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Chasing Ghosts

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The night was brisk. The winter air stung against her skin as she watched her breath leave her mouth in large puffs. It was strange. She remembered Silas winters being colder. She remembered bundling up in layers and shivering at the thought of stepping outside. But her skin was tougher now. It had been beaten, cut, and bruised over the years. Even burned. The bitter cold didn't seem to be as bothersome as it used to be.

She had gotten off her bus about twenty minutes ago. It was only a fifteen minute walk to her childhood home. Her only home. But her feet kept pulling her away. Instead, she strolled along the sidewalks of the main square and streets with her large duffle bag slung over her shoulder. She saw some of the looks passersby gave her. She hadn't recognized them though. Regardless, she offered a slight nod and smile when meeting their gaze. But of course, this being the tiny town that Silas was, everyone knew about Laura Hollis. And the military uniform was a dead giveaway.

She stared at old buildings she remembered. Some looking more rundown than others. Some businesses were brand new; or brand new to Laura. The streets and buildings were decorated for the holidays. Wreathes were hanging from doors and light posts, and lights were strung up as well. The holidays were always festive in Silas. Jack-o-lantern contests for Halloween, Christmas caroling, bar crawling between the total of two bars on St. Patrick's Day, and fireworks on New Years and the Fourth of July; it was a town of joy and love. And the soldier suddenly felt out of place.

The old market was still there, and she could easily imagine LaFontaine and their parents tending to their fresh fruits and vegetables. Next to that was still the park. The swings were still there, except for the tire swing. That entire tree it used to hang out wasn't even there anymore. A new yellow slide made out of plastic replaced the metal one she remembered sliding down no matter the weather. 

It was always strange walking around town at night. It was so quiet in comparison. Nothing was ever really open in the evening. And if there were no community events, nights like these existed. Almost desolate until stumbling upon a person or two. The bars were still open, as always; as well as a twenty-four hour mart. But there was also one other building that still had lights on, and the 'open' sign placed on the front door. She stepped in front of the building.

It was a small cafe she didn't recognize. The Black Cat. She stared curiously at the small sign below it. Cafe and Bookstore. Laura's eyebrows furrowed. How did a bookstore exist in Silas? They barely existed in larger cities nowadays. She figured it must have worked primarily as a cafe to remain open.

Hesitating, she pulled open the door, hearing the bells jingle on the door from her entrance. She turned to the right, where shelves and displays of books lined the half of the building. Lounge chairs and small coffee tables scattered the small space. On the left, there was a long counter with stools along it, as well as a few tables with chairs. 

Looking through the books, she saw classics lining the shelves; Dickens, Hemingway, Twain, Austen, Bronte, Shakespeare. She recognized H.G. Wells, Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker, and J.D. Salinger. There were non-fiction books she never dared to touch; works by Kerouac, Marx, Machiavelli, and Kant. Then, she found the children's section. She smiled to herself at the display of Goodnight Moon, placing her duffle bag down by her feet. Picking up the book, she began flipping through the pages; remembering a younger, more innocent version of herself being tucked into a comfy, warm bed.

"Laura Hollis," a voice interrupted her memories. She turned to look over her shoulder with her mouth slightly falling open. She slowly placed the book down without removing her gaze, and continued to turn fully around. The smirk on the woman in front of her as dazzling as ever. "To what do I owe the pleasure?" she charmed with her hands resting on her hips. Her gorgeous wavy locks held up in a high ponytail; bangs swiping above her eyes. 

The soldier's lips slowly spread into a smile with her arms crossed over her chest and hip cocked to the side. "Since when have you ever thought my presence was anything but annoying?" she teased with a raised brow.

The woman grinned in response. "You'd be surprised." Laura's cheeks turned red and she bowed her head in embarrassment. When she looked back up, her eyes slowly traveled up the familiar woman's body. Her outfit consisted of black leather boots, grey skinny jeans, and a black short sleeve turtleneck. When Laura's eyes finally reached the brunette's again, her blush deepened.

The smirk and glint in the woman's dark eyes left the soldier's heartbeat in disarray. This was the last person Laura thought she'd see. As a child, all this woman wanted to do was leave Silas. Why was she still here?

"Carmilla Karnstein... What are you still doing in Silas?" Laura tried to recover from the obvious effect Carmilla was having on her. You're a soldier, for Christ's sake!  Her back straightened as she tucked a few strands of her hair behind her ear before adjusting her officer visor. Her hands then remained folded behind her back.

Carmilla held her arms out, gesturing toward the store around them. "Living the luxurious life of running a bookstore cafe, obviously," she said in amusement before resting her hands on her hips again. Laura looked around the establishment in more detail, unaware of the brunette's eyes raking up and down Laura's body. "But look at you," Carmilla said, drawing Laura's attention back to her. Her uniform was finely pressed, shoes shined, and ribbons and medals decorated her chest. A large duffle bag rested at her feet. "You've been busy, huh?" Her dark eyes met honey brown again with an intensity that was absent moments ago.

"I don't know if busy is the term I'd use," Laura corrected with a slight smile.

"How long has it been now?" Carmilla asked with a tilt of her head.

"A little over nine years," the blonde said gently. Her eyes betrayed her. She stared at the woman from her innocent days and wondered where exactly life had led them. How different were their paths up to this point? What blessings did she witness? What tragedies?

"That's a long time, cupcake," the brunette commented with the hint of a smile.

Laura rolled her eyes. "Really? It's been almost a decade. Can we let the nicknames rest in peace?"

Carmilla smirked again. "Sorry, Cap. Old habits die hard."

The blonde stared with confusion; her arms falling from their proper position to her sides. "How'd you know I was a Captain?"

"Town's not that big, Captain Cupcake," she explained with amusement as she turned to go behind the counter. The cafe was empty now that Laura had looked around properly. She glanced up at the clock hanging above Carmilla. It was just after nine o'clock. Her father was expecting her home any minute. But she knw what she was doing. She was attempting to prolong the inevitable. The longer she waited, the longer she could avoid the Jim Hollis stare; that look full of pride and regret. After all, she was back for a reason. She was back indefinitely, and not intentionally.

"Cup of coffee?" Carmilla asked gently as she poured a cup for herself. The bell on the door rang suddenly, grabbing both women's attention. Carmilla glared immediately. "William, I know you're aware of our hours, and I also know you can read, college boy. The sign on the door says we close at nine."

Laura's eyes widened. "It's after nine now."

"No need to spell it out for him, cupcake," she said without removing her glare from her brother. 

"Whoa. Hold on. Laura Hollis?" Will said ducking in for a better view of the soldier's face.

"Wow. Will? You're all grown up. What were you like 12 when I last saw you?" the blonde stared at him in wonder. He vaguely looked like his older sister. They had similar eyes. The Karnsteins seemed to share that trait. Even Mattie, who was their adopted older sister.

He grinned. "I heard you were making your big return soon! People have been talking about it like crazy-"

"William," Carmilla growled. Laura had flinched from his statement and Carmilla knew why. Hell, everyone in Silas knew why by now. She remembered how gossipy the small town could be. It had been almost a decade, but it felt like she was here just yesterday.

"I didn't realize you were closed. I should probably-" Laura began as she pointed a thumb toward the door.

"Wait. Hold on," Carmilla said, holding a hand out in her direction to stop her. The brunette then turned back to her brother. "What are you doing here?"

"Mother was driving me crazy. I told her I was gonna spend the night with you," he answered with a shrug.

Carmilla rose a delicate brow. "And did you ask me before you came storming in?"

"No..." he admitted with a sheepish smile. "But I got home yesterday and I still haven't seen my favorite person in the whole wide world!"

Carmilla sighed. "Christmas break just started. You have a month of free time. Why rush it?"

"Oh come on, Kitty! You know she's been asking about me!" he grinned. Carmilla glared as he continued. "It's a Friday!" He pouted as he clasped his hands together in front of him.

"Your point?"

"Ugh! And it just started snowing!" he pleaded even more.

She rolled her eyes finally and leaned down onto the counter. "Fine. But if I wake up to another pancake disaster, you're banned!" she warned with a pointed finger. He grinned as he ran toward the back of the shop. He spun around to address Laura one more time.

"It was nice seeing you, Laura! We'll probably run into each other again soon. I mean, it is Silas," he finished with a wave and went through the back door.

Laura looked back at Carmilla, who rested with her chin propped up by her palm.  "How about that coffee? I recall you liking hot chocolate, but I'm fresh out at the moment."

The blonde opened her mouth in surprise. "But- Aren't you closed now?"

The brunette smirked. "Its not a business transaction, cupcake. Just a cup of coffee between old friends."

Laura raised a brow. "We were friends?"

The shop owner stood up straight. Her dark eyes burned through the soldier; the way Laura remembered from so many years ago. Then, the blonde let out a sigh before pulling off her visor and placing it down on the counter. She took a seat on the stool as Carmilla moved to pour a second cup of coffee and place it in front of Laura; leaning back against the opposite wall when she finished.

"So..." Laura tried to begin as she fiddled with the mug in her hands. She had grown accustomed to drinking it black. "Will goes to college?"

Carmilla took a sip of the hot beverage before nodding. "Yep. Another semester and he'll have a business degree." She let a smile appear on her face. "He thinks he's such a hotshot."

"Didn't you go to college?" Laura asked as she pressed the mug to her lips.

The brunette's brows furrowed as she stared down at her coffee. "I did for two years." She shrugged and met Laura's eyes. "Wasn't really my thing."

Silence took over as they both took sips to fill the awkward gap. "How'd you end up here?" Laura asked, looking around the building in question.

Carmilla let out a long sigh as she rubbed the back of her neck with her free hand. "Its kind of a long story."

Laura raised a brow as the silence fell between them again. "You know, for someone who wanted me to stay after hours, you sure don't have much to say..."

The owner smirked. Laura felt her heart jump from the sight of it. How is it she still had that effect over her? That same irritating effect? "Maybe I just wanted an excuse to stare at you longer."

Laura rolled her eyes and let out a chuckle. "Your lines apparently haven't improved much."

"Ah, but you admit they have improved!" the brunette praised. Laura rolled her eyes again despite her smile. Then, she looked back down at the mug she held in both hands; the smile falling from her face.

"Can I ask you something?" the soldier's voice turning soft.

"You never used to ask permission. Why start now?" Carmilla answered in amusement.

After the incident, and during recovery, Laura had spent many hours in therapy. Nothing ever clicked though. She could never open up; she could never speak of what she saw; what she felt. The sounds, the smells, the taste of the air; it was all so engraved into her brain, but none of it ever bled out. It stayed bottled up. It stayed inside rotting her core.

But here she was now, in her hometown, in this bookstore cafe, in front of someone from her past, and she felt the floodgate inch open.

"When you look at me, do I look broken?" Honey brown eyes glistened in the cafe light. There was a harsh pull in the brunette's chest. How was she supposed to answer that? This woman was practically a stranger now, but she did look vulnerable. She wouldn't say broken, but perhaps lost. Carmilla knew what broken was. This woman wasn't that. 

The lack of response was deafening. The snow outside the front windows was falling steadily, and it felt so quiet that they could almost hear the thud of the snow packing onto the ground.

"Sorry," Laura said urgently as she shook her head with eyes shut tenderly. "That was weird. I'm sorry if that was out of place."

"Hey," Carmilla interrupted.

"Really. Just forget I ever said anyth-"

"Laura," the brunette said firmly. The soldier looked up at her with shining eyes. Of all her years in Silas, with the punk known as Carmilla Karnstein, she had only heard the brunette use her real name twice. 

Carmilla searched the honey eyes again. "You're different," she admitted. She could see that through her eyes. Those honey eyes had been committed to memory long ago. "But I still see you in there."

The blonde forced a swallow and tore her gaze away from the woman of her past. "How do you even remember? That was forever ago."

"Yeah, it was," Carmilla agreed tenderly. "But some things just stick." She offered Laura a simple smile.  The blonde then ran a hand through her hair before sighing heavily. Her eyes slid up to look at the clock again.

"I should probably get going. My dad's probably jumping at every little noise he hears, thinking its me," she explained with a chuckle as she stood from her stool. She reached into her pocket and sifted through bills.

"Put that away."

Laura looked at her with a half smile. "Come on. It's the least I could do since you're not even open."

Carmilla placed down her mug and and stepped toward the counter to get closer. "And since I'm not open, accepting money makes me feel like a prostitute."

Laura looked at her incredulously. "Last time I checked, prostitutes don't pour coffee."

The brunette's eyebrows rose toward her hairline. "You're right. But prostitutes keep people company, which is what I did."

The soldier rolled her eyes. "You've got to be kidding me."

"Good to see you're still as stubborn as ever," Carmilla smirked.

"Right back at ya," Laura frowned as she tucked her money back into her pocket and placed her visor on her head. She watched as Carmilla looked out the window for a few seconds before reaching into a nook in the wall at the end of the counter. She pulled out a red scarf and held it over the counter to the blonde. Laura stared at it in bewilderment as Carmilla avoided eye contact.

"It's cold and snowing. Apparently you forgot about the climate of Silas," she mocked. "Just take it," she order, glancing up into honey eyes. Laura hesitantly took it before staring down at it in her hand.

Carmilla rolled her eyes. "Its a scarf. You're supposed to wrap it around your neck to stay warm. Jesus... You used to be smart, cupcake."

Laura looked up to see her smirking now. She glared before wrapping the article of clothing around her neck. She took a deep breath before reaching down and slinging her bag over her shoulder. Taking a step toward the exit, she stopped and turned her head slightly; refusing eye contact. "Thank you," she whispered before walking away from the brunette once again. 

Carmilla felt a heaviness on her chest after the bells of the door stopped ringing. She thought she was prepared to see the blonde woman again, but she was wrong. The gossip was a good enough warning, or so she thought. But seeing her brought back feelings she hadn't thought about in a long time.

Lifting up the door of the counter, she walked through and locked the entrance. Then, she made her way toward the back of the shop, switching off the lights before going through the door. She headed up the stairs and opened the door to her cozy apartment. The fireplace was lit, and giggling was heard in the distance.

"Mommy! Mommy! Help me!"

Carmilla took a deep breath and smiled at the sound; making her way toward the little girl's bedroom. Stepping into the doorway and leaning on the frame, she watched her brother tickling the six year old ruthlessly. "Mommy! Uncle Will is mean!" she said through fits of laughter.

He gasped dramatically as he leaned away to look at her. "I'm not mean! I told you, Livie. I'm a tickle monster. I feed off of tickles."

"No, you don't! I saw you eat all of Mommy's cookies!" she argued with a smile. Her dark Karnstein eyes twinkling in the dim light.

"Hey!" he exclaimed as he started tickling her again. "Tattletale! You helped me finish them!" She shrieked and giggled in response.

Carmilla sighed. "Will, you realize she's going to be up forever now because of all the sugar?" she asked pointedly. He sent her a sheepish smile, causing her to roll her eyes.

"We're sorry, Mommy," the miniature version of Carmilla said as she sat up on her purple bed. She elbowed her uncle. "Right, Uncle Will?"

"Uh, yeah. Sorry, Kitty."

Carmilla leaned off of the door frame and walked over to her daughter. She smoothed out the dark brown hair that had been ruffled up, and leaned down to kiss her forehead. "You're lucky you're cute."

Will grinned. "I get that all the time." Carmilla shoved his shoulder immediately.

"Now you're being held responsible for the crazy hyper demon child that is about to take over. As well as getting her to bed tonight," she ordered.

He gave her a salute before turning back to his niece, who held up her index fingers against her head as if they were horns. "I'm a demon child!" she exclaimed as she started to growl.

"You're terrifying!" he yelled as he ducked and wrapped his arms over his head in an attempt to hide. "Rawr!" she growled again as she jumped on top of him. Carmilla smiled warmly at the sight before she left the two to go to her bedroom. She sat on the edge of her bed and stared at the end table drawer. Then, she reached forward and opened it; removing a leather bound journal. Pulling off the pen clipped on to the journal, she searched for the next blank page. She placed the tip of the pen against the paper, but hesitated; the ink bleeding onto the fresh page. Then, she wrote.

'I saw a ghost tonight. She walked into the cafe... Even with Will there, I'm still questioning if she was real... The ghost aged since I had last seen it. It looked withered... But there was a warmth coming off her that had never haunted me before. It enchanted me. And I wanted nothing more than to keep this ghost safe and warm. Maybe its because of the mother in me now... Or maybe its the eighteen year old me reaching out for what was lost...'

Laura stood on the front porch taking a deep breath. The air clouding around her when she exhaled. She tightened her grip on her bag, and then knocked three times. She tipped her visor to brush off the snow that had accumulated on her walk. Then, brushed off her shoulders as her father opened the door. Her gaze was brought back in front of her as she stared at a smiling older man; more grey than she remembered. Laura had kept in contact with him throughout the years. She called and Skyped when she could, but seeing him in person was different. His aging was now noticeable. It had been almost ten years since they'd been face to face.

She searched his cloudy blue eyes. There it was; the Jim Hollis stare. The stare he left her with when she first deployed; the stare he always greeted her with when they video chatted, as well as the stare that he always signed off with. It told her how proud he was of her. She had continued the Hollis tradition, after all. Being a part of the military ran in the family. Her father and mother met while they were serving. Growing up, she never wanted the life of a soldier. She saw what it could do to people. It could hurt people in more ways than one. She saw that first hand with her mother. But certain things in life can change a person. It gave her purpose. And she found it in something she rejected for most of her life.

So her father was proud of her decision to enlist. But there was also that fear; that regret he had for letting his daughter, his only child, step into a world that still haunted him some nights. A world that haunted her mother until her dying breath. He saw so much of his wife in Laura. It was too easy to imagine Laura's body on the floor the same way he found his wife. It scared the hell out of him.

"Welcome home, Captain," he said softly with a warm smile. Laura dropped the bag off of her shoulder and wrapped her arms tightly around his waist; resting her head against his heart. His arms instantly engulfed her.

"Dad," she managed to whisper, beginning to get choked up. She slammed her eyes shut to prevent tears. He heard her sniffing against his chest, which made him rub up and down her back.

"It's okay, sweetheart. You're home," he whispered into her hair before planting a kiss there. They stood there for a few moments until he moved to place his hands on her shoulders; pushing her back to see her face.

"Let's get you inside. I'll make you some hot cocoa. Extra marshmallows," he said with a tender smile. Laura chuckled in response before sniffing again.

"I'm twenty-seven years old, dad."

He looked at her as if she had lost her mind. "And your point?"

She chuckled again. "You're right. Extra marshmallows."

He grinned, bending down and picking up her bag before swinging an arm around her shoulders, and pulling her into the house.

For four days, Laura stayed at home; not stepping outside her front door once. The Hollis duo watched holiday movies and baked Christmas cookies. When her father left for his police shifts, she stayed in and rooted through her old room. She found old textbooks, CDs, pictures of friends she hadn't spoken to in awhile, and sketches. She used to sketch all the time when she was younger. While overseas, she did it every so often, but not as much as she used to. She would draw anything. Cartoon characters, her neighbor's dog sleeping on the porch, Danny falling asleep on Kirsch's shoulder when they thought no one was looking; she even found one of Carmilla. In the drawing, the brunette was sitting on the garden wall in the town square, an acoustic guitar on her lap as fingers strummed at the strings. Laura had forgotten all about the drawing, but she instantly remembered the moment she was capturing.

Laura often people watched. She searched for new perspectives to draw; new stories. And when she found Carmilla playing away on her instrument, she felt a rawness to the teenager. She felt a pull. Laura had grown up with Carmilla; they were born in Silas like most of her friends there were. She knew her since they were little. But the moment she drew that picture of her and her guitar, that was the moment she felt like she actually saw Carmilla for the first time. And every second with her after that moment made her heart race.

She sat on her bed and tried to draw anything she could see. There was nothing else to do, and she figured she could brush up on her skills. Before she knew it, it was late into the night. Her father had arrived home from a long shift, and stood in her doorway.

"Hey, kiddo," he greeted her with a kind smile. She looked up at him with graphite smudged all over her hands, some even on her face. "I see you're drawing again," he commented as he stepped forward to see her work. He smiled at the drawings scattered across her bed. "Always said you were a creative genius."

Laura grinned before playfully pushing him away. "You're my father. You wanted to sign me up for Harvard after I won a spelling bee in second grade."

"You beat all the other kids!" 

"Because I was able to spell the word 'diarrhea'. Not exactly an Ivy League prerequisite."

"Hey, I still can't spell it," he defended.

"I know. Your attempt in Scrabble yesterday was terrifying."

He chuckled. "Yeah, yeah." He then looked around her room again. "Have you left the house at all since you've been home?"

"Nope," she answered as she continued with her current sketch.

"Laura," he said in that tone that made Laura cringe.

"I've been preoccupied..."

He shook his head. "You can't hide here for the rest of your life."

"I know."

"Life is going on out there without you. You can't ignore it."

"I know," she answered again without removing her gaze from the drawing.

"I just don't want you to get stuck-"

"Dad," Laura said sternly as her gaze hardened on him. "I know," she said once again. She took a deep breath as she looked back down at her creation, beginning to shade in a section. "I'll head into town tomorrow."

He smiled sadly down at his daughter before leaning down and kissing the top of her had. She froze from the contact at first before relaxing again. "Don't stay up too late," he said softly before heading off to bed. 

Laura leaned back against her headboard and stared up at her ceiling. Tomorrow she was going to go into town. She was going to see people. People that knew her. The old her. The girl that left a decade ago. They wouldn't know this woman that came back. This woman was different. This woman experienced kinds of pain she hoped no one would ever experience. Not even her worst enemy.

She closed her eyes and tried to force the images from flashing in her mind. Her hands clenched into fists, her pencil snapping in her hand. She began to rock herself back and forth, taking slow, deep breaths. She was safe. Nothing could hurt her now. She was safe.

At some point after continuously rocking and focusing on her breathing, she calmed down. Her eyes shifted to the shades of her window. She could barely make out the moon peeking through. Her mind immediately thought of Goodnight Moon again. She smiled at the innocence of the book. The whole point was to help children fall asleep. There was no evil in the story. Nothing to be afraid of. It calmed the reader. It was peaceful. It was a feeling she wasn't often privileged with. That was why it was always so hard for her to open up during therapy. She was never calm; never trusting; never open. Yet there she was a few nights ago, sitting on that stool in front of Carmilla, cracking open the hard, dark shell devouring her heart.

Laura took a deep breath and continued to stare at the small piece of the moon revealed through the shades. And before she knew it, she had fallen asleep.

Carmilla was always busy on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Everybody in town seemed to always eat breakfast at The Back Cat. It wasn't like she was ungrateful. She just wished her staff was a little more helpful, and less destructive. Specifically, Will, who waited tables when she first opened up years ago, and continued to work for her whenever he was home from school. The boy was always a clumsy mess. Four dishes and three mugs in two days. Perry was her delightful cook that kept the customers' taste buds happy. She was the one who kept Carmilla sane, as well. J.P. assisted her in the kitchen.

On this particular Saturday morning, the cafe was still busy. People were piled into the bookstore side with their food, finding any place to sit. Carmilla groaned at the sight from the back of her establishment. This place was too small for this many people. She had known this for a long time. But every weekend she grew more and more frustrated with the fact.

It always reached a point where Carmilla had to literally growl at her customers, who were more than used to Carmilla at this point in their lives, in order for them to leave. They would just sit there for an extended period of time when people were trying to order food and eat still. They usually scurried along after her sudden appearance beside them.

In the front corner of the store, Livie sat at a table for two eating the chocolate chip pancakes Perry made her in the shape of snowflakes. This was a typical occurrence in the cafe. While her daughter stayed busy eating, reading, or anything else to keep her occupied, Carmilla could get to work. She'd sit with her when she could and made she to check up on her here and there. Plus, the staff and townsfolk loved the little girl. Livie was never neglected.

Will came strolling over with a cup of hot chocolate and placed it down in front of the little girl that looked so much like her mother. "One delicious cup of hot cocoa for the short stack eating short stacks." She giggled before taking the mug in both her hands.

The uncle looked at the empty seat in front of her before picking up the empty plate left there to clear the table. "Kirsch left already?" 

She nodded fiercely. "He got a call on his radio thing. Had to go to work," she summarized as she took a sip. She flinched.

"Careful! Its called hot chocolate for a reason," he warned. She frowned before placing the mug back down on the table to wait it out. 

"Will! Food's ready!" J.P. called from the ledge where they slid the ready food from the kitchen. He hurried back to his job as the door signaled another customer.

The blonde stood in the doorway a little claustrophobic. The cafe was the extreme opposite of what she experienced those few nights ago. She considered coming back later. Hell, she didn't even know why she ended up here in the first place. Laura promised her father she'd leave the house and once she did, her feet led her here. So, she stood at the door looking around for any place to sit. Giving up, she began to turn to leave when she saw a little girl grinning at her from a table in the corner. Laura offered her a small smile, and was surprised when the brunette with pigtails pointed aggressively toward the seat in front of her. The blonde's mouth opened to reply with some sort of objection, but the smile the girl gave her was too much. She sighed, and gave a half smile in response as she trudged over to her.

She pulled off an old winter coat she found in her closet, revealing the red scarf around her neck. The blonde left on the accessory, seeing as her hair was in a ponytail and offered her no warmth. Her thermal shirt and faded jeans were an improvement from her pajamas and sweatpants she had been living in all week.

"You're new," the little girl stated cheerfully.

"Uh, kinda," Laura answered in amusement.

"I've never seen you before. And I've lived here my whhooooolleeee life," she exaggerated.

Laura chuckled. "And how long is that?"

"Six years!" she exclaimed holding up her fingers for a visual representation. "I just turned six last month," she added with pride.

"Wow! That's a long time!" Laura encouraged.

"I'm Livie," she introduced holding out her hand across the table.

The blonde grinned at how proper this girl was being. "Laura," she replied as she shook her hand.

"Where are you from?"

Laura leaned back in her chair. "Well, I actually grew up here."

Livie's mouth fell open. "No way! My mommy grew up here too!"

"Oh yeah? Who's-"

"Hey, little monster! Did your uncle leave a check over there somewhere-" Carmilla began and froze once standing beside her daughter and looking at the other woman at the table.

"Mommy! This is Laura! She grew up here too!" Livie announced in excitement as she pulled down eagerly on her mother's arm.

Laura's mouth fell wide open as her eyes danced from the little girl to the woman standing in front of her. They had the same eyes. The same hair color. Laura cursed at herself. How did she not see it earlier? Livie was almost an exact replica of Carmilla when she was younger.

"I know," Carmilla said softly without removing her eyes from the blonde. Then, she tore her gaze away to look down at her daughter. She brushed her fingers through the girl's bangs and smiled sweetly. "Hey, trouble. How about you go back in the kitchen and see what Perry's up to?" The girl frowned before looking back at Laura.

"We'll talk more later," she said as if it were a business deal. Laura could only manage a nod as the girl hopped out of her chair and pushed through the crowded cafe. The brunette took a deep breath before taking the now empty seat.

"So..." the soldier started. "You have a child?!" she exclaimed.

Carmilla let out a chuckle as she relaxed into the chair. She shrugged. "A lot can happen in a decade, cupcake."

"Nine years," Laura corrected, which earned her an eye roll. Suddenly the idea of that much timing having gone by freaked Laura out. "You failed to mention this the other night."

"You didn't ask," Carmilla answered nonchalantly. It was Laura's turn to roll her eyes. 

"Because that's something I should've immediately considered," the blonde mocked. "Are you married?" she asked still in shock, her eyes looking down to her hand for a ring. Carmilla watched her eyes and held up her empty hand for an easier view.

"Super single," she announced. Laura was shaking her head trying to piece everything together.

"How did this- What made you- I'm so thrown off right now," she finally settled on a complete sentence.

Carmilla smirked. "That's pretty clear from the dumbstruck look on your face. I know I've left you speechless before, but this entirely too amusing."

Laura ignored her teasing. "You're a mother."

"Did you always point out the obvious?"

"I didn't even think you liked kids!"

Carmilla scoffed. "You didn't think a lot of things." Laura went to respond, but seeing the look in the brunette's eyes, she decided against it.

Laura's voice was softer now. "I've missed a lot, haven't I?"

Carmilla's expression immediately changed. The woman in front of her was suddenly that ghost from the other night that had begun to bare her soul. The brunette felt an ache in her chest from the pained look in Laura's eyes. She went to reply when Livie came running back to the table, grabbing their attention.

"J.P. slipped on oil! He was sliding all over trying not to fall! It looked like he was dancing!" the little girl giggled.

"Is he okay?" Carmilla groaned out.

"Yeah. He keeps rubbing his butt though," Livie said with more laughter.

Carmilla sighed and looked back up at Laura who had been watching them both intently. The brunette's eyes fell to the soldier's neck. "Nice scarf," she commented with her signature smirk.

Laura looked down at the accessory before registering what she meant. "Oh, here," she replied beginning to take it off.

"No," Carmilla answered gently. "You keep it. You always used to get cold easily," Carmilla finished with a kinder smile as she stood from her seat. Laura felt her cheeks heating up. "I'll have Will bring you over some hot chocolate," she added before patting her daughter on the head and leaving them behind.

Laura watched the woman walk away until Livie's voice pulled her attention back to the table. "So you know my mom?" 

The soldier smiled warmly at the girl, whose eyes sparkled in wonder. "Yeah. I used to."