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Hall of Mirrors

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Why, out of every possible thing that could happen to Laura tonight, did Carmilla have to be standing right in front of her? She was in a black corset with what seemed to be a pair of tight leather pants and black boots. She was wearing red lipstick that complimented her skin tone well. Carmilla's smile was big as she took in Laura.

“Fancy seeing you here,” Carmilla said, holding the hand of the blonde behind her. Their fingers were playing with each other, while the blonde giggled.

“Yeah, well, this is my neighborhood,” Laura admitted.

“Yeah? I'm down on Bergen. What about you?”

“St. Marks.”

“Cool. Cool.”

Why does she seem nervous to talk to me? If anything, I should be the one who's nervous.

“Uh, how's your Wednesday night going?” Carmilla asked.

As if you really care. “Fine.”

Laura watched as the blonde continuously kissed Carmilla's neck and bare shoulders. She was tall, skinny and blonde. She had a nice smile and kept touching Carmilla. Carmilla seemed to ignore the girl, while staring at Laura. Laura felt a pang of jealousy. But what she couldn’t figure out was if she was jealous because she yearned for a girl to touch her like that or if it was because this girl’s lips were on Carmilla, and she wanted to be the girl doing that.

I don't even know the last time I felt someone's lips on my skin. Not that it matters. The last girl who I hooked up with will probably be the last one to ever do that to me. I’m repulsive.

Laura looked down at her feet, struggling to keep her brain quiet as some awkward silence, minus the sound of lips kissing skin lingered. Finally she found her voice. Laura's eyes were tearing up, but she spoke as clearly and as strongly as she could.

“I'll, um, I'll see you tomorrow, Carmilla.”

Laura pushed past Carmilla and this blonde girl who seemed to be attached to Carmilla by the mouth. She thought she heard Carmilla say something as she walked out the door, but it didn't stop her. For a short girl, she could walk fast and cover a lot of distance.

The thoughts of loneliness wouldn't stop. The picture of the blonde’s body and how skinny she was made Laura regret her smoking addiction. If I didn't smoke, I would be asleep. And if I was asleep, I wouldn't have had to witness that.

Laura felt a tug on her shoulder, but shrugged it off. Carmilla ran around her to stand in front of her, stopping her in her tracks.

“Are you okay?” Carmilla asked, sternly.

“I'm fine,” Laura said, trying to hide everything. Laura walked past Carmilla.

“You don't look fine.”

Laura paused, but didn't lift her eyes from her shoes. She just wanted to get back home, smoke her cigarette and go to sleep.

“Look, I'm sorry about Elsie. She has a hard time keeping her hands to herself.”

Laura rolled her eyes. “I noticed that.”

“Can I walk you home?” Carmilla asked.

“Shouldn't you be staying with your girlfriend?”

“Laura, she isn't my girlfriend. She only calls me when she wants to,” Carmilla paused, looking for the right words, scratching the back of her neck. “Uh, when she wants to have a good time. Unfortunately it's been more and more recently, but I don't have any emotional attachment to her other than sex. Let me walk you home.”

“I'm good. Thanks though.”

“I'm good company,” Carmilla smirked. For some reason that made Laura laugh.

“I'm sure. But seriously. I've lived here for 4 years. I can take care of myself.”

“Okay. I mean, of course you can. Well, we were on our way to Franklin Park. You wanna come with us? Get a drink?” Carmilla asked.

Laura looked down at her body before looking at Carmilla's. She could see a little of Carmilla's toned stomach and it made her suck in gut, trying to feel skinny.

“Thanks for the offer, but it's been a long day. I'm going to go smoke a cigarette and then head to bed.”

Carmilla pulled out her phone and looked at the time. “It's only 9:30. The night is young.”

“Again, thanks for the invite, but I have to pass. Have a good time with your girlfriend.”

Laura walked around Carmilla and was grateful that Carmilla wasn't following her. She just wanted to get away.

“I'm still trying to figure you out, Cupcake!” Carmilla yelled.

Laura kept walking, but she turned around to give Carmilla a small smile. Carmilla returned it. She made it back to her apartment. She smoked her cigarette before heading inside to her quiet apartment. Betty was still out and Laura took comfort in the feeling of living alone. She took a shower and was asleep before 10:30.

---------------------------------------

By the time Laura got to work the next morning, she felt drained. All the thoughts and images from last night were flooding her mind. She gave a brief ‘hello’ to Lafontaine before going straight down into the basement. She went to her desk and decided to stay there for as long as she could without being bothered. She took her sweatshirt off, trying to cool down from the humid, morning air outside. She checked her email and tidied around her desk. Being in the basement always caused a lot of dust to fall on her desk. She found some cleaner and started to wipe up as much dust up as she could.

Laura wanted to call in sick this morning because she didn't feel like being around people. Not to mention, sleep sounded better than moving. But she knew she couldn't really afford to do that. They got some paid time off, but she only liked to use those hours when she would go visit her dad. So here she was, at work, avoiding everyone and cleaning her desk. She could hear someone walking down the stairs. As soon the footsteps came closer to her, she knew it was Carmilla and tried to calm herself. She knew she wasn’t in the best of moods and how easily her temper could flare if bothered enough.

“Wanna do mine next?” Carmilla asked, passing Laura to throw her bag down on her desk.

“You have two hands. Do it yourself!” Laura retaliated. Apparently I can’t hide my irritation after all.

Carmilla smirked. “Someone is awfully feisty this morning.”

Carmilla sat down on her desk chair and put her feet up. Her eyes were still glued to Laura and the smirk didn't leave her face.

Laura exhaled, but still didn't look towards Carmilla. “I didn't sleep well,” she said, sadly.

“Maybe someone should have gotten a drink with me. Alcohol always helps me sleep.”

“Actually sleep or sleep around?”

Laura eyes widened at her own question. It wasn’t like her to ask such a blunt question, but she didn't really care at the moment.

Carmilla made a face and shrugged. “If I drink enough, I can go home and pass out. If I drink and then find a girl, I can go to her home and pass out after we have sex. Either way, I'm sleeping.”

Laura didn't say anything. She pulled out one of the brooms from the supply closet and started to sweep around her desk, trying to ignore the feeling of Carmilla’s eyes on her.

“You do look tired though,” Carmilla added.

“Wow. Thank you. I feel so much better now,” Laura replied, sarcastically.

“I didn’t mean it like that. It was just an observation.”

“Telling someone they look tired is another way of saying they look like shit,” Laura huffed. Which I already know I do. I don’t need someone else to point it out to me.

“That’s not what I meant,” Carmilla tried to reconcile.

“Sure,” Laura sneered.

Carmilla stood up and walked over to Laura. She grabbed the broom from Laura's hands and backed Laura up until Laura reached her desk.

What is she doing? Why am I breathing so heavy? Why is she standing so close to me? I need air or something.

Carmilla lifted Laura's chin and stared into her eyes. Is she going to kiss me? No. Bullshit. She's not attracted to someone who looks likes me.

“I don't think you could ever look like shit. And I would never say anything to make you think that you do,” Carmilla said, staring into Laura's eyes.

Laura was tense and just wanted Carmilla to leave her alone. She didn't know why, but she wanted to run to the bathroom and cry. She just needed to get away. She felt smothered. Laura struggled to push Carmilla back, but managed to break free. She grabbed her bag, and ran up the stairs.

Lafontaine eyed her curiously, as she made her way to the back door. Laura always tries to wait until lunch to have her first cigarette of the day, but she needed some form of release. As soon as she stepped outside, she lit her cigarette. She sat down on the steps and brought her knees to her chest. She lowered her head down to her knees and tried her hardest not to cry.

She thinks I'm ugly. I don't blame her. I mean I am ugly and I do look tired, but I look tired every day. I always looks like shit. It’s my everyday look. She would never want to be with someone like me. She's so gorgeous. I would just be the ugly thing standing next to her.

“Hey, Laura.”

Laura jumped at Perry's voice. Lafontaine must have sent her.

“You okay?” Perry asked.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Laura tried to respond as perky as possible. She kept her eyes on the street in front of her, instead of turning to look at Perry.

“Okay, don’t get upset, but I know you usually don’t have a cigarette before noon and when you do something is not good. Did something bad happen? Do you want to talk about it?”

“Not personally,” Laura replied.

“Okay, well if you want to-”

“I know, Perry. I just want to be alone for a moment.”

“Okay, Laura.”

Perry patted her shoulders before going back inside. Laura took a long drag, feeling the effects of the nicotine in her system. She stayed outside a few moments longer after finishing her cigarette. It was a muggy day, which seemed to fit her mood perfectly. She knew she’d have to go in before too long. She didn’t want to get in trouble with David. Just then she felt a few drops of rain fall and took that as a sign telling her that she needed to head back in. She made her way back to the counter when she witnessed Perry and Lafontaine share a brief kiss. She lingered looking at how they smiled at one another. She felt the familiar pain in her heart. The pain that reminder how sad she was. She tried to sneak past them to go back downstairs.

“You alright, Laur?” Lafontaine asked, their arm around Perry.

“What? No Frosh today?” Laura tried to joke.

Lafontaine smiled, but it faltered quickly. “I just want to make sure you’re okay.”

“I’m fine, Laf. Just a bad morning.”

Lafontaine nodded.

“Well we wanted to invite you to dinner tonight, if you want to come. David and Maggie will be there. Along with Steve and Megan and a few others. You’re more than welcome to come,” Perry offered with a hopeful smile.

The ultimate third wheel. One single with three couples literally sounds like my personal hell. It would be so awkward. Not to mention, everyone would be happy and in love. Laura could see herself pulling away from that group of people: sitting awkwardly on the couch, trying not to speak too much, trying to avoid eye contact or looking at anyone in general.

“I’ll let you know,” Laura said before turning around and going downstairs.

Maggie was David’s girlfriend. She was a petite girl, who was really sweet with strawberry blonde hair and glasses. She definitely belonged in Brooklyn. Steve used to work with them at the bookstore and he got along with Laura really well. Even helped her sometimes on the day she couldn’t escape her thoughts. She also loved Steve’s wife, Megan. They both had a lot of tattoos and were extremely nice, down to earth people. It’s not like any of the three couples would make her purposely feel uncomfortable if she decided to go, but her brain would make it the worst situation for her to be in. Turning a good gathering of friends into a bad one.

When Laura got back downstairs she noticed Carmilla playing Tetris on her computer. She rolled her eyes as she continued to sweep and pick up discarded boxes. She knew if she kept herself occupied, her mind would stay busy. She started to lay the boxes on top of one another, making a stack to be taken outside. That’s when Laura noticed a shift to her right. She saw Carmilla leaning down and tying up some boxes she had previously stacked.

“You don’t have to help. I was just doing it while we wait for today’s shipment,” Laura said, kind of surprised Carmilla got off the computer.

“I don’t mind,” Carmilla stated, wrapping some twine around the stacks of cardboard.

They were silent and Laura continued her sweeping of the large basement floor. After the boxes were tied up, Carmilla looked at Laura.

“I’m sorry for saying you look tired,” Carmilla stated.

“It’s fine. Sorry I was rude to you.”

“You weren’t rude to me, Cupcake. Or at least, I didn’t think you were being rude. I was the one who was rude.”

“Just sometimes I take things too personally. It’s not your fault,” Laura explained.

“I thought about what you said and I shouldn’t make a comment about your appearance, or anyone’s for that matter. So I’m sorry.”

Laura nodded her acceptance. She held Carmilla’s gaze for a moment before she continued to sweep.

“Are you going to Perry’s later?” Carmilla asked.

She invited her? Why? She doesn’t even know her!

“Um, probably not.”

“Why not?” Carmilla asked.

“I’m tired and just don’t feel like being the only single person at what is clearly a couple’s party.”

“But I’ll be there. You won’t be single that way. You should come.”

“I’ll think about it.”

Laura finished sweeping and headed back upstairs. She was actually starting to feel a little better and her mind didn’t seem as clouded. David was pulling boxes off the UPS truck when she got up to the counter. They counted them all before Mike was back out the door and onto his next delivery.

“Still not too many today, Killer. It’s coming, though. I’m gonna call the wholesalers and see where the shipment is. Why don’t you grab Carmilla and start taking these boxes downstairs? And please make sure she labels her own books. Rush hires won’t be here until later,” David informed her.

Laura saluted him. “Will do, Sir.”

David smiled and headed towards the counter. Laura hoisted a box onto her shoulders and made her way downstairs. She made sure she kept her chest up and back straight, so she wasn’t straining. The box was heavier than she expected.

“Shipments here,” Laura announced, placing the box on her desk.

“We carry the boxes downstairs?” Carmilla asked.

“Of course. How else are they going to get them down here?”

“I don’t know. Don’t you guys have a lift upstairs?”

“Yeah, but it hasn’t been installed, so we take the stairs. What’s the matter? I thought you liked a girl with muscles,” Laura teased.

Carmilla smirked and walked up to Laura. She invaded Laura’s personal space again as she felt Carmilla’s finger rub against her stomach. She immediately sucked in and took a step back. She wrapped her arms around her stomach, protecting herself. Carmilla continued to smile at her.

“I do. So maybe I’ll just watch you bring them down. How does that sound?”

David walked by with a box on his shoulder.

“Not a chance, Carmilla,” he said. Carmilla made a disapproving sound.

“David, you’re kind of interrupting my moves here.”

“Do it on your own time. Right now, we need to get these boxes downstairs and received. It turns out, that we will be receiving one of our wholesale shipments later today. I want all of this stuff at least received before we get that shipment in. We all know later today, could mean 6 o’clock tonight. So I just want to make sure we get all of this received, labeled and on the shelf before we start receiving the wholesalers. Laura, I’ve hired SJ again. So she will be able to help you two with the shipment.”

“Oh! Great! Thanks, David.”

“You always said you liked her the best and she was happy to come back. Now we have boxes to bring down.”

Laura followed David with Carmilla behind her. “Got a little crush on this SJ person?” Carmilla asked.

“Jealous?” Laura smirked.

“Not at all, Cupcake.”

“You sure? I don’t know why you would ask otherwise.”

“I was just curious to know your type,” Carmilla said, following up the stairs.

“I don’t have a type.”

Laura walked to the front of the store and grabbed a box, placing it onto her shoulder. They went back and forth a couple of times, taking the boxes downstairs. At one point, Laura passed Carmilla, giving her a smile. Carmilla’s eyes wandered down to see a little bit of Laura’s stomach where her shirt had ridden up from another box being hoisted up on her shoulder. Laura immediately pulled on it before walking past Carmilla as quickly as she could. Once downstairs, she put her sweatshirt back on. She was embarrassed and couldn’t believe Carmilla saw her stomach poking out. Well at least now she knows I’m fat, Laura thought. Carmilla passed her with a box in her arms.

“There is no way you’re cold enough to put on a sweatshirt,” Carmilla said, taking off her flannel to show that Carmilla was wearing a black t-shirt.

“I get cold sometimes,” Laura muttered.

“This store is like 90 degrees and we’re carrying boxes.”

“I’m fine, Carmilla,” Laura said. She pulled her sweatshirt away from her stomach before going back upstairs. She lifted another box up onto her shoulder and tried to reposition herself to pull her sweatshirt down. She was warm and stumbled a little bit. She started to fall backwards when Carmilla grabbed her waist, putting her back on her feet.

“Whoa, Cupcake,” she said, taking the box from Laura’s arms. “Are you okay?”

Laura knew what was about to happen, but she nodded. “I’m okay. Thanks for catching me.”

Carmilla nodded. “Why don’t you go sit downstairs and take that sweatshirt off. It’s too hot in here. I’ll bring down the last few boxes. Okay?”

Laura nodded again, walking slowly. Suddenly the room started to fade to black splotches, before she slowly went down to the ground.

“Laura?” Carmilla asked.

“Is she okay?” Perry asked.

Laura could hear stomping on the floor. “What happened?” David’s voice came from a far.

“She passed out,” Carmilla said. “Help me get this sweatshirt off. She’s sweating really bad.”

As soon as she felt Carmilla’s hand on the edge of her shirt, she opened her eyes and grabbed Carmilla’s hand. She was laying on the ground, her head in Carmilla’s lap.

“Please don’t,” Laura said, her voice small.

“Back up,” Carmilla said to the others. “She needs air. Do we have water?”

“I’ll run to the deli and get some,” Lafontaine said, getting up at once and out the door.

“Let me turn the air conditioning down some more,” David said.

“Okay, Laura. Let’s get this sweatshirt off,” Perry offered, trying to help Laura.

Laura felt like crying. She was so embarrassed not to mention all the eyes the eyes that were bearing into her. She slowly lifted her sweatshirt off and was grateful her t-shirt stayed down. She rested her arms across her stomach. She looked up at Carmilla who was eyeing her curiously.

“I’m okay,” Laura announced. “Just blacked out because I got too hot. I’m okay.”

She started to move to get up and immediately felt a hand grab her arm. “Stay down, Cupcake. Just relax for a minute.”

“I rather relax without people staring at me,” Laura noted, seeing a few different customers eyes on her.

Carmilla turned around to look at them. “Show’s over. Back to your books,” she said, rudely. She turned back to Laura. “Let’s get you downstairs, Cupcake.”

Carmilla helped Laura to her feet that still seemed to be a bit wobbly. “Come on. I’ll walk you downstairs.”

Laura felt Carmilla’s arm wrap around her waist and pull her close. She could feel Carmilla’s hand on her stomach and immediately tried to pull away. Carmilla looked at her and grabbed her arm to wrap around her shoulder. Laura didn’t like this. She didn’t want Carmilla to touch her stomach; to feel the fat that sat above her pants. Carmilla was gentle as she helped Laura get down the stairs and to her desk. Lafontaine came shortly after with a bottle of water and positioned Laura in front of one of the air vents to help her cool down. Laura just sat there, embarrassed, while Carmilla stared at her.

“I’m okay,” Laura announced. “I just got too hot.”

“I told you that you shouldn’t have put on your sweatshirt.”

“I was cold.”

“Laura, there is no way, at all, that you were cold. I was burning up in a t-shirt.”

Laura didn’t say anything. It doesn’t matter. You look good in a t-shirt. You don’t have to worry about hiding anything because you have the body every girl dreams of. If I had a flat stomach, I wouldn’t have to worry about wearing my sweatshirt.

“Laura. Drink your water,” Carmilla said, nodding towards the bottle in her hands.

“Hey, Killer,” David said. “You alright?”

“Yeah. Sorry about that. I just got too warm.”

“Well that’s because you’re the weirdo wearing sweatshirts in the summer.”

Laura knew David was teasing her, but it still hurt. If I was skinny, I wouldn’t have to.

“I always wear sweatshirts in the summer,” Laura protested.

“Yes, I know. That’s why it’s weird.” He laughed which caused Laura to laugh. “Do you wanna go home?” David asked.

“No. I’m seriously okay. Besides we have the shipment coming in later.”

“I’m more worried about you than that shipment.”

“I’m seriously okay, David. I’m going to receive what I have here and then get some food.”

“Okay. Let me know if I can do anything or if you need help.”

“Sure thing, Boss.”

David nodded before turning towards Carmilla.

“Keep an eye on her, will you?” He asked.

“Of course.”

David smiled at Carmilla and turned to leave.

“Do you want me to get you some food?” Carmilla asked.

Laura jumped, forgetting for a moment that Carmilla was there.

“I’m fine, Carmilla. I just want to get to work.”

Laura stood from the chair and made her way to her desk. She felt fine now, if not better than she did before. She opened a box and started to pull the books out. Carmilla came and stood beside her and started helping her.

“I blacked out, Carm. I’m not dying. It’s probably from the cigarette I had this morning, lack of breakfast and just being too hot. I don’t need any help.”

Carmilla held up her arms to surrender. “I’m here if you do, though.”

“Thanks,” Laura said, before getting back to work.

They received quietly amongst themselves, as Laura regained her strength. The only sound was the keyboards clicking, papers being ruffled and boxes being taking apart. Laura drank the entire bottle of water Lafontaine had gotten her and felt good as new. She left her sweatshirt off, but kept pulling at her shirt so it wouldn’t touch her stomach. What Laura didn’t notice was that every time she did that, Carmilla would watch her and contemplate why she was doing that. Once she had a few boxes received, Laura started labeling her books. She could hear the weird stomps of someone coming down the stairs and couldn’t place who they belonged to.

“Hey, Laura.”

“Oh, hey Kirsch. What’s up?”

“Lafontaine sent me down here to see if you needed any help.” He smiled at her.

“Have you had the chance to label books yet?”

“I’ve put used stickers on them,” He replied, excitedly.

“Well this is a little different, but if you want to help that would be great!”

“Totally.”

Laura picked up another stack of labels from the printer and turned to Kirsch. “So just make sure the ISBN number on the label matches the number on the back of the book.”

“The what?” Kirsch asked, clearly clueless. Laura could hear Carmilla snicker. She looked over to see Carmilla smiling and shaking her head.

Laura held up the label. “You see this tiny little 13 digit number?” She pointed it out with her finger.

“Oh, yeah!”

“Okay. That is the ISBN number. Make sure that number matches what’s on the back. It’s very important.”

“Cool, Bro. I got you.”

“The labels should be order of the books, but just double check to make sure.”

Kirsch nodded as he grabbed a book. He studied both the book and the label before peeling the sticker and putting it on the book. Better than nothing, Laura thought.

“Oh and just make sure you tell me if something isn’t right,” Laura added.

Kirsch smiled at her and nodded his head again. They worked simultaneously and Laura appreciated how much Kirsch paid attention to detail. Once they were finished they loaded them on carts. Laura started to wheel hers to the stairs with Kirsch behind her.

“So we’ll just pull these upstairs and then they can go on the shelves.”

“Cool.”

Laura started to wheel her cart up when Carmilla appeared around the corner. Kirsch jumped at her sudden presence.

“Geez. You almost gave me a heart attack, Bro. You’re like a ninja or something.”

“Relax, Beefcake,” Carmilla said, patting his muscular arm, before returning her attention to Laura. “Do you want my help with that?”

Laura thought for a moment and didn’t want to embarrass herself again. The cart was rather heavy and even though she knew she could do it, maybe a little extra help wouldn’t be so bad.

“Sure.”

Carmilla pushed passed Kirsch and stood next to Laura.

“Oh, I thought you would just grab the bottom and we’d walk it up together.”

“That’s okay, Creampuff. I got this one,” she smiled.

Laura smiled back and let Carmilla pull the cart up. Carmilla grunted a few times by the heaviness of the cart, which Laura tried to ignore. She didn’t need more visions of Carmilla in her head than the ones she had already concocted.

“Do you need help, Kirsch?” She asked, trying to distract herself.

“I’m good, Laura.”

His arms flexed and he pulled the cart up quickly. He placed it behind the counter. “That was fun, Bro,” he commented.

“And now you get to put them away all by yourself,” Carmilla said.

Once the rest of the books were received and labeled, Carmilla, Kirsch and David took turns taking them upstairs. Laura stood at the top of the stairs, trying to not be in the way. Once everything was in order, she and Carmilla went downstairs. Laura went to get her bag together for lunch. She made sure to grab her sweatshirt.

“Care if I join you for lunch?” Carmilla asked, shyly.

“Do you want to join me?” Laura asked.

Carmilla shrugged. “Could be fun.”

“Let me guess, you don’t really want to join me, you’re just trying to get another cigarette.”

“I mean, if you’re offering, I’m not turning it down. But I figured we could walk somewhere and get some food or something. I want to make sure you’re not going to black out or anything,” Carmilla said, trying to tease Laura.

“Ha ha. You can just ask for a cigarette. You don’t have to get to lunch with me,” Laura commented.

“Maybe I want to get lunch with you.”

Laura was surprised by Carmilla’s honesty. “Okay,” she breathed out.

They walked upstairs together and told David they were going to lunch. She could already see Lafontaine’s knowing face out of the corner of her eye and she was pretty sure David also had a look on his face. She ignored them both as she walked in front of Carmilla down the middle aisle of the shelves and out the door. Laura pulled out her pack of cigarettes and handed them to Carmilla.

“I probably shouldn’t smoke since I passed out,” Laura answered Carmilla’s questioning look.

“Good call, Cupcake.” Carmilla lit the cigarette and took a deep breath in.

“But since they are technically mine, I’m taking a drag,” Laura said, taking the cigarette out of Carmilla’s hand and bringing it to her lips.

She took a long drag before handing it back to Carmilla.

“That’s the only one. I may not be the most responsible person, but I have to put my foot down there,” Carmilla said with a smile on her face.

“Yeah. Yeah,” Laura waved her off, nonchalantly.

“So, where should we go to eat?”

“Sushi?” Laura asked.

“Sounds good. Lead the way.”

Laura had her sweatshirt back on and it made Carmilla nervous. It was warm today and she knew that Laura had to be in hot in it. She tried to ignore it as she kicked a bottle cap down the street.

“Can I ask you a question?” Carmilla asked.

“Sure.”

“Are you seriously not warm in that sweatshirt?”

“I’m okay.”

“So not hot?”

“I’m comfortable.”

“You sure?”

Laura rolled her eyes. “Yes. Besides it’s always cold in the sushi place.”

“But won’t it feel more refreshing against your bare arms than in your sweatshirt?” Carmilla asked.

Laura didn’t say anything. She let the conversation drop. The entered the restaurant and Laura relaxed when she felt how cold the air was. She was cooling down within seconds as the host sat the two of them. Laura looked around as Carmilla studied the menu.

“What are you getting, Cupcake?”

“Oh. I always get an order of California rolls and an order of eel rolls.”

“You never try anything new, do you?” Carmilla asked, closing her menu.

Laura shook her head no.

“You should try new things and broaden your horizons. Food is too delicious to continuously eat the same thing over and over again.”

“Well I don't like to waste money. We don't get paid that much at the bookstore. Why waste money on food I might not like when I can spend money on food I know I do like?”

“Understandable, but what if you're missing out on something fantastic?”

“Then I guess I'm missing out.”

“Okay. What if I bought it?”

“Excuse me?”

“What if I bought you something you've never had? Then you're not wasting your money,” Carmilla started.

“But you could be wasting yours!”

“I'll take the risk,” Carmilla smirked.

“That's nice of you, but not necessary. It would make me feel uncomfortable.”

“Why would that make you feel uncomfortable? It’s literally buying 6 rolls for like $5.00.”

“It’s just… No it’s okay. Truly. Thank you for offering, but I’m okay with my usual order.” Laura looked away. She felt uncomfortable and didn’t really know how to express that. She didn’t like people offering to pay things for her because then she felt like she owed them money.

They sat awkwardly before the waiter came over. Laura ordered her usual when the waiter turned to Carmilla.

“Can I have the salmon avocado roll, spicy tuna roll, and the chicken tempura roll, please. Also can we get an order of edamame, please.”

“And to a drink?”

Carmilla and Laura both gestured to each other. Carmilla smiled.

“Water and a green tea, please,” Carmilla said.

Laura really wanted a Coke, but felt weird ordering for it when Carmilla only got water.

“Creampuff?” Carmilla asked, which made Laura eyes widen. She hadn’t realized she zoned out.

“Uh, water, please.”

The waiter left the two girls to themselves. They looked at each other and smiled as they shared another awkward silence.

“So,” Carmilla started, but her phone rang. “Sorry.”

Carmilla took her phone out and looked at the called ID. Laura couldn’t see who it was, but also knew it wasn’t really of her business. She saw Carmilla roll her eyes and silence her phone.

“Sorry about that,” she said.

“I mean you can answer it. It’s not like we’re on a date or anything.”

Mostly because a girl like you would never actually go on a date with someone like me.

“True, but it’s rude to answer your phone when you’re out with-” Carmilla was cut off by the sound of her phone buzzing. She rolled her eyes again and silenced it. “Again, sorry.”

Her phone lit up again.

“Carmilla just answer it. Seriously it’s not a big deal.”

“No, it’s rude.”

“It’s also distracting.”

Carmilla paused and stared at Laura before nodding her head, slightly.

“I’ll be right back,” Carmilla excused herself and headed outside. Laura could see her through the window. She wasn’t smiling. She actually seemed rather mad and upset. Her arms kept flailing in anger. She was shaking her hand and Laura could tell she was yelling. She couldn’t hear her, but by her manic movements, it seemed the most possible answer. Then Carmilla turned around to look at Laura through the glass. They stared at each other through the window before Carmilla gave her a smile and a small wink.

Is she? Is she flirting with me? Laura smiled at the thought, but it quickly was diminished by the voice in the back of her head. Yeah right. That’s never going to happen Laura. You think anyone you like is flirting with you and they’re not. No one wants to be with you.

“Hey, sorry about that,” Carmilla said, pulling out her chair and sitting down.

“No worries. Is everything alright?”

“Yeah. I just had to deal with an issue.”

“Ah,” Laura said, nodding her head.

The waiter came back with water, Carmilla's hot tea and her edamame. Carmilla took one in her mouth and moved it around to release the peas before putting the shell into the empty bowl. She grabbed another and looked at Laura, doing the same maneuver.

“Have you had edamame before?” Carmilla asked.

“Yes,” Laura stated.

“Do you like it?”

“Yeah, it's good.”

Carmilla pushed the bowl forward.

“Then help yourself, Creampuff. I can't finish this all on my own.”

“Are you sure?” Laura asked, tentatively.

“Absolutely.”

Laura smiled. “Thanks, Carm.”

Laura grabbed one and followed the technique.

“So what do you like to do for fun?” Carmilla asked. Laura hated this question. She never really had a true answer for it.

“Oh you know, hang out with friends, go to the movies on occasion. You?”

“That's it? Hang out and go to the movies? There's got to be more than that.”

Laura glanced around. “Uh, drink?”

“Are you telling me or asking me?” Carmilla smirked.

Laura laughed. “I guess what I do for fun depends on if I'm with people or not and who it is and where we're going. I tend to just go where people want me to.”

“So what do you do when you're by yourself for fun?”

“Usually I binge watch something on Netflix or play my guitar.”

Carmilla's eyes widened.

“You play guitar?” She asked.

“Yeah. Music kind of keeps me sane after a bad day.”

“A smoker and a guitar player. You keep surprising me, Cupcake.”

Laura smiled. “So what do you do for fun?” Laura asked Carmilla.

“Nothing really,” Carmilla replied, shortly.

“You made me spill. It's your turn to spill.”

“I like to go out and be around people, which is ironic because I also hate people. But I like to go to bars, hang out, drink-”

“Hit on girls,” Laura added, taking a sip of her water.

“If I'm in the mood. Besides that usually has a nice bonus of sex that I also enjoy.”

Laura choked on her water and started coughing. She took some deep breaths to calm the the feeling in her throat.

“I bet it does, and I'm sure you do,” Laura snapped. “I mean. I didn't mean it like that. I'm sorry. That was uncalled for and-”

“I like it when you're feisty. And for the record, it does come easy for me, and I do it when I want to. I mean, why not? It's hot. It's sexy and it feels good. Giving or receiving, it just feels incredible. Right?”

Laura nodded awkwardly. It had been a couple of years since she had sex. She was grateful the waiter came with their food. It was a distraction and she was hoping she could steer the conversation away from their topic.

She opened her her chopsticks and started rubbing them together. She made eye contact with Carmilla, who was staring at her.

“What?” She asked.

“Did you know it's considered rude to do that?”

“To do what?”

“Rub chopsticks together?”

“No.”

“Oh yes. It's kind of insulting. It's basically saying I don't trust this restaurant to give me decent chopsticks.”

“Oh. Does it really offend?”

“Probably depends on the place.”

“Well, I will take note of that then.”

Carmilla smiled at her before putting a tuna roll in her mouth. Laura followed suit by eating her California rolls. They shared a small bowl of soy sauce and continued to eat.

“Do you want to try one of my rolls?” Carmilla asked, breaking the small silence that had settled over their table.

“I'm okay, thank you,” Laura said before eating another eel roll.

“You sure? You could like it.”

“I'm good. Thanks though.”

Carmilla smiled. “You really don't like trying new things, do you?”

Laura sighed. Carmilla was starting to get on her nerves. “I just know that what I'm eating will fill me up. I don't want to eat more than I need to,” Laura said as calm as possible.

“Well we can’t have that. I've never had eel before. Care to trade?”

Laura stared at her. She didn't want to be rude and tell Carmilla no, but she really didn't like to try new things. What if she didn't like it? She thought for a moment. Just girl the hell up, Hollis.

“Uh, sure. You can have an eel roll.”

“And what would you like?” Carmilla said pointing to her plate.

“I guess the salmon. It's not spicy, right?”

Carmilla picked the roll up with her chopsticks and placed it on Laura's plate. “You're good, creampuff.”

Carmilla grabbed an eel roll from Laura's plate and put it in her mouth promptly. She made a face while chewing before swallowing. She coughed and took a sip of water.

“Well the sauce is good, but the eel is not.”

Carmilla coughed a few more times while sipping on water. Laura rolled her eyes.

“It's not that bad, Carmilla.”

“Suit yourself. I tried something new and now it’s your turn.”

Laura looked at the piece of raw fish on top of the roll. That's the reason she had avoided it all these years. She noticed Carmilla staring at her with encouraging eyes. How is she getting me to do this? Almost no one can get me to do things I don't want to do.

“It's okay if I don't like it right?” She asked Carmilla.

“Perfectly fine. I didn't like mine. But make sure to eat it. Don't taste it and spit it out.”

Laura nodded. She felt pressured, but didn't understand why. It was just a piece of food. She picked up the roll with her chopsticks and put it in her mouth. She chewed and was surprised to find it wasn't that bad. She swallowed and smiled.

“Like it?” Carmilla asked.

Laura nodded. “I mean it's not my favorite, but it was pretty good.”

“Good,” Carmilla smiled. She flagged down the waiter and scribbled with her hand in the air, asking for the check. He came with it and Carmilla handed him her card before Laura even had the chance to get her wallet out.

“How much do I owe? I don't know if I have enough cash.”

“Don't worry about it, Cupcake.”

“No. I can't let you pay for dinner. I have the money.”

“Seriously, Laura. It's okay. I've got this one. You get it next time.”

Laura was hesitant. What if the next time was more expensive? Carmilla seemed to catch on.

“I mean the next time we have sushi. That way it's even.”

Laura exhaled. It didn't really make her feel better, but at least the price would be the same.

“Okay,” Laura said, quietly. Carmilla smiled at her before signing the receipt. They thanked their waiter one more time before getting up and exiting. Laura swore Carmilla walked back to the store closer to her than before. Carmilla held the door open for Laura.

“Thanks,” Laura said shyly.

Carmilla just smiled.

When they got closer to the counter, Laura turned towards Carmilla.

“And thanks for lunch, Carm.” She leaned in and placed a light, but daring kiss to Carmilla’s cheek. Carmilla's smile widened.

“No problem, Cupcake. Anytime.”

Laura turned and made eye contact with Lafontaine, who had a knowing look on their face.

“Shut up,” Laura mumbled as she passed them.

“Uh huh,” Lafontaine replied.

Laura felt lighter than she had in a while. She made her way downstairs and her brain started to turn against her. Why did I kiss her on the cheek. Oh my gosh, that's so embarrassing. She probably just wants to have sex with me. I'm probably a sick joke between her and that girl. Like a dare or a challenge. They probably made fun of me the entire time at the deli. I'm not worthy enough to be in a relationship anyway. She's way too hot for me.

Laura slumped down in her desk chair. She just wanted to have one day where she didn't question everything. But of course, that was always too much to ask when it came to her. She put her head down on her desk.

“Laura?”

Laura lifted her head quickly at the sound of David's voice.

“Hey, Boss!”

“Your lunch was a little long,” he said, crossing his arms.

“I'm so sorry, David. Carmilla and I went to get some sushi and-”

“It's okay,” David interrupted with a smile. “Just remember to watch the time.”

“Right.” Laura nodded.

He winked at her and went back to his desk. Weird.

“Hey, Laura.”

“Oh. Hey, Perry.”

“So we're expecting everyone around 7:30,8. Bring anything you like. I will be making lasagna with salad and garlic bread. I hope that's okay?”

“Sounds great.”

Carmilla passed her a second later. “Oh, Carmilla so tonight-”

“7:30, bring something, lasagna. Sounds good,” She said nonchalantly.

“And let me give you our address so you can-”

“Uh, that's okay, Perry. Laura and I live in the same neighborhood. I'm sure she wouldn't mind showing me, right?” Carmilla asked.

Oh gosh. More time with her? I mean I want more time, but this has to be a game. There's no way she wants to be around me.

“Laura?” Perry asked.

“Oh. I'm. Yes, that's fine. Be at my apartment around 7?”

Carmilla smiled. “Sounds good, Cupcake.”