my reputation.”

“You’re lying.  I know you are.  The only question is why.”

Carmilla chuckles quietly.  A habit she hadn’t been able to shake all weekend.  Along with the smirk.

The cat who got the cream.

And she’d be embarrassed if she wasn’t so smug.

Because her back felt lighter.  The tension in her jaw was gone.  

She feels lighter.  She really does.

Not that she’d ever admit it to LaF.

Who’d smiled with pride all through brunch Saturday morning, until they’d been able to occupy Jaime with afternoon cartoons and she’d recounted her evening to them and Perry.

“I’m not lying, I don’t know her name.”

“And you just up and left in the morning without a goodbye?”

“That was the point of the evening, wasn’t it?  One night to kick things off.”

“So you’re going to go again?”

“I’m not going to interrupt Jaime’s routine to go have one night stands every weekend.”

“Which is exactly why you should have gotten her number.”

“No one ever meets anyone worth dating in a bar.”

“History proves otherwise.”

“Yeah and look how that turned out for me.”

The bite is there, like it always is when anyone brings up Elle, but even Carmilla has to admit it doesn’t sound as convincing anymore.

“Well at least we got you off to a start.  Oh you know what you should try, speed dating.”

Carmilla is about to reply with a ‘the day I start speed dating is the day I drop dead”, but her phone beeps and she quickly pulls it from her ear.

Her heart drops.

“I have to go, Jaime’s daycare is calling.”

And then she switches over before she barely hears LaF say goodbye.

 

///

 

She’s fuming.  

Actually fuming.  

Because it’s ridiculous.

Absolutely fucking ridiculous.

And she has to stop and catch her breath when she reaches the front doors of the daycare.  

Taking a moment to compose herself.  Because if she doesn’t, she’ll barrel in and surely lose her temper and it’s no way for Jaime to see her.  

Because the idiots who ran the school that she paid an exceedingly stupid amount of money for her son to attend claimed he was in a fight.

And it’s ridiculous.

Stupid.

Her sweet boy.

Her Jaime.

Who actually threw a tantrum once when she killed a spider did not get into fights.

Nor was her violent in anyway.

And for the one institution that was built to nurture him to claim that he’d gotten into a fight.  That he’d punched a teacher.

It was down right ridiculous.

Carmilla takes a deep, calming breath.  Holds her head up and high and the pushes the doors open; ready to put anyone who seems to think her son is capable of anything other than a gentle smile right in their god damn place.

“Ms. Beth is in the back, Ms. Karnstein,” Ruby the girl at the front desk says, offering a sympathetic smile.

Carmilla nods and turns down a hall to the left, away from the kids sitting in a circle being read a story.

The door to the back office is open and she can see Jaime’s legs dangling from a chair.  He seems to be sitting quietly, his head down.  As Beth Olsen, the daycare director talks to some woman seated as well.  

She’s about to call out to him, let her presence be known.  When the woman starts speaking, protesting really and Carmilla nearly trips.

“For the last time Beth, he didn’t hit me.”  The woman is saying and no…  

No.

It’s not possible.  There’s no way she’s hearing correctly.  

Because the universe would not be that sick and perverted.  

“Laura, you’re bleeding.”

“Yeah, because I was trying to break the boys up and his hand slipped.”

And she can’t really deny.  Because the voice is nasally and Carmilla sees she’s got an arm up to her face.  Possibly pinching her nose?  

Nasally.

But not unrecognizable.

Definitely not unrecognizable.

“If anything, we should be talking to Benjamin about not taking things that aren’t his.  It’s not Jaime’s fault.”

And the universe is twisted and sick.  Because it was supposed to be a singular thing.  And a never again.  

A quick flush of the system.  To get things going again.  Nothing more.  

A thank you and a goodbye.

Even though that hadn’t been said.

Pointless.  

What the fuck had happened to pointless?

“Momma!”

Carmilla barely has time to register Jaime barreling towards her before she catches him in her arms and lifts him up.  

She can tell he’s been crying, snot drying on his face.  But he buries it in her shoulder as his arms go around her neck.  

“Hey, Kid,” she whispers and places a kiss on the side of his head as Beth stands.

“Miss Karnstein, thank you for joining us.  Come in, please.”

Carmilla watches as the woman turns in her seat.  

She’s got a bunched up wad of Kleenex held against her nose, tinted red with blood.  But the similar button up shirt is there.  And the rolled jeans.  And the loafers.  

And she watches as familiar eyes go wide and a look of horror plasters across the Woman’s—Laura’s apparently—- face.

A face she had last seen thrown back against a pillow, the ghost of Carmilla’s unknown name dancing across her lips.

Carmilla swallows and hopes her face doesn’t looked as panicked, but surely it does.  Or the feeling of wanting the room to open and swallow her whole wouldn’t be so prevalent.  

“Ms. Karnstein, this is Laura Hollis one of our teacher’s aides.  Laura, Camilla Karnstein, Jaime’s mother.”

Laura seems to compose herself and stands, awkwardly adjusting the Kleenex against her face.  She coughs and holds out her left hand.

“Hi,” her voice squeaks.  

“Hey,” Carmilla says and she’s like to slap herself for how uneasy her voice sounds.

“Ms. Karnstein, if you’d like to sit I’m sure we can make this brief.”

Carmilla nearly snorts but does as told.  Out of the corner of her eye she can see Laura shift in her seat; keeping her own eyes trained on Beth.

But her glances are quick and often.

Brief, she thinks.

Pointless.

The stupidest fucking idea.

 

 

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.