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Beautiful Stranger: Vignettes

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Laura Hollis laughs like she has a secret.

Quiet and restrained.  Almost to herself.  

A large contrast to the way she moves.  So quick and with exuberance.

Stark.  Remarkably different.

It was, of course, something Carmilla knew.  Had known, really, since the night she had since deemed the incident.

But it seemed different now.

Now that she was no longer just a woman.  The Woman.  But Laura.

Laura Hollis.

Ms. Laura.

God, there was that still, wasn’t there?

She’d try not to think of it until later.  

Though really, it had been all she could think about for a week.

Laura shifts and her dress rides up her leg, dangerously high and inviting.  

Carmilla takes a long drink of her whiskey.

“My eyes are up here,” Laura says around her own glass.  Eyes sparkling with a mischief Carmilla knows is familiar.

“Don’t flatter yourself.”

She watches as Laura laughs.  And her eyes turn down to her drink just as the lights in the bar dim and the thump, thump, thump of the God awful techno picks up.

The dance floor floods with women and just as it had before, the heat radiating from them seems to encase the room.

Palpable sex.  Dense and hanging in the air.

Carmilla’s throat tightens.  And the way Laura is looking at her sends an all too familiar flush through her body.

“I think you just did.”

It’s ridiculous, she thinks, how a night spent with a stranger can leave such a lasting impression.

She shouldn’t be surprised, really, that she had come at all then.

Though she was still trying to figure out the answer.

“Must be eleven,” Carmilla says, turning towards the dance floor.  Because she really isn’t sure what else to say.  She had tried not to think about it.  Dropping Jaime off with LaF and Perry.

And driving.  Just driving.  

Until she had arrived and walked in.  Finding Laura at the bar.  And sitting.  

And really, perhaps, she should have given it more thought.

“You want to get out of here?”

Carmilla’s brow raises.  “But haven’t danced yet.”

Laura rolls her eyes.  And Carmilla feels a smug sense of satisfaction when she can see a blush spread across Laura’s neck.  “There’s a twenty-four hour diner up the street.  They have the best pie in a ten mile radius.”

“Sounds romantic.”

Laura finishes off her drink, sliding the glass away from her on the bar.  “And just think, I’m not even trying yet.”

Carmilla laughs.

 

//

 

The diner is shittier than the bar.

The seats of the booths torn and ragged.  Floral patterns lining the walls and carpet.  Deep greens and bright pinks.  Plates with crows and pie pans sporadically placed for decor.

The single room smelled like her late grandmother’s house.  

It was nauseating.

She’d never liked the old cow.

“Something tells me you’re unimpressed,” Laura says, looking at her over the edge of her menu.

And Carmilla has the distinct feeling that she’s being teased.

“If this is you trying to not be romantic, then perhaps you should start.”

“But the pie.”

“It can’t be that good.”

“Oh trust me, it’s worth it.”

“We’ll see,” Carmilla says as a waitress approaches.

“Can I get you ladies something to drink?” 

“Barbara” her name tag says.  Of course her name is Barbara.  She’s smacking gum like it’s the only way to keep her jaw attached.  Her blonde air big and teased.  Bright blue eye shadow powdery and caked on thick.

“Just a water for me, please,” Laura says.  And she and Barbara both turn to Carmilla.

“Coffee.”

Barbara nods and huffs.  And Carmilla has half the mind to tell her she should probably just quit.

“It has a certain charm, you have to admit,” Laura is saying.  Crossing her arms on the table and leaning forward.  

“Is that what you tell all the girls you bring here?”

“What makes you think you’re not special?”

Carmilla does a double take.  

Not quite sure if she’s surprised at Laura’s question.  But no, of course, definitely surprised.

Laura’s looking at her, head tilted.  The smile pulling at her lips, Carmilla is quickly learning, meaning she’s playing along.  Curious and teasing.

And yet…

There’s a narrow look in her eyes.  Like she’s trying to decipher who Carmilla is.

Unbecoming, Carmilla thinks.

And horribly unfamiliar.

“A bar.  A motel.  A diner.”  Carmilla leans back into her seat and a spring digs into her back.  “Quite the trifecta.”

Laura is laughing again.  Like she finds Carmilla believable.

She wouldn’t be wrong.

“I’ll give you the bar and motel,” she starts, eyes twinkling as she leans across the table.  “But I only share my pie with girls I take on dates.”

And it’s sad and pathetic, Carmilla thinks.

How a stranger.  Because she was still, wasn’t she?  Easier to think that she was, Carmilla knew.  And for now, easier was manageable.  

Manageable.  And sad.  And pathetic.

How a stranger can make her stomach drop and tighten.  

Surprise was never her favorite thing.

“Is that was this is?”

“Isn’t it?”

Carmilla watches and Laura watches her.  

And, she thinks, all things considered.  When such a situation cannot be anything else, only one option is left.

Carmilla sinks farther into her seat, dropping and slouching slightly.  

Barbara places their drinks on the table.  Muttering “I’ll give you a few minutes,” after she’s halfway across the room.

Carmilla grabs her coffee.  Pushing aside the cream and sugar and downing half of it in a single gulp.

It’s hot.  And strong.  Bitter.  And, she thinks, at least something about this place isn’t so bad. 

“I don’t do Dutch.”  She drawls.  

And Laura laughs.

 

//

 

“Carmilla?”

Laura swallows her name.  Short and clipped.  Like she’s unsure whether or not she should use it.

It’s comforting, Carmilla thinks, to know that they both seemed to be a little on edge.  She quickly downs the rest of her coffee and rests it at the edge of the table. 

Barbara looks to her, gum smacking with impatience.  

“I’ll take the French Dip.  With fries.  And a refill.”  Barbara’s pen overs above her order pad.  “Please.”

Barbara writes her order and turns to Laura.

“I’ll take the three egg breakfast.  Bacon.  Hashbrowns.  Pancakes, syrup on the side.  Eggs sunny side up.”

Barbara nods.  Smacks her gum.  “Coming right up.”

“You know,” Laura says, watching as Barbara shuffles away, once she’s refilled Carmilla’s coffee.  “She’s usually not this pleasant.”  She turns to Carmilla.  “What?”

“It’s eleven thirty at night and you just ordered breakfast like you’ve got a hangover.”

“Breakfast is meant to be enjoyed anytime of day.”

“I don’t think you understand what the word means.”

“Says the woman who is already on her second cup of coffee.”

“Yes, but coffee is the nectar of the gods.”

Laura rolls her eyes but smiles.  Unwraps a straw and takes a long drink of her water.  When she places the glass back on the table, Carmilla notes the straw tip is flat and mangled from being chewed.  “So.”

“Yes?”

She watches as Laura shrugs.  “Where do you work?”

It’s an awkward question.  And Laura seems to cringe once the words are out of her mouth.

But, Carmilla suppose, better awkward questions than an awkward silence.

“I teach a couple of introductory philosophy courses at Silas U.”

Laura’s brow raises, leaving Carmilla with the impression that she’s just impressed her.  “Do you have a doctorate?”

Carmilla does her best to hide her sigh with a nonchalant shrug.  “I’m halfway through the program. But took a leave of absence.”

“Working and school and raising a child must have been a lot.”

And Carmilla wants to laugh.  Because it was.  Of course.  And no one had been surprised when she had decided to take the leave.

Though she had been bitter enough, they hadn’t needed to be.  

Difficult.  Incredibly so.  And tinged with the taunting truth that it had once been easy when she had been one part of two.

“What about you?”  She asks.  A change of subject much more comfortable.

“I would hope you know what I do, or have you not been paying attention?”

Carmilla rolls her eyes.  She would be a sarcastic shit.  

Of course.

“Did you always want to work with kids?  Is that better?”

Laura smiles.  “No, actually.  I’m a freelance writer.  Blogs.  Copywriting.  That sort of thing.  My friend Danny, Lawrence?  She’s one of the kindergarten teachers?  She helped me get the assistant position to pay the bills when things are slow.”

Carmilla nodded.  She knew of Danny Lawrence.   She was the only kindergarten teacher who wasn’t on the death side of fifty.  She’d requested Jaime be placed in her class next year.

“It’s been surprisingly enjoyable, though.  The kids are sweet.  Especially Jaime.”

Carmilla can’t help but feel the swell of pride that runs through her.

Or the smile.

And Laura is looking at her like she knows just what she’s thinking.  

Really, she wonders just when she had become so easy to read.

“Now you’re just trying to sweet talk me.”

“Is it working?”

“We’ll have to see, won’t we?”

“You should know, patience isn’t really a virtue of mine.”

And Carmilla can’t help it.  She really can’t.  Stranger or familiar.  Or something in between.  Because she set herself up for it.  And really.  It’s so easy.  She smiles wide and with a smug satisfaction that she’d once missed.

“Trust me, that I learned the other night.”

Laura nearly chokes on her water.

 

//

 

“Can I ask you something?”

The yolk of Laura’s egg runs across her plate as she cuts in to it.  “And don’t say that I just did.”

“Well now it seems I don’t have a choice, hm?” 

Carmilla takes a bite of her dip and she’s surprised to say it’s the best she’d ever had.

She makes a note not to mention it to Laura.

Laura shifts and takes a slow bite of her pancake.  Chewing to stall.  Suddenly looking nervous.  Unsure.  Like she’s not quite sure if she should ask a question or not.  

And Carmilla can’t help be feel the dread settle into her chest.

“Jaime’s other mother,” Laura finally speaks, slow.  Definitely uncertain.  “I’m going to assume it’s another mother?”

Carmilla nods.

“What happened to her?”

And she sighs.

It’s unavoidable, she knows.  All things considered.  Their short relationship.  In it’s simplest form, knowing another person.  Even in the platonic sense.  Their short relationship lending itself to such a question.

It would be her luck, she thinks, to have it brought up so quickly.

“I’m sorry,” Laura’s suddenly saying.  “You don’t have to answer if you don’t want.  It’s just—.”

Carmilla waves her hand, effectively cutting her off.  “No.  No.  It’s fine.”

They fall into a silence and Carmilla can hear Barbara popping her gum across the room.

“She left.”  Carmilla starts, looking into the black of her coffee mug.  “Woke up one day and she was gone.  And that’s really all there is to it.”

She looks up then.  Prepared for the sympathy and Oh no, I’m so sorry that always accompanies the story.  

That must have been so difficult for you.

It was fucking patronizing.  

Always was.

But instead.

Instead she’s met with a look she’s never seen before.

Laura looks like she’s seen a ghost.  Raw and painful.  Her eyes wide with empathy.

And then she’s looking down.  Her eggs, it would seem, far more interesting.  Her hand knocking against the table.

Debating, Carmilla thinks, whether or not she should speak.  And then she does.

“My mom left when I was ten.”

Is what she says.

And Carmilla feels like the wind has been knocked out of her.

“I came home from school one day.  She and my dad were arguing.  And then she…” Laura sighs and looks up and Carmilla recognizes the look immediately.

Empty and hallow.  Tears long since gone.  

“She kissed my cheek and she left.”

“I’m sorry.”

It’s the only thing she can think to say.  An unfamiliar sort of sense of comfort settling in her.  Speaking to someone who suddenly seems to understand.  

Strange.

And unfamiliar.

“I’m sorry, too.”

Carmilla nods.  

“You know when I was little, I used to wish that she had died.”  There’s slight shame to the way Laura says it.  Though perhaps shame not quite the right word.  Regret.  Maybe.  But certain and honest.  

“At least then it wouldn’t have been a choice,” Carmilla says and Laura looks at her with sad eyes.  

“Yeah.”

Carmilla shifts.  Not quite sure what to do with the air around them.  Somehow comfortable.  Somehow completely not so.  

And she feels it.  At the tip of her tongue.  And she knows she really won’t be able to help herself.  So…

“Has she ever tried to contact you?”

It was a question she’d never voiced.  How could she?  No one understanding what it was she had experienced or felt.  But the question was always there.  

Haunting and exhausting.

Her greatest fear, she knew, ever since Elle had left.

The idea that someday the woman could simply show up again.  Without warning and unannounced.

It was nauseating.

“Once,” Laura is saying.  “When I graduated from high school.  She wanted to go to my graduation.”

“She didn’t?”

Carmilla watches as Laura looks at her then.  As if she’s trying to decipher the answer Carmilla is looking for.

“I told her to go fuck herself.”

Carmilla can’t help her loud bark of a laugh.

Laura smiles.

“Sweetheart,”  Carmilla says, picking her coffee up and taking a long, bitter drink.  “I may not know you that well. But I know you well enough to guess that you probably have a swear jar at home.”

Laura rolls her eyes.  “Fine.”  She huffs, starting to eat again.  “I didn’t exactly use those words.  But, I did tell her that if she didn’t have any interest in raising me then she didn’t get the right to feel proud.”

An excellent answer, Carmilla thinks.  

And one she may one day steal.

Though she’d pray to any unnamed god she didn’t believe in that she never had to.

“Cheers to that, then,” she says, holding her mug out towards Laura.

They do just that.

 

//

 

She’s loathe to admit the cherry pie is even better than the dip.

Laura’s smile is smug and satisfactory when Carmilla tells her so.

“Not such an awful place after all, hm?”

“Oh no, it’s still awful,” Carmilla says, scooping extra cherries onto her fork.  “But tolerable.”

“I can settle for that.”

Before anything else can be said, Barbara is sliding their bill across the table.  

Carmilla grabs it before Laura can even move.

“I thought you didn’t do Dutch.”

“I don’t.”

Carmilla hands her card to Barbara.  And takes a bite of pie.  

“Dinner was my idea.”

“So?”

“I should have paid.”

Carmilla waves her off.  “You can get next time.”

She tries to pretend like what she said isn’t nerve inducing.  But she’s out of practice still.  So she downs the rest of her fourth cup of coffee.

“Can I?”

Carmilla shrugs.  “If you give me your number.”

Laura’s smile is smug as she holds out her hand.  Waiting for Carmilla to slide over her phone.  

Her smile widens when she sees the background picture of a selfie Jaime had taken last week.  His smile cheesy and goofy.  Hamming for the camera in a way that Carmilla is certain only LaF could have taught him.

Barbara throws the bill on their table and turns without so much as a have a good night.

“At least let me leave the tip.”

“If you insist.”

Laura does.  Overly so.

“I hope you know,” Carmilla says, when they’re walking towards the door.  “I expect to be winded and dined next time.”

“What makes you think I can afford such a night?”

Carmilla snorts.   And looks to Laura, who’s looking back with a playfulness that Carmilla was beginning to find familiar.   “At the tuition rate that I pay?  I’d say you could afford that and then some.”  

Laura smiles and laughs.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

The night before and Laura is nervous.

Though, Carmilla thinks, she’s certainly pretending not to be.

But her hand hadn’t stopped knocking against the table during dinner.  She hadn’t been able to look Carmilla directly in the eye.  And now they’re curled together on her couch, some shit Netflix movie playing in the background — she’s not really sure how they had decided on it and she really hadn’t been paying attention since the awful music had started.

Because Laura’s leg wouldn’t stop bouncing and she’s sighing every five minutes like she’s having an asthma attack.  

“Alright,” Carmilla says around the twenty-fifth sigh.   “You going to tell me what’s wrong or am I going to have to guess?”

“Guess what?”  Her voice squeaks slightly as she looks away from the TV, her chin turning up towards Carmilla.  Her eyes panicked.

“What’s wrong.”

“Nothing’s wrong.”

“Laura, you’re five minutes away from an early, self-induced heart attack.”

There’s a sigh and a shift.  And she can see Laura’s thought process.  Her inner debate as she decides whether or not to lie or be honest.  Then a shake of the head and she grabs the remote; pausing the movie.

Thank God.

“I just—it’s…what if he doesn’t take it well?”  

And Carmilla is positive her heart breaks just slightly.

The way Laura says it.  So small.  Quiet.  Uncertain.  

So many things that Laura is not.  

It’s unsettling to say the least.

“Jaime loves you.”  Laura levels her with a disbelieving stare.  “Seriously, all through the past year it was nothing but Ms. Laura this, Ms. Laura that.  Ms. Laura, Ms. Laura, Ms. Laura.”

“Exactly.”

“Yes.  Exactly.”

“No.”  Laura shifts until she’s up and sitting on her legs, her body turned fully towards Carmilla.  “He loved me as his teacher—.”

“Teacher’s assistant.”  Carmilla can’t help but say with a smirk.  

It earns her a smack on the arm, but a smile that Laura fails to hide.

“What is he going to think when he learns that I’ve been shtupping his mother?”

And as is always possible, Laura somehow manages to make her both cringe and smile at the same time.

“For Christ’s sake, Laura, he’s five.”

“Children aren’t idiots, Carm.”

She shifts slightly at the nickname.  Still new and different even after months together.  Though not unwelcome.  In any way, shape, or form.  She rather enjoyed it.  

Loved it, really.

Not that she’d ever give Laura the satisfaction of knowing such a fact.

“The fact that you’re implying my son knows what sex is is quite possibly the most horrifying thing you’ve ever said.”

Laura snorts.  “I just mean…”

She trails.  

Sighs.  And Carmilla lets her hand trail across the back of the couch until she reaches Laura.  She weaves her fingers through her hair and feels contentment settle in when Laura seems to relax some.

All but melting as she massages Laura’s neck.

“He might like me.  But this is different.  I’m coming into your life.  It’s—.”

“Do you not want to do it?”   She can’t help but feel the slight twinge of bitterness that lines her words.  Having spent every night the past week mentally preparing for tomorrow. 

And now she was backing out?

“That’s not what I’m saying.”

“Then what are you saying?  Because this was your idea—.”

“Are you only doing this because I want to?  You told me you were ready.”

“I am.  And I want to.  I thought you were, too.”

Laura huffs and shakes her head, letting it drop slightly.  “I am.  I am. 
I just..”

“Do you want me to tell him first?  Before dinner?”

“No.  No.  This is us.  Together.  I want to do it together.  But.”

Carmilla watches as she scratches the back of her neck and chews her bottom lip.  There’s a nervous twitch at the corner of her mouth.  

And unsettling, Carmilla thinks.

Definitely unsettling.

“I’ve never been with anyone who has a child, Carm.  And I just…I love you.  And I want Jaime to be okay with it.  Because if he’s not, if he doesn’t take it well.  That’s not something…”

We’d be able to come back from

It hangs in the air between them.  And Carmilla doesn’t need Laura to say it to know it’s what she means.

And it hits her.  Like a pain in the chest.  Because she loves Laura.  She does.  In a way she was beginning to think didn’t exist.  Slow and frightening.  

A descent that was both gentle and a free fall.  Constantly changing.

But love all the same.

Sickeningly sweet.

Saccharine.  

God, she was disgusting.

But Jaime?  He was hers.  First and foremost.  And he always would be.

And she’d rather not think what it would mean if Jaime didn’t take to their relationship well.

Carmilla swallows and shakes her head.  And tries to smile.

“You,” she begins and leans forward.  Pulling Laura to her with a kiss.  There was no point in worrying.  Couldn’t, really.  Since only one of them should at once.  “Are thinking far too ahead.  And far too negatively.”

“What can I say?  You’re beginning to rub off on me.”  Laura says with a sigh; giving a lazy kiss in return.

“And here I thought you enjoyed it when I rubbed off on you.”

Laura groans and laughs into another kiss.  Shaking her head even as she smiles.  “You’re incorrigible.”

Is what she says, even as she pushes forward until Carmilla is on her back and she’s settling on top of her.  Legs resting on either side of her hips, their bodies flush together.

The heat that quickly fills her is both welcome and embarrassing.

“Am I?”

Laura’s nodding against her neck.  “Horribly so.”

And then Laura is trailing kisses up her jaw.  And her hands are everywhere.  Needing and sweet and somehow on fire and gentle.

Carmilla faintly wonders if it will always be this way.

“Hey,” she says, breathless as Laura begins to push at her shirt and unbutton her pants.  She watches as Laura pauses; already breathless, arousal already pulsing.

“He’ll be fine,” she says, letting her hand trail down Laura’s jaw.  She smiles in return.  Warm.  

Loving, Carmilla thinks.

Always so.

“We’ll be fine.”

“I know.”

“Until you meet my mother.”

Laura laughs and shakes her head, dragging her body back up her own.  “That I am not worried about.  I have perfected the art of meeting the parents.”
“Oh you have?”

“Mhm.  It’s you who should be worried.  My dad is terrifying.”

Carmilla can’t help but feel the slight panic that courses through her when Laura says it.  Because, God…

Let’s not talk about that now, hm?”  And then she kisses her long and slow.

And Laura is moaning and moving into her deeper and hard.

And for a moment, Carmilla pretends there’s nothing to worry about.

 

//

 

Jaime had a habit of playing while he ate.

Meal times it would seem, the perfect playground for toy cars and invisible robots.

And Carmilla quickly understood why it was that her mother had never let her toys leave her bedroom growing up.  

Between the splashes of milk and the aaaaahhhhhhs crash, crash, stay away robot! it was a wonder Carmilla made it through any meal alive.  

But her constitution had never been as strong as her mother’s, a fact she never failed to mention.  And the habit was already formed anyway.

So really.

Who gave a shit.

“Slow down please and chew,” she says, after Jaime some how manages to stuff five spoonfuls of cereal into his mouth.

Yet another thing she and Mother seemed to differ.  It’s made of nothing but corn and sugar, ‘Milla, please give the poor boy sustenance, she had said when visiting, all but throwing away the stash of cereal Carmilla kept above the refrigerator.

“‘orry, Ma’a.”

Carmilla sighs and has to hide her smile behind her coffee mug.  “And don’t talk with food in your mouth.”

He’s about to say sorry again.  His mouth opening, then hanging slightly with a pause.  But he swallows his answer and food.  Smiles.  Toothy.

Infectious, Carmilla thinks.

Always infectious.

“Hey, Kid?”

“Yeah, Mama.”

“You know Ms. Laura?”  A cringe.  Of course he knew her.

Jaime nods, his mouth two spoonfuls full again.

“What would you say if I told you that she was coming over for dinner tonight?”

“Really?”  He seems to perk slightly and Carmilla feels whatever final reservations she had drift away.  Because his smile seems to widen and he bounces slightly in his seat.

And really.  She wishes she could have snapped a picture and sent it to Laura; proof that she needn’t worry.

“Really, really.”

“I like Ms. Laura.”  Is all he says, shoveling more cereal into his mouth and his car drops into his bowl.  Milk slopping onto the table and floor.

Good, Carmilla thinks.

Me too.

 

//

 

Her nerves hit when there’s a knock on the door.

“I’ll get it!” Jaime all but glides past the kitchen doorway, his socks slipping.  And Carmilla thinks she really should replace the hardwood with carpet.

Perry would be pleased.

“Hey, hey, hey.  What did I say about answering the door?”

Jaime slumps.  “Only with you.”

Carmilla dries her hands.  Taking a moment to compose herself and swallow the sudden lump that forms in her throat.  But it’s fine.  She thinks.  Even as Jaime slowly begins to inch towards the door.  Eyeing her as if she’ll stop him any second.

She does.

Grabbing him from behind, hoisting him into a bear hug.  “Thank you.”

He shrieks and tries to kick his way down.  But Carmilla holds tight; he wouldn’t be small enough for it much longer.  And she was damn well going to take advantage.

It’s calming, somehow.  Even though he’s worming and wiggling and it’s more awkward than anything.

But her racing heart seems to slow.  And she takes a deep breath.

Because really, there was nothing to be worried about.

She grabs him tighter and flips, until he’s laughing and his arms are dangling down towards the ground.  

“I’m beginning to sense a pattern,” Laura says when she gets the door open.  Her eyes wide, her hand fidgeting with her purse as she takes in the site of Carmilla with an upside-down Jaime in her arms.

“Hi, Ms. Laura!”

Jaime wobbles slightly when Carmilla rights him, the blood rushing back to his body.  “Hi sweetheart.”  She watches as Laura bends and pulls a toy dinosaur from her purse.  “I brought you something I thought you might like.”

“Mama, look!” 

His eyes light up and she’s thankful for the height she has on him or she’s positive he would have shoved the dinosaur in her face.  

“Can I go play?”

“Sure.”

He’s off before Laura can stand.

“Hey.”

“Hey.”

“Trying to butter him up?”

“You think it will work?”

“Most likely.”

Laura places a light kiss on her cheek.  “You look like you’re about to pass out.”

“I feel it.”

“Do you want to wait?”

And it’s sweet, Carmilla thinks.  The way Laura says it.  So very clearly not wanting to wait.  But her brow is furrowed and concern is narrowing her eyes.  

But asking all the same.  

Putting others before herself.  A habit, she had quickly realized, that was Laura’s and Laura’s alone.

And not for the first time Carmilla knows that somewhere she must have done something right if Laura Hollis had been graced to her.

That karma.  Of which she didn’t believe.

But perhaps she should start to.

Because Laura, she knows, doesn’t want to do what she’s asking.  And doesn’t want to wait any longer.  Despite her almost panic last night.  

Despite her own nerves.  

But she’s asking and willing. 

Carmilla wonders if Laura really is that good.  If other people see it, too.  Or if she has blinders on.

She wonders if it even matters.

Fuck it.

She grabs Laura’s hand and pulls.

“Jaime, wait.  Before you play.”

“Carm?”

“Yeah, Mama?”

“There’s something Ms. Laura and I would like to tell you.”

“I thought we were waiting for after dinner?”  Laura whispers through the side of her mouth as they sit on the floor before Jaime.  

They were.  It had all been planned and prepared.  To have a night.  Let Jaime warm up to the idea of them both.  Then tell him.

Cushioned and bribed with the appeal of ice cream and cookies.  

But Laura is here and now.  And ice cream and cookies still a couple hours away.  

And Jaime was excited and happy.  Sweet.  Always so.  

And really just.  

Fuck it.

He places the newly acquired dinosaur on the floor.  A large space between it and his cars.  The invisible robot, Carmilla thinks.  Though it’s hard to tell which of the two she’s protecting.

She watches as he turns to them, his attention full and rapt.  

Carmilla drops Laura’s hand.

And then there’s silence.

Jaime’s wide eyes staring at her.  Laura turning to do the same.

Right.

Right.

“Bub, you know—,”  She starts and the words seem to catch in her throat.  Round and full.

Impossible to get out.

“It’s….Sometimes grown ups—.” 

Oh good Christ. 

“Ms. Laura and I, we—.”

“Jaime,” Laura is suddenly saying and Carmilla can see her trying to hide a laugh of a smile.  
It takes all that she has not to glare. “You remember how you and Ruthy were boyfriend and girlfriend at recess one day?”

What the fuck was a Ruthy?  

A question, Carmilla is about ready to spew.  

But Jaime is nodding.  “That was fun.  We played pretend.”

“Well, your mom and I.  We’re girlfriends.”

She says it almost uncertain.  The word almost dangerous.

Dangerous.

Had been.  Once.  Not too long ago.

“Are you pretending?”

“No, Bub, we’re not pretending.”  Carmilla finally finds her voice and clasps her shaking hand a top Laura’s.

And she watches as Jaime eyes them for a moment.  Almost as if he doesn’t believe what they’ve said.  And she’s got half the mind to ask if he understands, when:

“Have you kissed and stuff?”

Laura’s leg knocks into her’s at the mention of “stuff” and Carmilla makes a silent vow to ban any mention of the word ‘sex’ from her house for the rest of eternity.

“We have.”

Jaime nods.  Like it’s natural.  

“Are you going to get married?”

“No!”

“No!”

Carmilla turns to Laura then, whose eyes seem to be as wide as hers.  She watches as she smiles sheepishly.  A shrug.  

A conversation, it would seem, they would be okay to not have for a while.

At least there was that.

“Oscar’s dad had a girlfriend.  Then they got married.”  Jaime says by way of explanation.  

“Well we are just going to be girlfriends,” Laura says and squeezes her hand and Carmilla pretends like it doesn’t feel like a for now.  

Jaime nods.  Picks his dinosaur up.  Tilts his head.  “Can I play now?”

“Sure thing, Kid.”

And, it would seem, that’s all there is to it.

 

//

 

Her phone rings just as the water begins to boil.

From the living room there’s a loud “AAAAAAHHHHHH”.

The invisible robot meeting her untimely death, no doubt.

The name flashing across the screen nearly makes her groan.  But she grabs a freshly cut tomato piece and pops it in her mouth; Laura shooing her away as she answers with a: “What?”

“Hi, Will.  How are you doing?  Oh, great, thanks for asking Carmilla.  You know, since it’s been so long.”  Will whines from the other end of the line, doing some poor man’s impression of her.

So really, it wasn’t far off.

“Not my fault you don’t call often.”

“And here I was hoping you missed me enough to call and check in.”

“My minutes are limited, William.  And you are wasting them.”

There’s a sigh.  But she knows he’s smiling. 

The little shit.

“I need you to come pick me up.”

Carmilla laughs.  And picks at another tomato.

Laura nearly chops off her finger.

“Why?”

“Betsy broke down.”

“So call Triple-A.”

“Already used up my tows for the year.”

“You really need to take Mother up on her offer to buy you a new car.”

“And give her the satisfaction?”

“Jaime and I are about to sit down to dinner.”  Carmilla says as she grabs a pot and fills it with water.  Better to make the excuse more believable.

Even if it was true.

“Bring him along.”

“Dinner with Laura.”

She can practically hear Will’s eyes widen on the other end of the phone.

“Is that so?”  She doesn’t have a chance to respond before she knows he’s smiling wide and wicked.  “The more the merrier then.”

“Find someone else.”

“I already called Mattie.”

“So, I’m your second choice.”

“Are you coming or not?”

“No, you dickwad.”

“Carm!”  

She turns and Laura nods to Jaime who’s far too preoccupied with his toys to have heard.

She grabs a dollar from her wallet and throws it in the Swear Jar, as Will says: “Don’t be such a sourpuss.”

“Then don’t bother me at times of inconvenience.”

Will sighs on the other end and she can hear a car honk.  “Look, I’m not far.  I just need you to pick me up and take me home.  Kirsch is going to help me deal with it tomorrow.”

Carmilla sighs and drags her hand across her face; setting the pot on the stove and starting it to boil.

Laura sets her knife down and turns towards her, brow furrowed.  

“Hold on.”

“Hurry up.  Some trucker just drove by and eyed me like a piece of meat.”

“Good.  Get a taste of your own medicine.”

She puts the phone on mute and sets it down before she can hear his response.

“What’s going on?”  Laura asks, throwing the tomatoes on the rest of the salad she had been tending to.

“Will’s car broke down.  He needs me to get him.”

“So go.”

“Dinner’s almost ready.”

“I can handle boiling some pasta and heating up a sauce.  It’ll be done by the time you get back.”  Carmilla eyes her.  Unimpressed.  And Laura huffs.  “Ya burn eggs one time and no one trusts you in the kitchen.” 

She all but pouts and Carmilla can’t help but place a kiss on her cheek.

“You were the one who decided to tell me the story, sweetheart.  Besides.”  She lets her hand travel down Laura’s side to her ass.  She lightly taps it twice then sticks her hand in the pocket.  “You had to call the fire department.”

“I was ten and my dad completely overreacted.”

Carmilla snorts.

“How long do you think it’ll take you to get Will and come back?”

“An hour?  If that.”

“Then go.  I’ll get everything ready.”

Carmilla turns her head towards the living room, where Jaime is running around with the dinosaur in one hand and a Barbie in the other.  

She doesn’t have to look at Laura to know when the lightbulb goes off.

“He’ll be fine.”

And she knows it.  Deep down.  She does.  Because it’s not as if she hadn’t left him with someone before.  But Laura isn’t just someone.  And Jaime now knows it.  And tonight was just supposed to be dinner.  

Simple.

Plain.  

Easy.

Ice cream and cookies.

Not her idiot brother and his shit excuse of a car.

“We just told him about us.  You shouldn’t have to watch him.”

Laura rolls her eyes.  “I watched him five days a week for a year.”

“With help.”

Laura punches her.  “And thirty other kids.”

Will’s voice can be heard yelling her name from the phone.  

“Jaime.”

Jaime comes tumbling into the kitchen.  The Barbie now riding the dinosaur’s back.  She can see Laura staring at the toys.  Trying to figure out the story.  

She has to hide her smirk.

“I have to go help Uncle Will.  Do you think you’ll be okay with Laura while I’m gone?”

Jaime shrugs.  A quiet ‘duh’ and Carmilla makes a note that he needs to spend less time with LaF.  

“And you’ll behave?”  

“Yeah, Mama.”

“Promise?”  She pokes his side and he giggles.

“Promise.”

“Yeah?” She pokes again until she’s tickling him.  

He squeals a “Yeah!” and then runs off again.

Carmilla sighs and stands, brushing her hands against her pants.

“I’ll have dinner ready when you get back.”  Laura says, handing her her phone.  Will’s whiny voice still yelling at them from the other end.

“How horribly domestic,” she snorts, taking the phone off mute and bringing it back to her ear.  “Where the fuck are you?”

Will starts rambling some location.  But she doesn’t pay attention.

Because Laura is sighing and laughing.

Holding the Swear Jar to her as if it’s the most natural thing in the world.  Easy and simple.

Familiar.

Happened a hundred times before.  Even though it had been only once.

Carmilla throws in two dollars.

 

//

 

The first thing she notices when she steps through the door is that it smells like something’s burning.

The crisp, dark smell of garlic and bread.

Hardly appetizing.  

The second thing she notices is that it’s quiet.

Too quiet.

Carmilla turns the hall corner, stepping into the living room and she doesn’t know whether or not to laugh or be terrified.

Because Jaime and Laura are sitting, polar opposite ends of the couch.  Jaime glaring, dried snot and tears on his face; arms crossed and petulant at Laura, her hair frizzed, eyes frazzled.

Dazed and confused.

In the kitchen, she can see what would be the garlic bread, burned to a crisp on the pan.  Pasta, in a lump in the strainer.  

Sauce splashed across the countertop.

“What happened?”

It’s all she can think to say.  Because…

Thirty minutes.  She had been gone thirty minutes.  

Jaime and Laura turn to her then, both seeming to register her presence.  And then Jaime is launching himself from the couch and into her legs.

Her hand drops to his head and she scratches slightly.

“Seriously.”

It’s a question directed at Laura but it’s Jaime who answers.

“Ms. Laura yelled at me, Mama”

Carmilla feels her brow furrow and she can hear a quiet huff from Laura.  

She’s not quite sure what to do with the information.  And it seems like Laura is trying to not flat out glare at her son.  

“Jaime, can you go to your room?”  She finally says because it’s the only thing that makes sense.

“But I just wanted to play!”

“Now, please.”

Jaime’s arms fall from her legs and he kicks his feet all the way to his room.  

The door closes and she turns to Laura.

“What the hell happened?”

She watches as Laura shakes her head and let’s it drop to her hands.  She rubs her face and Carmilla thinks she’s trying to hide a groan.

“I don’t know,” She finally says, looking back up.  Carmilla can see a smudge of pasta sauce on her cheek.  “Everything was fine.  I was making dinner.  But Jaime kept asking me to play.  And I told him he would have to wait.  But he just kept trying.  And then he started bouncing the dinosaur up my leg.  Like it was climbing.”

Laura slumps into the couch, her arms going limp at her side.  “And I just kind of snapped.”

Carmilla’s eyes widened.

“No, not snapped-snapped.  Just.  I got stern?  But I kind of yelled.  And he started crying.  And I tried to calm him down.  But he pushed me away.”

“He pushed you?”

“In a don’t-come-near-me sort of way.”

Not that that’s any better, Carmilla thinks.

“And then the next thing I know.  The bread is burning.  And the pasta is boiling over.  And the sauce is getting stuck to the bottom of the pan.  And Jaime’s still crying.  And—.”  Laura shakes her head and leans forward swiping the Barbie off of the coffee table.  “—I got pasta sauce in her hair.”

Carmilla has to swallow her laugh.

“Laura, I was gone thirty minutes.”

Laura swallows, almost as if she’s frightened and hides her face in her hands again.  

A groan.

I know.”

Carmilla bites the smile from her lip.  “Just…”  She holds up her hand in a ‘wait’ gesture.  But Laura still doesn’t look up.  Content, it would seem, to wallow in self pity.  She turns and heads down the hall.

Jaime is sitting on his bed when she enters his room.  Pouting and glaring at his own feet.

He looks up when she enters.  “Mama, I just wanted to play.”

Carmilla sighs and leans into the door, crossing her arms.  “Did you ask Laura to play with you?”

A nod.

“And did she tell you she couldn’t because she was making dinner?”

Another nod.

“And did you keep asking her to play, anyway?”

“Yeah, but—.”

“And did she ask you to stop and tell you that you would have to wait?”

Another nod.  And Carmilla thinks that this time he has the decency to look sheepish.  

“But Ms. Laura always plays with me.”

“Jaime,” she steps into the room and kneels before his bed.  “What is one of the rules we have?”

He thinks for a moment.  Trying to figure out which she’s referring to.  And she wonders if there’s really that many to sort through.  Until he says: “That when a grown-up says to do something you hafta do it.”

Not quite.  But close enough.

“I’m going to go help Laura clean up and I need you to stay in here until dinner.”

Jaime nods.  His head hanging in a shame that is far too over-exaggerated.  “I’m sorry, Mama.”

Carmilla squeezes his knee.  “I know, Kid.  But next time you have to listen, okay?  Laura might have been able to play with you at school.  But when she’s here now, that might not mean that she can all the time.”

He nods again.  And she’s not quite sure if he truly understands what Laura’s presence and girlfriends mean.  

An adjustment, she thinks.

And she’s not really sure why she’s surprised.

“I’ll come get you for dinner.”

His “‘K” leaves with her and stays until she’s standing in the kitchen with Laura.

“I’ll help you clean up before I leave.”

Is what Laura says when Carmilla steps next to her.

“Why?”

“Because it’s the nice thing to do?”

Carmilla shakes her head.  “No, why are you leaving?”
Laura snorts.  “I think tonight has been a bit of a bust.”

Noooo,”  Carmilla says long and exaggerated.  “I was already planning on burning the bread, it gives it just the right amount of crunch.”

Laura holds a spoon before her, threatening.  

Trying to be.

“I will make your hair match Barbie’s.”

Carmilla snorts and grabs the spoon.  Throwing it into the sink.   It clatters against the strainer as she wraps her arms around Laura’s waist and pulls her flush against her front.

“You have stressed about this night for a week and you’re going to bail because you burned dinner?”

She says it with a laugh but Laura grunts and lets her head fall to her shoulder.

“Do not act like I was the only one stressing.”

“But I did the very adult thing and compartmentalized.”

“He hates me.”

“Laura, he’s a kid.  I can guarantee, he’s going to come out of his room and immediately give you a hug.  He knows he misbehaved.”

There’s a pause.  Quick.  And Laura wiggles slightly in her arms; thinking.  

“If I’m staying, I want pizza.”

Carmilla nudges Laura away, grabs her phone.  “I’ll order.  Enjoy cleaning up your mess.”

“I thought you were going to help me.”

“Oh no, house rules.  Your mess, your clean up.”

“I’m not a child.”

Carmilla motions around the kitchen.  “It would seem I have to keep my eye on you like one.”

“Don’t be an ass.”

Carmilla grabs the Swear Jar, holding it before Laura with a raised brow.

Laura huffs.

Smiles.

Throws in three dollars.

 

//

 

When the pizza comes, she tosses it on the table and they eat from the box.

Jaime to her left.  Laura on her right.

Nothing but napkins and grease and a two liter to help it go down.

And Jaime rambles about his own dynamics of a world where dinosaurs and Barbies and invisible robots exist; tentatively asking Laura if she’d like to play when they are done with dinner.

Carmilla watches as Laura smiles, looking to her and she winks.  

She agrees to Jaime’s request under the conditions that she gets her own invisible robot.

He nods so hard his head nearly falls off.

And they settle into the living room.  

Carmilla can only watch as the game unfolds before her; both quickly shutting her out of their world of pretend and play.

Their preplanned dessert, long since forgotten.

But she smiles.  And watches.

And it is, she thinks.

Horribly domestic.

But not unwelcome.

Comfortably so.

Terrifying and simple.  

Unexpected.

And unplanned.

In a way that one could get used to.

Ice cream and cookies, be damned.

 

Chapter Text

It happens when Jaime is seven.

Carmilla turns into the driveway.  That permanent grin on her face.  

It was disgusting, really.  They were disgusting.  But life had a funny way of turning out.  

So it’s not like she could be blamed.

But Laura is beside her, her COACH shirt muddy with dirt and grass from being tackled by a mob of seven-year-olds after their first win of the season.  

There was some bullshit about how the league didn’t keep a winning record.  It wasn’t about winning, the pamphlet had said.  It was about the kids.  Giving them an outlet.  

No winners or losers.

Just fun.

Carmilla had told Laura she didn’t want to sign Jaime up for it.  

It’s an introduction league, Carm.   Just let the kid have some fun.

And Carmilla really hadn’t been surprised when Laura returned home from the first practice, Jaime running around the house in his new cleats and shin guards, and announced that she would be co-Coach with Benjamin’s dad.

That man has a crush on you, Carmilla had said.  Unable to quell the jealousy that had coursed through her.

He’s married.  To your friend.

Doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a crush.

Jealous? Laura had asked, sauntering up to her in a way that shouldn’t be sexy in simple jeans and a t-shirt.

Carmilla had snorted.  Hardly.

But then Laura had kissed her cheek and whispered in her ear.  Promises of how much she’d ease Carmilla’s worry that night after Jaime was tucked away in bed.

Carmilla had made a point to act jealous more often.

And Jaime had fun.  She had to admit.

And enjoyed his team.  Even though he ran the wrong way half the time.  And tried to catch the ball with his hands more often than not.  There was fun.  And the winning.  And the losing didn’t really matter.

But they were zero and twelve.

The worst in the league.

Not that Carmilla had been keeping track.

Until today.

“And then!”  Jaime wiggles in the backseat, arms waving around.  “And then Adam kicked the ball to me.  And I passed it to Jessica.  And then she scored!”

Carmilla laughs.  “I know, Kid, I was there.”  She says, turning in her seat to look at him as he unbuckles.

“Yeah but did you see it?”

Carmilla smirks.  Turns to Laura.  Ready to make some quippy comment.  About how she’s not sure if she did see.  And maybe Jaime isn’t telling the truth.  

Just to rile him up.  

But instead, dread settles.  Swift and moving and familiar.  In a way that hadn’t happened in a long while.  

Yet all the same.

Because Laura is sitting.  Unmoving.  Still in a way that was more than uncharacteristic.  Her breath caught.  Staring.  Straightforward.  Rigid.  

Terrified.

Carmilla thinks.

She turns, following Laura’s line of sight, to their front door.

And feels her heart stop.

Because there’s a woman.  Sitting on their porch.  Waiting.  Head bowed as she looks at a small paper in her hand.

Blonde hair framing her face, hiding it from view.  

And she doesn’t need much more information.

Because she knows exactly who it is.

A stranger.  Carmilla thinks.  One she never thought she’d meet.  Had never had before.

A single picture.  Shown to her a year ago.  

This was her, Laura had said.  Showing her the picture of a smiling woman with a baby.  And that’s all there had been to it.  Before she had tucked the photo away.  

Never to be seen again.

“Laura,” Carmilla finally finds her voice.  And she hates to admit how uneven it sounds.  Just as Jaime pipes from the back with a: “Who’s that?”
Laura doesn’t move.  And Carmilla really isn’t sure she’s breathing.  But she somehow manages to say, “Jaime, I want you to go inside through the backyard.”

Her voice is low.  Hallow.  Not at all there.

Not at all Laura.

“Mom?”  Jaime must sense something is wrong.  Because his brow is furrowing and the energy that was once there is fading away.  

“Now.”

Is Laura’s response.

Dangerous.

Carmilla thinks.

Frighteningly so.

Jaime is looking to her, then.  And she nods her head towards the back gate.  “Go on, Kid.  We’ll be in soon.”

She watches as he looks between them one more time before sliding out of his booster seat and exiting the car.  

The car door shutting draws the woman’s attention and she turns to them.  Her eyes landing just past Carmilla. 

Locking on Laura.

And there’s no more confirmation needed, Carmilla thinks.  

Because the lines of her face are the same as the picture.  Older now, of course.  And so very much like Laura’s own.  

Carmilla turns back to Laura.  Ready to offer an escape. 

They too can go into the house through the back.  Through the front.  And they don’t have to engage.  They can tell her to leave.  Carmilla will do it.  Laura doesn’t even have to worry.

Leave it to me, she’s ready to say.  But before she can…

Laura is suddenly moving again.  

Swift and angry and hot.

The car shakes as she slams the door and Carmilla has to put her arms out to steady herself.

Before she’s ripping off her own seatbelt and nearly tripping out of the door after her.

“What the hell are you doing here?”  Laura is saying when Carmilla finally catches up.

Angela, Hollis, Carmilla thinks.  Laura hadn’t been sure if she’d changed her name or not.  

And why would she be?

But Angela stands.  Her eyes an exact match to Laura’s.  And Carmilla feels an anger bubble and course through her.

Making her fists clench and her jaw tighten.

“Hello,” she says, looking between the two of them.  

Carmilla moves slightly, to stand in front of Laura.  And she feels her take her hand.

The ring there is still cool; still new.  Even though it had been months since Carmilla had slipped it onto Laura’s finger.

And it’s calming.  Slightly.  In how it makes their hands fit together in an entirely new way. 

“What the hell are you doing here?”  Laura says again.  Carmilla thinks it might be the only thing she’s able to say.

Angela takes a step forward.   And Carmilla puts more of herself in front of Laura.

They watch as Angela holds up the paper she has, a news clipping, and waves it slightly.  “Your father was always the traditionalist.”  She says, turning to face the picture of Carmilla and Laura towards them.

Their engagement announcement.  

The one Jack and her mother had insisted on getting.

It had been the only thing the two had agreed on in the past two years.

“So you saw it and decided to stalk me and my family?”  Laura is speaking again.  Each word losing some of its edge and gaining a what, Carmilla can’t quite place.

A fear.

An exhaustion.

A child’s insecurity.

“It’s not everyday you read in the paper your only daughter is getting married,” Angela says.  

Laura visibly flinches at the word daughter.

“And to a woman, no less.”

“If you came here to insult our family, I suggest you leave,” Carmilla says, and she has no doubt she’s glaring.

“No insult meant, dear,” Angela says and has the decency to take a step back.  “Simply a surprise.”

“You can’t be surprised by someone you don’t know,” Laura quickly bites back.  And Carmilla feels her hand tighten in her own.

Angela smiles then.  Sad and resigned.  But no less prideful.

“What do you want?”

“To offer my congratulations.”

Carmilla snorts and she hears Laura scoff.  

“Yeah, well I don’t want it.”

Angela nods.   Tucks the news clipping into her purse and pulls the bag tighter to her side.  There’s a beat.  With Laura glaring at her and Angela’s eyes trained down.  

Carmilla doesn’t know who she needs to watch more.

But then Angela is looking up and her eyes are softening.  And there’s some sort of apology, somewhere, in the way she’s looking at Laura.  

It makes her blood boil.

“I had just hoped that we could possibly…”  

“What?”  Laura says.

Carmilla thinks it’s frightening, how unlike Laura she actually sounds.

Angela bites her lip and shakes her head.  Looks between the two of them.

Sighs.

“Perhaps another time,” she says.  And then she’s stepping around them, her hand softly trailing along Laura’s shoulder as she leaves.

Carmilla counts to three and then she’s moving.

Catching Laura before her legs give out beneath her.

 

//

 

It’s as if nothing happened.

The second they step through the door and into the house.

Laura is shaking her off and smiling at Jaime and proclaiming she thinks they should order from his favorite pizza place.

Even though they had already ordered from it a week prior and had made a rule to only do so once a month.

A special treat.

But Jaime is jumping from the couch.  His question of “Who was that lady?” lost in the excitement of pizza with pepperoni and hot sauce and olives.

And after dinner they settle onto the couch.  Carmilla grading papers as Jaime and Laura read Harry Potter together.  Laura’s voice is light and airy as she does the different character voices.  

Jaime’s laughter fills the room every time she attempts Hagrid.

But then Jaime is tucked away to bed.  

Carmilla switches off the light as Laura says a final “Goodnight, Bub.” to the room.  

She reaches.  Grabbing Laura’s hand and squeezing.  She smiles.  Tries to.  But she thinks it might look more like a grimace.  Because the smile is fading from Laura’s lips and she turns her head.  Moves down the hallway.

Closes the bathroom door.

Carmilla can hear the lock click into place even across the house.

And when Carmilla enters their room, teeth brushed and pajamas on, Laura is already in bed.  

Staring at the ceiling, hands folded on her stomach.

She would think nothing was wrong, if not for the way her jaw was clenched.

“Do you want to talk about it?”  

Carmilla asks.

Once she settles, turned onto her side; the crook of her elbow cradling her head.  

She lets her free hand rest in the space of the bed between them.  But doesn’t dare move closer.  The tension and discomfort in Laura’s body radiating and filling the room.

There’s a pause.  Long and heavy.  And then Laura takes in a deep breath.

“No.”

She doesn’t move.  She doesn’t turn.  She simply speaks.

And it’s funny.  Horrible.  Awful, really.  Carmilla thinks.

The way things unfold.

She had played this moment a million times in her mind the past two years.  And a million times before in the two years prior.  

But it was never Angela.

No.

It had been her.

And it had been Carmilla who would have had the earth pulled from beneath her feet.  

Not Laura.

Never Laura.  

She had thought.  A million times in a million ways how she would react and handle it.  Seeing the woman who had disappeared without a word.  The She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, Laura had once joked.  

What it would do to her.

But now.  Seeing it here on Laura.  

She’s not quite sure what to do.  Or what to say.  

Because it never happened this way.

She watches as Laura swallows.  And her eyes harden and sadden at the same time.  

Carmilla wonders if this is what Jaime’s reaction would be.  Given time.  Or now.  Or if he was safe, having been left so young.

Did it matter?  

Was one version of being fucked over and up any less worse than the other?

Carmilla sighs and rolls onto her back; locking her fingers and settling her hands on her stomach.

Stares at the ceiling.  Let’s her body sink into the mattress.  

That night, Laura doesn’t sleep.

And neither does Carmilla.

 

//

 

LaFontaine’s car is in the driveway when she gets home.

She enters the house and it’s filled with the scent of mac and cheese.

Perry’s.  

Her stomach grumbles despite the confusion.

Carmilla turns the corner, into the living room and is met with the sight of Jaime on the ground, playing peekaboo with Petunia as LaF reads; their feet kicked up on the coffee table.

She throws her bag at them, letting it knock their legs down.  

“What’s this?”

“Jaime was getting hungry, so Perr decided to make dinner,” LaF says, throwing her bag back and putting their legs back up.  “We invited ourselves to stay for it, too, by the way.”

They add, looking back down to their book.

“Yes, please, welcome, always happy to have you,” Carmilla replies, sitting next to them.  “Now do you care to tell me why you’re here and Laura is not?”

Petunia begins to fuss and Jaime is turning to them.  “LaF, I don’t think ‘Tunia wants to play anymore.”

Carmilla watches as they stand and pick Petunia up; cradling her.  And she really can’t help but smile.

Thinking of the phone call she had received the night Perry had gone into labor.  LaFontaine all but having a meltdown.  Sure they wouldn’t make a good parent.

Carmilla feels smug satisfaction at seeing she was right in telling them how wrong they had been.

“Mama, can I go watch TV?”

“Only for a bit.”

He runs from the room and LaF turns to her, bouncing Petunia slightly, as their brow furrows.

“She called me this afternoon and asked if we could pick Jaime up from school.”

“Why?”

LaF goes to respond, she thinks.  But then their mouth is hanging open.  And they shrug.  “Just said there was some things she needed to take care of.”

Perry comes bustling into the room then, her apron (the one that had taken permanent residence in her pantry years ago) tied securely around her waist.  

“Oh good, Carmilla you’re home.  Will Laura be joining us for dinner?”  She pauses, letting her hand lightly trace across Petunia’s head.  

 The sight of the three of them is cute, she thinks.  Would be.  If LaF wasn’t turning to her, their confusion growing.

And by the way they are looking at her, she knows they must sense her rising sense of panic.

Because she is.  And can.

Feel it.

Bubbling slowly and quietly.

Completely unfounded.

She knows.

But not at all surprising.

She grabs her phone and quickly pulls up Laura’s number.  

It goes to voicemail.  

Five times.

Where are you.

She texts next.

And it’s not until they’re halfway through dinner does the reply come through:

I’ll be home soon.

 

//

 

“She’s not Elle,” LaF whispers in her ear as they and Perry are saying goodbye.

“Fuck off,” Carmilla bites back.  And even she can’t hide how unsteady her words sound.

Unreasonable.

She convinces herself.

Completely unfound.

“Are you sure you don’t want us to stay?” Perry asks, looking over Carmilla’s shoulder to Jaime.  

He’s settling onto the couch, Harry Potter in his lap.

“It’s fine.”

She says.

Even though she feels like it’s anything but.

“I can stay, Perr can take Petunia home.”

“It’s no problem, Carmilla, really.”

“And have you for nothing but entertainment for the night?”  Carmilla snorts. 
“That hardly sounds fun.”

LaF doesn’t smile then.  Or laugh.  Or offer some sort of smart-ass, sarcastic shit comment.  

Instead, they place their hand on her shoulder.  Look to Jaime before they’re looking back.  “Call us if you need to.”

It’s sweet.  Concerning.  Really.  Would be.

If it didn’t feel like a death sentence.

“When’s Mom going to be home?”

Jaime asks as she sits on the couch next to him, pulling him to her side.

“Pretty late, Kid,” she says.  And hopes he can’t hear the I don’t know lacing every word.

“Can you read instead?”

She’s grabbing the book before she even nods.

It’s tired and worn.  The pages and the covers stained.

Laura’s own copies from when she had been a child.

They only get through one chapter that night.

Carmilla doesn’t quite do the voices right.

 

//

 

It’s past midnight when Laura walks through the door.

“What are you still doing up?”

She looks confused.  Her head darting back and forth between the pile of papers on the coffee table and Carmilla.

“Waiting for you.”  

“Why?”

Carmilla blinks.  Because…seriously?

“Seriously?”

Laura shrugs off her coat.  Throws her purse onto the chair.  

Doesn’t come any closer.

“I didn’t ask you to.”

“You called LaF and asked them to get Jaime from school.  You wouldn’t answer my calls.  You completely missed dinner.  And reading time.”

Laura winces.

“And now you’re waltzing in here in the middle of the night.  You’re sure as shit right I’m going to wait up for you.  Whether you ask me to or not.”

Laura sighs.  And looks at her hands.  Plays with her fingers.  

Theres something about the way that she’s standing.  Pathetic.  Sad.  That breaks Carmilla’s heart.

And makes her temper flare.

“Where were you?”

Laura pauses and even though she’s not looking at her, Carmilla can tell she’s deciding whether or not to lie.

“I needed to go out.”

The words echo in Carmilla’s mind and she’s not quite sure whether she’s feeling anger or disbelief.

“You needed to go out?”

“Yes, Carm.  I needed to go out.”

“Where?”

“Can we please just go to bed.”

“No.”

“Carm, please.”

“No.”  She stands because she’s starting to shake.  And if she doesn’t move, Carmilla’s certain she’d drill a hole into the ground.  “I get that this whole parenting thing is still relatively new to you, but you have a kid, Laura.  You can’t just decided to ‘go out’ and leave without telling anyone for a few hours.”

Laura’s head snaps to her then, and she’s glaring.  “And I can’t be a good parent if I can’t be present and focus on what it is I’m doing.”

It makes Carmilla pause.

“I just…I needed,” Laura sighs and wipes her hand across her face.  “I just needed to get out, Carm.  I couldn’t…”

She trails.  And Carmilla thinks she might be crying.  

But no.  No tears.

Just…

Defeat.

“Then talk to me.  Tell me what’s wrong.”

“Nothing’s wrong.”

“Cleary,” Carmilla seethes.  “Your mother shows up out of the blue and you haven’t been yourself in days.”

Her filter, she thinks.

She definitely needs to work on her filter.

Not that she had ever really had one.

“Can you blame me?”  She sounds hurt.  And Carmilla hates herself a little bit.  

“No, God, of course not.  But…just talk to me about it, please.”

“There’s nothing to talk about.”

“Laura, you can’t be serious.”

She watches as Laura shuffles.  “Carm, please, I just…need you to leave it alone right now.”

And she thinks she’d like to be respectful of that, she really does.  

Because Laura looks like she’s about ten seconds away from a meltdown.  She had all week, in the quiet of the night.  Once Jaime was tucked away and safe.

Pretending, it would seem.  For his sake.  And his alone.

But…

“Well I need you to know it’s not okay to just up and leave for a day and disappear.”

It’s the wrong word, Carmilla thinks.  Knows.  

Because suddenly Laura is looking at her.  Defeat gone.  

Replaced with nothing but rage.

“I didn’t disappear.  I told you I was coming back.  I came back.”

“You left without a reason.”

“I’m here.”

The words bubble at the tip of her tongue.  Hot and heavy.  Completely unfound.

Inappropriate.

Unnecessary.

But she says it anyway.  

Because no filter.  And still no tact.  

And Laura will understand.  On some level.

She’ll understand.

Because it’s the one thing they’ve shared since the beginning.

“For how long?”

Laura sways slightly.  And looks like she’s been smacked.  Hurt washing over her.  She swallows and looks away.  

Her hands scrunch into an almost fist.

“It was a day, Carm.  An afternoon.  If this is how you’re going to react when I need some space…”

“Of course this is how I’m going to react.  I’m thinking about Jaime.”

“So was I.”

“Doesn’t really seem like it.”

She watches as Laura shakes her head and grabs her purse, stalking off down the hall.

“I’m going to bed.”

“I’m not finished.”

“We’ll finish talking in the morning.”

“No we won’t.  We’ll finish now.”

“Right now, I need to go to bed.  So you can join me or finish stewing on your own.”

It’s idiotic.  And stupid.  And fucking dumb.

But if that’s how she wanted to play it.

“Fine.”

“Fine!”

The door slams.

And the house goes quiet.

 

//

 

She sleeps on the couch that night.  And when she wakes in the morning, Laura’s gone.

 

//

 

It happens like that for five days.

Laura leaving before the sun rises.

And coming home in the late of the night.

After the second day and same second argument, Carmilla had stopped waiting up for her.  

Though, technically, she supposed she still did.

Every night.

Despite herself.

Unable to sleep until she heard Laura come through the door.  And listened as she snuck into Jaime’s room.  Soft, quiet whispers floating through the still house.  

A gentle kiss, she thinks.

Placed on his forehead.

And she waited as Laura tiptoed into their room. Shedding her clothes and climbing into bed.  Settling next to her.

Placing a kiss on the back of Carmilla’s head that made her breath catch.  

Rubbing a slow circle into Carmilla’s hip.

Speaking an “I love you” to the night, before turning over and away.

And every morning, Carmilla pretends like she’s still asleep when Laura sneaks from the house a few hours later.

 

//

 

It’s on the third day, though, when Jaime asks it.

“When’s Mom coming home?”

Carmilla pauses, her heart leaping to her throat.  

It was a question she had played over and over in mind, years ago.  

The single one she had dreaded every day for a year.  Thankful that Jaime had still barely been able to talk at the time.  Because how did you explain to a child that someone was simply gone.

For no reason.

But now here they were.  And things were different.  

And yet, somehow, horribly the same.

Or similar.

Maybe.

Because Laura wasn’t gone.  Not really.  

Not technically.

But technically was only a game one played to try to make a shitty situation worth something.

Her hands shake as she finishes bringing the sheet up to his chin and tucking him in.

“She’s been home, Bub,” she says, sitting on the edge of his bed.  “She’s just been coming home late.  And has to leave early.”

“Why?”

Why.

Why.

Your guess is as good as mine, Kid, she wants to say.

But she swallows it like a bitter pill.

“She just has some things she needs to do.”

Jaime looks at her then, his eyes narrowing.

He was getting exceedingly perceptive with each passing day.  Neither she nor Laura were quite sure if it was a good or bad thing yet.

And she’s fairly certain that now it’s horrible.

Because he can tell, she thinks.

He can tell that she’s lying.

That she has no answers.

But then he’s shrugging and snuggling further into the sheets with a quiet: “I miss her.”

And Carmilla’s heart breaks again.

“I know, Bub,” she says, placing a kiss on his forehead.  “But you’ll see her soon.”

“Okay.”  She thinks he almost doesn’t sound convinced.  “Night, Momma.”

“Night.”

She doesn’t change out of her clothes as she climbs into bed that night.  Forgetting her papers and leaving her work.  

Instead she lies and tries to quell her rising sense of panic.

And wonders if she’s making something out of nothing.

 

//

 

On the sixth day, Laura doesn’t come home at all.

 

//

 

She waits to let herself panic until Jaime is at school.

And then she does the stupidest thing she could possibly do.

“I’m going to wring her tiny, little neck.”

She calls Mattie.

“Give me an hour.  I’ll find a flight.”

“Guess I really should be worried, then.  If you’re willing to leave Milan to come check on me.”

Carmilla.”

“It’s nothing,” Carmilla rambles.  Pacing the living room.  

She puts her phone on speaker and brings up Laura’s text thread.

The screen is filled with nothing but a one sided conversation.

Where are you.

Laura, please.

What’s going on?

Are you okay?

Laura.

Laura.

Laura.

She’d only tried calling once.  And it had gone to voicemail.

No point in trying again.

“It could be nothing,”  She says.  “Right?”

Desperate, the word comes to mind.

Mattie snorts on her end.  “I knew she wasn’t cut for this.”

Definitely the stupidest idea.

Laura and Mattie had never gotten along.  Because Laura didn’t put up with Mattie’s shit.  And true to her sister’s fashion, she had found it offensive.

They bickered more than they agreed.

And when they did agree on something; it was an insult to both of them.

She should have called LaF, or Perry, instead.  Danny.

Even Mother would have been a better choice.

“It’s just—.”

“I don’t want to hear any excuses.  Complications are a fact of life, Darling.  Horrible and surprising as they may be.  And if she can’t handle a simple bump in the road. ”

“Her mother showed up, Mattie,” Carmilla bites.  “I can’t say I would have acted any different had it been—.”

“Which is exactly why she should realize what it is she’s doing,” Mattie softens.  And Carmilla thinks she hears sympathy and empathy laced quietly in her words.  “All things considered.”

Carmilla is about to respond.  

With some sort of desperate I don’t know what I should do.

Because she doesn’t.  And she can’t think.  

That horrible, familiar feeling filling the pit of her core.  

Frighteningly familiar.

Even though it’s different.

And it is different, she thinks.  Because Laura didn’t just leave.  She came back.  Was.  

Had.   

Home at night.  Sleeping for a few hours before disappearing again.

Except.

Now.

Today.

Horribly, horribly familiar.

Different.

She reminds herself.  Because it has to be different.

She has to hold on to different.

And she’s about to respond.  To try to put words to what it is she can’t even say.  When the little bubble is popping up in Laura’s text thread.  With three little dots.

It’s not long before the messages comes through.

I’m safe.

I’ll be home soon.

I love you.

“I have to go,” she’s saying before she can think.  Hanging up to Mattie’s confused: “Carmilla, wha—-.”

She hits dial on Laura’s name.

The voicemail is the only greeting she gets.

 

//

 

Her phone somehow survives being thrown into the wall.

The wall, however, does not.

Carmilla sighs.  Picking up the phone, her hand trailing over the dent in the drywall.

Laura was going to kill her.

She huffs.  Scoffs.  

And then punches the wall.

It hurts like a bitch.  And the bruises form instantly.

She slumps.  Sinking to the floor.

Trying to ignore the fact that she’s beginning to shake.  And swallow the panic.

Because it is.  She thinks.  No longer able to deny it.

Absolute panic.

At the familiar.

The what she never thought she’d have to go through again.

She looks at her phone.

I’m safe.

I’ll be home soon.

I love you.

Different.

Because there was that.

Not that it was helpful in anyway.  

She clicks out of her messages.  Already tired of staring at the words.  

Useless.

Fucking useless.

And then she sees it.

The tiny little app Laura had forced her to download.  Despite her number of protests.

“You never know when you might need it, Carm,” She had said, stealing Carmilla’s phone from her hand.  “It could come in really useful one day.”

“It’s Big Brother,” she had replied, only half serious.  Laura’s over exaggerated eye roll her reward.  She had smirked.  “First they tap into your GPS.  And then they’ve got your life story.”

“Find my Phone is not Big Brother.”

“That’s how it starts.  That’s how they get you.”

“God, you’re annoying.”

“But you love me.”

“Only on Sundays.”

Carmilla runs to the den.  Laura’s office, really.  Carmilla herself had never had much use for it.  

And logs onto Laura’s laptop.

It’s an invasion of privacy, she thinks.  Quickly typing in the website.

But she really doesn’t give a fuck.

 

//

 

 

She finds Laura in Stepford.

Or some town that may as well have been it.

Thirty minutes east.  With cookie cutter houses and white picket fences.  And the distinct taste of privilege hanging in the air.

She skids to a stop behind Laura’s car and has to take a second to control herself.  So she doesn’t yell.  So she doesn’t stalk out of her car and pound on Laura’s door until she gets her to open up.

She stops.  And she breaths.  Her hands gripping the steering wheel for some guidance.

And then she does it all anyway.

“Open the door, Laura,” she says, pounding on the front passenger’s side window.  Yells, really.  Just loud enough for Laura to hear.  But not loud enough to attract attention.

She can see Laura in the front seat.  Her head bowed.  Hair framing her face.

“Laura, I swear to God, open the fucking door.”

She stops her assault on the door the second Laura stirs.

And her heart breaks.

Because Laura is turning to her.  

And she’s never seen her so broken.

Her face hot and red.  Dried tears marking her cheeks in wet, angry splotches.  Her hair a mess.  Her eyes tired.

Exhausted.

“Laura…”

The door clicks as it unlocks and she scrambles inside.

Laura’s throwing herself at her before she can get the door closed; loud sobs wracking her body.

“I’m sorry, Carm.  I’m so sorry.”

And whatever it was Carmilla had planned to say, not that she really had had a plan, goes right at the door.

She wraps her arms around Laura and pulls her as close as the seats will allow.

“I’m so sorry.”

It’s muffled into the crook of her neck.  

They sit like that for a few minutes.  Carmilla quietly shushing her, running her fingers through Laura’s hair.  Calm and taming.  

Laura hiccups.  And with a final “I’m sorry.” she pulls back, wiping at her cheeks and nose.

Carmilla stops her.  Pushing aside Laura’s hands and replacing them with her own.

“What’s going on?”  She says, letting her thumbs brush away tears.

Laura sighs and looks down.  Her body sagging.  

“I found her,” she says quietly, after a moment.  “Her last name is DeMarcus, now.”

Confusion.  It’s the first thing she thinks.  But then Laura is pointing to a house across the street and two up.

Not unlike the rest in the row.

“It wasn’t that hard, actually.”

It’s said with a bitter laugh.

“Angela?”

Laura nods.

Anger.  It floods her.  Fast and furious and she takes a calming breath.

“Why?”

She watches as Laura shakes her head and begins to unravel again.  And she holds tight.  Pulling until Laura is looking up and at her.

“I don’t…after she showed up.  She said…she said she had thought that we could…I don’t know.  I don’t.  I just wanted to know what she meant.”

They both know what she meant, Carmilla thinks.  That had been pretty clear.

And Laura looks down again, embarrassed.

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

Laura laughs again.  “Because you would have told me not to.”

Carmilla can’t help but smile.  It’s sad.  And soft.  And sympathetic.

But she smiles nonetheless.

Because she’s fucking right she would have stopped her.

“Have you talked to her?”

A shake of the head.  “No.  I’ve just been sitting.  And then—.”  Laura looks up.  Tears flooding her eyes again.  And she takes in a deep breath.  “I was going to last night.  I actually got out of the car.  And I was outside the house.  On the street and…”

The levee breaks.  And Laura lets out a quiet “God damn it.”

“Hey, hey look at me,” Carmilla says quietly, turning Laura’s chin up.  

She wipes the tears from her cheeks again, and let’s her hand move up, brushing hair out of Laura’s face.

She watches as Laura’s eyes close and she hums quietly.  Takes a deep breath for courage, and:

“She has a family, Carm,” she’s saying and her voice cracks.  “She has a son.”

And then Laura falls apart again.

Carmilla counts to ten.  Ten times.  She counts to ten.

And holds Laura close.  Whispering I’m so sorry and I love you, into her hair.  And she tires to make the impossible better.

She counts to ten.  Ten times.  She counts to ten.

Then she places a final kiss to Laura’s forehead and she’s exiting the car.

And pounding on the door in no time.

Loud and hot and ferocious and she hopes to hell they call the fucking cops.

Angela answers after her third assault.

She looks surprised.  And checks behind Carmilla, up and down the street.

“Carmilla is it?”  She says, crossing her arms.  “Can I help you?”

“Stay away from Laura.”

She’s surprised at how leveled she sounds.  How steady.  Because she feels anything but.  

Carmilla takes a step forward, getting as close as she can without stepping a foot in the house.  

“Stay away from Laura.  Stay away from our son.  Stay away from my family.  Or so help me, the next time I see you I will rip your throat out with my bare hands.”

“Ange?!”  A male voice is calling from somewhere in the house.  “Who is it?”

Angela keeps her eyes trained on Carmilla.  Seemingly not frightened by the threat. 
“It’s no one.”

Carmilla wants to slap her.

But then Angela turns back to her.  Looks her up and down.  And a sad frown pulls at her lips.  

She nods once.

“Congratulations on your engagement.”  She says.

And closes the door.

She’s got half the mind to assault the door again.  Or bulldoze it down.  

And let this woman know that she’s got some fucking nerve.

But she turns.  And sees Laura stepping out of the car and looking at her.

Nervous.  Unsure.

Frightened.

She kicks the door, before she leaves.

For good fucking measure. 

“My car,” Laura says, once Carmilla gets back to her and guides her to her own car.

“Will and I will get it tomorrow,” Carmilla replies, settling Laura into the passenger’s seat.  

She drives them home.

 

//

 

“MOM!”

Jaime’s running at them, the second he’s through the door.

Perry simply smiles from the entry way and gives a small wave, before she closes the front door.

Carmilla makes a note to call her tomorrow.

But for now she watches as Laura bends and scoops Jaime into a tight hug.

“Hey, Kid,” she whispers, burying her nose into his hair and pulling him somehow closer.

“I missed you.”

Laura sighs and looks guilty, meeting Carmilla’s gaze over the top of his head.

She leans back into the couch, running her hand through Laura’s hair and resting it on her back.  

And she should, she thinks.  Feel guilty.  Even if Carmilla feels guilty to think such a thing.

But she can’t fault her.  

As furious as she may be.

As worried as she had been.

As insecure as she knows she’ll be for the rest of her life.

“Can we read Harry Potter?”

“Before dinner?”  

Jaime is nodding furiously.  “Momma didn’t do the voices right.”

Laura laughs and Carmilla clutches her hand to her chest.  “You wound me, my child.”

“It’s true, Momma,” he says, in a matter of fact way that he only could have picked up from Laura.  And then he smiles like he doesn’t really mean it.  Cheeky and wide.  “Sorry.”

That, he definitely learned from her.

“Well then, we definitely need to fix that, don’t we?”

Jaime nods so hard, Carmilla’s positive his head’s about to fall off.

They order pizza again that night.

And Laura reads them Harry Potter. 

The voices just right.  The book fitting and comfortable in her hands.  

It’s well past Jaime’s bedtime when they finish The Sorcerer’s Stone, much to his amazement.  His eyes wide as Laura paints him a picture.   And he quickly demands they begin The Chamber of Secrets.

Neither she nor Laura can argue or say no.

And, Carmilla thinks, as Jaime retrieves the new book and they all settle once more.

She’s never been more grateful for different.

 

Chapter Text

She likes the way Laura smiles when she has a secret.

Small.  And barely there.  A gentle tug of the lips.  A sparkle in her eye.  For her and no one else.  Smug.  Coy.

Sexy as hell.

Inappropriate, really, since the smile is currently being directed at her over the top of Jaime’s head.
His hair is messy.  Sticking up at odd angles.  But they’d been rushed this morning.  Oversleeping in true Karnstein fashion.    And Jaime had nearly thrown a fit.  They couldn’t be late for the last day of school.

Donuts had been promised.

And had.  

Apparently.

By the smudges of frosting Carmilla can see, coating the far side of his cheek.

“Don’t tell Miss Melissa,” Jaime says, his voice lowering to what he thinks is a whisper, “But you are my favorite teacher.”

Laura holds her gaze for one more second.  Her secret smile widening just a little bit more, before she turns her attention to Jaime and leans in close.

“It will be our little secret,” she says, tickling his sides.  And Jaime squeals before launching himself into her arms.

Laura looks shocked almost, for the briefest of seconds, before her arms tighten around him and she pulls him close.

She turns to her then, her smile wide and bright.  Almost shy.

Carmilla winks.  

“Will you be here next year Miss Laura?”  Jaime asks when he pulls back.  

“I sure will.”

“Can I come visit you?”

“I would love that, sweetheart.”

Carmilla watches as Jaime smiles.  Full and toothy.  His front tooth missing.  His chest puffing slightly.  “I’m going to go say bye to Ruthy now.”

And before anything can be said, he’s off and running, his arms trailing behind him slightly.  

He had recently adopted the game of running like a jet plane.

Much to the dismay of the vase that Carmilla’s mother had given her the year before.  Meeting its tragic end as Jaime had knocked it over rounding a corner, his arms out and wide.

He’d cried when it happened.  Sorry he’d broken Maman’s vase.  

Carmilla had all but danced as she’d finally found an excuse to throw it out.

“Alright?” She asks, stepping closer to Laura; watching as she watches Jaime disappear into the crowd of kids.

Laura pauses for a moment.  Her smile turning sad, slightly.  Her eyes sparkling with a nostalgia that was setting in far too early.  “Just going to miss seeing him every day,” she says.  “He really is the sweetest.”  

She turns to her then.  Her smile changing into something Carmilla isn’t sure she can quiet place.  

Brighter, she thinks.  Maybe.  

Happy.

Definitely happy.

“Oh come on,” Carmilla starts, taking a step close and letting their shoulders bump and fingers brush for the slightest of seconds before pulling away.  “It’s not like you aren’t going to see him soon.”

Laura’s smile falters.  And for the briefest of moments there is something else there.  Hope.  Quiet.  Restrained.  Uncertain.

Terrified, Carmilla thinks.

Though, that could just be the hammering in her own chest.  The direct result, it would seem, of the look Laura’s giving her.

And her own words.  

Unexpected.  Though she can’t say that it should be.  

Unexpected.  How a single, passing comment, can suddenly mean more than you expect it too.

Carmilla takes a deep breath and pretends like what it is she’s said doesn’t feel like a weight settling on her shoulder. 

Because it shouldn’t.

Because it’s not unexpected.

Because that had been the plan all along.

They had talked.  And agreed.  After only a few weeks.  

That should they last, they would wait to tell Jaime about their involvement until after school was over.

Until Laura was no longer his teacher.

For the sake of not causing Jaime any confusion.  And professionalism. 

And keeping the nosy little shits that were gossiping nannies at bay.

“Yeah?”  Laura is saying.  And Carmilla thinks she almost sounds as uncertain as she suddenly feels.

But it’s eight months later.  And really.

Here they were.  Still seeing one another.

Somehow lasted.

For whatever it was.

“It is summer.”  

The hope vanishes as Laura smiles again.  Wider and brighter even.  

And it’s beautiful.  It really is.  Mesmerizing.  

Full.

Terrifying.

Even if it isn’t meant to be. 

But Carmilla can’t help but smile in return.  

Enchanting, she thinks, not matter how Laura smiles.

Always enchanting. 

“Laura!”  They both turn to see Beth waving from across the room, standing before two parents Carmilla had often seen in passing.

Judy and Bob, she thinks.  Though she couldn’t be sure.  Perhaps Leslie and Alex.

They all looked the same, really.

“Done for the summer and she’s still got you at her beck and call,” Carmilla tsks and takes small pride in the fact that Laura is already rolling her eyes.  “She’s going to work you into the ground.”

“Some of us actually do enjoy our work, you know.”

“That is simply a lie we tell ourselves to perpetuate happiness.”

Laura snorts.

“I suppose I’ll see you another time, then, Miss Karnstein?”  she says as a response.  Her ‘miss’ exaggerated like some quiet little secret.

An easy game.

Wicked.  Carmilla thinks.  Her smile turning absolutely so.

“If you’re lucky, Miss Hollis.”

“I’ll keep my fingers crossed.”

And then she’s walking away.  Swinging her hips just slightly.  In a way that is not at all professional or appropriate.

But no one seems to pay mind or notice.

Because it’s for her.

And her alone.

And she’ll be damned if she isn’t going to enjoy it.

 

//

 

Laura’s back hits the door the second it closes.

“Looks like I am lucky,” she breathes out a laugh later that night.

Carmilla smiles against her neck, biting slightly and Laura gasps.

“Trust me, your luck hasn’t even begun,” Carmilla replies before a kiss and feels Laura wrap her arms around her neck.

“That so?”  Laura’s voice is shaky when she asks it and Carmilla can practically feel the arousal coursing through her body.

“Mhm.”  Is all she’s able to respond.  Because Laura’s hands have moved to her front, cupping across her chest.  Her lips dragging down her neck.  To a particularly sensitive spot that Carmilla hadn’t even been aware of until a few weeks ago.

“Care to elaborate?”

She would, she thinks.  Should Laura give her a second to breathe.

She does after a few, pulling back with a long lingering kiss.  

“Mattie is in town.”  Laura’s brow raises.  “And she’s stolen Jaime from me for the weekend.”

“So you’re alone…For the whole weekend?”

Carmilla watches as she starts to smile again.  

Wicked.

Deliciously so.

And it’s funny, she thinks.  The way life always seems to turn. 

Every few months, Mattie’s visits would bring chocolates and expensive champagnes and a Jaime free weekend as she whisked him off for fun with his favorite aunt.

His only aunt, Carmilla liked to remind her.

Favorite all the same, Darling, Mattie always responded.  And he’ll do well to remember that.

The smile and bounce of excitement the idea of seeing Auntie Mattie always seemed to bring in Jaime was proof enough he did.

And each time Mattie waltzed in and whisked Jaime away to give her a break. 

Because it was a break.  She knew.  Given to her in a way that only Mattie seemed to be able to understand or give.

Each time she would sit at home.  Bored.  And worried.  With no plans or anything to do.

And each time LaFontaine and Perry would try to get her to go out.

Each time they would fail.

But now…

Now life had turned.  A left when she had been expecting a right.

Though, with the way Laura was looking at her, she can’t really say she could complain.

“Well.”  Carmilla steps forward, pushing her leg between Laura’s and trapping her firmly against the door.

She smirks as Laura let’s out a shaky breath and her head falls back with a gentle thud.

“I was hoping I wouldn’t be alone.”

“Is uh—-,” she hears Laura falter as she turns her attention back to her neck.  Trailing kisses down her neck and back to her jaw.  “Is that so?”

Carmilla hums her agreement, rocking her hips forward slightly and earning her a moan in return.

Though from her or Laura, she can’t really say.

“Perhaps I can help with that,”  Laura breathes, trailing her leg up and higher until it’s wrapped around Carmilla’s waist.  Somehow pulling her closer.

“I had been hoping.”  She manages to say.  Her pulse suddenly racing, body warming.  The movement of Laura’s hips against her own intoxicating and downright illegal.

And though she can’t see it.  Far too occupied with Laura’s chest and neck and jaw.  She can tell she’s smiling.

“With so much time, I can’t think of anything we could do.”

Carmilla chuckles.  “I’d had some thoughts.”

“Anything you’d care to share, Miss Karnstein?”

Carmilla grabs Laura’s other leg, pulling her up until she’s pinned completely to the wall.  “Would much rather show you.”

“Bedroom.”  Laura gasps.  The urgent and heated Now left unsaid.

And Carmilla wastes no time holding Laura tighter to herself and guiding them to the back of Laura’s apartment.

They land on the bed in a fit of laughter and kisses.

And don’t leave until Monday morning.

 

//

 

Children were annoying.

Objectively, speaking.

They were annoying.

And Carmilla had a strong distaste for them.

They were messy and unnecessary and uncontrollable.

She watches as a young boy takes off his swim trunks and runs across the deck.  A disheveled father chasing after him.

She turns, distaste filling her and catches another young girl pick her nose and eat whatever unfortunate thing she finds stuck up it.

Next to her, LaF snorts.  “Wish I could still do that,”  They say.

“Not at all surprising that you were a disgusting child.”

They laugh.  And in the wave pool, they both watch as a preschooler starts to splash her older sister; despite pleas and yells of stop.

“You know,” LaF continues on.  “Some people actually wear bathing suits to water parks.”

Carmilla motions down her body.  To the black bikini just barely visible beneath her white shirt and black shorts.  “I am,”  she says, adjusting her sunglasses and the floppy hat Laura had bought her two weeks ago.

I thought it would look cute on you.

I don’t do cute.

Sure you do, Laura had responded, placing the hat atop her head.   And taking a step back to admire her handiwork.  You do me all the time.

Carmilla hadn’t stopped laughing for ten minutes.

“The sun won’t kill you.”

“Cancer studies suggest otherwise,” Carmilla responds as a child starts to scream as his parent drags him from the wave pool.

It’s loud.

Obnoxious.

Definitely unnecessary.

But then…

“Mama, look!”

Carmilla turns to see Jaime, halfway out into the wave pool, perched atop Perry’s shoulders, waving frantically as Perry tries to keep him still and from falling.

But then the waves start up and a current hits Perry’s back, sending them both tumbling beneath the surface.

There’s hardly any time for panic when they both pop back up. And Carmilla swears she can hear Jaime’s laugh above the entire chaos of the park.  His arms wrapped tight around Perry’s neck and she holds on to him and they let the waves push them closer to the deck.

A little girl walks by, her hand held firmly in her mother’s, ice cream melted and painted across her face.  Carmilla grimaces.

Next to her, she hears LaF sigh.  Happy and content.  

“I’m surprised,” they say after a moment, taking their eyes off the pool and turning to her.  “That you didn’t invite the girlfriend along.”

There’s something about what they say that sits funny with her.  And before she can even think about what it is she’s saying:  “I don’t have a girlfriend.”

She doesn’t mean anything by it.  And it’s not a big deal, she thinks.  Because it’s the truth.   

But LaF is pulling their sunglasses down.  Looking at her with wide eyes.

“What?”

“You can’t be serious?”

She waves away their disbelief.  Adjusts the hat again, bringing it lower.  “Laura and I are just…seeing one another.”

“Exclusively,”  They say.  A pause for effect.  “For eight months.”

“Nine.”  She corrects before she can think about it.

“Congratulations on further proving my point.”

Carmilla huffs.  “Relationships are arbitrary.  Pairing time restraints and meaning leads to nothing but expectation and disappointment.”

Pointless.  Fully and completely.  Really.  Because it only led to heartbreak half the time.

And it may have been eight months, nine, but that didn’t—couldn’t—mean anything.  

Despite the fact that Laura was on her mind constantly.  And she was the first person she texted in the morning.  And the last at night.  She’d see flowers and she’d buy them.  Surprising her by placing them on her car at work.  Watching silently as she buckled Jaime in.  As Laura’s eyes lit up and she’d turn.  Giving a small wave.  And Carmilla would wink.

And Laura would return the favor with a box of chocolates eaten in the middle of a stolen night, before Carmilla would slip away.  Between kisses and laughter and conversation that never seemed to end.

But months meant nothing.  Because they barely saw one another.  Commitments present and always the same.  Because there was still time and space.  Sleepovers were rare and few.  Not that she’d been counting.  And the word girlfriend had never been brought up.  Nor had relationship.  

Because time.

And space.

And commitments.

Carmilla feels her throat tighten and something in her stomach turn.  And suddenly it’s far too hot.  Even though she’d been baking in the sun for hours already.  

Her tan line would be atrocious.

“You’re an idiot.”

“We’re taking it slow.”  And she can see Jaime and Perry wading closer through the water.  Jaime now crawling on his arms, letting his legs float behind him as the pool becomes more and more shallow.  “For the Kid’s sake.”

LaF makes some kind of noise.  Between a groan of announce and a snort of disbelief.

She barely has enough time to flip them off before Jaime is barreling toward her.  Jumping onto her lap and completely soaking her front.

Out of the corner of her eye, she sees Perry bend and place a sweet kiss on LaF’s lips.  

And there’s a tug in her gut.  Hot and heavy.  

And she barely has time to recognize it as jealousy before Jaime is jumping off her lap; his knee digging into her gut.  “Come in the waves, Mama!’

He yells and pulls her arm until she stands pretending like he’s being a nuisance and hiding her smile.  “I thought you wanted to go with Aunt Perry.”

“She needs a break.”  Is his matter of fact reply.

“I said no such thing,” Perry responds, but even Carmilla can see the exhaustion sagging her shoulders.

“Alright, Kid.  Lead the way.”  

She shucks off her shirt and shorts and let’s Jaime pull her to the wave pool.

She has to side step a boy as he falls, scrapping his knee across the deck and letting out a loud scream.

Blood starts to trickle down his leg, mixing with the water already there.  

His screams coming louder.

And they were.  Annoying.  Children.  

Really.

Objectively.

Unnecessary.

“Mama, hurry!  The waves are starting.”

Carmilla smiles and scoops Jaime by the waist, tugging him high into the air and running into the water, tackling him to the waves when they get deep enough.

Unnecessary.

His laugh is loud and infectious.

And, objectively speaking, Carmilla knew.  Children were a nuisance.  Loud and obnoxious.  Needy and gross.

Jaime smiles and launches himself forward.  Trying to dunk her.  She lets him struggle for a moment before faking a fall.  Pulling him under with her.

But, objectively speaking, she knew.

Her’s was kind of the best.

 

//

 

Laura’s arms are warm around her.

It was always that way.  Gentle and warm.  Filling, somehow.  

Despite the fact that she was the shorter of the two.

But she’s got her arms wrapped around her shoulder, leaning over the back of the couch.  And Carmilla thinks she’s never been more comfortable.

“It looks like you guys had fun,” she says, her cheek pressed against Carmilla’s as they look at the pictures on her phone.

Selfies taken by Jaime at the waterpark.

Carmilla turns, brow furrowing.  Something in the way Laura had spoken catching her attention.

Though she can’t quite say what it is.

Distant.  Perhaps.  

But Laura is looking at her.  Full and bright.  Her eyes shining just the same.  

A trick of her ears.  She thinks.

“It was.”  She says instead.  “If you count screaming children, sunburns, and overpriced food fun.”

“That’s part of the fun.”

“The dent the amount of aloe lotion I had to buy made in my wallet speaks otherwise.”

“I used to love going to the waterpark when I was a kid.”  Laura says, standing and stretching.  Her hands fall to Carmilla’s shoulder and she squeezes slightly.  A gentle massage.  “I made my dad get us season passes every year.”

Carmilla lets her head fall against the back of the couch and watches Laura upside down.  “I bet you had a pink onesie bathing suit with unicorns on it.”

Lisa Frank Tigers, actually.”

Carmilla whistles.  “Tough girl.”

Laura flicks her ear.  “I have to say, though, the bathing suit I have now is much better.”

Carmilla turns and thinks she should probably be embarrassed at how quickly she does.  But she turns and sits on her knees, bringing her level with Laura.

Laura smirks.

“That so?”

Laura hums and nods.  “Oh yes.  It’s this blue number.  Two piece.  Quite cute really.  Compliments me well.”

Carmilla slips her hands around Laura’s waist, pulling her as close as the couch will allow.  “Care to share.”

She watches as Laura hesitates briefly.  Her eyes darting back and forth.  Searching.  “Well,” she starts.  And Carmilla can already tell it’s there.  That something.  Just like before.  Hard to track and pin.  “Maybe next time I can join you and you’ll get to see.”

Laura smiles.  And it’s full.  Of something completely different. 

Hesitance.  Uncertainty.

And Carmilla feels her throat close.

Tight and hot.  Threatening.

And watches as Laura’s eyes search her’s again.

She’d like to.  She thinks.  To say yes.

Because it is summer.

And summer means no school.

And no school means Laura isn’t Jaime’s teacher.

And that means no confusion.  Or unprofessionalism.  Or nosy little nanny gossip.

Because it’s eight months.

Nine.

So it’s not really surprising, she thinks.  The way Laura is looking at her.

But they were taking it slow.

That had been agreed upon in the beginning.  No matter the what.  Or the when.  They would take it slow.

“We should get going,” Carmilla says.  Speaking before she can think too much or far too far.  And then kisses her.  “Or we’ll miss our reservation.”

And it’s not a trick.  She knows.  When Laura’s smile falters slightly.  Dipping with disappointment. 

But as fast as it happens, it’s gone.  And her smile is back.  

Full.

If not a little less bright.

“Let me get my sweater.”  Is all she says.

“You know it’s the middle of summer,” Carmilla replies and pretends she can’t feel the smallest amount of dread settling in her.

“We all don’t run as hot as you do, Carm.”

Carmilla catches Laura by the waist when she’s close again; her brow wiggling.  “So you think I’m hot.”

Laura groans, in the least sexy way possible.  And opens her front door.  “God, you’re annoying.”

“Yeah, but at least I’m hot.”

And Carmilla feels the dread leave.

Because Laura laughs and smiles and closes the door behind them.

 

//

 

“No can do, Kitty.  I’ve got myself a date.”

Carmilla huffs and let’s her head fall against the counter.  “Don’t lie.”

“Like I’d ever come up with an excuse to get out of hangin’ with the little man,”  Will responds and Carmilla feels guilt at the fact that he sounds slightly offended.

“Is she hot?”

“Not your type.”

“Wasn’t asking for myself.”

She looks up and sees Jaime in the next room, building a fort out of his blanket and the couch pillows she specifically told him not to use.

“Aw yes, the ever elusive Miss Hollis.  How is the girlfriend?”

“She’s not my girlfriend.”

“Finally admitting she’s imaginary?”

“You’re a pain in the ass, you know that?”

Will laughs.  And it does nothing to help her mood.

“I haven’t seen her all week. And I was kind of looking forward to a night out.”

She hears Will sigh.  Followed by a loud slam of something on something.  “Look, I’d help out if I could.  But I’m in my car.  And I’m going to be late.”

“Must really like the girl if you’re going to be on time.”

“A gentleman is never late.”

“If you’re a gentleman then there’s no hope for the world.”

“I know how to treat a lady.  Don’t take it out on me because you don’t.”

“Go fuck yourself.”

“With any luck, tonight, I won’t have to.”

She hangs up to Will’s laugh echoing in her ear.

Carmilla takes a moment, watching as Jaime gets his blanket settled just right before crawling under his contraption.  She can hear him mumbling quietly to the toys he’d set up inside.

When she’s certain he won’t be exiting the fort any time soon, she hits number two on her speed dial and walks further into the kitchen.
“On your way?”  Laura picks up after the second ring.

Carmilla sighs.  “Not exactly.”

“Is everything okay?”

“Yeah, yeah.  It’s just.  Perry called.  LaF came down with something and she thinks it’s best to keep Jaime away while she takes care of them and disinfects the house.”

She doesn’t like the way Laura responds with “Okay.”

So uncertain.  Like she can’t quite tell where Carmilla is going with the news.  And pretty clear that she doesn’t think she’ll like what’s next.

“And Will has a date.  So he can’t watch him.  And Mother is out of town with Mattie.  And I don’t have a sitter.”

“So…” 

There’s a hopefulness to the way that Laura says it.  And Carmilla thinks she likes that even less than the uncertainty.

“I’m going to have to cancel.”

There’s a breath on Laura’s end.  Caught.  And then a quiet “Oh…” followed with a “Right…”

The guilt that courses through her is fast and swift and nearly knocks Carmilla sideways.  

It’s followed by the dread.  Heavy. 

Hot.

Much more present.

“The second I find someone free this week I’m going to drop Jaime off and we’ll have a day.”

And though she can’t see her, she knows Laura is nodding.  

“That—.”  She pauses.  A waver in her voice.  And then starts again.  Normal.  “That sounds great.”

“I’m really sorry, Laura.”

“Don’t worry about it.”  She replies.  And Carmilla thinks that means she should. Because Laura had planned their night two weeks ago when she’d seen the advertisement for the evening art walk in the paper.

“I’ll talk to you later?”

“Yeah, of course.”

“Okay.”

“Bye.”

And Laura hangs up.

Carmilla sighs.  Takes a deep breath.  Steps into the adjourning room.  Suppressing her own disappointment.  Because she shouldn’t feel disappointed.

Not when she has a night to spend with Jaime.

Because nothing about him.  No time or thing.  Was ever a disappointment.

“Knock, knock,” She says, ducking to look into his fort.

“Time to go, Mama?”

“”Fraid not, Kid.  LaF is sick and Aunt Perry has to take care of them.”

“So no sleepover?”  His shoulders fall slightly.

“Well…”  Carmilla crawls on to all fours and lays down.  Tickling his side.  “I was thinking we could have a sleepover in this contraption you’ve built.”

Jaime’s eyes light up even as he says: “It’s not a ‘traption—.”

“Contraption.”

Contraption, Mama.  It’s a fort!”

“Well.  You know what the rules for forts are, don’t you?”

Jaime drops his toys and turns to her fully.  His eyes wide.  “What?”

“Popcorn and movies and extra candy.”

She can tell he’s keeping his excitement at bay.  Trying to decide if she’s teasing him or not.  “Really?”

“Really, really.  But that means you have to spend the night with just plain ol’ me.”

Jaime somehow seems to smile brighter and bigger.  Full and complete.  “That’s okay, Mama.  That’s my favorite thing to do.”

And then he’s scrambling on all fours out of the fort.

“I’m going to go pick the movies!”

Carmilla feels her breath catch and her heart swell.  And any sort of lingering disappointment vanishes as she lets herself settle.  Getting swept up in popcorn and candies.

Extra toppings on the pizza.

Content with Jaime’s laugh.  The way he does so when he tosses M&Ms at her, trying to land them in her open mouth.  Or the way he somehow still seems content to snuggle into her side.

His gentle snore as he falls asleep halfway through The Little Mermaid.

Content that he seems to still enjoy a night alone with her.  At least for now.  

She feels content.

And tries not to focus on the fact that Laura doesn’t text for the rest of the night.

 

//

 

The obnoxious children have multiplied by ten.

Carmilla glares as one bumps into her back as she lathers Jaime’s back with sunscreen as they kneel before their locker.

“Mama, that’s enough!”

“I say when it’s enough.”

“I don’t need more sunscreen.”

“Sorry, Kid, but you’re still red from last time.”

“I just wanna go on the slide.”

“You will.”  He huffs.  And crosses his arms.  “And if you keep that attitude up, we can go home early.”

His arms drop.  “Fine.”

Jaime.”

His shoulders slouch.  “Sorry, Mama.”   

“Thank you.”  She says as she stands.

“Can I go wait in line with LaF and Aunt Perry now.”  Jaime turns to her, looking up.  The too big aviator sunglasses Will had gotten him slipping down his face.

She squirts a final bit of sunscreen onto her finger and swipes it across his nose.  “Now you can.”  He sets off and she has to yell a “Walk!”  after him.

Carmilla watches briefly as he makes it to LaF in line and let’s Perry scoop him up into her arms before turning and throwing the remainder of their belongings into the locker.

Just as her phone rings and Laura’s name and picture flashes across the screen.

“Hey.”

“Are you and Jaime busy today?” Laura starts immediately, her voice pitched just slightly higher than normal and rambling faster than she’s ever heard.

It’s impressive.  Carmilla thinks.

And completely jarring.

“Because one of my dad’s coworkers, the one who totally has a crush on him?  She gave him tickets to the Science Center.  And he thought it might be something that Jaime would enjoy.  So he gave them to me.  And I thought maybe we could all go.”

Carmilla can’t help but smile.  And she leans into the lockers.  “He would love the Science Center.  But LaF and Perry have already dragged us to the waterpark.  We just got here.”

There’s a long pause.  And she can hear Laura swallow on the other end.

“You went to the waterpark again with LaF and Perry?”

“Yeah, they called this morning.  Asked if we wanted to go.”

“So you all went.  Together.”

Carmilla feels her brow furrow and somehow the sun seems to get hotter.  “Yeah.  That’s not a problem, is it?”

“No.  No of course not I had just thought—-.”

There’s a sigh on the other end.  And then a quiet laugh.  One of disbelief that doesn’t quite sit right.  “Never mind.  I won’t keep you, Carm.  Have fun.”

“We’re still on for tomorrow night, right?”

“I—.”  Laura hesitates.  Actually hesitates and Carmilla thinks she may actually say no.  But then.  “Of course.  Have fun.”

She hangs up before Carmilla can say anything else.

 

//

 

“Wait, don’t move.”

“No, no way.”

“Come on, Carmilla.  Live a little.”

“Don’t move, Mama, it’s funny!”

Carmilla sighs but freezes.  Letting Perry take the picture of her and LaFontaine and the fake mustaches they had created on themselves with their already melted ice cream.

“Lovely,” Perry says.  

“Blackmail,” LaFontaine replies.

Carmilla snorts.  “For you or for me?”

“Does it matter?”

Her phone buzzes with the picture in the form of a text from Perry.  

And even Carmilla can admit it’s a pretty funny photo.

So she saves it.  And clicks send.  And watches as it zips across nonexistent space to Laura.

She doesn’t get a response for the rest of the time they are at the park.

Not until she’s buckling Jaime into his car seat.  And the simple:

Nice hat.

Comes through.  

And it’s weird, Carmilla thinks.  Strange.  Because Laura’s texts where usually as wordy and as winded as her speech pattern.  

Ten words when one would do.  Perfectly punctuated sentences instead of text short hand and vernacular.  Thought out.  Full of life and excitement.

And just…

Laura.

They were never this.

They were never this simple.  Never this short and sweet.

And Carmilla gets the feeling.

There is nothing really sweet about it.

But she called later.  Normal and Laura.  And laughs as she recounts the Science Center.  A trip she had taken with her dad and Danny.

And it's full and bright.

And Carmilla thinks, not for the first time, how horribly annoying text messages really were.

 

//

 

She was an awful parent.

An actual, awful parent.  And the fact that the universe had somehow seen fit for her to raise a child was still beyond her.

“I’m an awful parent.”

“You’re not.”

“I am though.”

“Everyone forgets sunscreen now and then.  It’s part of the fun.”

Carmilla sighs as she feels Laura’s hands run down her back.  A combination of the warmth that is her and the striking cold of the aloe vera lotion she was spreading across it.

“No, seriously.  You should see Jaime.”  Laura’s hands still and Carmilla can feel her take a slow breath.  “He’s worse.  It’s awful.  I’m awful.”

Laura doesn’t respond.  And if it weren’t for her hands still working on her back, Carmilla would have thought she wasn’t in the room at all.

The silence is filing.  And different.  And she’s about to ask if Laura heard her when she says: “Alright, you big baby, all finished.”

“I am not a big baby.” Carmilla adjusts her shirt and rolls over, spreading out and taking up as much space on Laura’s bed as she can.

And she watches, as Laura sits on the edge, wiping away the excess lotion with a towel.  Her head bent.  Her shoulders hunched.  Her brow furrowed.  

And though she had very rarely seen her in such a way, Carmilla thinks she knows Laura well enough by now to know that something’s wrong.

“We better get going or we’ll miss the movie,” Laura says without looking at her, examining her hands for any last remnants of lotion.

“Fuck the movie,” Carmilla says, grabbing Laura’s arm and trying to pull her to the bed.

Laura turns from her, her head shaking and she can tell she’s fighting a smile.  

It somehow makes the worry lines worse.

“Carm…”

“Just come here for a second,” she says, and reaches again.  Placing a soft kiss on Laura’s cheek.

And another on her jaw.

Her neck.

“I’m on my period.”

Carmilla snorts and places another kiss on the corner of Laura’s mouth.  And she swears it can’t be her imagination when Laura pulls away slightly.  “You think you’re only good for sex?”

She watches as Laura pauses.  Her mouth hanging open slightly.  As if she doesn’t know how to answer.  

She sighs and shakes her head.

And Carmilla knows something is bothering her.

“Come here,” she says, pulling until Laura is following her back onto the bed.  And not stopping until her head is placed on Carmilla’s shoulder, her own arms wrapped tight around Laura’s body.

Carmilla exhales.  Taking a moment to enjoy what had become one of her favorite things.

The feel of Laura in her arms.  Warm body pressed flush against hers.  Clothed.  Not.  It didn’t matter.  

Because it was calming.  And comforting.  The smell of her shampoo.  Strawberry and fresh.   The gentle thump of Laura’s heart.  The tickle of her breath.  

Familiar.  

A position that was not at all new.  One she had been in with a single woman before and countless many before that.  

But different.

Because with Laura is was so intrinsically her.  That Camilla knew it was something else all together.

“What’s wrong?”

Another sigh and another pause.  And then Laura brings her hand to Carmilla’s stomach, playing with a loose thread on her shirt.  “Nothing’s wrong.”

“I think it’s pretty clear that that’s a lie.”

Laura huffs.  Her hand stilling and her whole body tensing.  “Really.  I’m fine.”

“Laura…”

“Carm, really.  I’m fine.  It’s just—-period and all.  I’m,” she pauses.  And Carmilla thinks she must be coming up with an excuse.  “Tired.”

Carmilla shifts so she can look at her.  And Laura looks back.  Almost a challenge.  

She doesn’t believe her.  At all.  But she knows trying to drag information out of someone was never fruitful.

Any higher power knew how she always lashed out when someone tried.

“You’d tell me if something was, right?”  She asks instead.  “Wrong?”

She watches as Laura sighs again.  This time resigned.  Tired maybe, true.

But regretful.

Almost guilty.

“Yeah.  Of course.”  She offers a small smile.  Not fully.  And completely different than anything she’s seen before.  

Strange.

“Now, let’s go or we’ll miss the movie.”

“Fuck the movie.”

And they do.

Staying in bed with an unhealthy amount of takeout from Laura’s favorite Chinese food place.  And watching a God awful rom-com they find deep in the archives of Netflix.

And when she leaves, Laura let’s her go with a slow kiss that burns her entire way home.

 

//

 

“AAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH”

Jaime rounds the corner, his blanket tied around him like a cape.  A Barbie doll in one hand, his other hand clutching what he had deemed an invisible robot.

Which was currently being chased, it would seem, mid-air by the Barbie.

She thinks.  It had been hard to gather.  His explanation mixed with game play and the amount of sugar she had let him eat after lunch.

Carmilla watches as he slips slightly, his socks giving beneath the hardwood and she has half a second of panic when he clumsily collides with the wall.  But he pushes himself off and continues through the house.  No worse for wear.

She bites back a laugh and grabs her phone.  Continuing to pack Jaime’s overnight bag.  Grabbing Frozen and placing it atop his clothes and necessities.  

LaF was going to kill her.

She smiles and hits the call button.

“No telemarketers, please,” Laura answers almost immediately.

“And here I had a whole speech prepared.”

She can hear Laura’s quiet laugh and her smile widens.

“What’re you doing tonight?”
Laura hums for a second.  “Pajamas and hot chocolate and the crossword book my dad gave me.”

“Consider yourself saved.”

“Oh?”

“There’s this summer night walk thing at the zoo.  Apparently they put out artwork from some day camp next to the animal pens or something.  Thought we could go.”

She hears Laura’s breath catch on the other end.  And there’s a long pause.  Followed by a quiet “We?”
Carmilla chuckles quietly and grabs Jaime’s bag.  Trying to locate the sounds of his screams so she can get him in the car.  “Yeah, Lauronica, we.  You know, you and me.  I just have to drop Jaime off and LaF’s and I’ll be over.”

The next pause that comes is long and slow.  

Heavy, Carmilla thinks.  

“I-uh—I think I need to pass, Carm.”  Laura finally says, and Carmilla is certain she’s never heard her sound so small.

Carmilla stills in the foyer, brow furrowing.  “Oh?”

“Yeah.  I’m really…” Another pause and a sigh.  “I’m really not feeling well.  I think I just need a night in.”

“Did you want me to bring you anything?”

“No.  No, no.  It’s fine.  I think it’s just a head thing.  Those pajamas and hot chocolate…my couch is calling my name.”

“You shouldn’t have hot chocolate if you’re sick.”

And though she can’t be certain.  Carmilla knows Laura smiles when she says, “I’ll be fine.”

A sad one, she thinks.

“You’re sure.”

“Positive.  I think I just need to curl up with my blanket and not move for a while.”

“You’ll call me if you need anything.”

“Promise.”
“Okay.”

“‘Kay.”

“I’ll talk to you later?”

“Definitely.”

And then they hang up.

Just as Jaime rounds the corner.  High screams and Barbie and invisible robot in hand.

He collides with her legs.

And sends them both tumbling to the ground.

 

//

 

Thirty minutes later she parks her car.  

Because she’d still taken Jaime to LaF and Perry’s.  Dropping him off with a hug and a kiss and a promise to be back in the morning.  And a flip of the middle finger to LaF when they’d watched her leave with a chuckle and a Not your girlfriend, huh?.

She’d taken pride in the fact that the smile had dropped when she mentioned Frozen packed away in Jaime’s bag.

Then she’d made a pit stop at Laura’s favorite cafe for a large order of chicken noodle soup.  And another at the drug store, where she purchased half the pharmacy.  

And an extra large container of Laura’s favorite ice cream.

Because she’d missed her.  Despite her warnings and protests that Carmilla stay away and safe.  

It had been ten days since they’d seen one another.

And Carmilla had been looking forward to surprising her with an impromptu date all day.

And maybe it wouldn’t be a fun night out of hand holding and walking in the cool summer’s night.

But it could be comfortable and warm.

Things, she knew, Laura already was.

It really wouldn’t be that different anyway.

Besides.  

She’d always had a strong immune system.

So she’d gotten soup.  And ice cream.  And half the pharmacy.  Not knowing what she would need.  But she would assess the situation once Laura answered the door.

She does.  After the second knock.

And Carmilla immediately knows something is wrong.

Because Laura looks normal.  Fine.  More than fine.  If not tired.  In her normal clothes and jeans.  And there’s no blanket on the couch.  And no crossword book.

No hot chocolate.

And she looks completely caught.

“Carm.”

“You don’t look sick.”

Guilty.  Carmilla thinks.  Her mind trying to process the fact.  She looks completely guilty.

Laura sighs and opens the door.  Letting Carmilla in.  

Though something tells her she should turn right around.

But she does.  And Laura closes the door quietly behind them as Carmilla unloads the million bags she’d very clearly didn’t need to rush and get from her arms.

“What’s going on?”

Laura sighs and her head falls against the door.  “I’m not sick.”

“Clearly.”

Laura huffs and looks offended and Carmilla has half the mind to tell her she has no right  to be.

“I’m sorry, okay?”

“Sorry that you lied or sorry you got caught.”

“That’s not fair.”

“Actually, I think it’s pretty damn fair.”  Carmilla feels her throat catch around the words and she has to take a deep breath to push her anger down.

Because she can feel it.  Boiling and rising with embarrassment.

Because she’d had to go to two different cafes to get the soup.  The first had been out.  And she had been worried.  Because Laura was sick.

Except.  So very clearly she wasn’t.

And Carmilla was so very clearly a fool.

Laura runs her hand down her face.  And Carmilla thinks she really does look tired.  Her eyes red and heavy.  “I just needed some time alone.”

“Time alone.”  

Carmilla can’t help the disappointment ring through her words.  And she thinks Laura must notice it because she looks nothing but guilty.

“Look it’s not—.”  Laura leans further into the wall.  Her body heavy.  And looks to the ceiling.  “I just wanted to think.”

“About what?”

“It’s nothing.”

“Clearly it’s something.”

Laura huffs.  Frustrated.  And crosses her arms.  “I really didn’t want to talk about it now.”

“So you lied.”

“I didn’t think you’d come over.”

“Sorry for the surprise.”

It’s angry and bitter the way she says it and it seems to set Laura off.

“I didn’t ask you to come over.  I told you not to.”

“Excuse me for caring enough to want to make sure you were okay.”

“Carmilla.”  The use of her full name is foreign and strange and Carmilla doesn’t like it.  “Please, can we talk about this later?”

“I don’t even know what the fuck we’re talking about.”  Carmilla crosses her arms and eyes the door. Because she’d really like to leave.  With the way Laura looks and the blatant lie and the uneasy feeling she has that’s slowly starting to take over.  

But Laura is blocking the door and there’s no where else to go.

“If you didn’t want to spend time with me, you could have just said.”

Hurt.

She thinks.

She definitely sounds hurt.

She tries to swallow it and push it away.

“That is not what I said.”  Laura pushes from the door slightly.  Still blocking it.  But her body entering what can only be described as fight mode.  “At all.”

“Then give me the reason why.  Because right now it sure as shit looks like it.”

“I cancelled.  I didn’t even know you had made plans to cancel, really.  It’s not that big of a deal.  You’ve cancelled on me before.”

“Yeah, because I have a kid, Laura.  And I can’t just up and leave sometimes, not because I didn’t want to see you.”

“Exactly!”

The word echoes around them.  Loud and frustrated.  And Laura looks surprised at her outburst before she slumps back into the wall.  Her head hanging.

The fight completely gone.

Carmilla feels her head spin at how quickly the change happens.

And the feeling of dread grows.

Steady.  And uneasy.

“Because you have a kid.  And you can’t find a sitter.  Or your friend cancels.  Or your brother has a date.  It doesn’t even cross your mind to bring him along.”

“Bringing a child on a date isn’t exactly hot or sexy.”

And Laura laughs.

Hard and bitter and quiet.

Not at all her.

Carmilla watches as her head turns up to the ceiling and she can see tears lining her eyes.  She huffs and brushes them away.  Shaking her head.

A tactic, Carmilla knows, to try to keep the tears at bay.

She was a practiced professional.

“It’s summer, Carm,” Laura speaks again.  Her voice small and quiet and..

Oh.

Carmilla feels her throat tighten and her hands shake.  And it’s hot, she thinks.  Even though the sun is gone and Laura’s apartment is cold.

“It’s summer and I’m not his teacher anymore and we had made a plan and I had thought.  On the last day of school you had said…”

Oh.

Carmilla crosses her arms and tries to respond.  Tries to think of a response.  But it’s pointless and useless.  Because she feels blank and numb and her throat tightens just the little bit more.

“We—,” she finally finds her voice after another second of Laura looking at her.  Sad and pathetic.  “We agreed we were going to take it slow.”

Laura let’s out a shaky breath.  A smile of disbelief that doesn’t quite fit her face.  “It’s been ten months, Carm.”

And relationships were arbitrary.  And a connotation of time imposed on it lead to nothing but expectation and heartbreak.

But ten months.

Hearing it out loud.  Coming from Laura.  Looking at her so…upset.

Carmilla suddenly feels the weight of the time settle on her shoulders.

“You should have just said.”

“I had been kind of hoping I didn’t have to,” Laura says, shy.  “He’s not my child.  And I wanted to do it on your time.  But…”

“It’s been ten months.”

“Yeah.”

Carmilla nods.  And nods.  And nods.  Because she doesn’t really know what else to do.

She gets why Jaime always looks like a bobble head.

It’s in the genes.  

Apparently.

“I—I don’t really know what I’m…I’ve just.  Never been in this situation before.”

It sounds like an excuse, she thinks.  But she doesn’t really know what else to say.

Pathetic.

Absolutely pathetic.

But Laura smiles.  Sympathetic.  And takes a step forward.  “Neither have I.  And if I’m being honest, I never thought I’d be in a relationship with someone who already has a kid but—.”

Relationship?”

The word slips out of her mouth faster than she can think.  Faster than she has time to mask the absolute shock she knows is coating it.

Because it wasn’t.  That wasn’t what this was.  

Because there was arbitrary.  

And time didn’t matter.  Because there were commitments and they were taking it slow.

This wasn’t.  They weren’t.

They hadn’t even discussed it yet.

Laura stops walking. Blinks.  Does a double take.  The corner of her mouth turning up slightly.  “Yeah Carm, a relationship.”

And Carmilla thinks…

Something about her face must give her away.  Because Laura suddenly stops.  And her eyes go wide.  And she swallows.  And there’s tears now.  Definitely tears.  And she’s taking a step back.  And…

Oh god.

“Oh my god.”  Laura is saying.  “I’m such an idiot.”

Carmilla would like to say something. She thinks.  She would.  But her mouth isn’t working.  And neither is her brain, apparently.

Whiplash.

Definitely whiplash.

“Laura…”

“Is that not what this has been for you?”  Laura is backing away more.  Arms out in front of her.  A defense.

“I hadn’t really thought…”

The wrong answer, she knows.  Because Laura’s eyes go wide.  

“Hadn’t really thought?” Carmilla watches as Laura swallows and her eyes dart around the room.  Looking for her own escape.  “What the hell do you think it is when you’ve been seeing the same woman for almost a year?”

Carmilla feels her mouth move.  A quiet babble that she can’t quite formulate.  And the pause is too long because Laura suddenly looks sick.

Oh god.   I’m such…have you been seeing someone else?”

She’s crying.

She’s actually crying.

“Have I just been some side thing for entertainment and a good fuck?”
Camilla cringes at the swear.  Gross and inappropriate coming from Laura.  

Degrading.  

It makes her skin crawl.

And it’s finally enough for Carmilla spring forward.  “No.  God, fuck, Laura no.  Okay.  No.  Of course not.”

Laura looks like she doesn’t believe her.  Her arms crossed and tight.  Hunched in on herself.  Her eyes wide and puffy.

“It’s just been you.  Of course, it’s just been you.  I just…”

What?”

“I didn’t realize we were there, yet.”

Laura guffaws loud and angry.

“Surprise, Carmilla, you have a girlfriend.”

Girlfriend.

The word hangs in the air between them.  Sweet.  And welcoming.  So different hearing it from Laura than from LaFontaine or Will.

Full and complete and encompassing.

Warm.

Terrifying.

“I’m sorry—.”  Laura’s face falls completely.  And she takes in a deep shuttering breath.  A step back when Carmilla takes one forward.  “No.  No.  I just…fuck.”

Laura sighs and seems to turn further in on herself and Carmilla wants nothing more than to bridge the gap and hold her.  

Because it’s calming.

It always is.

Except.

Laura looks like she doesn’t want her to come near her with a ten foot pole.

“I didn’t—-I need to be sure.  For Jaime.  I need to be sure.”

“So you’re not sure.”

“That’s not what I said.”

“Then what are you saying?”

“I don’t know.  Okay?  I didn’t…”  She sighs and runs a hand through her hair.  Trying to make sense of what it is she’s trying to say.  Because she can’t.  

Because the answer doesn’t seem to be there.

“I didn’t think we were that serious.”

Laura’s eyes go wide.  And she laughs.  Hard and bitter and loud.  And the tears that were coming before are nothing compared to now.  

“Not that serious…freaking hell, Carmilla.  I love you.”

And Carmilla is certain that the air gets sucked out of the room.

Because she can’t breathe.  And the weight and dread in her stomach somehow feels lifted and worse at the same time.

Laura looks like a deer caught in headlights.  Eyes wide and unmoving.  Somehow more shocked, Carmilla thinks, that she spoke the words.

But they are there.  And out.  And the only response Carmilla seems to be able to grasp is:

“What.”

And it’s her face, she thinks.  Definitely her face.

Giving away a something Carmilla can’t even name.  

Because Laura looks like the wind is knocked out of her.

“Surprise.”  

The way she says it is sad.  Pathetic.

Completely broken.

“Laura…”

But Carmilla watches as she takes a step back.  

“I think you should go.”

“Laura, don’t.  I—.”

And she doesn’t look at her when she adds a quiet: “Please, Carmilla.”

It’s the name, Carmilla thinks.  Full and broken and not at all right.

“Please just…leave.”

She makes sure to close the door behind her when she does.

 

//

 

Perry opens the door.

And it’s definitely her face, Carmilla thinks.  

Betraying her.

Because one look at her is all that’s needed, apparently.  Before Perry turns with a “Wait right here” and she shuffles into the house.

Bending over the back of the couch, whispering something in LaF’s ear.

Carmilla isn’t really sure how she got here.  Her mind filled with nothing but the image of Laura, hurt and broken, as she left.

And gotten in her car.

And driven.

Blank.  Really.

Not at all safe driving conditions.

Knocking until Perry answered.

Numb.

She thinks.  

Completely numb.  

The heartbroken look Laura had given her.

The fact that she had caused it.

Her apparent ineptitude at being a functioning adult.

She watches as LaF turns slightly, looking at her.  Their face instantly falling. But Perry whispers something.  And they nod.  Turn back to the TV, where Carmilla can hear Do You Want to Build a Snowman; Jaime, no doubt, spread out on the floor before them.

But her view is quickly blocked as Perry turns again.  Grabbing a light cardigan and exiting the house.  

She closes the door.  Sits on the porch bench.  Waits for Carmilla to join her.

“What happened?”  She asks.

Once Carmilla does sit, letting her head fall back against the wood of the house.

“Nothing.”

Carmilla.”

And, Carmilla thinks, any future children LaF and Perry have are screwed.  She’s already got the Mom voice perfected.

Carmilla sighs.  Letting the night air wash over her.  Cooling, already, even though it’s August.  

“Laura told me she loved me.”
Perry perks.  And smiles.  “That’s wonderful.”

Carmilla groans.  And shakes her head.

Because whatever it was that just happened is most definitely not wonderful.

“I said what.”

“What?”

“I said what.”  

She falls forward, letting her head rest in her hands.  Shaking it to try and get rid of the absolute disgust she feels.  “Laura told me she loved me.  And I said what.”

Oh, Carmilla.”

“Please don’t.”

She can see Perry watching her out of the corner of her eye.  Gauging.  “Did you break up with her?”

What?”

Whiplash.

Perry shrugs.  Her curls bouncing.  “It doesn’t seem like you’re too happy with the news.”

“I didn’t say that.”

“No.  You said what.”

Carmilla scowls.  And her throat tightens.  “Thank you for the reminder.”

Perry smiles.  Warm and gentle.  Motherly.  Always so.

“Do you want to tell me what exactly happened?”

She wouldn’t, Carmilla thinks.  At all.  

Whiplash.

And arbitrary.

And she can’t really make sense of what it is that had happened.

But she does.  Because Perry and LaF’s future children are screwed.  

And even she isn’t immune to the look Perry is giving her.

So she does.

Starting with dropping Jaime off and ending with a knock on the door.

“Oh, Carmilla.”  Perry says again.

And her throat closes.

Hot and heavy.

Tight.

And she takes a shuddering breath.

They fall into a heavy silence.  Awful and vast.  And Carmilla feels like she’s going to be sick.  Unable, once again, to see nothing but the look of hurt Laura had given her.

Complete and utter defeat.

“Do you remember when Ell left?  And you and Jaime stayed on the couch?”

She slept on the couch, Carmilla thinks.  Jaime had his crib.

But.

Semantics.

“Yeah.”  She says instead.  “Kind of hard to forget.”

It earns her a sad smile.  “Do you remember the night Jaime woke up screaming?  And you couldn’t get him back to bed.”

The memory washes over her.  Swift and easy.  “He woke you.  But LaF slept through it.”

“They did.  And we stayed up all night with him, watching infomercials on HGTV.”

And Carmilla can’t help it. 

Despite the complete chaos and unease she feels.

Despite the whiplash.

She laughs.

“I still have that turkey baster set you made me buy.”

Another bark of laughter.  And Carmilla looks to her right.  “Told you it would come in handy one day.”

Perry smiles.  “We’ll see.”

They fall silent again.  Carmilla not quite sure where Perry is going.  Pausing, it would seem, for some sort of effect.

“Do you remember what you told me?  Right after that?  When the commercial for the vacuum set had come on.”

“No.”

Is what she says.

A lie.

Because she remembers it perfectly.

Still able to feel the gentle rise and fall of Jaime against her chest.  Unable to keep him calm unless he was in her arms.  Eyes wide and awake.  

His blanket covering them both.

“You said you didn’t want to keep staying with us.”

“It was a inconvenience.”

“It wasn’t.”

Carmilla snorts.

But…you said you couldn’t go back to your apartment because everything about it was her.”

Carmilla sighs.  And finishes quietly…

“And that I was scared to find some place new because of what that would mean.”

Perry smiles.  Knowing.  “I think the risk was worth it though, wouldn’t you agree?”  She says, gentle and quiet.  Soothing.  “You’ve made a home for Jaime and I think it’s safe to say it’s a beautiful one.”

Carmilla nods.  

And nods again.

The only thing she seems she’s able to do.

“It’s okay to be scared.”  Perry says after another quiet moment.  “You just can’t let it stop you.”

And Carmilla thinks.

She thinks of Laura.  And flowers on a car.  And messages in the morning.  FaceTimes at night.  And strawberry shampoo.  Chocolates stolen and whispered.  Comfort.  And warmth.  Months.  Ten of them.  And lightness.  The lightest Carmilla had felt in years.

Laura’s laugh.

Her smile.

The way she’d looked when Carmilla had hurt her.

“I’m not scared.”

She says.  Sinking into the bench and letting her head fall back once more.  

And she thinks.

She thinks of long nights.  And sleeplessness.  Couches.  And cold.  Tears.

And blankets.

“I’m terrified.”

 

//

 

Danny Lawrence answers the door.

Glaring.

Carmilla thinks she must have recognized her through the peephole.  

And she can’t say that she really blames her.

It’s a stark contrast to the woman Carmilla had met at the end of the school year.  All smiles and high energy for the kids.  Explaining to parents what her Kindergarten class would entail.

But now.  A whole head and half taller than Carmilla.  Her arms stiff at her side. 

Scowling.

She actually looks imposing.

Fucking annoying.

“Miss Karnstein.”  She says, by way of greeting.  

And yeah.

Really fucking annoying.

“Miss Lawrence.”

“What’re you doing here?”

Carmilla snorts.  “Singing Christmas carols.”

Danny crosses her arms and somehow seems to take up more space in the door frame.  Completely blocking her entrance.

Carmilla sighs.  “I’m here to see my girlfriend.”

Laura must have told her what, happened.  She thinks.  Should know already by Danny’s presence, really.  But it’s confirmed when Danny’s brow raises in surprise.

Embarrassment and annoyance.

Lovely.

She stares at Carmilla for a second.  Before her shoulders slump and she looks into the apartment.  

And then she turns.  Grabbing her keys from a nearby table.  She takes a step into the hallway.  And Carmilla is ready to slip past her when she stops.

Puts her hand on Carmilla’s shoulder and cuts her off. 

“Hurt her.  And I hurt you.”

And it’s sweet.  Carmilla thinks.  To know that Laura has someone looking out for her.

Despite the fact that she’d like nothing more than to break the wrist Danny is touching her with.

“Noted.”

And then she pushes past Danny and into the apartment.

“Danny was someone at the door—?”

Laura pauses, coming out of the kitchen.  Oversized pajamas and a sweater wrapping her small frame.

Her eyes go wide at the sight of Carmilla.  And that look comes back.

“Hey.”

Laura swallows.  Gulps, really.  And moves around to the couch.  Looking anywhere but at her when she replies with: “Hey.”

“I brought bagels,”  she starts.  Holding up the bag in her hand.  Their only purpose, a conversation starter.  “Thought the soup would be cold by now.”

The joke does nothing to drop Laura’s defense and she pulls her sweater around herself.

Tight. 

Completely closed off.

“What do you want, Carmilla.”

“To talk.”

Laura huffs and sits on her couch.  “Look, if you’re here to let me off easy, I’d really rather you didn’t.”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“Bandaids.  Rip it off.  I don’t need you to sugarcoat anything.  Break up.  Move on.  I’ll be fine.”

“Why the hell do you think I want to break up with you?”

Laura snorts and looks at her.  Her eyes hard and even more defensive than her body language.  “The fact that you didn’t even realize there was something to break up to begin with?  The absolute horror at the word relationship?”

Carmilla winces.  And Laura takes it the wrong way.  Because she smiles triumphantly.

Horribly triumphantly.

“Laura…”

“No, no, no.  It’s my fault.  I get it.  I went and fell in love.  And clearly this was something different to you.  So just get it over with because I really—.”

“For fuck’s sake, Laura.  Shut up.”  Laura’s mouth hangs open.  And she looks like she’s going to start again.  So she adds for good measure.  “Just shut up for two seconds and let me talk.”

They are quiet for a minute.  Laura staring at her, wide eyed, her defenses slipping.  

When she’s sure she’s not going to get interrupted, Carmilla starts.

And so does the pacing.

“I don’t really know what to say.  So I’m just…”  The words get caught in her throat.  And she sighs.  Runs her hands through her hair.  “You caught me off guard.”

Out of the corner of her eye, she sees Laura perk slightly.  Her mouth opening to protest.

Laura.”

Laura huffs and crosses her arms.  Slumping into the couch.

Carmilla sighs. 

“I don’t do relationships.  I didn’t.  Do relationships.  Not before…before Ell.”

The name catches on her lips.  And feels foreign.  And Carmilla is surprised to find just how long it’s been since she’s actually spoken her name.  

“I didn’t like them.  I didn’t see the point.”

“I don’t get how this is supposed to be helpful.”

“Laura.  Please.”

Carmilla watches as Laura blushes slightly and has the decency to look bashful.  “Sorry.”  She says, quietly.  Picking at the couch cushion.

“And then she…We were together.  She was the only relationship I’ve ever had.  And I thought that was it.  And I just.  She left.  She fucked it up.  Everything got fucked up.”

Laura’s defensive drops slightly.  At Carmilla’s sob story.

And she suddenly can’t look at her.  The wall at the far end of the room far too entertaining.

She can see the flowers she had last got Laura.  Dried and preserved in a vase.  Sitting nicely against the window.

And she smiles.

“So yeah.  You caught me off guard because I…fuck I don’t even know.  I just…”  She runs her hand through her hair again.  For something to do.  Because she doesn’t really know what to do.  Or how to say it.  

“You caught me off guard.  But not because I don’t want this.  Because I do.  Okay?”

She takes a chance looking at Laura again.  And her face is completely unreadable.

Her defense still there.  But sympathy too.  Hope, Carmilla thinks.

And some sort of something trying to hide it all.

“But I have Jaime.  And I can’t.  I can’t just.  I have to be sure.  He can’t get hurt.  He can’t.”

She watches as Laura watches her for another long moment.  Her eyes sad.  But, she thinks, for the first time in twelve hours, maybe not because of Carmilla.

“I don’t really think it’s Jaime you’re worried about.”

Laura says it slow.  Each word gauging Carmilla for some sort of reaction.

And she wants to laugh.  Carmilla wants to laugh because somehow, in ten months.  Laura somehow snuck her way in.  When Carmilla wasn’t looking.

A left instead of a right.

She sighs and walks around the coffee, slumping next to Laura on the couch.  

“No.  It’s not.”

It’s not a lie. She thinks.  Because she is worried about Jaime. 

Always.

But it’s not the whole truth either.

And really, awful parent.

Using her child as an excuse.

Further proof.

But her admission does something.  Because Laura’s defense finally drops.  And she smiles sadly.  

They sit like that, for a moment.  Silently watching one another.  And Carmilla doesn’t know what to do.

So she waits.

With embarrassment.  She waits.  

Until Laura crawls her hand across the couch and plays with the palm of Carmilla’s own.

“You didn’t know you had a girlfriend,” she says.  Small.  And light. 

A simple smile.

Teasing.

“No.  I didn’t.”

“You’re kind of stupid.”

Laura’s smile widens and Carmilla laughs.

“Yes.  I kind of am.”

An admission she’d never say.  Not for anyone else.  But Laura is smiling at her.  And linking their fingers together.  And her hand is warm.

Comforting.

“I’d like to kiss you,” Carmilla says.  And she thinks she sounds like a teenage boy who’d never thought of the word before.  But she asks all the same.  And doesn’t move.  Because the air is lighter around them.  

She’d really rather not fuck it up.

And Laura’s eyes still look tear stained and red.

“I think I’d like that very much.”

So Carmilla does.  Slow and gentle.  Simple.

And she smells strawberries.  Stolen nights.  And chocolates.  Flowers.  Warmth.  And comfort.  

Laura.

Intrinsically Laura.

And when she pulls away, Carmilla says:

“I love you, too.”

And Laura smiles.

Bright.  And full.  Toothy.  A secret.  Small.   Bashful.  A little bit wicked.  Apprehensive.  Shy.  Bashful and scared.  

Her favorite, Carmilla thinks.  Of them all.  

Because it’s complete.

 

Chapter Text

 

Laura moves in on a Sunday.

Carmilla had tried to convince her to rent the U-Haul for the day before.  To allow them the whole weekend to unpack.  But Laura had insisted that it be a Sunday.

To start the week off fresh and new, Carm.  She had said.  Rambling something about good ju-ju and a healthy way to start something or other.

Carmilla hadn’t really heard.  Far too occupied with unclasping Laura’s bra.

But then we won’t have the weekend to get you settled.

We’ll do it during the week.

Carmilla had scoffed then.  You’ll do it during the week, then.  I’m busy.

You’ll help.

Says who.  I’ve got work, sweetheart.

You’ll help.

Carmilla had snorted then.  Laura’s smile and laugh, though, far too infectious.

You gonna make me?

And then Laura had flipped them.  Her smile becoming downright smug.

I’m sure I can make it worth your while.

Carmilla had scoffed then.  And promised her that she would be able to do no such thing.

Though, each night was becoming more and more difficult to hold out.

Her lack of restraint really was ridiculous.

“Help or get out of the way,” Will says, pushing past her into the house as he and Kirsch double team half of Laura’s desk.

“Manners, William,” Carmilla bites back, doing nothing to hide her glee when they both collide with the wall.

Karma.

Of the finest variety.

“Wouldn’t need them if you would be useful.”

“I’m supervising.”

“That’s what the useless say,” Danny quips, moving past her with her own box.

“You’re just mad because we’re making you put away the stuff on the high shelf.”

“And here I thought you two were starting to get along,” Laura huffs, struggling to see over the top of a stack of books.

She jumps forward and relieves the top few and Laura smiles.

“I thought that was rather pleasant,” Danny yells before she turns the corner.

“See, something we both agree on.”

Is what Carmilla finishes with and Laura rolls her eyes.

“Lilita, three o’clock,” LaF is suddenly saying, walking past her as they exit the house and head towards the moving van.

Carmilla turns so fast she nearly falls over.  What.”

LaF points and it’s hard to miss the sight of her mother’s overtly expensive car parking just up the street.

“I thought you said you weren’t going to tell her when the move was,” Laura whispers in her ear.  

Unnecessary, Carmilla knew, because no one was around them.

But needed.

Because Lilita Morgan always had a way of knowing.

“I didn’t.”  

She replies, just as there’s a loud THUMP from the back of the house.  And Will and Kirsch’s laughter rounds the corner.

William,” Carmilla hisses through her teeth, “Do you care to tell me why Mother is here?”

To his credit Will’s eyes go wide slightly 

But then he shrugs and there’s a smirk.

“She was going to find out anyway.”

“Mama’s boy.”

Will smiles and then places a quick kiss on her cheek before she can duck away.

God, she hated him sometimes.

But before she can retort again, or place a well timed smack across the back of his head, Mother is walking up the steps of the house.

“‘Milla, darling, I must say I’m hurt you didn’t ask for my help,” she says, placing a kiss on either of Carmilla’s cheeks.

“Hello, Mother.”

“Laura, dear.”

“Lilita.”

Laura all but squeaks, unable to hide the small hint of fear in her voice.

And Carmilla can’t help but smirk.  Knowing she would forever be far too amused at the once unknown history between Laura and her mother.

“Really, I had hoped between the two of you, that I would have been informed of when the big day was.”

“You’re busy, Mother, we didn’t want to be a bother.”

“Nonsense, and you know it.  I am always available to help, ‘Milla.”

And Carmilla bites back a Yeah, that’s kind of the point.

“Hey, Lil!,” Jack says, rounding the corner, his voice loud and exuberant as he heads towards the van.  “Glad ya made it.”

He places a good mannered slap on Mother’s shoulder and continues on.  Missing the way her lip twitches at the name.  His smile as wide and as infectious as Laura’s.

And Carmilla has to hide her laugh.  

Her mother’s distain for the ill attempt of a nickname Jack had adopted for her mere minutes after their meeting was something that somehow continued to be more humorous as time went on.

The Hollis charm, she thinks.  

Though her mother seemed immune to it.

Next to her Laura coughs and Carmilla knows she must feel the same.

There’s barely any time for her to respond, something Carmilla knows would be along the lines of Really, Jack, after all this time…before Jaime is barreling around the corner with a loud:

“Maman!”

And her mother’s smile changes.  Morphing into something as prideful as the one Carmilla knows is gracing her own lips.

“I saw your car!”

“My darling boy,” Mother says, bending just the slightest to place a kiss on his forehead and allowing him to place one on her cheek.  “Tell me, how are you?”

“I’m good.”

“Well,” Carmilla, Laura, and Lilita all correct at once.

Well.  I’m helping Aunt Perry make lemonade.”  They all watch as he pauses then and looks down the hall towards the kitchen, his voice lowering as he continues with a hushed, “But I think she needs help.  She can’t reach the sugar, too.”

Mother nods, shrugging off her jacket and holding it out for Laura to take.  “Well, why don’t you lead the way and we’ll see if we can remedy that, hm?”

She leaves Carmilla and Laura with a pointed smile and then follows Jaime down the hall.  Her voice floating back to them when she enters the kitchen.

“Lola, dear, you look positively radiant.”

“Thank you, Ms. Morgan.”

“When are you due?”

“Just three months.”

And then their voices are masked by the sound of movement around the kitchen and Carmilla lets out a long sigh.

“She’s just trying to help,” Laura says, snaking her arms around her waist and pressing her front to Carmilla’s side.

“She’s always trying to help.”

“She loves you.”

“And I love her.”

Carmilla huffs and Laura places a kiss on her cheek.

“It’s borderline smothering,” she continues, turning.   Wrapping her arms around Laura, her hands coming to rest on her lower back.

“That’s an exaggeration.”

“Is not.”

“Don’t pout.”

“I’m not pouting.”

“I’m beginning to see where Jaime gets it.”

“He picked that up from you, thank you very much.”

“Liar.  It’s the genes.”

“I like your jeans, better,” Carmilla says, letting her hands slide down Laura’s side and hips, pulling on her jeans until they are flush together.

“That so?”

Carmilla hums, leaning forward and placing a slow kiss on Laura’s cheek.  Tracing her thumbs along the slip of skin visible on Laura’s hip.

There’s a hum.  Deep in Laura’s chest.  Mixed with a simple sigh.

And Carmilla thinks of karma.

And that somehow, somewhere, just maybe, she may have really done something right.

“Hands where I can see ‘em, Karnstein,”  Jack says, brushing past them into the house.

Carmilla nearly falls over with how fast she jumps from Laura.

 

//

 

She can’t tell who’s laugh is louder.

Jaime’s or Laura’s.

But both are what greet her when she walks through the door.

Loud and full and giggly.

It’s enough to momentarily distract her from the absolute mess that the living room is.

Because it is.

Disastrously so.

Organized into what Carmilla can only guess is a fort.  Five times too big for the size of the room.

“What in the fu—.”

“Hi Mama!”

Jaime’s head suddenly appears out of a sheet.  His gaping smile missing two of his teeth.

Laura pops out after him, the last remnants of a laugh dying on her lips as she balances as video camera in her hand.

“Hey, Carm.”

She angles the camera up to her and Carmilla can see the record light bright and on.

Laura had insisted on buying the damn thing when they had gone to Costco last week.

Taking personal offense to the fact that Carmilla didn’t own one.

How did you capture Jaime’s moments growing up?

Phones are glorious things, babe.

She'd huffed then, placing the box in their shopping cart and giving Carmilla a look that could only be described as don’t-even-try-and-argue.

We need it.

Do we?

For family moments.

You’re lucky I like you.

In a few years, when the kids are older, you’ll thank me.

Carmilla had almost run into a shelf with the cart and Laura’s eyes had gone wide.

Kids, huh?

Laura had shrugged.  Her head dipping.  But Carmilla could still spot her smile.  

And Carmilla really hadn’t been prepared for the way her heart had skipped a beat.

Anything you’ve been meaning to tell me, sweetheart?

Oh shut up, Laura had pushed her shoulder to get her walking again.  Let’s get samples, I’m hungry.

“What is all of this?”

“I thought we should put the moving boxes to good use before we threw them out.”

Carmilla turns from the camera and takes in more of the fort.

“Is that my desk?”

Boxes her ass.

“Thought we should put it to good use before we got rid of it, too.”

“And Jaime’s mattress?”

“We needed something soft.”

“And our sheets and duvet?”

“All forts need cover.”

Carmilla looks to Laura, the camera blocking her face.

She raises her brow.

Laura huffs and lowers the camera slightly.

I”ll put it all away later.  Happy?”

“Mama, Laura is a very serious fort builder,” Jaime starts and Laura angles the camera down on him.  “Papa Hollis taught her how and now she taught me!”

“Does this mean there will be fort building practice?”

Carmilla asks it before she can think and immediately regrets it.

Because Jaime turns to Laura, his eyes wide and excited.  “Does it?”

Laura laughs, looks to Carmilla, and winks.  “Maybe if you do your chores.”

And then she’s turning the camera back to her.

“Coming in, Carm?”

“We’ve been waiting to start playing until you got home, Mama.”

“I dunno.”  She says, slow and long.  Looking down at Jaime skeptically.  And she can see Laura shoot her a suspicious grin out of the corner of her eye.  “I had been promised dinner when I got home from work.”

“I ordered Chinese, it’s already on the way.”

“We’re gonna play boardgames while we eat in the fort!”

“Are we now?”

Jaime nods, his head bouncing.  “I even brought in Connect Four so you can try and beat Laura.”

And Carmilla swears that Laura’s laugh is the loudest she’s ever heard.

“Yeah Carm, come on in so I can kick your tush again.”

Carmilla huffs and bends until she’s level with the camera, looking at Laura right through the lens.

“I would like the record to state that I, Carmilla Karnstein, am a Connect Four Master and Laura Hollis’ victory over myself two weeks ago was nothing more than an ill timed fluke.”

Laura lowers the camera slightly and peers at her over the top.  “Is that a challenge?”

Carmilla grabs the camera and turns it until it’s facing Laura.  Her eyes shining and her hair a slight mess.

No doubt the result of fort building.

“You bet your ass it is.”

Laura rolls her eyes as Jaime let’s out a loud and scolding “Mama!”

She digs a dollar out of her pocket and hands it to him.

He bolts for the Swear Jar just as there’s a knock on the door.

When Carmilla returns from paying for the food, they all clamber into the fort.  Wedging themselves in a space that is deceivingly small.

Though warm.

And even she can admit…

Perfectly built.

And Carmilla alternates between sharing mushu pork with Jaime and placing her black dots to Laura’s red.

 

//

 

She loses to Laura fifteen to sixteen.

 

//

 

Fuck.”

Carmilla breathes it into Laura’s neck.  

Running her hand down her chest.  Palming her breast and rolling her hips once again.  

Laura’s unintelligible moan is the only response she gets.  

And Carmilla watches through half lidded eyes as she throws her head back into the pillow and feels as she thrusts her hips up.

Trying to match Carmilla’s own movements.

Trying to find purchase.

Failing.

“Carm, please,” she’s panting now.  Her voice high, even though she’s trying to keep quiet.

“Please what?”  Carmilla knows she’s smirking.  

And she grabs Laura’s hands, pinning them above her head.  Halting her as she tries to flip their positions.

Laura groans and huffs.  

Her brow furrowing.

Her skin glistening with sweat and sex.

Her breaths heavy and erratic.

“Please.”

Carmilla hums and kisses her.  Slow and teasing.  Rocking her hips and pushing Laura deeper into the mattress.

Laura pulls away, gasping.  Her teeth digging into her bottom lip.  And Carmilla immediately takes advantage of the expanse of neck exposed to her.

God…Carmplease just…”

Carmilla bites.

And Laura moans out a quiet fuck.

“Please just touch m—.”

“Mama?”

Laura pushes Carmilla off her so fast, it nearly sends her flying over the edge of the bed.

But she manages to catch herself as Laura throws the sheet over them both and they turn towards their now very open bedroom door.

Jaime silhouetted in its frame.

“What’s going on, Bub?” Carmilla manages to say, once she’s able to breathe.

Next to her she hears Laura take in a deep, calming breath.

“Can I sleep with you and Laura?  I had a bad dream.”

His voice is small as he steps into the room.  So deceiving of his seven years.

Carmilla turns slightly, towards the clock on the bedside table.  Eleven fifty flashes back at her.

“Don’t you think you’re getting a bit big?”

He shuffles in more.  His head bowed.  And through the moonlight, Carmilla sees his cheeks are tear stained.

“Please?”

Next to her, Laura shifts.  Places a hand on her shoulder.  Squeezes.  And then a single kiss.

Before she’s sliding out of bed and into a robe.  

She disappears into the bathroom, leaving the door slightly ajar.

Carmilla swallows her sigh, and any remaining arousal, and moves towards the center of the bed.  Patting the space beside her.

He hops into bed.  Immediately snuggling into Carmilla’s side and pulling the stuffed cat Laura had gotten him for his six birthday close to his chest.

He’s asleep almost instantly.

She settles, letting her arm drape across him.  Knowing, she should send him back to his own bed.  He was getting far too big and far too old to come running to their room after a bad dream.

But, she knew, there would be no other day that he was this little or small.

And she would be damned if she wasn’t going to take advantage as much as she could.

From the bathroom, she can see Laura splash what could only be cold water onto her face.  Before she bends over the sink and takes in a few deep breaths.

When she returns, she grabs a large shirt for Carmilla and helps her into it without disturbing Jaime.

And then they settle.  

Jaime pulled close to Carmilla’s chest, her back to Laura’s front.  

Laura’s arm across them all.

And she feels Laura’s breath ghost across her neck.  So different than moments ago.

But not at all unwanted.

“You okay?” Carmilla whispers after there’s quiet and her heart rate slows to normal.

Laura hums in response.  

Low and quiet and content.

“Never better.”

 

//

 

Things begin to happen in threes.

It wasn’t surprising, Carmilla knew.  The pattern of threes slowly becoming more and more over the past year.  

But it was the constant that was the adjustment.

In lines.

At dinner.

The movies.

In seats and space needed.

And permanent now, too.

With Laura’s dinnerware mixed with her own.  A third toothbrush.  Laundry that seemed to multiply overnight.

An extra pair of socks to go missing.

Clutter.  Lots of it.  All of it.  Everywhere.

Space seeming to disappear into the night.

How their dresser never seemed to be organized.  How the closet was now annoyingly full.

Clutter in the way of a new table. Far too big for three.  Far too big for the dining room, nearly pushing the chairs into the wall.  Though the old one had hardly been accommodating enough.

But with Laura’s placemat across from her own, the space and cramped room barely seemed noticeable.

Threes in the way it was more difficult to take pictures.  Jaime insisting that selfies be taken at any available moment.  And they would cram together and somehow, one of them would hold the camera.

And they’d smile.  

And make faces.  

Half of Carmilla being cut off from the frame.  Only capturing the top of Jaime’s head.  Laura’s face caught in the midst of an awkward expression.

A picture of all three of them looking fine and normal and smiling a one in about twenty other failed attempts.

Threes.

In how, later, when Carmilla would flip through her photo stream at work.  Bored out of her fucking mind during a staff meeting.  She would have to hide a smile.

Threes.

In how each photo seemed just the little bit more complete.

 

//

 

RAAAAAAAWWWWWWRRRRRRR

There’s a scream.

A crash.

And Carmilla is sprinting through the house.

She runs into the bedroom, nearly tripping on laundry spilling out of the hamper, and into the bathroom.

Jaime turns to her.  Eyes wide.  His cheeks red.  Tears lining his eyes.  Threatening to spill over.

And Carmilla doesn’t know whether to swear.  Yell.  Be worried. 

Or laugh.

Because Laura is in the shower.  Haphazardly on the ground.  The shower curtain pulled from the wall.  Water beginning to spill onto the bathroom floor without it’s protection.

“What the hell is this?” Carmilla finally says, stepping around Jaime and turning off the water.  

She adjusts the curtain over Laura’s legs.  Covering her as much as she can.  

Laura groans and sits up a little.  But slides in the water.

“I’m sorry, Mama,” Jaime is suddenly saying, fast and rambling.  A trait, Carmilla had begun to notice, he picked up from Laura.  “I tried to scare, Laura.  I’m sorry, Laura.”

His eyes go wide and the tears threaten to spill over.

Carmilla nearly chokes on her laugh.

Laura glares and manages to sit up a little.  Pulling the curtain close and cradling the side of her head.  “It’s alright, sweetheart.  But maybe wait until I’m out of the shower next time.”

Jaime nods.  Fast and furious.  Taking the information to heart.

“Kid, why don't you go grab an icepack from the freezer for Laura’s head while I help her get dressed.”  

“Okay.”

“Jaime.”  He pauses in the doorway when Carmilla calls him again.  “Wait for us on the couch, okay?”

He nods twice before sprinting from the room.

And Carmilla finally allows herself to laugh.

Laura glares again.  “I kind of hate you right now.”

Carmilla snorts and brushes some hair out of Laura’s face.  “Serves you right for teaching him what a prank is.”

“I am never sharing any of my childhood secrets ever again.”

Carmilla chuckles.

“You’re mean.  I could be seriously hurt right now.”

“You’re fine.”

“You don’t know that.  You’re just sitting there laughing.”

“Call it Mother’s Intuition.  We can always tell when injuries are serious.”

Laura makes a noise that Carmilla can only describe as a harrumph.  

Carmilla brushes a strand of hair behind Laura’s ear.  And lets her thumb brush against her cheek.  “Are you okay, though?”

“You mean besides my bruised ego?”

Carmilla laughs again.  And it finally earns her a smile from Laura.

“Nothing that wasn’t bruised already then.”

Laura glares.  But let’s Carmilla help her to stand.  She sways lightly when she does.  One hand cradling her head while the other rubs across her ass.

“How many icepacks do we have?”  She asks.  

And Carmilla laughs again.

Jaime meets them on the couch.  With an icepack and a messy glass of chocolate milk.

“I couldn’t make it hot,” he says, sheepishly handing over the icepack and glass.

And Carmilla smiles.

When Laura places the icepack aside and finishes the milk in three large gulps.

 

//

 

It’s suspiciously quiet.

There’s no lingering smell of burning bread or a ruined dinner.  But the air is still and there’s no movement.

Not even the sound of the television.  Or Laura’s typing that always seemed to fill the house when she worked.

Just quiet.

And stillness.

And peace.

It was almost worrisome

She moves to Jaime’s room after placing her bag on the couch and peers in.  

He’s snoring lightly, one foot kicked out from beneath his blankets.  His hand clutching his cat.  

And though she knows she shouldn’t disturb him, he’d be hell to get back to sleep, she sneaks towards his bed.  Tucking him in and adjusting the blankets against the cold.

He stirs slightly.

But settles.

And hugs the cat closer to his chest when she places a final kiss on his forehead before leaving him be.

She finds Laura in the den.

Fast asleep

The room lit only by the light of her computer.  

She’s sprawled across the desk.  Hair covering her face.

Her snores just the tiniest bit louder than Jaime’s.

Information, Carmilla was glad to save for a later date of blackmail.

“Carm?”  

She stirs when Carmilla brushes her hair out of her face.  Her eyes groggy and heavy with sleep.

“Hey.”

“Hey.”  Laura yawns and sits up slightly.  Stretching.  She rubs her eyes.  “What time is it?”

“Ten thirty.”

Laura sits up straight.  Her eyes going wide.  And looks to the computer screen.  The cursor blinking back, paused in the middle of the first sentence of a new article.

“Oh, crap.”

“When’s it due?”

She watches as Laura rubs her hand across her face and then into her hair.  A habit, she had come to learn, that meant she was frustrated.

“Midnight.”

“Rough night?”

Carmilla stands, moving until she’s behind Laura and begins to massage her shoulders.

She instantly feels some of the tension leave her body.

“Someone didn’t want to eat dinner,” Laura says with a sigh.  “Or practice his reading.  Or go to bed.”

Carmilla’s brow furrows and her hand stills.  “Was anything wrong?”

“He was just being stubborn.”

“I’ll talk to him.”

Laura lets her head fall back against the chair and looks up at her. “About what?”

“He needs to respect you.”

“He does respect me.”  

“Not if he’s not listening.”

“He’s adjusting.”

“You taking care of him isn’t anything new.”

Laura turns to her fully then.  Grabbing her hand and entwining her fingers. 

And Carmilla isn’t certain she’ll ever get used to how warm and gentle Laura’s hand feels.

“What would you do before when you had late night classes?”

“Whine and complain and mope.  Nothing new.”

Laura rolls her eyes but smiles.  “And take him to LaFontaine’s and Perry’s.  Or Mattie’s.  Or Will’s or your mother’s.”  She pauses lightly and then shrugs.  “Just me and him?  I’m still relatively new in all of this.”

“If he keeps it up, we’re going to talk to him.”  Carmilla says by way of compromise and Laura smiles.

“Deal.”

“Coffee to help you finish?”

“Please.”

It’s eleven-fifty-three when Laura sends the article to her client.  All but rolling out of the desk chair and crawling over to the couch where Carmilla had taken refuge with a book.  

Offering quiet support while she worked.

“Ready for bed?”  She asks, setting her book down and letting Laura curl into her side.

She shakes her head.  “Not quite yet.”

“I’m not going to carry you if you fall asleep on me.”

“Then I guess we’ll both be stuck here.”

“Oh no, you fall asleep, I’m leaving your ass behind.”

“You wouldn’t dare abandon your girlfriend to go sleep in your bed without her.”

Carmilla snorts.  “Clearly you don’t know your girlfriend very well.”

Laura laughs quietly but snuggles further into her.  

And Carmilla can’t help but close her eyes when the quiet settles over them again.

“I was thinking,” Laura speaks after a moment.  Her voice a quiet hush in the room.  “That when Jaime’s reading comprehension is a little higher, I might start reading Harry Potter with him.”

Carmilla knows she’s smiling.  It can’t be helped.  The way it spreads across her, pulling at her lips.  Warming her body in every fiber that she has.  

Knowing that once Laura did, said ritual would become Jaime’s favorite part of the day.

“You’re going to turn my kid into a nerd, aren't you?”

She feels Laura poke her in the side.  “I resent that,” she says, and manages to get even closer.  “And I’m not the one who bought him all those space posters.”

“You and LaF are going to turn my kid into a nerd.”

Laura chuckles quietly.  “You’ll thank us one day.”

And the only response Carmilla can find, is to tighten her hold on her.

They fall asleep then.  Waking in the morning to sore backs and aching necks.

But Carmilla really can’t find it in her to complain.

 

//

 

“Carm?!”

“Yeah?!”

Carmilla looks up from the far side of the bed, Laura calling to her from the bathroom.  She huffs, when Laura doesn’t appear in the doorway and bends back down.  Blindly reaching under the bed.

Trying to find her damn shoe.

“Carm!”

“What?!”

It comes out just the slightest bit harsher than she means it to.  But she’s running late.  And Laura is just yelling her name with nothing else to accompany it.

And she can’t find her fucking shoe.

“What is this?”

Carmilla sits up again as Laura finally walks into the room.

“Hair,” she says, eyeing the glob of black hair she has in her hand.  “Have you seen my fucking shoe?”

She bends back to the bed and can hear Laura huff across the room.

Carm.”

Laura.

Another huff.  “Can you please stand up, I’m trying to talk to you.”

“And I’m trying to find my fucking shoe.”

“Your shoe can wait.”

“No, it really can’t.”

She hears Laura walk around the end of the bed until she’s standing behind her.  “Fine, I’ll just talk to your ass then, I guess.”

Carmilla snorts.  “Be my guest.”

And Carmilla doesn’t have to see her, to know that Laura rolls her eyes.

“Carmilla’s Ass,” she starts.  Her voice high and pinched.  And Carmilla feels a bad taste fill her mouth.  “Will you please inform your owner that I would appreciate it if she would start picking up her hair from the shower drain. Like I have asked her a million times.”

“You have not,” Carmilla says, giving up on beneath the bed and turning.

Laura’s eyes flash with annoyance.  “I have, too.  At my place.  At your place before it was our place.”

“Laura it’s just hair.”

Carmilla stands and walks to the closet, kicking around at the shoes in it to find her rogue one.

It really shouldn’t be this fucking difficult.

“Then it shouldn’t be a big deal to pick it up.”

“And it shouldn’t be a big deal if I leave it.”

“It’s disgusting.”

“Thanks.”

“Carmilla, please, stop walking around, so we can talk.”

“Laura, I need to find my fucking shoe.”

“Well, maybe you would find it if you picked up your hair.”

“Those have nothing to do with one another.”

Laura huffs and crosses her arms.  “It’s about cleaning, Carm.  The house is getting too cluttered.  I’m not going to let us live in a dump.”

“Christ, Laura, the place doesn’t look any worse than when you moved in.”

“It shouldn’t be a big deal. I’m just asking you to take your hair out of the drain after you shower.”  

She can feel Laura watching her as she continues to move around the room.

“If you don’t, then it will clog up the drain and we’ll have to call a plumber.  Not to mention it’s gross and —-.”

“Mama!  I need breakfast!!” Jaime yells from the kitchen.

His voice loud and grating and hitting just the wrong nerve.

Carmilla groans and finally turns toward Laura.  Fine. 
I’ll pick up my fucking hair after I take a fucking shower now can you please help me find my fucking shoe before I am late for work?”

Laura glares.  “I’m being serious, Carm.”

Mama!”

“Laura, I swear to Christ—.”

Laura stands and in two strides is right before Carmilla.  She grabs her hand and places the wet slop of hair in her palm.

Carmilla grimaces.  

It really was disgusting, she would give her that.

“Your shoe is in the bathroom.  I’ll feed Jaime.”

The bedroom door all but slams behind her.

Carmilla scowls.  Retrieves her shoe.

And flushes the hair down the toilet.

 

//

 

Jaime asks it when she tucks him in.

Handing over the stuffed cat and sitting on the edge of the bed, brushing some hair out of his eyes.

She’d need to have Mother give him a haircut sometime soon.

Because heaven forbid she take him to some inexpensive family hair care place.

But he sighs and closes his eyes.

“Did you have a good day, Bub?”

He nods.  “It was fun.  But I missed Laura at dinner.  I wish she would have stayed.”

Carmilla smiles.  “Me too.  But she hasn’t seen Danny in a while.  I think it’s only fair she gets to see her friend, hm?”

He nods.  Slow and messy.  Sleepy.

“But, a little birdie told me, that she might be bringing you home a piece of pie to have for dessert tomorrow.”

His eyes go wide slightly, briefly.  Hardly have a chance to, really.

Far too heavy with the promise of sleep.

“Really?”

“Really, really.”

There’s a brief moment of quiet.  And Carmilla thinks that maybe he’s already asleep.  When:

“Mama?”

“Yeah, Bub?”

“Is Laura going to stay forever?”

And it’s amazing, Carmilla thinks.

How quickly the lump forms in her throat.  

Swift and tight and heartbreaking.

A reminder that she often forgot.

That somehow buried deep and down, Jaime knew.  

Knew he had been abandoned.  

Perhaps unable to comprehend.

But a knowledge nonetheless. 

Fucked in a way that he couldn’t quite understand.  And she wondered just if or when the consequences of it would rear its ugly head.

Because here was the proof.

And here was the purchase.

“Yeah, Bub, I think she is.” 

She finally manages to say, knowing she allowed herself to be far too quiet for far too long.

Jaime smiles.  Sleepy and lazy.  “Good.  Because I love her.”

Carmilla smiles and bends.

Placing a kiss to his temple.

A gentle whisper promised to the night.

Me too.

 

//

 

“I swear to fuck this better be good.”

Is what Carmilla says when she answers.  Watching from across the park as Laura pushes Jaime on a swing, sending him higher and higher into the air.

Next to her, on the bench, a mother scowls and drags away her six-year-old daughter who is in the middle of picking her nose.

Carmilla rolls her eyes.

“Perry’s in labor.”

What?”

She sits up, her eyes going wide.  

And watches as Laura turns to her and winks.

“Perry’s in labor,” LaFontaine says again, their voice panicked in a way that Carmilla remembers as distinctly familiar.

“What the hell are you talking to me for, then?” Carmilla says when her shock subsides.

She hears LaF huff and Jaime’s squeal of delight as Laura gives him a particularly hard push.

“She told me to call you while the nurses get her settled.”

“Poor advice.”

“Clearly.”

She watches as Laura steps back from Jaime, letting the momentum of the swing slow him slightly.

Keeping him from getting too high.

“How do you feel?” She asks after a moment.

“Like I’m going to throw up.”

Carmilla laughs.

LaFontaine sighs.

And Jaime, it seems, gets a fit of the giggles.

“I don’t know if I can do this.”

“Little late for that, don’t you think?”

“You’re an ass, you know that?”

Carmilla smirks and lets out a quiet bark of laughter. 
“Yes, but I’m your ass.”

Across the park, Laura steps back up to the swing, giving Jaime another gentle push.

“You’re going to be great.”

And Carmilla hopes LaFontaine can hear how serious she is.

“What if I fuck it up?”

“Of course you’re going to fuck up.”

“That’s not helpful.”

“It’s the truth.”  Carmilla slumps into the bench again.  And she can hear Jaime let out a high pitched “No, I can’t!”

Laura laughs and she thinks she must be saying, Yes you can.

“It’s scary,” she continues before LaF can counter or argue again.  “But it’s the most amazing thing.”

Jaime squeals another “I can’t!”

There’s a long beat.  And Carmilla can practically hear the gears in LaF’s head turning.  Weighing pros and cons and probabilities and outcomes.

“I suppose if you can do it,” They finally say.  “Anyone can.”

“Fuck off.”

And she knows LaF is smiling.

“You’re a great friend, LaF.  And you’re going to make an even better parent.”

There’s a sigh on the other end, just as Jaime and Laura begin a loud countdown.

One.”

Laura pushes Jaime higher.

“Thanks.”

“Call us when she gets close to pushing and we’ll come down.”

Two.”

“Yeah, I will.”

“Good luck.”

“I’ll tell Perr you said so.”

They hang up. 
Just as there’s a loud:

Three!”

And Jaime is flying through the air, leaving the safety of the swing and hurling himself forward as he jumps.

He laughs and yells and lands in the sand, his momentum pushing him forward.

He falls to his hands and knees.

Laura claps.

And Jaime smiles.

 

//

 

“Jaime, let’s go!  Uncle Will is here.”

Carmilla yells and Will honks his car horn.

She flips him off.

“I’m coming!!”  Jaime yells from his bedroom.  “I need my race cars!”

Laura laughs as she walks up to the door and gives Will a wave.  

He waves back from the car and smiles.  Genuine.

Carmilla scowls.

“Oh sure, he’s nice to you.”

“He likes me better.”

“Insulting, considering I’m the one he grew up with.”

“It’s not his fault I’m the more likable one.”

“Wish I had known you had such an ego when you seduced me in that bar.”

Laura snorts.  “Please, that was hardly seduction.”

“Keep telling yourself that, sweetheart.”

Will honks again and Carmilla flips him off once more.

Jaime finally rounds the corner, slipping on the hardwood.  His backpack snug on his shoulders.  Pillow and cat in hand.

Ready for a boys night with Uncle Will.

Apparently, pizza and soda had been promised.

Laura had made Will swear he wouldn’t give Jaime much.

Though Carmilla knew it was pointless.

“Bye, Mama, love you!”

Jaime says, half hugging her leg before he’s running out the door.

“Hey!” Laura calls and Carmilla smiles at her slight pout.  “What about me?”

Jaime skids to a stop.  Does an about face and throws his arms around Laura’s waist. 

“Bye, Mom, love you, too!”

And then he’s sprinting again.  

And Carmilla is certain she forgets how to breathe.

She barely registers Will helping Jaime get into the booster seat in the back of his car.  Or Will yelling a “Bye”.  

Or his car creaking as he drives away. 

Because she turns to Laura.

Who had hardly moved since Jaime had hugged her.  

Her eyes wide.  Uncharacteristically still.    

Caught, it would seem, completely off guard.

And Carmilla can’t really say that she blames her.

She watches as Laura blinks.

Once.

Twice.

And then she’s turning toward her.

Her mouth slightly agape.

“You okay?”  She asks, surprised to hear how quiet her own voice is.

But, she knows, anything louder would be unholy.

Laura moves her mouth slightly.  Trying to find words.  Changes her mind.  Nods.  And then laughs.

Carmilla steps forward slightly, grabbing Laura’s hand and they both watch as their fingers twine together.  “I can ask him not to call you that if you don’t—.”

“No,” Laura almost yells.  Her eyes wide and bright.  

Beginning to line with tears.

“No, no, I—.”  She squeezes Carmilla’s hand.  Rubs her thumb across her knuckles. 

And it sounds like a prayer when she says: “I love it.”

Carmilla is distinctly aware that she’s smiling.  Big and bright.  In a way she couldn’t be sure she ever has before.

“As long as you’re okay with it,” Laura quickly adds, looking at her with a slight fear.

Like she thinks that Carmilla might suddenly take her gift away.

Because it is a gift, she thinks.

Given without precedence or pretense.

And somehow all the more genuine for it.

“Of course I’m okay with it.”

“Yeah?”

And Carmilla knows nothing as ever been more true when she says:

“Yeah.”

Laura kiss her then.

And Carmilla is certain that in it, she steals her very last breath.

 

//

 

They watch as Jaime studies the movies.

His dinosaur pajamas coming just to the top of his ankles.

Carmilla sighs.  

Because she swears to all things high and holy that she had just bought him that pair a couple of weeks ago.

“I know!  Beauty and the Beast!” Jaime grabs the DVD before either of them can respond and pops it into the player.

Carmilla has to hide her groan.

“Again?”  She says, just as Laura laughs.

“It’s my favorite,” Jaime says, walking back over to them.  His belly button peaking through his shirt.

Seriously.

She bought them two weeks ago.

“Mine too,” Laura says.  

And Carmilla coughs a kiss ass.

Jaime says “Bless you, Mama.” 

As Laura gives her a warning, “Carm.”

And then it happens.

Jaime moves left.  Instead of right.  

And climbs onto the couch.

Snuggling into Laura’s side.

Carmilla blinks.  Looks to the very empty side of the couch beside her.

Blinks again.

Laura seems blissfully unaware, scooping Jaime into her arms and pressing play on the remote.  Letting her head fall to rest on top of Jaime’s.

Because it’s wrong, she thinks.  A part of her not quite sure she understands what has happened.

Because it’s a movie night.  And movie nights have always meant Jaime next to her.  Curled up and content.

His head tucked into her shoulder.  Her cheek pressed gently to the crown of his head.

His body becoming heavier as he tried to fight off sleep.

His breathing evening out when he failed.

The gentle beat of his heart against hers a quiet reminder that he was hers.

That somehow, despite it all, she had been so lucky.

A constant.  And indisputable variable. 

Movie nights meant Jaime tucked into her side.  Quietly singing along to the songs as he learned them

But now…

Carmilla turns.  

And as Belle greets her village denizens.

She feels warmth.

Because Laura turns.  And places a sweet kiss to the top of Jaime’s head.  As he quietly sings along still.

And Carmilla thinks snuggles with Mom have never looked more beautiful.

She moves then.  Edging along the couch until she’s pressed to Laura’s other side.  Letting her hand trail across Laura’s shoulders and the back of the couch.

“Hey,” Laura says, turning toward her when she kisses her cheek.

“Hey,” she replies quietly and then adds, just a little bit more loud:  “You know, I was beginning to get cold over there by myself.” 

“Do you want a blanket, Mama?” Jaime asks, peering around Laura.  His eyes wide.

Earnest.

Laura laughs.  

And Carmilla smiles.

“No, Kid, I’m good now.”

Jaime nods. Turning back to the television.  Laura’s arm pulling him close.

“I love you,” Laura whispers.  Placing a kiss on Carmilla’s cheek.

“You, too,” Carmilla whispers back.  Returning the sentiment by lacing their left hands together.  

And when Jaime returns from going to the bathroom halfway through the film, he readjusts their positions.

Resting his head in Laura’s lap and draping his legs across Carmilla’s.

“Mom?” He asks, once he’s settled.

Carmilla has to keep herself from answering as Laura looks down.

The name still new and strange.

“Yeah, Jaime?”

“Can we go visit LaF and Aunt Perry and Petunia tomorrow when you pick me up from school?”

“We’ll see if they’re up for visitors, how about that?”

“And if they are we’ll go?”

Laura nods. 
“And if they are, we’ll go.”

The answer is enough for Jaime, it seems, because he turns back to the television and is quiet.

Carmilla feels Laura reach for her hand.  Entwining their fingers once more.  Resting safely in Carmilla’s lap.

The warmth is there again.  

Deep and soothing.

Seeping into everything Carmilla thinks she is.  

And it happens.

A moment, she thinks.

A moment.

Quiet and gentle and sweet.

A moment.

Full and round and complete.

A final realization.  That this.  

This.

Was it.

A something she hadn’t even known she had been waiting for.  

Somehow arrived.  

Somehow here and present.

Real.

And raw.

A realization.  

That even with Ell, it wouldn’t have been like this.  

Not this comfort.  Or this peace.  Or this, this…

This feeling.

Of something she can’t even quite describe.

Because it’s her.  And it’s Jaime.  And It’s Laura.

It’s them.

And it’s exactly how it’s supposed to be.

 

//

 

On a Monday, Carmilla buys a ring.

 

Chapter Text

Laura doesn’t put the damned thing down.

Not once it’s purchased and in the cart.  

And Carmilla knows she should have known.  Should have seen it coming.  In the way that Laura’s eyes had lit up when she grabbed it off the shelf.  In the way that she had flippantly thrown out the word kids.  In the way Carmilla had practically run the cart into the wall.

She really should have known.

Because Laura takes the fucking thing everywhere.

And since Mom.  

Since a ring being slipped onto her finger, Laura had become down right zealous.

In the car.  On the couch.  At dinner.  On the playground.  School functions.  Non-school functions.  Soccer.  Her father’s.  Carmilla’s mother’s.  LaF and Perry’s.  Nothing and anything was too mundane.

It’s like a damn curse.

Carmilla is certain the only place Laura hasn’t taken it yet is the bedroom.

And she’s really not sure whether she should be offended or relieved.

But it’s glued to Laura’s hand.  The tiny red light blinking a record as she seems intent on capturing every moment of their lives.

Carmilla didn’t know it was possible to hate a camera so much.

She never considered herself a petty person.

Not about these things.  But she swore by whatever higher power was up there that Laura touched the camera more than she touched her own fiancé.

And she wasn’t jealous.  She wasn’t.  It was a camera for Christ’s sake.

But the red light was a pain in the ass.

“Laura for fuck’s sake, he’s sleeping,” Carmilla says, taking her eyes off the road slightly to look at Laura in the passenger’s seat.

Her body is turned as she points the dreaded thing at Jaime sleeping in the back seat, exhausted from a day of tag with Papa Hollis and Laura’s cousins.

“And he’s drooling,” Laura says with a light giggle.  “It’s sweet.”  And then she turns the camera toward herself and speaks to the lens.  “Please don’t kill me for this when you’re older.”

And then she turns the camera back and Carmilla is certain she hits the zoom button.

She sighs.

“Seriously, Laura, you’re loosening your seat belt.  Would you just turn and face forward.”

Out of the corner of her eye she sees Laura smile.  Smug.  And then she’s pointing the fucking thing at her.  “Worried, Carm?”

Carmilla glares.  “Yes.”

And she watches as Laura’s smile fades and she huffs.  Lowering the camera and turning it off. 

“Thank you.”

“For the record, I only turned it off because I don’t want to film an argument.”

Carmilla scoffs.  “Since when is this an argument?”

“Since you have that look on your face.”

“What look?  My face is perfectly fine.”

Laura snorts.

Carmilla glares.

“We don’t need to record every last thing.”

“I just want to keep moments safe.”

“I think you kind of miss the moments if you’re so worried about preserving them.”

“That’s a horrible way to think.”  She can feel Laura looking at her.  Eyes wide.  “Is it so wrong to want to keep them alive for forever?”

“That’s what memories are for.”

And suddenly.  Somehow.  It’s the wrong thing to say, Carmilla thinks.  

Because Laura’s mouth drops slightly.  A response catching on her tongue.  And then her shoulders sag.  And she turns fully to face forward, tucking the camera into the backpack at her feet.

“Right.”

Is all she says.

“What is it?”

“Nothing.”

“Laura…”

“No, your’e right.  He’s sleeping. I shouldn’t bug him.”

An awkward silence falls over them, then.  Filling the space and dragging the five minute drive to the house into an eternity.  

Right.

Hanging in the space of the dash between them.

And Carmilla thinks right really seems like the wrong kind of word.

 

//

 

Sunday’s become craft days.

She doesn’t really know when it started.  An innocent little game, Carmilla thinks.  That had happened before Laura moved in.  When Jaime had jumped into bed with them one morning at five. 

Time changes nothing but a bitch.

And Carmilla had been sick.

She had somehow been vaguely aware of Laura dragging Jaime from the room, quieting him with a gentle hush to let Mama, sleep so her cold doesn’t get worse.

She’d dozed off again soon after.

Waking at eight to find the kitchen in complete disarray.

Newspaper lining the counter.  Paint everywhere but the paper.

Popsicle sticks stuck in places Carmilla really didn’t want to think about.

Laura’s sheepish smile.

Jaime’s blinding grin.

His “Mama look!” Far better at starting the day right than any cup of coffee could be.

And it had blossomed from there.  Jaime asking for more crafts as the weeks went on.  Laura had been unable to say no.

The latest victim of his charm and spirit.

“What’s this?” She asks, entering the kitchen to find Jaime and Laura, their mess far more controlled and practiced now, bent together, their tongues sticking out in concentration.

“We’re making picture frames!”  Jaime says, swatting her hand away when she ruffles his hair.  

Carmilla smiles and leans around Laura, catching her lips in a kiss.  “Picture frames, huh?”

“For the new pictures.”  And then he chugs some milk before leaning forward again, all but burying is nose in glitter.

“New pictures?”

She pours herself a cup of coffee as Laura sticks a stack of papers up and into the air, barely missing her face as she doesn’t turn to look at where she’s actually thrusting them.

Far too occupied with the art of gluing.

Carmilla thumbs through the pictures.  

Jaime’s toothless grin.  Laura pressing a raspberry to Jaime’s cheek as he laughs, the image blurry.  

Carmilla flipping the camera off.

“I thought you were taking a video when you took these,” she says, the coffee cold on her lips and she wonders just how long Laura’s been up.

“I did a screenshot of the video.”

“Mama, Mom said you have to put two dollars in the Swear Jar for the picture.”  Jaime says, matter of factly and makes a grab for the pictures.  

She hands all of them back except for the one of herself.

“I’m surprised Mom even let you see the picture.”

“He grabbed them before I could.”

“Slow on the reflexes, Hollis?  Gotta get those up to par since you’re a parent now.”

Carmilla takes a step back when Laura suddenly points the hot glue gun at her with a glare.  “Get your craft on or get out of the kitchen, Karnstein.”

“Yeah, Karnstein!’  Jaime says and Carmilla feels her jaw drop.

Laura laughs so loud she spills glitter everywhere.

And a week later, when Carmilla walks past Laura’s office, she catches her.

Her computer screen lighting the room, her face a glow in the dark.  Making it just visible enough for Carmilla to watch as Laura’s hands ghost across the three frames.  The picture of Carmilla nestled between the two of Jaime.

It’s sweet and quiet.  A moment for Laura and Laura alone.  

Stolen and spied upon.  

But it’s the look on Laura’s face that makes Carmilla pause.

Wistful and nostalgic.  

As if for something right before her.  There but just out of reach.

Her eyes heavy.  Her lips turned into the slightest frown.

And Carmilla is just about to make her presence known.  To step into the room and ask if she’s alright.  When Laura turns back to her computer.  Immediately begins to work.

The frown gone.

Replaced with a smile.

Bright.

Full.

Not at all right.

 

//

 

LaF should never be allowed near Perry’s knitting.

“What do you think?”  They say, turning slightly so she can see the front and back of their sweater.   A menorah knit into the front.  A dreidel on the back.  

It would be nice, Carmilla thinks, if Perry had kept it from them until tonight.

Because LaF had somehow rigged it.  With working lights on the candle ends of the menorah.  And God awful flashing ones around the dreidel.

“You look like an electrocution accident waiting to happen.”

“Where’s your holiday spirit?”

“Left it at the front door.”

“No Rugelach for you.”

“Let’s not get carried away now.”

LaF snorts and takes a long drink of eggnog, turning towards the room when there’s a loud squeal of excitement from Petunia.  She claps as Laura plays peek-a-boo with her.

“Can’t believe you guys still wanted to do this with a baby,” Carmilla says after a moment, turning her attention from Laura to see Danny and Kirsch taking a game of dreidel far too seriously.

“A holiday season without the Lola Perry/LaFontaine Holiday Extravaganza is no holiday season.”

“You speak very highly of yourself.”

“Please, I remember not long ago you’d get yourself plastered and proclaim it was the best party of the year.”

Will runs by then, Jaime chasing after him.  A Santa hat nearly blocking his view as he runs.  “And now we’re boring adults,” Carmilla drawls even as she smiles.

“Petunia is just the sweetest, LaF,” Laura says, stepping up to them and placing a cup of eggnog in Carmilla’s hand.

She thanks her with a kiss.

And they both watch as LaF’s eyes go slightly dreamy as they turn toward Perry, who was currently bouncing around with Petunia.  Her laughter mixing with the music around them.

“She kind of is, isn’t she?”

Carmilla feels warmth spread at the sight of how proud of a parent they are.

“It’s kind of incredible, you know?”  They continue.  Not taking their eyes off their family.  “I’ve always been aware of the biology.  It’s evolutionary.  But suddenly, one day, she’s able to hold her head up on her own.  The muscles are strong enough.  She’s starting to sit.  It’s…seeing the change actually happen, it’s extraordinary.”

“Christ, you’re such a nerd,” Carmilla says as Laura responds with:

“That sounds amazing.”

There’s a dreaminess to the way she says it.  And a far off look in her eye.  Like she’s never seen a baby before.  As if she doesn’t live with a child every day.  But before Carmilla can even think the more of it:

“It is,” LaF continues.  And then there’s a twinkle in their eye.  “So when can we expect one from you two?”

Laura laughs and Carmilla groans.  “Don’t even start.  We get enough of it from Jaime.”

LaF’s eyes go wide, a mischievous grin pulling at their lips.  “Do you really?”

Laura hums. “Every night before bed.”

“Should have kept the engagement a secret,” Carmilla grumbles.  

Just as Danny waves their way, pointing at Laura and then her ear.  Laura’s eyes widen as she realizes what song is playing and quickly turns to Carmilla.  “Hold my eggnog for me?”

“No promises it will still be here when you return.”

Laura huffs but kisses her cheek anyway and then dances her way to the center of the room as she and Danny start lip syncing to “All I Want for Christmas”.

“It’s really not all bad, though, is it?”  LaF asks, their attention back on Perry and Petunia.  

Jaime’s joined them now.  Standing on his tiptoes as Perry bends slightly so he can lightly tickle Petunia’s sides. 

“Being an adult?” 

“No,” Carmilla responds, as Laura points at her on a “you” in the song.  Winks.  Wiggles her hips.  

“It’s really not.”

 

 

//

 

“Wait, let me get the camera.”

Carmilla sighs, her fist tightening around the apple in her hand.  A groan catching on her lips.

“Yeah!  I wanna see it.”

“Just look in the mirror, Kid.”

“That’s no fun, Mama.”

“All you have to do is bite into the apple.”

“No, I want Mom to record it.”

“You don’t need to record it,” Carmilla says, trying to keep her annoyance at bay.  Because she shouldn’t be annoyed.  She shouldn’t.  Really.  It was sweet.  And cute.  And nice.

And the red light was becoming permanently burned into her brain.

“Just bite into the apple.”

“No!  Not yet, Mom wants to record it.”

“Jaime…”

“No!”

“James Hawthorne,” Laura says, rounding the corner, camera in hand.  “I won’t record anything if you continue to talk to your mother like that.”

To his credit, Jaime’s head bows slightly and he looks to the ground. Kicks his feet.  “Sorry, Mama.”

Carmilla sighs and she knows, by the narrowing of her eyes, that Laura doesn’t miss the glare she sends the camera.

But then she’s turning, bringing the camera up to her face and angling it toward Jaime.  A smile pulling at her lips.  “Thank you, now—.”  She hits the record button, “Let ‘er rip.”

Jaime smiles and lunges forward.  Grabbing the apple from Carmilla’s hand and taking an overly large bite.

A pull.

And a wince.

And he’s holding the apple before the camera.

His newest loose tooth sticking out of the end.

“Look!”

“And on the first try,” Laura laughs.  “The Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus in one month, that’s pretty special.”

Carmilla watches as Jaime grabs the tooth, throwing the apple back at her without a care if it’s caught or not.  And then he’s bolting from the room.

“I’m gonna get a bag to put it in for the Tooth Fairy!”

The second he turns the corner, Laura is lowering the camera and flicking it off.  A frown pulling at her lips.

“You don’t need to be such a grump about the videos.”

Carmilla sighs and crosses her arms.  “I just don’t see the point.”

“It’s supposed to be fun, Carm.”

“It’s a nuisance.  We don’t need to record every single moment of every single day.”

“Losing a tooth is a big deal.”

Carmilla snorts.  “It was his fifth tooth.  Not like it was his first.”

And then she watches.

As Laura’s frown deepens.  As her shoulders sag.  As the camera hangs limp in her arm.

“If you want me to stop, I will.”

There’s something in the way she says it.  

Small and quiet and meek.  

That suddenly has regret flooding through Carmilla.  Hot and swift.  Sending her body off balance.  Because she doesn’t quite get it.

What ever the hell this it is.

“That’s not what I’m saying.”

“Isn’t it?”

“I’m just, do we really need to record every single second of every single day? 
You’re short of getting everything except us going to the bathroom.”

“I do know where to draw the line.”

“Let’s hope so.”

Laura’s eyes narrow and she turns to her fully.  “Why does it bother you so much?”

“Because I would rather sit and enjoy a moment with you than watch you point a camera in my face.”

“Plenty of families make home videos.”

“You recorded us eating breakfast the other day.”

Laura shifts and looks down the hall.  To where Jaime disappeared just moments before.

The wistfulness returns.  Flighting and brief.  Pausing just for a moment.  And when she turns back to Carmilla she’s glaring.  “I think you’re making a bigger deal out of this than you need to.”

Carmilla scoffs.  “You’re the one who is making a big deal out of everything.”

She watches as Laura’s mouth hardens into a thin line.  And she gives a single, curt nod.  “Fine.”

She says.

And then she disappears into their room.

Leaving Carmilla alone with a half eaten apple and the prickle of confusion tickling the back of her neck.

 

//

 

She comes home to Laura on the floor.

Video tapes in piles, stacked around her.  Her eyes wide, her hair a mess.  

Shocked.

And more than frazzled.

“Where’s Jaime?”  Carmilla asks, throwing her work bag onto the couch.

“Cleaning his room.”  Laura barely looks up when she responds.  Thumbing through the tapes.

“What did you promise him?”

“Don’t need to promise him anything if you ask right.”

Carmilla snorts and drops down next to her.  “And what are you doing?  Besides making a mess.”

“I—,” Laura touches a pile of tapes and they both watch as it tips over.  Clattering to the ground.  “I really have been going overboard, haven’t I?”

Carmilla’s brow raises as she bites back a ya think?.  Knowing, by the harrowed look on Laura’s face that sarcasm would get them no where.

“All of these tapes are full and I just…”

She watches as Laura trails.  Her shock turning to something else all together.  

“It has been a bit much.”

“A bit much?  Carm, look at this!”

“Don’t need to, love.  I lived it.”

Laura sends her a glare.  

“Why have you been so intent on capturing everything?”

There’s a shrug.  “I don’t know I just…”  Laura trails.  Shaking her head.  “Didn’t realize how much I was doing it.”

A lie, Carmilla thinks.  Knows, really.  By the way Laura won’t meet her eye.  

“What is it?”

“What’s what?”

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong.”

“Laura…”

“Carm…”

“Please don’t play this game, I’m not in the mood.”

“Then believe me when I tell you that everything is fine.”

Another lie.  

Because she’s looking at the tapes.  And nowhere else.

“Is it Angela?”

Laura’s eyes widen and she shakes her head a few times.  Almost frightened at the mention of the name.  “What about her?”

There’s a bite to the way she says it.  And Carmilla thinks Laura doesn’t even realize she does it.

Carmilla shrugs.  Watching Laura closely as she goes back to thumbing through the tapes.  A little more reckless.  “We just, haven’t talked much about it since it happened and—.”

“I thought we talked about all we needed to.”

Carmilla sighs.  “I thought so too, but…”

“But what?”

“You just seem.  Bothered by something.  And I—.”

“It’s not Angela,” Laura says and then her eyes widen slightly.  A shake of the head.  “I’m fine.  Really, Carm.  It’s just…too much,” Laura continues on, turning back to the tapes.  More to herself than to Carmilla.  A sigh.

Long and resigned.  Like something clicking off.  

A fire burning out.

“It’s too much.”

“Laura—.”

“Can you get started on dinner, I’ll come help after I clean this up.”

She doesn’t wait for Carmilla to respond, grabbing the piles of tapes and putting them into a nearby box.

Carmilla sighs and stands.  Knowing she really can’t do much else.  Knowing that if there was one thing she learned from being in a relationship with Laura it was that she guarded her emotions closer than she realized.

Not that Carmilla could really blame her.

She was more than guilty of the offense.

“And will you thaw out that cookie dough in the freezer?  I promised Jaime cookie decorating after dinner.”

“You spoil him,” Carmilla says, even though she smiles.

A smile of pride flashes across Laura’s face.  Full and beaming and bright.

But when she turns back to the tapes.

It disappears.

As if it were never there.

 

//

 

“What’s wrong with Laura?”

There’s a sigh and then a grunt.  Followed with a very disgruntled:

“Hi Danny, how are you?  Fine, thanks, Morticia.  Great, so glad to hear, hope I didn’t disturb you doing anything really important like, oh, I don’t know having mind blowing sex.”

Carmilla grimaces and gags.  “You didn’t have to answer.”

“You called my phone six times in the last fifty seconds.”

“You over exaggerate.”

“What do you want, Carmilla?”

“Were you not listening?”

“I’m going to hang up on you.”

Carmilla rolls her eyes.  The regret at dialing Danny’s number doubling with each passing second.  “What’s wrong with, Laura?”

“How should I know?”

“You’re her best friend.”

“And you’re her fiance.”

“Clearly it’s been a while since you’ve been in a relationship if you think partner’s tell each other everything.”

“I’m going to pretend like you didn’t just try to insult me and tell you to talk to your future wife.”

“She really hasn’t said anything to you?”

There’s a sigh.  “No.”  A pause.  And then Danny’s voice drops as she asks, “Is something really wrong?”

Carmilla flops onto the couch, kicking her shoes off as she raises them onto the coffee table.  “She’s just…been acting weird.  Like she’s sad but acting happy.  But not really.  She gets annoyed easily.”

“Living with you, that’s not really a surprise.”

Carmilla has to all but suppress a growl.  “Are you going to help or not?”

“Look, if there is something wrong, she hasn’t said anything to me.”

“You’re sure?”

“Yes, Carmilla.  Can I please go get laid now?”

Carmilla sighs.  She should have known calling Danny would be useless.  Despite the fact that if anyone should have known anything.  It would have been her.

“Fine.  Have fun.  Remember, there’s no shame in using a dental dam.”

“Fuck off.”

And the line clicks dead as Danny hangs up.

 

//

 

Somehow, Laura becomes more beautiful at Christmas time.

It was something Carmilla had quickly learned the first year they dated.  The way the crisp, harsh air brushed against her cheeks.  Reddening them in just the right way.

The way the wind would blow her hair.

How she always seemed the slightest bit breathless.

In the way the colorful lights around them seemed to light up the very best of her soul.

How she smiled.

Even in the cold and the dark and the quiet.

Carmilla watches.

Jaime was finally tucked away for the night.  His growing excitement for Christmas making it harder to get him to sleep. 

As she had left his room she had heard Laura click off the television.  Had seen the dim of the lights from the doorway.

And when she’d turned the corner, Carmilla’s breath had caught.  

Not for the first time taken with how beautiful of a woman Laura was.

The room lit with only the bright, promising glow of the Christmas tree.  Painting the walls in a warmth of reds and greens, blues and yellows.

Laura still, standing at the bookshelf.  Her hands clasped behind her back.  Taking in a collage of pictures.  Their engagement photos mixed with ones of Jaime just after he was born.

That smile.

Wistful.

Nostalgic.

Pulling and twisting at something that Carmilla couldn’t quite tell what.

And she’d like to ask, she thinks.  Knows really.  Because it’s so clear that something is bothering her.  Surely.  

“Staring is creepy, you know.”

When Laura speaks, she barely brings her voice above a whisper.

“I didn’t want to disturb you,” Carmilla hums her response, tiptoeing across the room until she reaches her.

Letting her arms slide around Laura’s waist, pulling her back to her front.  Resting her chin on her neck.  

Placing a ghost of a kiss on her shoulder.

“Do you know how beautiful you are?” She whispers to the skin there and she feels the warmth spread through Laura as she blushes.

“You’re just trying to butter me up.”

“Is it working?’

She feels Laura laugh quietly.  Low and deep.  “Keep playing your cards right and it might.”

Carmilla takes in a deep breath.  Turning to the bookshelf.  

The picture from their engagement shoot of Jaime, hamming for the camera with Carmilla and Laura laughing in the background, staring back at her.

“Pretending you’re at Hogwarts?”

Laura chuckles.  What?”

“You were staring at the pictures so much, I thought you were waiting for them to jump to life.”

“Someone has been listening during reading time.”

“Not my fault you do it in the same room I work in.”

Laura leans into her then.  Giving more of her weight to Carmilla.  Letting her support them.  And Carmilla doesn’t need to see her face to know she’s smiling.

“Was he a happy baby?”

The question catches Carmilla off guard.  It’s said so quiet and small.  She’s not quite sure Laura speaks at all.  

But she does, she knows.  By the way her body vibrates against her own.  The hum moving through them both.  

“What?”

Laura points, to a picture of Jaime, taken just a few days after he was born.  Nestled between more engagement photos.  Carmilla sitting, with Laura’s arms wrapped around her shoulders.  And one in a position they were in much like now.

“Was he a happy baby?”

“Yeah,” Carmilla replies.  Unable to hide the sigh of contentment lining her words.  “He was.”

And she thinks of him. 

How small he had been.  The way his tuft of hair would stick up in the early mornings as he cried for food and sleep.  How soft his skin had been.  How he seemed to sigh as he slipped on her chest.  

How his giggle would make even Ell laugh for hours.

And, Carmilla thinks, how for the first time in forever, the thought of Ell doesn’t seem to hurt.

She pulls Laura tighter to her.  Breathing in her scent.  Feeling her warmth.  

And realizes that she’s crying.

“Laura?”

There’s a sniffle.  Laura brings her hand to her nose.  “Sorry.”

“What’s wrong?”

“It’s nothing.”

Carmilla snorts and turns Laura so they’re facing one another.  Bringing her hands up to her cheeks and wiping away the tears.  “What is going on?”

“Nothing is going on.”

“Bull shit.”  It comes out harsher than she means.  But it finally makes Laura look at her.  So she supposes it’s worth it.  “Something is going on.  Talk to me.”

Laura sighs and closes her eyes.  And when she opens them again the tears seem to dance in the lights of the tree.

“I missed it.”

Carmilla feels her brow furrow.  But before she can ask just what it is, Laura continues.

“I missed everything.  His first word.  His first steps.  First tooth.  First laugh.  First smile.  First day of school.  First…everything.”

Carmilla’s throat tightens.  

She wipes her hand across Laura’s cheek.

Somehow, she thinks, the only appropriate thing to do.  

“And it makes sense, you know.  Of course it does.  We didn’t even know one another then.  But…”

Laura let’s out a long, shuddering breath.  And shakes her head.  As if willing herself to stop.

Carmilla steadies her.  Placing a hand under her chin and guiding Laura back to her.  “But…?”

“He calls me mom.”  The smile on Laura’s face is so bright, it nearly lights the whole room.  More enchanting than the magic of tree lights.

Dazzling, Carmilla thinks, even if she is crying.

“He calls me mom and I feel like it.  I feel like his mom.  I feel like he’s mine.  I feel like he’s always been mine.  But I don’t…I don’t have those memories.  I don’t know what half of his life was like.  I just…missed it.”

Laura grabs Carmilla’s hand.  Placing a kiss on her palm before looking at her, letting their hands fall between them.

“It’s why I’ve been recording everything,” she adds on.  Almost embarrassed.  Absolutely sheepish.  “I don’t want to miss anything else.”

Shitty.

Carmilla thinks.

She feels absolutely shitty.

The shittiest of shitty.

Because she’s been downright shitty.

Just. 

Shitty.

Because of course Laura was filming for a reason.  Of course she wouldn’t have wanted to miss anything.  Of course she wasn’t just doing it just because.

Of course Carmilla hadn’t even thought of the reason.

“God, Laura, why didn’t you tell me?”

“Because you thought it was annoying.”

“Because it is but if you had told me the reason….I wouldn’t have been such an ass about it.”

“It was a bit much though.”

“Well yeah but…” Carmilla shakes her head.  Already knowing they were about to talk themselves into a circle.  “I’m sorry. 
And I’m sorry you missed his firsts.”

“Not your fault.”

“I know,” Carmilla says.  Locking her eyes with Laura’s and squeezing her hand.  “But I’m sorry.”

Laura nods then.  And turns.  Settling back into Carmilla’s embrace.  Pulling Carmilla’s arms until they are tight around her center.  

Turning back to the photos.

“I bet he giggled a lot,” she says after a moment.  And Carmilla can’t help the smile that spreads.

“He did.  He’d even laugh in his sleep.”

Laura’s body seems to sigh as she smiles.  Relaxing into Carmilla.  “He still does that now, sometimes.” She says, her voice dreamlike.

Carmilla nods and places another kiss on Laura’s shoulder.  “He does.”

Laura hums.  And then they stand.

Silence and stillness washing over them.  Laura looking at the pictures.  Carmilla letting their breathing sync.  

She’s not sure how much time passes until Laura is squeezing her hand.  A quiet it’s getting late spoken to the room.

And when they do leave.  For the safety and warmth of their bed.  Laura turns off the lights of the Christmas tree.

And the room fades to black behind them.

 

//

 

It’s amazing.  How much like Laura Jaime had become.

In the way he sat.

The way he spoke with his hands.

His infectious excitement.

In the way his love for pop culture grew.  

The way he just had to watch all of “Mom’s Shows”.

His love for sweets.

In the way he suddenly became a morning person.  

The way he laughed.

How he smiled.  

In the way he scratched his nose.

In how much everything about him seemed to zero back to Laura.  How he really had become her’s.

Carmilla closes the book in her lap.  No use keeping it open when her attention was so far away.  Directed solely for the sight before her.

Jaime running down the hall, laughing quietly, holding his hands behind his back as Laura follows.  A mischievous grin on her face.

The smiles too, Carmilla thinks.  

Once upon a time, she had thought Jaime had her smile.  But no.  He didn’t.  Couldn’t, really.  No possible way he could have.

Not when it’s so clearly Laura that he shares it with.

Full and bright and just the tiniest bit secretive.

“What do you have behind your back?”

Jaime’s eyes go wide.  And then a faux contemplative look takes over his face.  “What do you mean, Mama?”

A game, Carmilla knew, that he’d also picked up from Laura as well.

“I mean, you’re hiding something.  I can tell.”

Laura reaches them, then.  Placing her hands on Jaime’s shoulders.  He bends his neck back, looking up at her.  She winks and nods and then Jaime is producing a carefully wrapped package before them both.

“Your Christmas present!”  He says with an excited giggle.  

Carmilla goes to take it from him.  But he pulls back slightly.  Turning just the tiniest bit serious when he adds: “No shaking.”

“Cross my heart, I won’t shake it.”

Her promise is enough and he hands it over.  It’s light, almost airy.  But wrapped perfectly.  A simple bow adorning the top.  Carmilla pretends like she’s going to shake it and when Jaime’s eyes go wide she stops.

Smirks.  

Hands it back.

“Did Mom help you wrap it?”

Jaime nods.  “But I picked it out all by myself!”

“He did,” Laura adds, sending Carmilla just the smallest of winks.

“Can we read now?”

Laura nods, as Carmilla says: “Not before you put my present under the tree.”

Jaime zooms across the room.  Doing just that before grabbing Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and settling on the couch.

As Laura passes her, Carmilla reaches.  Lacing their fingers together briefly before squeezing.

It earns her a smile.

She has half the mind to turn back to her book, she thinks.  As Laura and Jaime settle on the couch nearby.  Their bodies angled the exact same way.  Fitting together like they were made to.  It had been a long semester and she’d hardly had time to enjoy any reading on her own.

But then Laura begins to read.  Her voice enchanting.  Bringing a world of magic to life.

And Carmilla can only watch.  

Watch as Jaime and Laura’s eyes flit across the page.  Their faces filled with excitement and wonder.  The story as fresh to Laura as it was to Jaime.

Half way through the first chapter.  They both get an itch.  Right on the crowns of their heads.  Their left arms moving up to scratch their own.  Their eyes never leaving the page.  Their hands falling at the same time.

There’s a shift.  

As they both sigh.  And settle in again.

Jaime laughs at something Ron says.

Laura smiles.

And Carmilla thinks it really is a wonder.  How much Jaime had become Laura’s.

How she had ever thought he could possibly be anyone else’s.

 

//

 

She’s not at all ready when Laura comes home.

She had wanted to be organized.  Prepared.  With a sequence and a path and a plan.

But all she’d managed to do was open the book and her computer and set up a bottle of wine, when Laura’s walking through the door.  Throwing her coat off with a perplexed: 

“Where’s Jaime?”

“My mother’s,” Carmilla says, standing.  And suddenly getting hit with a wave of nerves.

Unfound, really, since there was absolutely nothing to be nervous about.  

But they hit her, swift and fast.  More furious than the night she’d proposed.

“Why?”

“I thought we could have a night.” 

She watches as Laura’s brow raises and her hips get just an extra bit of swing to them as she makes her way closer.  “Oh?”

Carmilla nods and steps aside, pointing to the coffee table with her supplies.

The confusion is back as Laura steps around, bending slightly to open the first book.  Her eyes widen and when she asks, “Jaime’s baby pictures?” it almost sounds like she doesn’t believe what they are.

Carmilla nods. 

Links their pinkies together.  

“I thought I could show them to you.”

“I didn’t even know you had all these.”  

Laura flips through the pages, her mouth hanging slightly at the number of pictures in the first book.  

“They’ve been at my mother’s,” Carmilla explains.  Scratching the back of her neck.  “I had her store them for me after Ell left.” 

Laura looks to her then, and Carmilla sees her heart break just slightly.

“I couldn’t exactly look at them.”

It had been true.  Anything that had had any semblance of Ell she had done away with.  And the only reason the pictures had been saved were because most contained Jaime.  And no matter how happy he made her, no matter how sweet his memory was.

It had been nothing to challenge the pain of seeing what had once been there.

So she’d forced Will to bury them in Mother’s attic.  

She hadn’t seen them in years.

“Carm, you don’t have to if it’s—.”

“No,” Carmilla shakes her head.  Grabbing Laura’s hand and guiding them until they are sitting.  “Jaime is your son, Laura.  You’re his mother.  These memories should be yours.  You deserve them more than anyone else.”

She reaches up, brushing a stray piece of hair behind Laura’s ear.  

“They belong to you.”

Laura kisses her.  Threading her hand in Carmilla’s hair.  Holding her close. Clinging as if letting go means losing them both.

“Shall we?”  Carmilla whispers when they pull back.

“Please.”

Laura pours them each a glass of wine as they settle.  

And Carmilla begins.

With stories of Jaime.  His first laugh.  His first steps.  

Sharing videos of birthday’s past.  

A trip to the emergency room after he’d fallen at the park.  He’d needed five stitches.

His first day of school.  

His first bike.

His first Christmas.

The time he’d gotten his head stuck in the banister at LaFontaine’s and Perry’s first apartment.

A picture for each one.  And Laura cherishes them all.  Touching each photograph as if committing the memory to her skin.

“This is my favorite picture of him,” Carmilla says after hours have passed.  Laura leaning her head on her shoulder.  Her arms around her waist.  

She hands the picture to her, one she’d printed just earlier that day.  Of a smiling Jaime.  His eyes bright.  His face close to the camera.  Arms out wide in excitement.  

His heart so full and clear.    

“When was this taken?”

Carmilla pulls Laura closer.  Placing a kiss on her temple.  “A few minutes after I told him I wanted to marry you.”

Laura turns to her.  Her face unreadable.  Almost as if she doesn’t believe her.  But then she smiles and shakes her head.  “You’re such a sap.”

Carmilla laughs.  And shrugs.  And she knows she’s blushing.

Something only Laura was ever able to make her do.

Laura shifts.  Moving until she can place a series of kisses up Carmilla’s neck.  “Take me to bed,” she whispers when she reaches Carmilla’s ear.

“But we still have a whole book to go through,” Carmilla responds, even as heat flushes to her core.

“And we’ll get to them.”  Laura kisses along her jaw as she sits.  Straddling Carmilla’s lap.  “But right now—.”  She bites at Carmilla’s clavicle, pulling her sweater down to expose more skin.

“I’d really like to thank you.”

 

//

 

A week later, the red light is blinding in the dark as it greets them on Christmas morning.

Capturing as Jaime sees his presents from Santa for the first time.  

Blinking all the way through gifts and breakfast.  

Recording them on their trip to Laura’s father’s.

Bright as they have dinner at Carmilla’s mother’s.

Annoying.  Really.  Because it was always on.  And always there.  Always watching.

But the smile on Laura’s face, Carmilla knew.

Was really quite worth it.

 

 

Chapter Text

Laura Hollis thought of her life in moments.

A flicker of images, rolling and flashing until one need simply to pluck them and throw them on a wall.   To view and see.  Live and breathe.

Moments, engrained.

Of joy or tears.  Mirth and sorrow.

A girl, young and twirling in a field.  Her parents blissfully beside her.  A chocolate bar given for good grades.  Secret whispers stolen in the night of forts and make believe.

A woman.

A kiss goodbye.

Never to be seen again.

Tears and emptiness and the thought that one could never be whole again.  Such weight for any child to carry.

Camping trips with Dad.  An abundance of which to simply disappear from the reality of the world.  A frog hiding in her shoe. 

A squeal of laughter as she falls into a creek.

Catching pneumonia after.

And smiling all the same.

A kiss from Stacey Anne behind the bleachers at homecoming.

The thought that life had suddenly been made whole and had ripped open all at once.

A Valedictorian, crying before going on stage.  A wish that she should be there.  But knowing that she had no right.  That’d she’d never want her there ever,  anywhere.

Dad crying as he drove away from school.  Leaving her with a dorm and enough bear spray to last a lifetime.

Danny.  And pie.  And a goat statue that they should have let fall.

A Dean.  Far too imposing and far too terrifying.  A goal and a promise to never see her again.

The children of the Peace Corp.  Loud and obnoxious and perfect in every way.  Her hands dirty from work.  Her body tired from the weight of the sun.

Her soul the lightest it had ever been.

A return to Silas.  So strange and different and new.

But familiar all the same.

A boy with a blanket.

A mother with a wicked smile.

Waterparks and laughter.

Girlfriends.  New friends.  Old friends.

A boy with missing teeth and questions that never seemed to end.

Soccer and mud and never being able to clean it out of the carpet.

Eggs sunny side up.

A house.  A home.

Camping and forts. 

Mom

The word somehow new and reclaimed.  Given more meaning than ever before.

Wedding.

And wife.

The feel of a new born baby.  So soft and small.

The most intoxicating smell.

Of family.

Moments.  So simple and new.  Quiet and big.  Small and inviting.  Never before had. 

Never to be had again.

Moments. 

A single and the plural.

Of a woman in a bar.

 

//

 

The bar is hot.

It always is, really.  So she shouldn’t be surprised.  But it’s unwelcome after a long day.  And she really should have changed because with her pants and her shirt are already causing a sweat. 

But, Laura knew, changing meant the risk of arriving after eleven.

And that was just plain wrong.

It hadn’t been on the agenda that morning.  A night out. 

Alone.

A single quest in mind.

But the day had turned with stress. 

The hot water had been turned off in her building.  She’d spilled the last of her coffee on the kitchen floor.  Jessica had “accidentally” eaten her lunch.  Which was complete an utter bologna because the woman grabbed at anything in the staff refrigerator that she could get her hands on.

And Benjamin had taken pleasure in tormenting sweet Jaime and his blanket and she’d had to run around half the day playing mediator.  Which was rude and mean and Jaime deserved none of it. 

But apparently telling a five-year-old that was frowned upon.

However true it may be.

She’d wanted nothing more than to go home and take a hot bath and finish The Hobbit

But the water was still out.  And the bar was often the only place to find the solace she was looking for.

To rid her body of tightness and strain.

So really, she supposed she couldn’t complain.

Danny often told her she needed to find a new stress relief.  

Laura told her it was healthy.  Cardio and endorphins and a lot of good stuff.

Sure, Danny always said, pointing her fork and pie at her, Until you catch the clap.

Which, whatever, okay fine. 

Point valid.  But she was safe.

So really, why not enjoy herself?

It’s the usual crowd.  Uncomfortably familiar and Laura’s really not quite sure she likes the lack of anonymity. 

Because familiar and more than once really wasn’t the point.

She spots Leslie, out of the corner of her eye, looking at her.  A deciding look on her face.  As if she, too, is weighing the options of what a familiar encounter would or could be.

When she sees her

Tucked into the corner of the bar.  Dressed in all black.  She’s barely visible in the dark light.  But her corset is tight.  Her leather pants tighter.  The angles of her face stark. 

The frown on her face even more so.

The feeling that courses through Laura is so swift and fast and downright embarrassing, she’s surprised she finds it in her to move and walk at all, until she’s sliding onto the seat next to her and The Woman is doing her very best to ignore her.

“And what kind of girl do I strike you as?”  Laura asks, when she’s gotten her attention enough. 

And she hopes to every Hogwarts Founder that she can keep it.

“Virgin gin and juice.”

“Wouldn’t that just be juice?”

Laura’s drink slides before her and The Woman clinks them together.  A single, simple toast, before she’s turning back to her phone.

“You know, if you’re trying to meet someone, it would be helpful to look around the bar instead of sulking at your phone,” Laura tries again.  Because the Woman is definitely trying to ignore her.  But her body has turned, just slightly.  And she can see her shooting Laura a simple glance out of the corner of her eye.

She wonders if The Woman even notices that she’s doing it.

“Who says I’m here to meet someone?”

Laura smiles and she knows she must be obvious when her eyes roam up and down the Woman’s figure.

“Leather pants and eyeliner to die for?  If you’re not here to meet someone, you’re wasting a  perfectly good opportunity.”

She manages to say, her voice somehow steady and deep despite the fact that the Woman’s eyes are now roaming up her own body.

She sounds reserved as the conversation continues.  Trying to brush Laura off, she thinks, even if she’s peeked her interest. 

Of that, Laura knows. 

Can tell.  If there was one thing her mother had ever been right in telling her, it was that a woman could always tell.

Always.

And though she wasn’t particularly in the mood for a challenge—not that she ever viewed hitting on anyone as a challenge.

Because that was disgusting and gross and creepy.

But she’d really rather just chat and meet and get right down to it.

They all knew why everyone was here.  The heat and the want and the need for sex palpable even outside the freaking building.

So why not expedite the process?

And, okay, so maybe Danny was right, she did do this often.

But she’d never push.

She wasn’t disrespectful.

But the Woman was turning to her, more and more.  Even if her words were guarded.  There was an openness to her that was hard to miss. 

Though, Laura could tell, she was trying to hide it.

A reserve.  And a hurt so palpable, Laura had to bit her lip to keep from asking about it.

She knew that and knew it well. 

And if The Woman was anything like Laura in anyway, she’d hate it just as much as Laura did.

“All the good ones are gone,” Laura says when the woman asks about eleven.  And she hopes the Woman can tell she is joking.

However of a half it may be.

Because it is true.

The Woman laughs and it’s the most intoxicating sound Laura has ever heard.  Deep and throaty and rich. 

Round.

Sexy as hell. 

It’s incredible, Laura thinks, and horribly embarrassing.  How quickly the blood coursing through her turns hot.  How fast it makes her flush.

How heavy it pools.  Deep and low. 

And, Holy crap, Hollis, get a hold of yourself.

So, it might’ve been awhile.

Sue her.

 

//

 

“I don’t have a story.”

Laura’s face must betray her.  The words hitting her harder than she thinks the Woman intended.  And she almost looks victorious. 

Like she thinks she’s caught Laura off guard and given her exactly the opposite of what she’s looking for.

It’s the bitterness, Laura knows, lining her words that catch her.  Familiar in a way that Laura can’t even begin to understand or explain.

So how could she expect a stranger?

Because stories, as much as they were loved, could also mean heartache and sorrow. 

And, Laura knows, adopting the story of another was so much easier than embracing your own.

Laura watches as The Woman’s smile actually turns into somewhat pleasure.  As if she’s won a game Laura hadn’t even known they’d been playing.

An I told you so and a ha dancing at the tip of her lips.

It’s surprise, then, that happens next, when Laura raises her glass and tips it toward her.

“I’ll drink to that she says.”

The Woman’s eyes widen with something akin to almost relief.

As Laura does just that.

 

//

 

She’s the best sex Laura’s ever had.

And she’s had a lot of it.

And yeah, okay, okay, maybe Danny really did have a point.

But it’s not as if she didn’t have options to weigh it against.

It’s the truth.

Laura, can say, without question or contemplation.

The absolute best.

And she doesn’t even know her name.

Identities and stories long since left at the door. 

But the Woman knows exactly what to do.

Where to touch.  How to move.  

Her talent far exceeding her tongue or her hands or the way she rolls her hips.

But, rather, her entire being.  Everywhere.

All at once.

And, Laura thinks, the it’s been awhile has to be, must be, a lie.

The Woman’s hand moves between her legs, hitting a spot Laura hadn’t even known existed.

She moans.

The Woman smiles.

Wicked.

Absolutely wicked.

“Enjoying yourself?”  She asks and moves her hand again.

Laura somehow manages to moan louder.

And wow, okay really didn’t think that was possible.

The Woman laughs. 

“Shut up,” Laura somehow manages to pant.  Her words stringy together in a jumbled mess.  Slurring and blending in a way that not even alcohol could accomplish.

Just want and desire and—The Woman’s hand palms across her chest.  Her lips dragging down Laura’s neck.  Her hips rolling—-the absolute need for her to do that again.

Shut up?” The Woman chuckles as she says it, her hand between Laura’s legs stilling.  “Is that anyway to talk to a new acquaintance?”

“Is that what we are?’

The Woman moves her hand again.  Slow and steady and somehow deeper and Laura is pretty sure she’s never blacked out during sex before but there was always a first time for everything.

“I don’t know that anything else really applies, do you?”

Laura huffs.  Grabbing onto the Woman’s back and digging her fingers in.  There’s a gasp above her.  And yeah, serves her right

“I don’t know, I mean—.”  The Woman kisses down her chest, slow and sloppy and deliciously intoxicating.  “We already—.” The Woman’s hand moves again.

Laura makes a noise she can’t even describe.

It would be embarrassing.

If it didn’t feel so freaking good.

“You were saying?”  She husks into Laura’s ear, her voice heavy and deep and not at all helpful.

Laura huffs.  “Could you just like stop talking and go down on me or something?”

The Woman lets out a bark of a laugh.  Her eyes twinkling with something Laura had yet to see. 

A lightness that had been kept hidden in the dark of the bar. 

She turns to Laura.  Her eyes narrowing with something deliciously dangerous and she bends forward.  Nipping at her ear.  “Since you asked so nicely.” 

Is whispered against her skin.

And then Laura’s head is rolling back into the pillow.  The Woman’s unknown name ghosting across her lips like a prayer.

And, Laura, thinks, If this was it’s been awhile.

She really didn’t want to know what practice would mean.

 

//

 

When she wakes in the morning, the Woman is gone.

The bed cold and bare beside her.

Disappointing.

In a way that should be so.

And, when she recounts the experience to Danny, it’s the thought that Laura will never see her again that causes an uncomfortable displeasure to settle in her.

A night and a moment.  So simple and brief. 

Somehow lined with something.

That was ridiculous and raw and so incredibly real.

But brief and gone.  And nothing really more.

Something to never be had again.

An opportunity, Laura thinks.

So perfectly wasted.

 

//

 

Laura Hollis thought of her life in moments.

Of first days of school.  And dance recitals.

With nightmares and dreams and hot cocoa sipped beneath of the stars.

A young boy.  Holding a baby girl.  Pride broadening his shoulders.

Strength creasing his brow.

A promise to love and protect because no one would hurt his sister.

Of first steps.  And first dances. 

Dresses and clothes.  Outgrown before they were barely worn.

Of school work and grades and trips to the principal’s office.

Laughter and tears and quiet nights with movies and forts.

The piling of home videos.  Tape after tape.  Picture after picture.

Kept with treasure and love in a box that was more a heart.

Of boyfriends and girlfriends.

Old friends and new.

Of wife.

And wedding.

Mama.

And Mom.

Of family.

A house.

Of home.

 

//

 

Jaime doesn’t stop fidgeting the entire ride home.

His leg bouncing and kicking as if on its own accord.

“You okay there, Bub?”  Laura asks, checking on him in the review mirror.

She can see him look at her.  His mouth opening slightly.  Hanging, as if debating whether or not he should answer.  Laura can see him look to Carmilla in the passenger’s seat.

“I’m okay, Mom.”  He says, slowly.  As if making sure he’s picking just the right words.

Carm sends him a wink, before she turns back to face front and places her hand atop Laura’s knee.

Jaime’s legs goes into overdrive and Laura’s certain he’s going to bounce out of his booster seat.

“Must have been all that sugar in the chocolate cake, huh Kid?”  Carm says and Jaime nods his head so fast, Laura is certain it’s going to bounce off.

“There was lots of sugar in it,” he says, with far too much earnest in his voice.

“You think you and a sugar crash are going to survive Honey, I Shrunk the Kids?”  She asks, turning into the driveway and shutting off the car.

“Yes!” 

Jaime all but rips off his seatbelt.  Scrambling to open the door.  Running to the house. 

Next to her, Carm snorts.  “Guess we better get the movie started before he does crash.”

“Why don’t you go get your pjs on, hm?” Carm says to Jaime once they’re in the house.

And for the first time in months Jaime runs off to do so without a hiccup.

Laura feels it.  A fleeting moment of suspicion.  Pricking at the back of her neck.  Because even the slightest mention of anything bed related and I’m a big boy, I can stay up was chanted up and down the halls.

But it’s brief and gone.  Carm leaning close far too much of a distraction.

Even after two years.

“Find us the movie?”  She says, placing a kiss on Laura’s cheek.  “I think I’m going to go do the same.”

“And what if I want to put my pajamas on?”

“Please, if you did, you’d fall asleep faster than Jaime.”  Carmilla snorts.

“And I don’t really feel like carrying both of you to bed,” she throws over her shoulder.  An addendum for good measure that makes Laura scowl as she turns the corner.

“That so would not happen!”  She yells and she can hear Carm laugh.

Laura huffs, though she’s smiling because it was really hard to do anything else lately, and turns towards their ever growing movie collection.

It had skyrocket shortly after Laura moved in.  Carm had complained about the lack of space they had. 

And it hadn’t stopped grown since.

She lets her fingers drag across the DVD spines, looking for Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, an excitement bubbling at finally sharing one of her childhood favorites with her son.

Son.

It was still a word to get used to.

Even though her smile only grew.

“Mom?”  Jaime asks, walking back into the room. 

“Yeah, Bub?” 

His pause causes Laura to turn.  Ignoring the DVD’s. 

The sight of Carmilla and Jaime greets her.  Standing before her.  Carm with a sly grin, her hands clasped behind her back.

Jaime, eyes wide.

He shifts and pauses.  Fidgets slightly again.  Rocks on his heels.

Once.

Twice.

And it only begins to register that neither are in their pajamas when:

“Will you marry us?!”

Jaime’s hands fly to his mouth after he yells it, his eyes going as wide as Laura feels her’s most definitely have.

She looks to Carmilla, who seems to be fighting back a laugh.

“What?”  Laura somehow manages.  Her breath caught.

The single question the only thing coming to her racing mind.

She’s faintly aware of her heart beat skyrocketing.

Because there’s no way she heard that right.  Not that it would be bad or wrong or awful.  But there’s no way she heard it right. 

There’s no way she freakin’ heard that.

Carm chuckles quietly, placing one hand on Jaime’s shoulder and keeping the other tucked behind her back.

“We did have a bit of a speech prepared,” she says by way of explanation, moving them both forward until they stop right before her.  Jaime smiles sheepishly but he bites his teeth with excitement.

“But yeah,” Carm continues.  “What do you say?”

And then there’s a ring.  Sitting sweetly in a black velvet box.  An actual real ring.  Of silver and diamonds and:

Holy. 

Crap.

Laura watches as Carmilla holds the box before Jaime.  Waiting for him to take it.

He does. 

Cradling it.  Extending it before her.  Carmilla’s hands supporting his own.

“Marry us.”

It’s a whisper from Carm this time.  Soft and sweet.  And hopeful.

Two simple words filled with more than Laura could ever ask for.

Because they had already given so much.  So much more than Laura had ever thought possible for this place and time. 

For her life. 

Moments full and generous and fleeting.

But engrained into the very center of who she was.

And yet, not.  Here.  Somehow.  They were offering more. 

A promise of something Laura hadn’t even known could be possible.

Carmilla’s brow quirks, her head turning slightly.  A smile pulling at the corner of her lips.  As if she finally, finally, got Laura just where she wanted her.

Caught and surprised and completely off guard.

It would be rude if it wasn’t so incredible.

“Well?”

She’s barely begun to nod when Jaime lunges forward.  Tackling her to the ground in a hug.

She can see Carm catch the ring box as it flies through the air just before she and Jaime land on the ground, her body taking the full force of the impact.

Laura pulls Jaime close.

Not caring about the bruise that is certainly going to be on her shoulder in the morning.  Or the way that he’s crushing her lungs.  Making it hard to breathe.

Not that it wasn’t hard to breathe already.

Carm already successful in stealing her last breath.

She pulls him close and knows that nothing would ever be better than the imprint of his smile to her shoulder.

Not even the ring Carmilla places on her finger.

“I hope that’s a ‘Yes’,” she says, joining them on the ground and pulling on Jaime until both he and Laura can sit.

Laura smiles.

Bright and full and somehow complete.

And she hopes it can convey the overwhelming feeling coursing through her.  A million things all at once and yet simple.

Happiness.

She places a kiss to the crown of Jaime’s head.

To Carmilla’s lips.

Simple.

Soft.

Sweet.

“Yes.”

 

//

 

The cabin is beautiful.

Large and grand.  Far more space than any two people needed.

“Holy shit,” Carm says when they walk through the door.  Dropping her bag with an unceremonious THUMP.

And Laura is glad she decided to put anything semi-breakable in her bag.

“Why are you surprised, you’re the one who booked it.”

“The pictures were shit.”

“You mean you weren’t trying to get me the very best money could offer?”

Carm glares, her brow turning down though her eyes twinkle, and slides her hands around Laura’s waist.  “Don’t you try to pick a fight.”

“It’s my weekend, I can do whatever I want.”

Or so she had been told two hours before.

When Carmilla had arrived at the house sans Jaime.  Explaining that LaF and Perry would be watching him for the weekend while they got away.

What for? Laura had asked, surprised to find that Carm had already packed her a suitcase.

Carmilla had shrugged.  With a practiced nonchalance that meant she was nervous.  Unsure if Laura would like what she was going to say.  And shy.  I  just—  She had sighed and huffed and yeah, Laura had to hide a smile because definitely nervous —I wanted Jaime to be a part of the proposal, you know?  But I still want you to have your romance. 

Laura had kissed her then.  Pulling Carmilla close and trying to put to something what it was she couldn’t put to words.

And she’d only pulled away when Carmilla had pushed.  Explaining that if they didn’t leave soon they would miss their check-in.

They ended up making it by one minute.

“This is my weekend, too, thank you very much.  It takes two parties to get engaged.”

Engaged.

Yet another word to get used to.

No matter how much wider Laura’s smile already was for it.

“I suppose you want a thank you, then?”

“You can thank me later.”

Laura nods.  Her eyes widening.  “Ah.  Now I get it,” she says, as her hands slide up Carmilla’s arms and around her neck.  “You just wanted an excuse to have sex all weekend.”

“I don’t see how that is a problem for either of us.”

“No problem,” Laura says, stepping out of Carmilla’s embrace.

She begins to unbutton her shirt.  Walking backwards towards where she can see the bedroom.

“Just want to make sure we’re on the same page.”

“Are we?”  Carmilla asks, her gaze at watching Laura undress rooting her to the spot.

Laura can’t help her smirk.  Because really, it was ridiculous easy.

“I suppose we’ll just have to see.”

Laura reaches the bedroom door and turns.  Tilting her head to the side. 

“Coming?”

Carmilla does.

 

//

 

“You know what Jaime asked me?”

The sun is bright on Sunday morning.  Peaking through the heavy curtains of their room.  The promise of a new day. 

Basking them in warmth and light.

“Right after I told him I wanted to marry you?”

Laura hums, turning her head from it’s spot on Carmilla’s shoulder to look up.  Her body far too relaxed and heavy to move. 

They’d barely made it to the bed Friday night, before Carmilla had had her pinned beneath her.

They hadn’t left since.

Food and sustenance hardly remembered. 

Menial.

All things considered.

“What?”

Laura can feel Carm’s hold tighten around her.  Pulling her close.  Their bodies becoming more one and less two.  And she chuckles lightly when she says:

“‘When do I get to be a big brother?’”

Laura laughs.  Loud.  Full.  Round. 

Bright.

And Carmilla smiles.