Chapter 1: I'm your exception
Carmilla was no stranger to the schmoozing and boozing of film festivals; she had done it a handful of times before. But this time was different, because she actually had to do work.
In her first feature, released just two years ago, she only had a supporting role. She got the opportunity to attend the film festivals in Berlin, Rotterdam, and in her native Vienna. The producers, writer-director, and the two headlining actors went to Cannes, Venice, and Locarno, too. That film did well, but not well enough to cross the Atlantic.
That wasn’t the case for her second film. This time, she was in a starring role. The film premiered in Berlin, then at Cannes, and then in September, they finally made their way to Toronto for its North American premiere.
As much as Carmilla loved film and grew up seeing film festival entries, she still didn’t know how she felt about the industry side of it all. The cocktail parties in Europe were too political and too full of people concerned with maintaining aloofness. The attendees at this particular cocktail party in Toronto, however, were overflowing with joyful excitement. She wasn’t sure what to make of it, but she was getting too tired to think.
Carmilla downed whatever was left in her champagne flute and set off to find Will. He was her handler, though he preferred to be referred to as her manager’s representative . Carmilla found him near the back wall of the ballroom, busy with his phone. She took note that he was standing in a position with a clear line of sight of the kitchen doorways. “Do you know when more hors d’oeuvres are coming out, William?” she asked as she approached.
Will looked up. “Carmilla.” He tucked his phone into his jacket. “Are you having a good night?”
“It would be better if you actually bothered to introduce me to some of these people,” Carmilla said.
“But have you managed to talk to any of them?” Will asked. Every time they left for a festival, they had it drummed into their heads that networking with the industry players—especially the creatives—had to be their top priority. Leave the distribution deals to the producers.
“Yeah, a couple.”
“What were their names?” Will tested.
Carmilla scratched the nape of her neck. “I don’t remember,” she said. “Does it really matter?”
“Of course it does.” Will pulled out his phone. “Lucky for you, I’m around –”
“Yeah, lucky for me,” Carmilla deadpanned.
Will sighed. “I’ve set up three meetings for you. You’ve got one tomorrow at brunch, then a dinner, and then a lunch meeting the day after that,” he said. “A Canadian director, a Hollywood producer, and a French producer.”
“French?” Carmilla asked.
“You speak French, don’t you?”
Carmilla nodded. “Not well enough to act in it,” she said. “He’s gonna think I’m a total airhead.”
“Believe me when I say that that is the last thing anyone ever thinks about you when they meet you,” Will said. “They’re usually trying to work out whether or not you’re going to claw their eyes out.”
“Thanks… I guess,” Carmilla said. “Can I go now, then?”
“Do I still have to be here?” Carmilla said. “You’ve set up meetings for me. Technically, I’ve,” she put her hands up in the air and wiggled her fingers, “ networked .”
“Uh, well… I guess you can go. Just don’t forget to show up for the meeting tomorrow, okay? I’ve made the appointment on your calendar so your alarm should be set,” Will said.
“Aww.” Carmilla reached out to ruffle his hair, but he moved out of reach just in time. “You think of everything, don’t you?”
“Someone’s got to,” Will said.
“All right, I’m off,” Carmilla said. “Don’t wait up.” She walked away from Will and out of the large room. The clock on the lobby wall told her that it was nearly eleven at night. But for Carmilla—and, she hoped, for the rest of the city—things were just beginning.
Carmilla stripped off her dress as soon as she got to her hotel room. She put on a pair of leather pants and a black tank top, and shrugged on a red plaid shirt. She laced up her black Converse high tops and ventured out into the city.
She walked as far away from the part of the city that was the film festival’s beating heart, and found herself in Toronto’s LGBT neighbourhood. It was a cool Friday night in early September, so there were people everywhere she looked. She decided to randomly enter a club, and was pleased to see that its patrons were mostly women.
Carmilla crossed the dance floor to sit at the bar. She ordered a drink. As she waited, a voice piped up to her left.
“Hi! Can I get you a drink?”
Carmilla turned to the source of the voice. It was a young woman about her age, maybe a little bit younger. She noted that the woman was pinching the ends of her left hand’s fingers in sequence, one by one. Though she was smiling, there was an anxiety there. “Uh, I already just bought one, sorry,” Carmilla told her, as gently as she could.
“Oh.” The woman bit her lip, as if she was contemplating just turning on her heel, walking away, and pretending that she had never attempted talking to Carmilla. “Look, can you just humour me for a sec?” She subtly jerked her head. “See those three redheads over there?”
“Yes.” With the club’s lighting, Carmilla wasn’t certain whether they were redheads, but because of their sustained staring, she figured that they had to be the people that this woman was talking about.
“They’re my friends and they dragged me out to this club tonight because they said that I’m too much of a workaholic, and they said that I couldn’t leave until I try to get someone to hook up with me,” the woman explained. “Now, I really don’t believe that I’m gonna get anywhere with anyone in this kind of environment, but –”
She was interrupted by the sound of glass sliding across the bar. Carmilla’s drink. “Anything for you?” the bartender asked her.
“No, thank you, I’m good,” the woman replied.
“Sure then, if you say so,” the bartender said, before moving on to another customer.
The woman took a deep breath before she continued: “Anyway –”
“I’m gonna have to stop you right there, sweetheart,” Carmilla said. She noticed the woman’s face flash in displeasure. “I’ve already got a drink, but if you want to keep your friends off your back, I’m happy to help.”
The woman’s eyes widened. “Really?”
“Yeah,” Carmilla said. This woman was frazzled, but she didn’t seem like bad company. “First of all, why don’t you relax? Take a seat, then let me get you a drink. What do you want?” She waved another bartender over and listened as the woman ordered a cocktail off the menu. Carmilla handed the bills to the bartender.
“Thanks,” the woman said. “I’m Laura, by the way.”
“Laura,” Carmilla said slowly, as if testing how the name fit in her mouth. “I’m Carmilla.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Carmilla.” The bartender returned with Laura’s drink. “Thanks,” Laura said. She pulled the glass closer and took a sip. “Thanks,” she said again. This time, to Carmilla.
“Don’t mention it,” Carmilla said.
“Are my friends still watching?” Laura asked.
Carmilla glanced over Laura’s shoulder. “They are,” she said.
“Are they happy? Confused? Curious?”
“They’re… impressed,” Carmilla said. “I mean, not to brag or anything.”
For the first time, Laura laughed. “Well, that’ll satisfy them, I hope,” she said. “Are you sure you’re okay with this?”
“I don’t have anywhere else to be,” Carmilla said, shrugging. “Or, you know, anyone else to be with.”
Laura’s expression fell slightly. “Oh. Sorry then.”
For some unbeknownst reason, Carmilla suddenly felt remorseful. “No, I didn’t mean it like that!” she said. “I just decided to have a night out, I wasn’t really planning on anything happening, but you know, this is cool.”
Carmilla’s brow furrowed at this woman’s incessant need for validation. She needed to steer the conversation elsewhere. “Why don’t you finish your drink so we can go dancing?” she suggested.
Thankfully, Laura went along with it. She detached her lips from the straw of her drink. “Dancing?” she asked.
“Dancing,” Carmilla repeated. “To make your success look more convincing.”
“Right,” Laura said. “I’m an awful dancer.”
“I’ll be the judge of that,” Carmilla said. She nodded at Laura’s drink. “Go on, then.” She sipped from her own glass. “So, are you actually a workaholic or are you just bad at dating?”
Laura winced. “Probably both,” she said.
“Well… I don’t know.” Laura absentmindedly traced lines in the condensation on the side of her glass. “I guess it’s just not my thing. I like going out to clubs, you know, occasionally, for drinks and dancing… but meeting someone at a club is a totally different kettle of fish.”
Carmilla nodded. She understood where Laura was coming from, even if she often went to clubs for more than just drinking and dancing. “Why don’t you just tell your friends that?” she asked.
“Oh, I did,” Laura said. “You don’t know what they’re like, though. They always like to say that they’re just looking out for me –”
“But it feels like babysitting?” Carmilla offered. It was clear that Laura was a chronic oversharer, but she looked like she was going to remain distraught for the rest of the night had Carmilla not prompted her to share.
Laura’s eyes lit up. “Yeah, exactly that,” she said. She stirred her cocktail with the straw before finishing the rest of it. “I gotta tell you,” she hopped off the stool, “I still don’t think dancing is a great idea. My friends would say that that’s the surest way that I could put someone off.”
Carmilla finished her drink, too, and stood up, nice and close to Laura. She leaned in, aware that they were being watched by Laura’s friends. She could feel Laura tense next to her, but she couldn’t keep the smirk off her face as she spoke into Laura’s ear: “Relax. Let’s go prove them wrong.” She looked into Laura’s eyes and gave her a reassuring nod. With her hand on the small of Laura’s back, they walked to the dance floor together.
It wasn’t that Laura was a bad dancer. She could keep to the beat, and even in the cramped dance floor, she didn’t trample all over everyone’s shoes. Her problem was that she was awkward.
Carmilla placed her hands on Laura’s hips. “Laura, look, I didn’t wanna say it again,” she told her, “but you really need to relax.”
“Do you see my friends anywhere?” she asked.
“No.” But Carmilla didn’t even bother looking. “You care too much about what they think.”
“I care too much about what others think, period. Call it a fatal flaw.” Laura cringed. “I’m so sorry,” she said. “This is probably the last thing you expected when you decided to come out to have a good night.”
Carmilla smiled at Laura. “Hey, you’re not so bad,” she told her, and Laura smiled back. Carmilla appreciated how the amber lighting gave Laura’s features an intimate vulnerability.
A mid-tempo R&B song began to blare out the speakers. Carmilla used her hands on Laura’s hips to guide Laura into facing the other way, then she pulled her close so that Laura’s back was brushing against her front.
“Carmilla – “ Laura began.
Carmilla stepped forward and rested her chin lightly on Laura’s shoulder. “Is this okay?” she asked.
“Yeah,” Laura said. Carmilla didn’t know if her mind was playing tricks on her, but Laura sounded slightly breathless.
By the time the chorus rolled around, Laura’s movements became more fluid, more sure. The gap between her and Carmilla’s bodies closed, and together, they moved with the music. “Better, isn’t it?” Carmilla asked. The curve of Laura’s ass brushed against her thigh and she had to suppress an intake of breath. She didn’t plan on dancing with Laura this way to get something out of it, but here she was.
Laura, it seemed, had her mind on other things. Just when the song was about to finish, she turned around to face Carmilla. Her brows were furrowed. “Was that too…?” she trailed off, shaking her head sheepishly. “I didn’t know what I was– I’m so sorry.”
“No, it’s okay. It’s okay.” Acting on an impulse, Carmilla held Laura’s face and kissed her. She was expecting Laura to push her away, but instead, Laura kissed back immediately. Carmilla felt Laura’s hands land on her waist, pulling her closer. Laura’s lips were chapped and a little dry, but what she lacked in her dancing, she made up for in kissing. Carmilla found herself craving more. She stepped forward to deepen the kiss, and nearly ignored Laura’s hand pushing at her shoulder.
Laura stepped backwards, effectively breaking the kiss. “Carm–”
Carmilla’s hands dropped to her sides. “Shit –”
Laura shook her head. That was when Carmilla registered that Laura’s hands were still on her waist, even if they were holding her at a bit of a distance. “No, no, it’s just that I don’t wanna be making out in the middle of the dance floor.”
An inexplicable relief washed over Carmilla. “It’s best to move aside, then,” she said.
“That’s the plan.” Laura bit her lip. “That is, if you still want to?”
Carmilla stepped out of Laura’s grasp, and took Laura’s right hand in her left. “Lead the way.”
Laura was definitely a much better kisser than she is a dancer. So much so that Carmilla allowed herself to be the one with her back pressed up against the wall in some random club in Toronto. That was certainly the least of her worries as Laura gently bit on her bottom lip.
Carmilla slipped her tongue into Laura’s mouth, earning a small moan from the other woman. She could feel Laura’s hand tugging lightly at the hair on the nape of her neck, which sent chills down her spine. Her own hand slid under Laura’s denim jacket and found purchase on the small bit of skin exposed where Laura’s tank top had ridden up. Carmilla crept her fingers upwards until her palm was flat against the warm skin of Laura’s lower back.
“W-wait.” Laura pulled away from her, gasping. “We should probably get outta here.”
“What about your friends?” Carmilla asked. They were really the last thing on her mind right now, since she was in a foggy haze of arousal.
“I’ll text them when we get to my place,” Laura said distractedly. “Unless yours is closer?”
“Your place sounds like a better idea,” Carmilla said. It wouldn’t be a five star hotel, unlike her current accommodation, but there were probably no film industry bigwigs hanging around nearby wherever Laura lived.
Laura raked her fingers through her hair as she tried to catch her breath. “All right, let’s go outside. I’m gonna see if we can get an Uber home,” she said. This time around, she was the one who took Carmilla’s hand and made a beeline for the club’s exit.
They weren’t the only ones waiting for a ride out on the footpath. Laura busied herself with her phone while Carmilla scanned the streets. Even with couples and the groups of university kids loitering at the nearby taxi stand, there were still more people lining up to get inside the clubs than there were coming out.
“Ten minutes, tops,” Laura told her. She dropped her phone back in her bag and shoved her hands in her jacket pockets. “Do you wanna get a coffee or something while we wait?”
“Are there any places open this time of night?” Carmilla asked.
“There’s a convenience store right over there.” Laura pointed across the street. “And there’s a twenty-four hour Tim Hortons around the corner from here, if I remember correctly.”
Carmilla’s nose wrinkled instinctively. “Sorry, buttercup, filter coffee isn’t my thing,” she said. “Especially if it’s from North America. You guys ruined coffee.”
Laura didn’t protest. “It still does the job,” she said, shrugging.
“I’d rather have a can of Coke instead,” Carmilla said.
“Okay. Do you want a can of Coke, then?”
Carmilla shook her head. “No, thanks. I’m wired enough. You?”
“Yeah, same here,” Laura said. “Uh, look…” Her gaze dropped to her feet. “I don’t usually do this.”
“Do what?” Carmilla asked.
“You know,” Laura shrugged, “take girls home.”
“I figured,” Carmilla said. “You like taking them on dates first.”
“I mean, yeah, sure.” Laura began to fidget. “That doesn’t mean I don’t want to take you home, though.” If anything, the blush that rose to her cheeks was more obvious under the hazy streetlights.
“I’m your exception.” Carmilla smirked at Laura, aware of the disarming effect it had on her. “Thanks, cutie. That makes me feel special.” It would’ve been a sarcastic comment if she had said it to anyone else, but Laura already had this strange way of bringing out Carmilla’s sincerity.
They shared a look, which they held for what seemed like an eternity. Until Laura’s phone beeped. With fumbling fingers, she retrieved it from her purse. “Oh, our Uber’s just across the road. That Camry over there.” She pointed at a silver car parked in front of the convenience store. She looked at Carmilla again. “You sure you still wanna do this?”
Carmilla raised an eyebrow. “Are you trying to change my mind?”
“I’m hoping you won’t.”
“I’m not going to,” Carmilla said. “So you better stop asking.” Before Laura could reply, she looked both ways and crossed the road.
Laura locked her door, flicked on the lights, and turned to face Carmilla, who was standing in the hallway. “So, do you want a –”
Carmilla interrupted her with an abrupt kiss, tongues and all. Laura sighed and leaned into her, steadied by Carmilla’s hands grasping her waist. Carmilla broke off the kiss long enough to say: “No more unnecessary questions.”
The Uber ride from the club to Laura’s place had been longer than Carmilla had expected, but she made it fun for the both of them. In the backseat of the car, she took Laura’s hand in hers and traced light circles on her palm. And then her fingers slowly, suggestively crawled up Laura’s exposed forearm. She smirked when Laura turned to face her, which caused Laura to shudder involuntarily.
Carmilla then released Laura’s hand. She shifted in her seat so she could easily reach Laura’s knee. And then she started small talk with Laura, just to direct the driver’s attention elsewhere. “When do you think it’s gonna start getting colder?” With the lightest of touches, she skimmed her fingertips up and down Laura’s denim-clad thigh.
Laura’s breath had hitched. She squeezed her eyes shut, then opened them again. Even in the dark, Carmilla could tell how flustered she was. “Uhm,” she glanced at the driver, who looked like he was busy paying attention to the road, and then shot a look at Carmilla, as if to say, Really? The weather? “Usually closer to October. But it doesn’t get cold every day until after Thanksgiving.”
Carmilla alternated between a light and firm pressure on Laura’s leg as she continued talking. “Canada celebrates Thanksgiving earlier than the Americans, right?” she asked.
“Yes.” Laura hid another shudder by taking a deep breath. “Where are you from again?”
“I’m from Austria,” Carmilla said. She then rested her hand on the top of Laura’s thigh, fingertips dangerously lingering by the inseam of Laura’s jeans, and that was where it stayed for the rest of the trip.
Of course, Laura still found a way to be awkwardly hospitable when they arrived at her place. Because apparently, that was really just the way she was.
Carmilla worked to drive the hospitable thoughts from Laura’s mind. Okay, maybe not all of them. There were other ways that Laura could show her hospitality.
And Laura was being hospitable, indeed. She had kicked off her shoes and frantically bent down to help Carmilla out of hers. She straightened up and launched herself at Carmilla, her right hand tangling in Carmilla’s hair and her left hand running down Carmilla’s side.
Carmilla took hold of Laura’s jacket collar and peeled it back from Laura’s shoulders, urging Laura to drop her arms so that Carmilla could shove the jacket off. The denim landed on the floor with a soft thump, and Laura’s hands returned to Carmilla’s body.
“Off,” she mumbled against Carmilla’s lips, referring to Carmilla’s plaid shirt.
Carmilla shrugged the garment off, joining the jacket on the floor. Carmilla grabbed Laura by the hips and pressed their bodies against each other. She ducked her head to press hot kisses down Laura’s neck and across her collarbone. Her hands slid further down to grope Laura’s ass, and she couldn’t help but feel smug as she listened to Laura’s increasingly shallow breathing.
Laura grasped the hem of Carmilla’s tank top, and stepped backwards to allow enough space to pull it over Carmilla’s head. With her hands on Carmilla’s waist, she began guiding them backwards into the living room. She moved to unbutton Carmilla’s pants. “These are ridiculous,” she muttered.
“Ridiculously sexy?” Carmilla asked. She popped the button open herself, shimmied them down her body, and then stepped out of them. She reached out for Laura’s tank top, but Laura was unresponsive, busy staring at Carmilla’s barely clothed body. “Come on, take it off.”
“The bra, too,” Carmilla said.
And so the bra went.
Carmilla’s mouth went dry at seeing Laura topless. “C’mere.” Her voice had dropped to a growl.
Laura closed the gap between them and met Carmilla with a hungry kiss, her arms wrapping around Carmilla’s neck. Their bare skin suddenly pressing together made them more frantic, more desperate. Laura bit Carmilla’s lip, earning a deep moan from Carmilla that made them both shudder. She nipped at Carmilla’s shoulder, and Carmilla didn’t have the heart to tell her to be careful about leaving marks. Instead, she responded in whimpers.
“ Jesus ,” Laura breathed. Her eyes were wide, seemingly in awe of Carmilla’s reaction.
“My name’s Carmilla,” Carmilla panted. “Why’d you stop?”
Laura managed a chuckle. “Sorry, should I continue?” she asked.
Instead of replying, Carmilla unbuttoned Laura’s jeans. She walked Laura towards the couch and shoved her on it. And then she hooked her fingers through the waistbands of Laura’s jeans and underwear. She locked eyes with Laura and raised a questioning eyebrow.
“Yes,” Laura managed to say.
Carmilla pulled Laura’s jeans and underwear off her legs and tossed them to the side, leaving Laura completely naked. Carmilla kneeled on the floor, positioned between Laura’s spread legs. She inhaled the thick scent of Laura’s arousal. Her left hand was on Laura’s thigh, with her thumb stroking dangerously close to Laura’s centre.
Laura whimpered and thrust her hips at Carmilla.
The sight of Laura looking helpless with want only increased Carmilla’s desire to take her even more. Not wanting to delay either of their satisfaction any longer, she thrust two fingers into Laura, causing Laura to gasp softly. She moved her fingers slowly at first, carefully watching how Laura reacted to her actions.
“Yeah?” Carmilla kept going slow, relishing in the fact that it was beginning to frustrate Laura.
Laura’s words were deliberate: “I do want to come sometime before Christmas, you know.”
“Sure.” But Carmilla didn’t change her speed.
Laura nudged Carmilla’s hip with the heel of her foot. “Come on,” she said.
“‘Come on’ what?”
Whatever snarky comment Laura was about to make disappeared in her throat when Carmilla thrust into her in just the right way, eliciting a loud moan. However, she still managed to glare at Carmilla, though her pupils were blown. When Carmilla wouldn’t budge, Laura bit her lip as her hand moved to her chest to pinch and tug at her nipples.
“Fuck,” Carmilla muttered. She decided it was time for her to speed up. Bracing herself with her right hand on the couch, she shifted so she was at a better angle to move her arm. She steadily increased the speed of her thrusts and couldn’t help but smile when Laura moaned and whimpered in time with them. Without breaking her rhythm, she leaned forward to kiss the underside of Laura’s breasts, and worked her way down Laura’s abdomen. She felt Laura’s walls clench around her fingers, so she focused on getting Laura over the edge.
Laura threw her head against the back of the couch and cried out as she came.
Carmilla slowed down her thrusts, letting Laura ride out her orgasm. When Laura eventually settled down, she pulled her fingers out and roughly wiped them on Laura’s thigh. She watched Laura relax on the couch, her eyes closed as she tried to catch her breath. Carmilla pulled herself up and sat on the couch next to Laura.
After a moment, Laura tapped on the thigh. “Come here,” she said, indicating to her lap. She stared up at Carmilla as Carmilla straddled her. Her hands roamed from Carmilla’s stomach to her ribs, then moved up Carmilla’s back to unclasp her bra. With that left forgotten on the floor, Laura, with a wicked expression on her face, leaned forward and kissed her way around Carmilla’s left breast. And then her lips closed around Carmilla’s nipple.
The sensation of Laura’s teeth shot a wave of arousal through Carmilla. “Oh,” was all she could say, before Laura’s hand slid into her underwear.
Carmilla woke to the sound of soft footsteps. She opened her eyes. She was lying in bed, on her side, facing the window. Sunlight shone as a tiny sliver between the blinds. Carmilla groaned. She rolled over and saw Laura, frozen mid-step, looking at her apologetically.
“Sorry,” Laura said. “Go back to sleep.”
Carmilla glanced at the clock radio on Laura’s nightstand. It was just after nine o’clock. Her brunch meeting was at eleven-thirty. “How long have you been up?” she asked Laura.
Laura walked towards the bed. She was wearing a light grey sweater and black leggings. Her face was fresh and makeup-free, and her honey-coloured hair—damp from the shower—was tied in a bun. “I woke up at seven.” When Carmilla made a face, she continued: “Habit. I tried to stay in bed for an hour, then I started doing my laundry. I just got back from getting us breakfast, actually.” She took a pile of folded clothes on the dresser. “I hung your clothes outside to air them out. You can borrow these… There’s a towel and a face towel in the bathroom for you. Then come out for breakfast.”
Carmilla sat up in bed and took the clothes from Laura. It was a pair of sweatpants and a cotton t-shirt. “Thanks,” she said.
With a smile, Laura left the room.
Carmilla entered the bathroom. Her hair was a mess, and her makeup had smudged. Sighing, she turned the shower on and stepped in when the temperature was to her liking. She emerged ten minutes later, put on the clothes Laura lent her and towel dried her hair as she walked out into the living room.
Laura was arranging a selection of pastries on a plate. There were two takeaway coffee cups on the dining table. “I didn’t know how you took your coffee so I got you a latté with almond milk. You know, in case you were lactose intolerant. But if you’re not, there’s a normal latté there. I can have the almond milk one. That’s like, Australian-style coffee, by the way.”
“I’m Austrian ,” Carmilla said.
“I know,” Laura said. “The Australians make the best coffee in Toronto, though. I don’t know any European cafés that aren’t run by Quebecois or Greeks or Italians.”
“If you say so.” Carmilla picked up the coffee labelled almond milk and took a sip. It was the perfect temperature. And it tasted better than the coffees she drank in Toronto so far. “The Australians are on to something,” she told Laura. “And I do have dairy issues, by the way, so thanks.” She preferred soy, but she understood why Laura thought that almond milk would be the least offensive choice.
Laura’s face broke into a relieved smile. She put small plates on the table, then placed the pastries on the middle. “Sit down. Help yourself.”
Carmilla did. She picked an apricot danish and nibbled on it. “Sorry, that you got all this food,” she said. “I can’t really eat much, I have a brunch meeting. It’s supposed to be a big deal and…” She didn’t know how to continue without sounding like an asshole.
“And you don’t wanna be that person who’s above eating anything at brunch?” Laura said.
“It’s Saturday, though,” Laura said. “You’re working?”
“I am in Canada for work,” Carmilla said. “I have two meetings today, and one tomorrow.”
“Are you here long?”
“I’m flying back to Vienna on Monday afternoon,” Carmilla said. She watched as Laura reached over to place a blue-frosted cupcake on her plate. Laura had just practically inhaled a pain au chocolat before that. “Seriously?”
“I’m a grown-up,” Laura said. She sipped her coffee. “It’s too bad that you’re busy. The film festival’s on, and I bought one of those passes. I’m gonna see a film later and I was wondering you wanted to come along.”
Carmilla froze. “Which film?” Laura told her the title—it wasn’t hers, thank god—and mentioned that it was a Canadian film. “Have you been to many festival screenings already?” If Laura had a pass, she must be somewhat of a film buff—what if she had seen Carmilla’s film already? She seemed like the type to say something about it, but she hadn’t.
“I went to one last night before we went out clubbing,” Laura said. “It’s another Canadian film. They usually have their premieres first at TIFF.”
“Oh.” Carmilla tried not to make her relief too obvious. “Normally I would be keen, it’s just that– you’ll be in the city, right? Maybe I can see you after my last meeting. If you’re not busy, that is.”
“The screenings might have finished for the day,” Laura said. “What are we gonna do? Come back here again?” She laughed nervously.
“I was thinking like, walk around the city, but, you know, if you want to do that...” Despite Laura’s rising blush, Carmilla didn’t miss a beat. “I mean, I had a good time…” Last night was unexpectedly fantastic, which was a rarity with one night stands. She wouldn’t mind the opportunity for a repeat before she went back to Austria. Provided that Laura wanted to do it too.
“Me too,” Laura said. “Let me think about it?”
“I’ll give you my number so you can tell me when you’ve made a decision,” Carmilla said. She and Laura swapped phones and entered their contact details. “I should be out of my dinner meeting by nine. If I’m not, I’ll make an excuse to leave.”
Laura looked horrified. “You don’t have to do that just to see me.”
“Oh no,” Carmilla said casually. “I’m doing it because I’m not a big fan of meetings.” She looked out Laura’s front window. “So, whereabouts is this part of town?” It was very dark while they were in the Uber home last night, and Carmilla was too distracted to take note.
“This is High Park North. It’s west of where the city ‘happens’, I guess,” Laura said.
“Is there a bus? Train? Tram?” Carmilla said. “Back to the city centre.”
“Where?” Laura asked.
“No, I mean, where do you need to be?”
“Downtown. That’s where my hotel is.” Brunch was somewhere closer to the Entertainment District, but Carmilla knew Will would probably want her to get into a more appropriate outfit before showing up.
“There’s a streetcar,” Laura said. “But I can drop you off. What time do you need to be there by?”
“Maybe like, ten-thirty?” Carmilla said. “I can take the streetcar, you know.”
“It’s fine, it’s quicker to drive in on Saturdays,” Laura said. “And I need to go to the mall. Downtown’s on the way.” She took the last bite of her cupcake, just as her washing machine whirred to a stop and then played a short, electronic melody. “Just leave the plates there, I’m gonna go hang my laundry outside, then I’ll bring your clothes in.” Before Carmilla could respond, Laura had disappeared into the garage.
Carmilla finished her coffee in peace.
The meeting with the Canadian director was interesting, but fruitless. Although he talked a big game about how the Canadian industry was active and only on its way up, Carmilla didn’t think that any of his potential projects were the kinds of films that she wanted to do. They ended brunch with vague promises to keep in contact.
The Hollywood producer, on the other hand, was horrible. He fulfilled the worst stereotype of the Hollywood sleazebag, down to his outfit: a t-shirt with some stupid unfunny quote printed on it, loose fitting light wash jeans, and a blazer ! He chewed with his mouth open and slurped loudly. Everything about him disgusted Carmilla so much that she almost walked out when he started pitching his project. She wasn’t interested in playing the exotic European love interest for an ageing action movie star anyway.
To calm herself down, Carmilla walked all the way to Nathan Phillips Square. She sat on a bench, scrolling through her contacts until she got to Will. She jabbed the call button.
Will, clearly expecting her call, picked up after three rings. “Hey, kitty,” he said. “How’d it go?”
“William, I know that you’re not particularly clever,” Carmilla had reverted back to her native German, finding it a better language with which to berate her handler. “But I don’t know how you spoke to that man and decided that he’s the kind of guy that I would enjoy talking to about the future of my career. Or anything else for that matter.” The producer had flirted with her several times over the course of dinner, and even tried prying into her personal life, which unimpressed her even more.
“I was told to give you every possible opportunity,” Will argued. He told her that the man had produced two of last year’s biggest summer blockbusters. “I know he seemed a little –”
“Rude? Chauvinistic? The man could’ve been Charlie Sheen, the way he was going!”
“His filmography though –”
“William, I’d rather work with less successful people if every successful person in this industry turns out to be a repulsive slimeball like that man,” Carmilla said. “You better hope for your sake that tomorrow’s meeting is better, or I’ll be telling Lilita that your judgment skills probably need more practise on one of her lesser talents.”
Will didn’t speak for a few seconds. When he finally responded, his voice was shaky: “Look, Carmilla, just go to the lunch tomorrow, please? That producer is a friend of Lilita’s, and she set up the meeting through her, not through me. I’m sorry about what happened tonight.”
“You owe me,” was all Carmilla said. “Anyway, if you’re gonna come looking for me later, don’t bother. I’ll be out again. Bye.” She hung up and checked her inbox. She sent Laura a message when she left the restaurant, asking if they could meet up. After the evening she had, she really needed to blow off some steam.
Laura hadn’t replied yet, but Carmilla knew that she’d be in the neighbourhood, so she was positive that they would be able to meet.
As if Carmilla had willed it, her phone pinged with a message from Laura. She opened it, trying to ignore how excited she suddenly felt. It read: What the HECK?
Carmilla was taken aback. Her thumbs hovered over the keyboard. But before she could type out a response, another message arrived: You didn’t tell me you were in a movie!!!
“Fuck,” Carmilla muttered. She typed in: I thought you were seeing that Canadian film.
I was , Laura replied. Long story. Are you still in the neighbourhood or have you decided to crash some exclusive industry party?
I’m in Nathan Phillips Square .
Laura’s response was immediate: Stay where you are. I’ll be there in 15.
Thirteen minutes later, Laura turned up, walking purposefully towards the bench Carmilla was sitting on as soon as she spotted her. “What the hell, Carmilla?” she demanded, but she didn’t look angry. “You’re an actor ?”
Carmilla shrugged. “I told you I was here for work.”
“Come to think of it, you don’t look like a corporate hack in the first place,” Laura said. “I wouldn’t have slept with you otherwise.” That was an odd remark to make. Laura sat next to Carmilla, and they both stared off into the distance for a few minutes. “I liked your film. Loved it, actually.”
“You don’t have to say that just because we slept together,” Carmilla said.
To Carmilla’s surprise, Laura burst into laughter. “I’m not just saying that because we slept together, I promise,” she said, with a hand on her heart. “How was your dinner?”
Carmilla waved her off. “I don’t want to talk about it. I thought you were going to see a different film.”
“I got to the cinemas and the seats were already filled. I should’ve booked in advance, I know, but I was already there and I had a pass that I paid for, so I decided to see another one instead,” Laura explained. She smiled. “Little did I know… Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I didn’t want to make things weird,” Carmilla said.
“Why? Are you a big deal and I didn’t know about it?”
Carmilla didn’t know how to answer that question. She had been acting professionally since she was thirteen, then disappeared from the scene to attend the Max Reinhardt Seminar in Vienna. During her third year in the programme, she was scouted by Lilita Morgan, one of Europe’s most prominent entertainment executives. She was Lilita’s talent as soon as she graduated. Her career had been rising steadily since. Despite her most recent works being of the indie variety, the roles she had when she was younger made her a bit of a household name. The most diplomatic—and accurate—answer that she could give Laura was: “The film’s a big deal.”
Wunderkind was best described as a whimsical comedy. Carmilla portrayed the protagonist, Lena, a 21-year-old former child prodigy who moved out of home because she got her first full-time job. The film was about Lena’s struggles in world of adults, where her genius was no longer a novelty, as she had become one of them. They shot the film over a year ago, and it was still Carmilla’s favourite project to date. She was proud of it. And she told Laura just that.
“Well, you should be proud of it,” Laura said. “Something about that film… it just stayed with me, you know?”
“Maybe it’s the incredibly attractive star,” Carmilla said.
“Hmm.” Laura stroked her chin as she pretended to think about it. “Maybe.” She stood up. “Do you wanna get some ice cream or something?”
Carmilla stared at her. “It’s a chilly night.”
“Even better,” Laura said. “Unless you want to go out drinking? Or we can go to a club.”
“It’s not even ten o’clock yet,” Carmilla said. “The clubs would be empty.”
Carmilla sighed. She wasn’t in the mood for alcohol and loud music tonight. “I’ve got dairy issues, remember?” she reminded Laura. “You can go get ice cream if you want, I probably shouldn’t have any, though, if I want to keep hanging out with you.”
“So you’re sacrificing ice cream for me,” Laura said. “That’s sweet.”
“Don’t get too used to it, cupcake,” Carmilla said. She got up as well. They started walking further away from the square.
“Cupcake?” Laura asked.
“I can’t get the image of you demolishing that cupcake out of my head. For breakfast!”
“Carmilla, we had sex ,” Laura said seriously. “And that’s the image that stuck with you?”
Carmilla shrugged. “Can you blame me? You were a force of nature.” She took a step to her left, so now her and Laura brushed arms as they walked together. “So, where are we going?”
“Here comes Hollis!” Danny Lawrence’s cheerful voice carried across the staffroom.
Laura resisted the urge to roll her eyes. She placed her labelled lunch container in the staff fridge before walking over to Danny, who was standing with LaFontaine and Perry. “Why are you guys looking at me like that?” she asked.
“Just wondering how your weekend went… We got your text, but we didn’t hear from you after,” Perry said.
“If you hadn’t posted that photo of Chinatown on Sunday morning, we would’ve thought that you had gotten murdered or kidnapped or death by orga–” LaFontaine’s sentence was cut short by Perry’s elbow to their ribs.
Some of the older staff members began to notice their conversation. Laura shifted uneasily. “I don’t think this is appropriate conversation for the workplace,” she said. “I had a great weekend, though. But we can talk about it another time.” She turned on her heel and walked towards her desk to prepare for the rest of the day.
“Slice of pie after work?” Danny called out.
“Sure, whatever.” Laura sat at her desk. She shuffled her papers around, making sure that everything was in the right place for easy access during each of her classes. She glanced at the clock on the staffroom wall. It was ten minutes until the morning meeting. She took her phone out of the small pocket in her backpack.
No messages. She wasn’t expecting Carmilla to send her anything, but she was a little bummed that she didn’t. Laura decided to send a message herself. She debated on what to say and how to say it, before finally settling on: Thanks for the fun weekend. Have a safe flight .
Laura and Danny’s Monday slice of pie at the nearby café was such an established routine, that Laura’s Grade 9 homeroom class—now Grade 11s—had noticed it and started keeping track. The fact that Danny was a lesbian was so well-known and accepted throughout the school, that even if Laura was low-key about her own sexuality, the students often speculated about potential relationships.
The truth was that Laura did have a small crush on Danny when she had first arrived at the school. Danny was starting her fourth year of teaching English at that point, and was assigned by the senior staff as one of Laura’s mentors. She was confident, approachable, and a natural teacher. Indeed, she was attractive and was incredibly compassionate, but Laura eventually chalked the crush up to mere admiration of her professional abilities.
“So…” Danny was staring at her in anticipation. “Are you gonna tell me about Friday night?”
“What makes you think I want to tell you?” Laura asked.
“Well, you didn’t seem to want to talk about it with LaF and Perry around,” Danny said. “But it's just you and me here, right?”
Laura shrugged. “It’s not that. It’s really just not an appropriate topic for work,” she said. She even made a point of looking around to see if there were any students in the café. There weren’t. She had never talked about her dating life at work before, mostly because she lacked one. She wasn’t about to start just because of a weekend hookup, no matter how interesting it had been.
“Okay, so you had fun. That’s the most important thing I want to know,” Danny said.
“Yes, Danny,” Laura said. “I had fun.”
“Attagirl, Hollis!” Danny’s grin was from ear to ear.
Fun was perhaps an understatement. On Saturday night, after meeting up at Nathan Phillips Square, Laura led Carmilla to Chinatown, where they enjoyed the dairy-free delights of red bean sesame balls and bubble tea. They walked around the city, made out outside a lesbian bar on Queens West, and then they took the streetcar downtown to Carmilla’s hotel. They ordered tea from room service, made out some more, and then Laura took an Uber back to her place. Even without sex, it was an excellent night, and they spent most of Sunday messaging each other back and forth as Laura ran errands and Carmilla complained about meetings and industry events.
But Carmilla was probably at the airport waiting for her flight, and Laura was trying not to be too sad about that. It was just a hookup. Just a bit of fun.
“Where d’you go just then?” Danny’s question broke through her thoughts.
“I was asking if you wanted the last bite of pie.”
“You can take it,” Laura said. “Sorry, I was just thinking –”
Danny made a face. “Don’t tell me you were fantasising about sex in front of me, Laura. And in front of the food!”
“You wish!” Laura said. “That woman I met. She was just visiting Toronto for a few days.”
“That sucks,” Danny said, through a mouthful of pie. “Did you like her?”
“Yeah, but like, it was more to do with the fact that she was cool,” Laura said. “I don’t think I’d actually date her or anything.”
“Well, I’m pretty sure she’s gonna come back home to her friends and talk about how she thought you were cool, too,” Danny said.
Laura couldn’t admit to Danny how she secretly wished that Carmilla would do that.
Thursday nights were for Laura’s weekly Skype conversation with her dad. He still lived in the small Manitoba town that Laura grew up in, and worked as a contractor. He was fiercely protective of Laura, but since she moved to Toronto, he was gradually accepting the fact that he could no longer be on-call for his only child 24/7.
“Trivia night isn’t the same without you,” he told Laura.
“Dad, you say that every month,” Laura said. “I’ll be there to help you clean out during Thanksgiving, I promise. I won’t miss the Thanksgiving Trivia Tournament. I’ve got my flights booked and everything.” One of their local pubs had a weekly all-ages trivia night, and Laura had been going with her father since she was twelve. For the last couple of years, she was only able to make it during mid-winter break, summer vacation and over Thanksgiving, but they won every single time.
“I miss having you around, Laura,” her dad said. “Why did you have to move so far away?”
“You know why,” Laura said. “I miss you, too, Dad.”
“How’s the school year working out so far? Have you adjusted? Been sleeping and eating properly?”
Laura suppressed a sigh. “It’s been busy, but I think the students are doing more adjusting than I am,” she said. “And I’m getting my seven hours a night, and sometimes when I run out of food, Mrs. Spielsdorf is kind enough to share some of hers.” Laura lived in a duplex owned by the mother of her college roommate Betty, who was now a Chemistry teacher at a fancy private school in Ottawa.
“I know I should be telling you off for taking advantage of her kindness, but I’m glad she’s taking care of you,” her dad said. “Should I be sending her flowers?”
“Dad, please, no,” Laura said, chuckling. “She’s single. She might get the wrong idea.”
“Well, just tell her that I’m not up for doing the long distance thing with anyone but my daughter,” her dad joked back. “And parenting from far away is hard enough as it is. I couldn’t date that way.”
“Are you planning on dating again, Dad?” When her dad didn’t reply right away, she continued: “Because, you know, that’s totally okay with me. You should go be happy!”
“No, I don’t want to date anyone, I was just saying.” He exhaled loudly, and Laura could imagine him shaking his head. “I’ve been watching too many bad TV shows lately. Side effect of not having you around.”
“I could you recommend you some…”
“Women? I’m pretty sure you and I have entirely different tastes.”
“ No , Dad!” Laura exclaimed. “I meant TV shows.”
“Oh, right.” Her dad paused. “Speaking of, I forgot to ask you something before you went back to Toronto.”
“Are you seeing anyone?”
“Dad, you did ask me that when I was over there.” That was a month ago. “And no, the situation hasn’t changed.” Almost automatically, she reached for her phone and checked her Instagram. She was surprised to see a recent post from Carmilla. They had added each other on Instagram and Snapchat, but Carmilla didn’t seem like a big social media person. Her Instagram posts were sporadic and almost always went without a caption. The latest one, posted forty minutes ago, was of an empty street, presumably somewhere in Vienna. It was a little bit lonely, but it was beautiful. Laura smiled and double tapped her screen.
Her dad cleared her throat. “Really. The situation hasn’t changed?”
“You’re smiling at your phone.”
Laura placed her phone back on the desk. “I just saw a funny meme, Dad!”
“Sure, Laura… Anyway, honey, I should let you go,” her dad said. “I have an early start tomorrow, too.”
Laura almost sighed in relief. “Okay, Dad,” she said. “I miss you.”
“I miss you too, kid,” her dad said. “You take care. Good night.”
Bradley raised his hand moments before the bell. “Miss Hollis,” he began, without waiting to be acknowledged by Laura, “is it true that all the teachers go drinking in a bar on Friday after school?”
There was drinking, but not all the teachers went. But Laura didn’t know how to answer the sixteen-year-old’s question without discussing inappropriate topics like alcohol. “Uh, Bradley,” she cleared her throat, “if I told you, I’d have to expel you.”
“Okay, Miss Hollis.” Bradley seemed to have gotten the answer he wanted.
Laura turned her attention to the class as a whole. “All right, people. Please remember to do the assigned reading in time for Monday’s lesson. You’ve been doing a great job so far with that and it makes class so much easier for all of us, so please keep doing it,” she told them. The bell rang. “Have a good weekend!” she called out over the scraping of chairs and the chatter as they filed out of her classroom.
She checked that no one had left anything and shut all the windows before packing her bag and leaving the classroom. She didn’t have to be at the bar until happy hour started at five-thirty, so she went to the staff room, hoping to do work to pass the time. As expected, the usual Friday drinks attendees were already there, including Danny, LaF, and Perry. Laura was about to walk over to them when the lumbering Wilson Kirsch—Grade 9 PE teacher and the coach of the boys’ basketball team—stepped right in front of her.
“Oh, hey Laura!” he said brightly. “How was your week?”
“It was great, thanks for asking, Kirsch,” Laura said. “How about yours?”
“Good, it was good. Listen, can I talk to you for a sec?” Kirsch took a look around the staffroom. He led Laura over by the wall, next to the small bookcase. The fact that he was a full foot taller than Laura—and would therefore attract more attention—seemed to have escaped him.
“What’s up, Kirsch?” Laura asked.
“Look, I held basketball tryouts this week and I’m trying to get my list down so practices can start,” Kirsch began. He scratched the nape of his neck. “There are a couple of guys that I thought would make a really great fit for the team, but…” He trailed off and looked at Laura hopefully.
“Their grades,” Laura said.class
“One of them was in your Canadian history class last year, and the other one was in Mrs. Cochrane’s class,” Kirsch said. “I double checked your timetables this year and it seems that both of them are in your Grade 11 Canadian politics class.”
“What do you want me to do about it, Kirsch?” Laura asked.
“First game is in the first week of October,” Kirsch said. “They can’t play unless they get their grades up, so do you mind giving them some extra credit? You don’t even have to do all the chasing. I’ll chase them up on it, too.”
This wasn’t the first time Laura had to do something like this, so she made a point of creating activities for this very purpose. “I’ll talk to them on Monday,” she told Kirsch. “But if they still screw this up, I don’t think I could give you any more help.”
“Yeah, I get that. Thanks so much, Laura,” Kirsch said, grinning. He started to walk away. “You’re the best!”
Once Kirsch had practically skipped out of the staff room—it didn’t look like he was joining them for Friday drinks—Laura finally got to catch up with her friends. Danny and LaFontaine were in the middle of a heated conversation, and Perry was watching them with clear discomfort. “Hey guys!” Laura said in a loud voice, ending LaF’s tirade. “Thank god it’s Friday, right?”
“Laura, back me up,” Danny said. “LaFontaine thinks that science writing isn’t an essential skill.”
Laura looked at LaFontaine, who merely shrugged. She turned back to Danny. “You’re arguing about this again?” When Danny gave a shrug of her own, Laura sighed and shared a look with Perry. “If I have to listen to this, I’m gonna need a drink,” she said.
“Happy hour, dinner, then Church and Wellesley?” Danny suggested. “Maybe you’ll find another lucky lady.”
Laura snorted. There was a slim chance of that happening tonight.
There was a message from Carmilla on her phone when Laura woke up from Saturday morning. After dinner last night, Laura had gone home instead of traipsing around the gayborhood with her friends. Carmilla was on her mind. More specifically, why Carmilla had never bothered to contact her. It was as if Laura had telepathically willed her to do just that.
What are you up to, cupcake?
Laura rolled her eyes. Of course Carmilla would send her something so nonchalant after a week of radio silence. On the other hand, what was Laura expecting? It wasn’t like Carmilla promised to keep talking to her after she had left Canada. Just woke up , she responded. She stayed in bed for another five minutes, and when Carmilla didn’t reply, she got up and prepared breakfast. She sat down at her table with a mug of hot cocoa when her phone lit up.
Fun night, I gather?
“I wish,” Laura muttered to herself. Why are you so curious ? she typed. Do you really want to find out that someone else is better in bed than you are?
The reply came almost instantly: No . Followed by, Can I call?
Laura froze. Sure , she typed tentatively. She hesitated, then sent it.
Her phone rang in less than thirty seconds.
“Did our night set some sort of record for you, cutie? If so, I’m flattered.” Even with the lacklustre signal, Carmilla’s voice was as charmingly languid as it was the night they met.
Laura’s voice was shaky as she responded, “Well, you are my exception, remember?”
Carmilla chuckled. “Yes, I remember,” she said. “I’ll be in New York the week after next.”
“Yeah?” Laura was unsure why Carmilla was telling her this.
“New York’s not far away from Toronto…”
Ah, that’s why. “Carmilla, it’s a twelve-hour drive,” Laura said. “I don’t have that kind of time.”
“Of course not,” Carmilla said. “But it is a ninety-minute flight. You can fly out Friday afternoon and fly back to Toronto on Sunday afternoon. My treat, come on.”
“Why? Is this some kinda long-distance booty call or something?” Laura asked. “Are we arranging to have sex?”
Carmilla laughed. “I mean, if you want…”
“Look, New York’s a big city, okay? And I’m travelling by myself, and I’d really rather not be without a friend,” Carmilla explained. “And since you live so close, I was wondering if you wanted to hang out. I’ll pay for your plane tickets.”
“This is not helping your argument about how this isn’t a booty call,” Laura said.
“I never said that it isn’t a booty call.” Carmilla spoke over Laura’s appalled gasping. “ But it’s more than that. I told you. I’ll only be there for the week, I have a few meetings to attend but I figure that I shouldn’t waste the flight over. You’re a lot of fun and it would be nice to have you as company.”
Laura believed the sincerity in Carmilla’s voice. “All right, but I’ll have you know that I can afford my own plane tickets.”
“Well, too bad, I already bought them,” Carmilla said. “Look, I’m asking you to come all the way to New York –”
“I’m glad you realised that –”
“Let me finish.” Carmilla cleared her throat. “I’m asking you to come all the way to New York already, I’m not going to ask you to cough up several hundred dollars for plane tickets. So let me handle it, all right?”
Laura sighed. “Fine,” she said. “So this is two weekends away?”
“Yes,” Carmilla said. “Can you message me your email address? I’ll send you your tickets.”
“Okay,” Laura said. “I guess I’ll see you then.”
“Yeah.” The smirk was just about audible in Carmilla’s voice. “I guess you will.”
Laura ended the call, not quite believing what just happened. “Jeez,” she said to herself. “I guess I’m going to New York.”
The welcome Laura faced in New York was enough to make her forget that she flew there because of a woman she barely knew. Carmilla picked her up personally from the airport, and she even offered to carry Laura’s overnight bag to the town car that she had hired. Laura, of course, had refused.
Laura had been to New York several times. She was reasonably familiar with the city, and if she was being honest, it had lost much of its lustre for her. However, she felt a strange excitement about getting to explore it with Carmilla.
They stopped by Carmilla’s hotel first—a four-star joint a few blocks away from Broadway—and Carmilla excused herself to make some phone calls while giving Laura time to settle in. She returned from the balcony, stuffing her phone in the back pocket of her jeans, and rummaged through the purse on her nightstand. She pulled out a glossy card, which she presented to Laura.
Laura took it and examined it. Inside were two tickets to Farragut North . It was for that night’s show, which was starting in an hour. She looked up to see Carmilla watching her expectantly, a shy smile playing on her lips. “Carmilla! Oh my gosh,” she said. “I can’t believe it.” She loved the theatre, but she had never seen a show on Broadway before.
Carmilla shrugged. “I thought you’d like it,” she said. “Do you wanna grab a bite to eat before we go see the play?”
“Just a pretzel, perhaps?” Laura said. “And it’ll be my treat.”
Laura shot Carmilla a silencing look. “Seriously, Carmilla, you’ve done so much.”
“All right then,” Carmilla said. “Whatever you like.”
They ate at a soul food restaurant after seeing the play, and finished the night with drinks from a tequila bar. On their way back to Carmilla’s hotel, they sat down on the steps of the Met, which still had a bunch of tourists and students on it even if it was past ten o’clock. They sipped from bottles of water they had bought at a convenience store.
Laura could feel herself sobering up from the tequila, from the evening she just had, from the fact that she was in New York , when earlier today she had been teaching the history of the Canadian labour movement to seventeen-year-olds. Was her life already changing because of the woman sitting beside her?
“Are we gonna need to put more alcohol in you, cupcake?” Carmilla joked. “You haven’t said a word in five minutes.” She nudged Laura lightly.
“It’s just nice to be here, that’s all,” Laura said.
“You had a good night?” Carmilla asked.
“A great night,” Laura replied. She placed her hand on Carmilla’s knee. “Thank you.”
Carmilla’s eyes flicked down to Laura’s hand, then back to meet Laura’s eyes.
Laura felt the intensity of Carmilla’s gaze, causing her breath to hitch. As if in slow motion, Carmilla was leaning towards her. She met her halfway, pressing her lips to Carmilla’s. She moved her hips so she was at a better angle of kissing her. Her hand moved from Carmilla’s knee to her waist.
A loud car honk caused them to jump away from each other.
“Asshole,” Carmilla muttered under her breath.
Laura found herself laughing. She picked up her bottle of water and got to her feet. “Come on,” she said to Carmilla, “let’s go.”
This time, when Laura woke up, she was the one naked in bed while Carmilla was fully dressed. “Morning,” she croaked. “What time is it?”
“It’s ten, I have a meeting at eleven,” Carmilla replied. “There’s no rush, it’s only three blocks away, I can walk there easily.” She nodded at a paper bag and a coffee cup on the table. “Got you some breakfast.” As if realising that Laura wasn’t going to get up from bed soon, she picked it up and placed it on the nightstand.
“Thank you.” Laura rubbed her eyes before looking at the contents of the paper bag. She laughed. “Chocolate croissants?”
“I thought they were your favourite,” Carmilla said. “And a mocha. Not from an Australian café.”
“It’ll be fine,” Laura said. “Thank you. What time do you think you’re coming back from your meeting?”
“Maybe around one if it goes well?” Carmilla said. “Are you gonna walk around the city?”
“Yeah, I’ll probably go to the museums, and then I was planning to go to the Strand to look at books,” Laura said. “You should just send me a message where you’re at when you’ve finished and we can meet wherever’s convenient.”
“Sounds good to me.” And then she just stood there, her eyes on Laura, a half-smile on her face.
“Why are you looking at me like that?” Laura asked.
Laura self-consciously adjusted the covers around her. “Like that .”
“I don’t know.” Carmilla shrugged. “I should probably get going. Enjoy your breakfast, text me later!” And with that, she picked up her purse and got out the door.
Laura was on her third museum of the day when it hit her again: what she had been doing this weekend was not typical behaviour for her. The Laura Hollis of last year wouldn’t up and leave Toronto to spend the weekend browsing New York’s museums. More than that, the Laura Hollis of last year wouldn’t agree to spending a weekend away to have casual sex in an entirely different country. Even if it was just a ninety-minute plane ride away.
That said, she was surprised at how natural it felt when she was with Carmilla. Not just the sex, but everything else: the conversation, hanging out, exploring New York. They barely knew each other, but Carmilla seemed to know just how to bring Laura out of her comfort zone. Laura was convinced it was more than the fact that Carmilla was so incredibly attractive.
She didn’t know what Carmilla got out of whatever this was. She didn’t even know how Carmilla saw things. Were they friends with benefits? Or was Carmilla the type of woman that had someone to hook up with on either side of the Atlantic? The sex was great; Laura could attest to that. But the Broadway play, the dinner date—was it okay to call it a date?—the breakfast of the morning after… Did that imply that whatever they had was more than just sex?
She left the Museum of Natural History and ventured out into Central Park to find a hotdog stand. As she waited in line, her phone rang. She glanced at the screen and smiled.
“Hi Carmilla,” she said.
“Cupcake.” Carmilla’s voice was warm. “I just got out of brunch.”
Laura looked at her watch. It was past two o’clock. “Long meeting,” she said.
“I know. I want to tell you all about it. I’m assuming you’re out and about?”
“Yeah. I’m in Central Park just grabbing a bite.”
“Okay, I’m going to make my way there,” Carmilla said. “How about we meet just outside the Central Park Zoo in half an hour?”
“Sounds good to me,” Laura said.
“See you then.”
“Check out that snake over there,” Carmilla said, pointing at a tree branch.
“Where?!” Laura grabbed Carmilla’s arm and stepped behind her, using her as a human shield. “Where is it, Carmilla? I hate snakes!”
“Just right there, see?” Carmilla pointed at the tree branch again. An emerald tree boa was unfurling itself along its length to move onto another branch.
“Not a snake person, huh?” Carmilla asked.
“I just find them gross,” Laura said. She spotted another exhibit further down. “Come on, let’s just go see the lemurs instead.” She led Carmilla there, and upon realising that she was still holding onto Carmilla’s arm, she let go of it. Embarrassed, she tried to take a step away.
Carmilla, eyes still focused on finding a lemur, raised her arm and wrapped it around Laura’s waist, pulling her closer. She must have felt Laura stiffen, because she shot her a sideways glance. “Sorry. Is this all right?” she asked.
“Uh, sure.” Laura willed herself to relax. Was this normal behaviour for friends with benefits?
“I apologise if I'm too forward. I just like having you here with me,” Carmilla said. “Tell me if you’re not comfortable and I’ll stop.”
Laura was totally comfortable. But that didn’t stop the signals from getting mixed in her brain. She turned around so that she could see Carmilla’s face better. “About that, Carm–”
Carmilla’s arm dropped from Laura’s waist as she stepped forward, closer to the metal barrier. “Shh.” She pressed a finger to her lips. “I think I see a lemur!”
Carmilla, in an unexpectedly touristy move, asked Laura if they could go to Shake Shack for dinner They sat down in a booth with their burgers and fries, as well as a root beer for Carmilla and a soda for Laura.
Laura watched Carmilla picking at her fries. “You never did tell me how your meeting went.”
There was a rare flicker of excitement in Carmilla’s eyes. “I had a callback,” she said. “They saw my film at TIFF and thought they’d have a project that I would be interested in auditioning for, so I went… and I got the part! They just confirmed it today.”
Carmilla nodded. “A lead role, too. How could I say no?”
“Wow,” Laura said. “That’s amazing, Carmilla! Is it a film or a TV series? Where is it going to be produced?” She tried to keep the hope creeping into her voice.
“It’s a play. Off-Broadway,” Carmilla replied. “It’s a brand new show and apparently they’ve all but locked a three-month run on Off-Broadway to see how well it does, and then they’ll try to bring it to a bigger theatre. It should keep me in New York for at least six months.”
Carmilla. A ninety-minute flight away. For at least six months. “Wow,” was all Laura could say. She collected herself. “When is it debuting?”
“March next year,” Carmilla said. “Rehearsals start the second week of January, so I have to go back to Vienna to get my manager to make arrangements.” She looked hopefully at Laura. “You will come and see me when I'm over here, right?”
“Of course,” Laura said.
Because it was their last day in New York, they spent Sunday morning with breakfast in bed, courtesy of room service, while reruns of Parks and Recreation played on the television. After their leisurely meal, Laura hopped into the shower, where she was joined by Carmilla.
“Carm!” She shuddered as Carmilla’s hands ran down her bare sides. “What are you doing?”
“Dessert.” Even under the warm shower, Carmilla’s breath was hot on Laura’s neck.
“After breakfast?” Laura managed to ask, feigning incredulousness. “Is that a thing?”
“It should be,” Carmilla said. Her hand slid up to cup Laura’s breast. And then she smirked and leaned in to kiss Laura’s collarbone.
Laura gasped as Carmilla’s tongue licked a trail down to her breasts.
They never did manage to get themselves clean. Or dressed.
Afterwards, they lay in bed. Laura was snuggled into Carmilla’s side, her head on Carmilla’s chest. She could feel Carmilla’s hand absently playing with the ends of her hair. “We should start getting ready soon,” Laura said.
Carmilla’s eyes were closed, and her expression serene. “Don’t ruin the moment.” She cracked one eye open. “We have hours left, Laura… We could do some more things, you know…”
Laura lightly slapped Carmilla’s stomach. “No chance,” she said. “I have to go to work tomorrow.”
“Have you never heard of a quickie?”
“ Carmilla .”
“I’m joking,” Carmilla said. Both her eyes were closed again. “I know you like it slow.”
“Carmilla!” Laura tried to wriggle away from Carmilla, but she didn’t even attempt to resist when Carmilla just pulled her closer. “You’re ridiculous.”
“And yet you like me anyway,” Carmilla said.
Laura chewed the inside of her cheek. Carmilla’s hand had moved from her hair to tracing patterns on her arm. “Hey, can I ask you something?”
“Uh oh.” Carmilla opened her eyes and turned her head slightly to look at Laura.
“It’s nothing bad!” Laura bit her lip. “Okay, maybe it is.”
“Just spit it out, cupcake,” Carmilla said.
Laura looked down at the outline of their bare legs entangled under the covers. “What are we doing here?” she asked. “Like, what does this all mean?”
Carmilla’s fingers stopped drawing on Laura’s arm. “Do you want it to mean something?”
“I don’t do a weekend in New York for just anyone, Carmilla,” Laura said. “Though I’m still trying to figure out what kind of ‘anyone’ you are. But… what do you think?”
“Honestly? I’m in the same boat,” Carmilla said. “But I don’t believe that we should be in any rush to figure it out. I like you. We’re friends. And I like what we’re doing. I’m having a lot of fun. Aren’t you?”
“Of course I am,” Laura said. “I just don’t know…”
“I don’t know either,” Carmilla said. “What I know is that I’ll be on a plane to Vienna tonight, and that I’ll still be flying across the Atlantic while you’re back in Toronto. What I also know is that I want to see you again. How about let’s start there?”
Okay, so Carmilla didn’t plan on getting sick of her anytime soon. That was a positive, but Laura still didn’t know what it mean. “I haven’t done anything like this before,” she said.
“What? Just have fun with someone?”
In an act of uncharacteristic tenderness, Carmilla pressed her lips to Laura’s forehead. They lingered there for a while. “You’re cute. And you’re great company,” she finally said. “But you worry way too much. We’ll figure it out as we go along, all right?”
Perhaps Carmilla was right. They were getting on different flights this evening. Laura didn’t know when they were going to see each other again. She kissed the tip of Carmilla’s shoulder, then rested her head back on her chest again. Her arm encircled Carmilla’s waist as she scooted closer. She breathed in the smell of sweat and shower gel on Carmilla’s neck. Perhaps it was better to enjoy the moment.
Just like that, Carmilla kissed her goodbye—a chaste one on the lips!—and they headed off to their respective boarding gates. Laura thought it was a cruel twist that their boarding gates happened to be at the opposite ends of the airport.
Boarding was no hassle, and the flight was smooth. As soon as she landed in Toronto, she checked her phone for the first time that day. (Carmilla happened to be a very significant distraction.) Laura’s eyes widened when her phone was overflowing with notifications. They were mostly messages from Danny and LaFontaine, along with a voicemail notification message and an email from Kirsch about his basketball players.
“Crap,” Laura muttered. She scrolled through the messages from Danny and LaF first. “Crap,” she said again, when she realised she had missed their scheduled Grading Sunday. It was the one Sunday of every month that they had a get-together with whatever grading they had to do, accompanied by snacks, a Spotify playlist, and oftentimes, alcohol. And then she checked her voicemail. Most of the messages were from Danny or LaF, but the most recent one was from her father.
“Laura, your friends contacted me on Facebook, saying they hadn’t heard from you since Friday afternoon,” her father said. “Didn’t you tell them that you were going to be in New York?” He tutted disapprovingly. “Well, never mind, I already did. I think you owe them an explanation. Love you honey, hope you had a great weekend.”
Yup, Laura had some explaining to do.
Kirsch was the first person Laura saw on Monday morning. She had come in half an hour earlier than usual and was surprised to see that Kirsch was an early bird as well. She greeted him as he fixed himself a protein shake in the staffroom. “How was your weekend?” she asked.
“Great,” Kirsch said. “I hit a personal best at the gym, and then I tried this like, gourmet salt that I got from the farmer’s market on my grilled chicken. Super rad. How about yours, Laura?”
“It was good,” Laura said. She put the kettle on to make a pot of coffee. “Hey, I was thinking about what to do with those two guys for the basketball team. I’m setting homework for the next two weeks, and if they hand in quality pieces of work, that should bump them up easily.”
“Oh, sweet!” Kirsch said. “I knew you’d come through for me.”
“It’s not extra credit though. It’s homework that I’m going to set the entire class,” Laura told him. “I don’t want them to think that they can get away with slacking off in class and still keep playing basketball just because I keep giving them an opportunity to make up for it.”
“I’ll talk to them in class today but can you talk to them as well, Kirsch?” Laura asked. “Just so the expectations are clear.”
“Of course, Laura,” Kirsch said. “Thank you so much.”
Danny and LaF didn’t arrive until twenty minutes later. By that point, Laura was already halfway through her morning coffee and was catching up on the grading she wasn’t able to do the night before. The two redheads made a beeline for her desk. “What the hell were you doing in New York, Hollis?” Danny demanded.
“How could you forget about Grading Sunday?” LaF asked. “I brought good wine.”
“ Such good wine,” Danny said. “So, Laura? Care to explain?”
“I got invited to come to New York out of the blue, and I was caught in the craze of it all that I completely forgot that we had Grading Sunday on,” Laura said. “I’m sorry.”
“We reminded you on Friday!” Danny said.
“As I said, I was caught in the craze.”
“So what did you in New York?” LaFontaine asked.
Laura looked around to see if anyone might be eavesdropping. “Well,” she lowered her voice. “I met up with that woman I hooked up with at the bar a couple of weeks ago. She was in New York and she wanted to meet up, so…”
Danny was incredulous. “So you just bought a ticket?”
“Well, yeah.” Laura decided to leave out the part where Carmilla had bought her the ticket. That might caught Danny’s blood pressure to go through the roof, and it wasn’t even eight-thirty. “It’s not a big deal, Danny, lots of people from Toronto go to New York for the weekend, right?”
“Yeah, but not to meet someone they had a one night stand with!” Danny said.
“She’s pretty cool, all right? We went to see a show on Broadway, and we walked around the city, and we tried all these different restaurants,” Laura said. “She’s from Austria, she doesn’t know anyone here, so I can understand why she’d get in touch with me to hang out.”
LaFontaine waggled their eyebrows. “Hang out is all you did?”
Laura paused. Both of her friends stared at her expectantly. “No comment,” she finally said.
“Aha!” LaFontaine said. “You totally hooked up again.”
“ LaF ! Come on.” Laura scanned the room. Nobody seemed to be listening to their conversation.
Danny put her hands on her hips. “Seriously, Laura? You missed Grading Sunday because of your New York City booty call?” She glanced at the pile of papers Laura had yet to look at. “Well, I hope it was all worth it.”
Honestly? It totally was. But Laura wasn’t going to give them the satisfaction of hearing her answer. “I don’t think that’s any of your business, really,” she said. “Now, I want to get as much of this done as possible before I have to teach first period, so…” She made a gesture for the two to stop hovering over her desk.
“Fine, I have to catch up with the Summer Society anyway. See you at break,” Danny said, before walking away.
LaFontaine seemed to be rooted on the spot. They were staring at Laura with a mixture of amusement and confusion. “Man, Hollis. You’ve changed.”
Thanks so much for the great response I had to the first chapter. I can't emphasise how much I love talking to other people about my fics. As always, your comments are much appreciated—I reply to all of them. If you want to talk more, drop me a line on my Tumblr (alterocentrist).
Carmilla had been back in New York for two days and failed to understand why the locals considered it a “warm winter”. It got cold in Vienna, freezing even, but what she encountered in New York was something different entirely. Every morning she worked herself up to leave her apartment. She ended up making the move to New York a week before Christmas, giving her time to settle in and familiarise herself with her neighbourhood before rehearsals started.
Her apartment was a studio at the top floor of a brownstone. The rent was higher than she expected, but once work on the show started, she wouldn’t have to spend much on food and drink, so her expenses would have balanced out nicely. When she first arrived, she made the mistake of joining the Christmas shopping crowds to shop for her apartment. She settled for ordering a bed and left everything else for after the holidays were over. She flew back to Vienna for Christmas, and then returned to New York a couple of days after.
It was the afternoon of the day before New Year’s Eve, and Carmilla was standing outside the brownstone. She watched as the taxi she had called pulled up to the curb. The driver got out and helped her load her suitcase in the back. Carmilla slid into the car, grateful that the heaters were on.
As they drove off the exit to the airport, the driver glanced at Carmilla in the rearview mirror. “So, where are you flying off to today, ma’am?” he asked.
“Toronto,” Carmilla said.
The driver squinted at her. “Hmm. Are you from there, ma’am?” he said. “That would explain the accent.”
What are your plans for New Year’s Eve?
Laura couldn’t help but smile as she typed her response: My friend Perry is throwing a party at her place. It’ll be people from work mostly . Perry’s New Year’s Eve parties were always worth going to, even if the attendees were teachers and support staff members who clearly didn’t have more exciting places to be. Laura found it made her miss her dad and her hometown a little less.
What about you? Laura typed. Somewhere fancy, I suppose?
Carmilla replied immediately: Well, actually…
Laura didn’t have time to digest how vague that message was, because it was followed by: I think I got off the right stop, but I can’t seem to remember where your house is. Can you come get me? A photo of the streetcar stop down the road from Laura’s place accompanied the message.
“What the hell?” Laura exclaimed. Hang on , she sent. Carmilla was in Toronto? Laura put on her coat, zipped it up, and stuffed her feet into her boots. She dropped her house keys and phone in her pockets and headed outside. As quickly as she could, she made her way to the streetcar stop.
Sure enough, Carmilla was standing there, a weekender bag at her feet. She didn’t look amused by the cold weather.
“Carmilla!” Laura called out. She reached the stop. “What are you doing here?”
Carmilla managed a smile through gritted teeth. “Surprise,” she said.
Laura stepped forward and gave Carmilla a hug. She felt Carmilla relax against her, and she would be lying to herself if she thought that she didn’t like that. “I’m definitely surprised,” she said. “Come on, you look like you’re freezing.” She let go of Carmilla and bent down to pick up her bag.
Together, they walked the short distance back to Laura’s apartment. As soon as the door was shut, Carmilla shed her coat and boats, and Laura did the same. “You got coffee?” Carmilla asked.
“Yeah, I’ll just go make some,” Laura said. “Don’t they have winter in Vienna?”
“Yes, but not like this,” Carmilla said.
“It’s actually looking to be quite a warm winter,” Laura said.
“Zero degrees when it’s bright and sunny out does not count as warm!” Carmilla said.
Laura put the kettle on. “When did you arrive?” she asked.
“Last night,” Carmilla said. “I stayed at the airport hotel. I didn’t know whether you would be around.”
“Yeah, I didn’t get back from my dad’s until yesterday afternoon,” Laura said. “Hey, I just realised I ran out of coffee beans. Is instant okay?”
“Sure,” Carmilla said. She sat down at Laura’s dining table. “I didn’t tell you because I wanted you to be surprised, but I moved to New York early. I got an apartment and everything. There’s nothing in it yet except for a bed and a fridge, though. Nobody warned me about what the shopping was like around Christmas.”
“Don’t you have those street markets out in Austria? I’d imagine they’d be similar.”
“The Advent markets?” Carmilla shook her head. “The Viennese are nothing like New Yorkers.”
“Anyone ever tell you that you’re a little bit judgemental?” Laura teased.
Carmilla shrugged. “Have you ever been harassed by a mistletoe vendor? I would prefer not to have a repeat of that experience.”
“It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” Laura joked, as she took out the jars of instant coffee and sugar and placed them in front of Carmilla. She went back into the kitchen and returned with a mug and a spoon. “I don’t have soy milk but I have non-dairy creamer. Is that okay?”
“That’ll do, thanks,” Carmilla said. She scooped coffee and sugar into the mug, and waited for Laura to bring her the kettle and the creamer. “How was your Christmas?”
“It was lovely,” Laura said. “It was nice to see everyone. I didn’t realise how much I missed them, even if I just saw them during Thanksgiving. What about yours?”
“I mean, it went smoother than I expected,” Carmilla said. “The holidays aren’t a big deal in my family. My father had to fly out at the crack of dawn the day afterwards to close a business deal in Brussels.”
“That’s a shame,” Laura said. Carmilla had told her a little about her wealthy yet distant family, and it only made Laura thankful that money was never a big part of her life. “So, what brings you here?”
“I didn’t want to spend another second in Vienna so I got on the first plane to New York,” Carmilla said. “And then I realised that I didn’t know anyone in New York. So I came here.” She looked at her bag, on the floor by the door, and seemed to realise what she had done. “Wait, it’s all right for me to stay here, right? Because I can go get a hotel.”
“Carmilla, it’s New Year’s Eve, you’ll be lucky to find a room,” Laura said. “And you know you’re welcome to stay here whenever you’re in town.”
“Thank you,” Carmilla said. She busied herself with making her coffee.
If Laura didn’t know any better, she would’ve thought that Carmilla actually looked embarrassed . She decided to change the subject. “What do you want to do tonight?” she asked.
“I thought you were going to your friend’s party,” Carmilla said. “No one will mind me tagging along, right?”
“Oh, of course not. Perry is literally the most hospitable person I’ve ever met,” Laura said. “But I don’t think it’ll be your scene. We can go to Church Street or Queens West if you want. They have massive parties there this time of year.”
“What do you mean it won’t be my scene?” Carmilla asked.
“Well. You’re you , and we’re, you know, us .”
Carmilla raised a conspiratorial eyebrow. “Are you ashamed of your friends?”
“No! It’s not that,” Laura said. “I just thought you came all the way here, we should go somewhere that you’ll enjoy.”
“I think I’ll enjoy myself at Perry’s party,” Carmilla said. “If you want me there, that is.”
“Of course I want you there.” Laura’s pulse quickened at the thought. Her previous New Year’s Eves had been pretty anticlimactic, and suddenly she was faced with the prospect of having Carmilla there. But because she didn’t know what a good thing was unless it slapped her in the face, she continued her protest. “I just thought that –”
“Laura. You want me there, so I’m there. What time are we leaving?”
Well, it wasn’t the worst idea Carmilla had—but it certainly wasn’t the best.
Perry’s home was lovely and well-kept, and her cooking was excellent. The other guests were friendly in that stereotypical Canadian way. Most of them couldn’t hide their surprise that Laura had brought a guest. Carmilla made a note to ask her about that later.
The party programme, however, left little to be desired. Carmilla couldn’t believe that people still played charades . But then again, she didn’t attend many dinner parties in the first place. Not ones that didn’t involve industry people anyway. Who was she to judge?
She looked on in amusement as Theo, a construction technology teacher, frantically gesticulated at PE teacher Kirsch. They weren’t getting anywhere, and the bottom half of the hourglass—yes, Perry had an actual hourglass she apparently kept for “party games”—was nearly full.
“And time’s up!” Mel, a math teacher, yelled out. “No points for you! LaF and Perry are still in the lead.”
The two men groaned.
Theo turned to Kirsch. “Dude, it was The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo ! I thought I made that obvious!” he exclaimed.
“You said it was a book!” Kirsch mimicked a page-turning motion. “That’s a movie!”
Theo turned to Perry, clearly exasperated. “Any chance I could switch teammates?”
“Sorry, no,” Perry said.
Carmilla felt someone tap her on the shoulder. It was Laura. “Hey,” she said.
“Enjoying yourself?” Laura asked.
Carmilla just gave her a pained smile. “I think I’m gonna need another drink,” she said. She showed Laura her empty wineglass.
“Come with me, we’ll go get you one,” Laura said. She took Carmilla by the hand and led her to the kitchen, which was empty. She surveyed the bottles of wine lined up along the counter. “So she has a merlot, a rosé, a cabernet, and like, three different bottles of pinot gris.”
“Apparently it’s the new chardonnay,” Carmilla commented absently, remembering an article that Lilita Morgan had shared on Facebook.
“I wouldn’t know the difference between pinot gris and chardonnay if my life depended on it,” Laura said. She filled her glass with rosé. “So, which one would you like, Carm?”
“Screw it, I’ll have the pinot gris,” Carmilla said, pushing her glass towards Laura. She glanced at the clock on the kitchen wall. “That game of charades has been going on for almost two hours, you know.”
“Hmm. How drunk is Perry?” Laura asked.
“The pitch of her voice has started getting lower, if that’s any indication,” Carmilla replied.
Laura stroked her chin. “That’s actually a very good indication,” she said. “If she’s still drinking at the same pace, charades will be finished in approximately fifteen minutes. Perry’s drunk, the programme goes out the window, and we can all do what we want and she’ll be too happy to stop us.”
“This happens every year, huh?” Carmilla asked.
“We’re predictable,” Laura said. “Unlike you .”
Carmilla smirked. “What about me?”
“Flying to Toronto to surprise me on New Year’s Eve… That’s a little bit romantic, don’t you think? And I thought we were just friends.” There was an unguarded quality to Laura’s voice, which Carmilla immediately attributed to the wine. Laura wasn’t exactly the most mysterious person, but Carmilla had never heard her being this candid.
Carmilla took a step closer to Laura. “Yeah, of course we’re friends,” she said softly. For the first time that evening, they were alone, and the buzz of the party had cast a new light on how good Laura looked tonight. Carmilla’s eyes roamed over Laura’s outfit. She was wearing dark wash jeans, and a sheer yellow blouse with a white camisole visible underneath. Her hair was styled to fall in waves down her shoulders, and her lips were painted a dark red . Carmilla felt more and more lightheaded as she stared at them.
“Carmilla.” Laura’s voice broke Carmilla out of her reverie. “You all right?”
“I, uh,” Carmilla cleared her throat, “I like your lipstick. I just noticed it.” She took another step forward.
“Thanks! It’s a lip stain, actually!” There was a little tremor in Laura’s voice. “My roommate from college, Betty, she recommended it to me. Apparently it doesn’t –” Her breath caught as Carmilla took one more step, right in her personal space.
“What?” Carmilla whispered. She had Laura all but backed up against the kitchen counter. The only thing she had to do was lean forward and she would be kissing Laura again. “What were you going to say?”
Laura found her voice: “Apparently it doesn’t rub off.”
“Let’s see about that.” Carmilla placed her hands on Laura’s hips, fully intent on closing the distance between them, but Laura stopped her with a hand on her shoulder. “What?”
A mischievous smile appeared on Laura’s face. “Sorry,” she said. “If you want to kiss me, you’re going to have to wait until midnight.” With that, she slid out from between Carmilla and the counter, picked up her wineglass, and rejoined the party.
Carmilla let out a breath she didn’t even know she was holding. She liked Laura well enough, but she really liked this version of her. She looked at the clock and sighed. She downed her room temperature pinot gris—Perry might have an hourglass, but she didn’t seem to have an ice bucket—and refilled her glass. Midnight wasn’t for another hour.
Things happened like clockwork.
Perry got drunk. Too drunk to continue her party games. Kirsch was passed out on the floor next to the couch. He intended to lay down on it but misjudged the amount of steps it took to get there. Theo and Mel had enough alcohol in them to actually get along. The party finally arrived at the correct atmosphere.
Laura found herself stuck mediating a conversation between Danny and LaFontaine on Perry’s porch. More alcohol in their system only meant more arguing about their respective subjects. At first, Laura tried to play devil’s advocate. And then she tried to steer the discussion away, until she realised she was too inebriated to think about it. Finally, she decided to cheer for both of them, since neither of them would notice anyway.
“Guys, guess what?” Kirsch, still bleary-eyed, appeared next to Laura. “It’s two minutes till midnight!”
Danny and LaF didn’t even hear him. Laura, however, was aware that she had someone to be with when the clock struck midnight. If her two friends didn’t notice the lumbering Kirsch, they wouldn’t notice if she just slipped away. And so she did. She went back inside the house in search of Carmilla. But she couldn’t seem to find her anywhere.
“Laura,” a voice said from behind her.
Laura turned around to come face to face with Carmilla. “Hey, where have you been?” she asked.
“I was just in the bathroom,” Carmilla said.
“One minute, everybody!” Perry yelled from the porch. The others cheered in response.
“I guess they’re all out there,” Carmilla said. She took Laura’s hand and they walked back outside together.
It was still freezing, but the alcohol, along with Perry’s impressive patio heater—”I bought it on special!”—made it bearable. Mel was looking at her phone screen, watching the seconds tick down. Theo and Danny were looking over her shoulder, while everyone else stood there in wait.
“Ten,” Mel started. “Nine, eight…”
Everyone joined in: “Seven, six, five, four, three, two…”
Laura and Carmilla held each other’s gaze. Suddenly, Laura couldn’t hear anything else. She zeroed in on how Carmilla’s lips looked as they formed the word “one”. And then, Carmilla had her hands on her hips, pulling her close. As her friends jumped up and down in celebration, all she could do was follow Carmilla’s lead.
Carmilla kissed her, softly at first, as if she was self-conscious of being around all these other people.
But Laura didn’t want to be self-conscious. She wrapped her arms around Carmilla’s neck to deepen the kiss. She slipped her tongue into Carmilla’s mouth and felt Carmilla melt against her. After a few moments, she broke away from the kiss, taking pleasure in Carmilla’s frown when she did. “Happy New Year,” she said.
“Shut up and kiss me,” Carmilla said.
And so Laura did.
When Carmilla opened her eyes, she was greeted to the sight of Laura sleeping on her back.
Laura’s head was turned towards Carmilla’s direction. Her nostrils flared as she snored softly. Her right arm rested across her torso, and she had a fistful of her t-shirt in her right hand.
Carmilla inched closer to her. Close enough that she could feel Laura’s exhales on her skin. They were both fully clothed. They didn’t have sex last night. That was another first. Instead, they got into bed at around ten-thirty and talked until before midnight, when they found themselves drifting off to sleep after some slow, soft kissing.
Before that night, Carmilla understood that what she had with Laura was more than sex. She enjoyed Laura’s company. She thought that Laura was an interesting person. She made an effort in her friendship with Laura. And unless she was incredibly delusional, she was certain that the feeling was mutual. But Carmilla had a tendency to develop habits that she probably should not be developing. Waking up beside Laura was one of them.
This was the third morning in a row that this has happened, which set a new record from their weekend in New York. She was hesitant to face the thought that whatever she had with Laura was beginning to mean something else. Because this wasn’t the first time this happened to her. She couldn’t help it; there were people she was just drawn to, and just like that, she couldn’t imagine life without them. But somehow, she always managed to screw it up. And she never seemed to learn from her mistakes. In fact, it looked like she was getting worse . Three nights of falling asleep next to Laura and she was ready to declare it as something deeper than casual sex and good company with a friend? It was a disaster waiting to happen.
And then Laura opened her eyes. “Carm,” her voice was thick with sleep. “You look serious.”
“Do I?” Carmilla tried her best to smirk. “It’s just… you look funny when you’re sleeping.”
Laura covered her face self-consciously. “Do I really?”
“Hey.” Carmilla reached out and gently pulled Laura’s hands away from her face. “It’s cute.”
“Sure,” Laura said.
“Your friends seemed surprised that you brought someone along last night,” Carmilla said. “Care to explain?”
“It’s nothing, really.”
“Laura,” Carmilla implored.
Laura sighed. “I was just… determinedly single for a while,” she said. “I mean, remember how they were at that bar the night we met? They keep trying to get me with someone, thinking it’s good for me.”
“Am I good for you?” Carmilla asked.
Laura blushed. “Do I really have to answer that?”
“No, but I’d like to hear it anyway,” Carmilla teased.
But Laura’s eyes were closed again. “Whatever, leave me alone,” she said. She rolled onto her side, facing away from Carmilla, and after a moment, her breathing steadied. Just when Carmilla thought that she could continue dwelling on her internal conflict, Laura spoke up again, “Carm, wanna be big spoon?”
“They’re supposed to be the same sized spoon,” Carmilla muttered. But she scooted towards Laura and wrapped an arm around her waist. Her front was flush against Laura’s back, and she tangled their legs together. She breathed in the scent of Laura’s hair, then softly kissed Laura’s shoulder.
Oh fuck , she thought.
Returning to work after the Christmas break was always harder than returning from the summer vacation. Laura was convinced it was a combination of the winter weather and the fact that nobody—student or teacher—could stop talking about what they did during the holidays. Both of these factors had a hand in making the first departmental meeting of the new semester incredibly dull.
“Laura. Laura. Miss Hollis.”
“Oh, sorry.” Laura had zoned out of the conversation once one of the older geography teachers began to describe the “Canadian take on Eton mess” that his much-younger wife had made for Christmas lunch. “Minutes?” she asked the head of department.
“Yes,” the head of department said. “We should probably get started.”
Laura couldn’t help glancing down at the clock on her laptop. Technically, the meeting started twenty minutes ago. She suppressed a heavy sigh. “All right. First thing on the agenda is the final draft of the assignment for Grade 10 Government.”
After the meeting, Laura trudged to her car. She threw her stuff in the back and got into the driver’s seat. It wasn’t only just after five o’clock but the sun was soon to set. She sighed. She started her car and turned on her demisters. As she waited for everything to warm up, she checked Instagram on her phone. Carmilla had posted a new photo a couple of hours ago.
It was the view of the theatre seats from the stage. The lights were turned on, so people—other cast and crew members, Laura assumed—were visible in the shot. The most interesting thing about the photo though was its caption. Carmilla rarely wrote captions with her Instagram posts, and if she did, they were in German. However, the words that accompanied this photo were in English: Trying out the space .
Laura smiled. She double tapped the photo, then placed her phone in the passenger seat and made sure her seatbelt was fastened before she drove home.
Unfortunately, she caught the middle of rush hour traffic, and it was nearly a quarter past six when Laura got home. She kicked off her boots, hung up her coat, and turned the TV on. She plopped down on the couch and put her feet up on some cushions. This was her usual routine after work. She was an energetic person, and she loved teaching, but dealing with thirty different students every hour for four hours—this wasn’t counting the time she spent outside the classroom—took a lot out of a person.
Her phone beeped. Laura reached out to grab it from its place on her coffee table. It was a message from Carmilla: So this girl keeps liking my Instagram photos…
It was a good photo! Laura responded. All your photos are good, actually. Maybe it’s because you don’t spend eight hours of your day at high school.
Don’t even try to tell me how much you hate your job, Hollis. I know you love it , Carmilla’s reply said.
You’re right .
Can I call you? Carmilla asked.
Laura’s heart skipped a beat. Sure . A moment later, her phone rang. She accepted the call. “Hey, Carmilla,” she said.
“Cupcake.” Carmilla was clearly trying to sound as aloof as possible, but this was betrayed by the hint of a smile in her voice. “You sound tired.”
“I want to hibernate for a thousand years,” Laura admitted.
“Bit too late for that,” Carmilla said. “Isn’t spring just around the corner?”
Laura couldn’t help but scoff. “Carmilla, you’re in the northeast now. You ain’t seen nothing yet.”
“Oh, are you fucking serious?” Carmilla asked. “Just when I thought we were out of the woods. Oh well, I’ll get through it. By the way, I’ve decided on my local coffee place here in New York. I found a café owned by New Zealanders just around the corner from my place. Their, uhm, flat whites? Quite good. Even with the soy milk. And their selection of baked goods is pretty impressive.”
“That’s great to hear, Carm,” Laura said.
“When you visit, we’ll definitely swing by and I’ll get you a coffee,” Carmilla said.
At this point, Laura was accustomed to Carmilla’s forthrightness. “What? Are you planning to introduce me to your barista?” she joked.
“See, I would do that, once my barista and I have a more established relationship,” Carmilla retorted. “Hey, I’m just saying, you gotta try their coffee.”
“I’ll take your word for it,” Laura said. “How’s the play going?”
“We’re hitting our stride. I went out for dinner with a few of the cast members the other night,” Carmilla said. “They’re a bit boring.”
“ Carmilla !” Laura admonished.
“I’m just saying. They’re talented, capable actors. It’s just that... They’re a bit too wrapped up in this whole Broadway, Off-Broadway business. I just don’t see the fuss,” Carmilla said.
“I’m sure you’ll warm up to them in no time,” Laura said.
“I miss you,” Carmilla blurted out suddenly. “Sorry. Is it wrong for me to say that?”
“Why would it be wrong?” Laura asked. She was caught off-guard. Even though Carmilla had the tendency to be blunt, there was a rare vulnerability in the way she was talking. Laura didn’t know how to feel about that.
“I don’t know,” Carmilla said. “We’re supposed to be just friends and everything.”
“What’s wrong with friends missing each other?” Laura asked.
“Nothing, just forget I said anything.”
Laura’s voice was firmer this time. “Carmilla.”
“All right!” Carmilla let out a short burst of laughter. “Man, your teacher voice really got me there.” She laughed again, a bit more nervously this time. “I just don’t want you to think that I only miss you because we have sex. I can’t believe it myself, but I feel a little homesick for Vienna, and you’re my only friend here, but you don’t even live in New York.”
“I totally understand that. And I don’t think you only miss me because of the sex,” Laura said. She had heard something about actors being more sensitive to their emotions, and Laura figured that she was just experiencing the aftereffects of Carmilla being onstage for much of the day. It was better not to question that.
“You don’t?” Carmilla asked.
“I don’t think I’m that great in bed.”
Carmilla chuckled. “Do you want my honest opinion?” she teased.
“Carm!” Laura laughed.
“You’re fine, Laura,” Carmilla said. She adopted a fake-formal tone: “Your performance is more than satisfa–”
“Oh, I won’t hear any more of this!” Laura interrupted. She laughed again, and felt herself finally begin to relax. “I miss you too, Carmilla.”
There was a pause on the other end of the line, Before Laura could speak up and check whether Carmilla was still there, Carmilla finally spoke: “Well, I’m glad that it’s not just me.”
The opening night of a new play on Off-Broadway didn’t come with the glitz and glamour of say, Hamilton , or Les Miserables , but there was still celebrating to be done. The show began at seven, and it finished by nine. Just before ten o’clock, Carmilla and the rest of the company arrived at the top floor of a Manhattan bar, which the producers had rented out for the night. Their family and friends were already there indulging in the hors d’oeuvres and the free champagne.
Will wasn’t able to come to opening night because of work commitments that kept him in Vienna. Not that Carmilla minded. He did have a tendency to either want to talk shop the entire night, or to get embarrassingly drunk. From Carmilla’s short time in the New York theatre circuit, she had a feeling that Will’s style wouldn’t exactly be welcome.
She didn’t miss him—all right, perhaps a little bit—but she forgot about him easily as Mattie sauntered over to where she was. Mattie, who was well known in Europe as Matska Belmonde, was the closest person Carmilla had to a wise older sister. An extremely talented—even considered prodigious—actor six years Carmilla’s senior, she took Carmilla under her wing when Carmilla landed her first role on a TV show. After Carmilla graduated from the Max Reinhardt Seminar, she crossed paths with Mattie again, as her manager was also Lilita Morgan. They only grew closer then. Nowadays, Mattie was starting to favour being behind the camera. And of course, she couldn’t stop talking about it.
“You did see my film at Cannes last year, didn’t you?” Mattie asked. “I watched it again a couple of months after the festival and I thought that my visual style was a bit too dark… I’m trying to liven it up this time around.” She was referring to her first feature film, which was starting production as soon as she was back in Vienna.
“I don’t think it was that dark,” Carmilla said. They spoke to each other in German.
“Of course you don’t, darling,” Mattie said. “What other people consider dark might be just fluffy to you.”
“Hey, I take offence to that. I can be cheerful,” Carmilla said.
Mattie squinted at her. “Come to think of it, there is a certain glow about you,” she said. “Who is she? Spill!”
“What?” Carmilla laughed nervously. “What makes you assume that there’s a she?”
“Carmilla, you can’t lie to me.”
“I’m just excited about this show, that’s all,” Carmilla said. “What did you think about it?” She fidgeted without meaning to. They hadn’t seen each other in months, but she thought the world of Mattie’s opinion.
Mattie smiled fondly. She reached out to tuck a strand of Carmilla’s hair behind her ear. “It’s such a change to see you playing such a humorous role, darling. You lit up that stage,” she said. “I think it’s a good look on you.”
“Thank you,” Carmilla said. “I never thought I’d end up here.”
“The stage? It’s where you started.”
“No, I mean, New York,” Carmilla said. In the circles she found herself in back in Vienna, hardly anybody aspired to cross the Atlantic for work. The furthest they admitted to dreaming of was Paris—and at a stretch, London. If she was being honest, she didn’t even dream of New York. It just happened.
“Is that a bad thing?” Mattie asked.
“Of course not,” Carmilla said. “I’m still trying to figure it out, that’s all.”
“When are you coming back to Vienna?”
Carmilla shrugged. “I’m seeing how it goes.”
“Lilita not missing you?”
“Are you kidding? She’s missed me since the day I auditioned for this,” Carmilla said. Truth be told, her manager wasn’t a fan of Carmilla’s decision to be involved in a small Off-Broadway production. But Carmilla just spent the last four years doing the same circuit of film festivals. She insisted that she wanted to try something new.
“You just better hope she doesn’t get antsy and dig her claws in a little too deep.” Mattie’s tone was light, but both of them had to pause to consider the ominous sentiment.
“God forbid,” Carmilla muttered.
Mattie sipped her champagne. “So,” she started. “When is she coming to see your show?”
“Who’s she ? Lilita?”
“No, silly. Your new… companion , if you will. William has told me that you have been spending a lot of time with someone you met over here,” Mattie said. “He’s not too clear on the details but apparently she was in New York when you flew over to audition.”
“How the hell would he have known that?” Carmilla asked.
“Your Instagram, Carmilla,” Mattie said. “You were here for a week and William and I both know that you’re not the type to go off exploring that far out on your own. So you must have been with someone.”
Carmilla suddenly remembered the handful of photos she posted—captionless, as usual—on Instagram from the weekend she spent in New York with Laura. “Perhaps Will was just jumping to conclusions,” she said. “You know, I could have decided to make the most of my visit.”
“Sure,” Mattie said. “But didn’t I just tell you that you couldn’t lie to me?” A wicked smile spread across Carmilla’s face, and Carmilla realised that she just played into Mattie’s hands. “Who is she?”
Carmilla couldn’t help but think of Laura—with her sweet smile, dorky sense of humour, and unabashed enthusiasm—and smile. She knew that Mattie noticed, so she had to tell her… She didn’t even know where to start.
“Carmilla Karnstein. Carmilla? Can you come up here please?” Dylan, the play’s producer, called her from the small stage at the end of the room.
Grateful for the interruption, Carmilla grinned and waved to him as an acknowledgement. She turned to Mattie, who looked at her expectantly. “It’s a long story, Mattie. Sorry, talk later?” With that, she walked away from Mattie, and through the narrow path the crowd had cleared for her.
Laura watched as Danny raised her pint of beer in the air. “Cheers to us!” the redhead proclaimed. “For surviving the winter slump!”
“Cheers,” Laura said. She clinked glasses with Danny, and then with the other teachers who were with them: LaFontaine, Perry, Kirsch, Theo and Mel. It was Friday, and when the bell rang to signal the end of the day, they headed to their favourite bar to celebrate getting the following week off.
“The best thing about this break is that I don’t have to do any grading because I literally just set the homework,” Mel said.
“Dude, you set homework for the holidays?” Theo asked.
Kirsch appeared troubled by this. “Yeah, that seems totally uncool.”
Mel, unfazed by the criticism, shrugged at them. “I teach math, guys,” she said. “If I set homework, it’s a totally different kettle of fish than if either of you set homework.”
“I second that for bio,” LaFontaine said.
Laura traded glances with Danny. She cleared her throat. “Uhm, guys… Maybe let’s hold off on the shop talk?” she suggested. “I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sick of my students. Saying their names, hearing their names…”
“Yes, I agree with Laura,” Perry said. “So, what are your plans for the break? Are you going to see your dad?”
“Actually, no,” Laura said. “I’m going to New York.” The March break had been usually reserved for her father, but Laura promised him Easter and two weeks over summer vacation instead so that she could see Carmilla’s show. She hadn’t told her dad much about Carmilla, except that she was a friend who happened to act on stage. Whatever else that went on between them was probably too much information.
“Oh, seeing your favourite brooding Austrian, aren’t you?” Mel teased.
There was no use denying it. “Yes,” Laura said. “But Carmilla doesn’t brood .” Her colleagues stared at her. “Okay, maybe she does. A little bit.”
“She broods a lot , Hollis,” Danny said.
“Whatever, shut up,” Laura said.
“Are you two, like, a thing now? An official thing?” Kirsch asked.
Laura shifted uncomfortably. “Can we talk about something—or someone —else now?”
It wasn’t that she didn’t like that her friends asked her about Carmilla. In fact, she rarely wanted to admit it to herself, but she appreciated that Carmilla was acknowledged as a part of her life. They spoke to each other on the phone every week, and messaged each other throughout the day. This was hardly at the same time, because Carmilla woke up when Laura was already teaching and Laura was winding down by the time Carmilla finished her show. Still, Laura believed that enabling her friends’ continuing interest about Carmilla was one step closer to labelling what they were doing as the very thing they didn’t agree on—an actual relationship.
Thankfully, her friends got the hint and the conversation moved onto the Niagara Falls trip that Kirsch was getting excited about.
By eight o’clock, Laura was home eating leftovers on her couch as she watched HGTV. Her phone started ringing. She reached out for it, thinking that it was Carmilla, perhaps sneaking in a phone call during intermission. Except Carmilla wouldn’t do that. Regardless, Laura felt her heart sink a little when she saw the name flashing on the screen. She accepted the call. “Hey Dad,” she said. “How was your day?”
“It was great, actually,” her dad responded brightly. “Say, when are you leaving for New York again?”
Carmilla’s play ran six shows over five days. An evening show from Wednesday to Saturday, and matinee shows on Saturdays and Sundays. As one of the principal actors, Carmilla was contracted to have one show off a week. It was a demanding schedule, but two weeks into their run, she was still enjoying the thrill. The stage offered what film couldn’t. Redo. Renewal. Rebirth. Every time the curtain went up, she could be better. She could be different.
But on the Sunday matinee that capped off their second week, she was antsy. She had a tendency of micromanaging her performances, but during that show, she played the role on autopilot. She could get away with it; she was aware of her abilities as an actor. The show went smoothly, and was received well by the audience. And as soon as the curtains closed, she changed out of her costume, washed her face, and asked for a car service to take her to the airport.
Laura’s flight from Toronto would have touched down. They were going to spend Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday—Carmilla had swapped her usual day off of the Saturday evening show—together, and then on Thursday, Laura was going to see the play.
It was probably silly to be so excited to see someone she wasn’t even dating , but Carmilla had mostly learned to stop overthinking her feelings for Laura. Whatever they were, neither of them were in a place to pursue anything that required any more commitment than what they were presently doing. And Carmilla just had to accept that, accept her feelings, and enjoy herself.
She was standing in the arrivals area, craning her neck to see over the families and the significant others and the town car chauffeurs. She was about to move forward to get a closer look when her phone buzzed in her jacket pocket. She dug it out. Laura was calling her. “Hello?” she asked, once the phone was pressed to her ear.
“Hey Carm,” Laura’s voice sounded more frantic than usual. “Are you at the airport already?”
“Indeed I am,” Carmilla replied. “I’m at arrivals. Are you gonna come out soon?”
“Yeah, in a sec. Coming through the doors right about… now.”
As expected, the doors to arrivals whir open to let through another batch of people. Laura was among them, carrying a backpack and wheeling a small suitcase behind her. Her hair hung in a braid, and a big, off-white scarf was arranged haphazardly around her neck. She was still holding her phone to her ear. Her eyes flickered from the waiting crowd on the other side of the barriers to the stocky, balding middle-aged man walking alongside her.
Carmilla watched as Laura and this man caught each other’s eye, and the man’s face broke into a smile that seemed too familiar. “Laura,” she said warily. “Who is that guy?”
“Uhm.” Laura’s eyes began to scan the crowd, presumably for Carmilla. “He’s my dad. You can see me? Where are you?”
Carmilla waved as enthusiastically as she could, though her feet started to grow cold. “Ten o’clock from your end,” she told Laura. She watched as Laura turned in the right direction and finally spotted her. She heard some rapid muttering before Laura hung up her phone and dropped it in her jacket pocket.
With the man—her father —in tow, Laura sheepishly headed over to where Carmilla was standing. “Hey,” she said. She gave Carmilla a quick hug and then stepped back to look over at her dad. “Dad, this is my friend Carmilla Karnstein,” she said. And then she looked at Carmilla. “Carmilla, this is my dad, Sherman Hollis.”
Sherman Hollis stepped forward and shook Carmilla’s hand. “Hello! I know you weren’t expecting me, but neither was Laura,” he said cheerfully, completely oblivious to the fact he had just ruined Carmilla’s chances of marathon sex with his daughter. “She told me she was going to New York and I thought we could make a father-daughter trip out of it. And you’re the actor, right? We’re coming to see your show!”
“Oh, of course,” Carmilla said. Not only was she surprised that Laura’s dad had dropped in on their weekend, but she was taken aback at how alike the two Hollises were. “Uh,” she couldn’t think of anything to say, “it- it’s nice to meet you, Mr. Hollis.”
“Please, call me Sherman,” he said. “‘Mr. Hollis’ makes me feel old. Not that I’m not old.” He laughed. “I think you’ve waited for us long enough… Laura told me that you two were going out for dinner tonight, so we better get checked into our hotel, yes? So I could get in the shower, get in my PJs, and get out of your hair.”
There wasn’t supposed to be a hotel. Carmilla shot Laura a questioning glance, but figured that Laura must have booked it sometime between her dad turning up and the two of them boarding a plane to New York. “Yeah, that’s a good idea,” she said. “Come on, car’s waiting outside.”
And just like that, we're halfway through! This chapter and the chapter that comes after it are probably my two that I enjoyed writing the most. Thanks so much for your comments—keep 'em coming! Even better, talk to me! I've been talking to people on Tumblr about this fic and we've had the best conversations. If you have any burning thoughts, or you just want to chat, don't be shy!
I also have a public Telegram username now (same as my Tumblr URL) because I'm often on-the-go, so I'm not the biggest fan of Tumblr's messaging system for that. I'm still figuring out how it works, but if you add me, leave a message on my Tumblr so I know who you are.
True to his word, Laura’s dad took a long hot shower, plopped down on his bed, turned the TV on, and began to flip through the room service menu. The man had a long day. He had driven into Winnipeg, then flown in to Toronto from there, timing it so that he would run into Laura at the airport to surprise her.
It wasn’t an ideal situation, but Laura couldn’t even get mad at him for it. It had been just the two of them since Laura was nine years old. They couldn’t go on many vacations on a single income. In fact, the last time they had a vacation together was before Laura went off to university. A few days in New York was definitely an upgrade from the Albertan backwater holidays of her teenage years.
She said goodbye to him and took the elevator down to the lobby to meet Carmilla. She spotted her lounging on one of the seats close to the entrance. Laura watched as Carmilla’s lips stretched into a smile upon seeing her. “Hi there,” Laura said. “Were you waiting long?”
“Couple minutes,” Carmilla said. “That’s all right. I had to catch my breath. Ran from the subway, you know. I thought I was gonna be late.”
“Sorry,” Laura said. “And I’m so sorry about the dad situation. He was trying to be spontaneous.”
Carmilla stood up and smoothed down the front of her jacket. “Laura, don’t worry about it. Trust me, I’m great with parents. Your dad won’t even notice that I’ve held untoward intentions towards you.” She smirked, clearly enjoying Laura’s slack-jawed reaction. “Now, I made a reservation at this place that may or may not be a little trendy, and I don’t want to be late.”
“Uh, y-yeah,” Laura attempted to collect herself. Not even two minutes into their evening and she was already getting flustered around Carmilla. They obviously had not seen each other in a while. She found her voice: “Yes, of course. Let’s go.”
Carmilla offered her arm, and Laura took it. Together, they walked out of the hotel and into the streets of New York.
The restaurant that Carmilla picked was more than a little bit trendy. Laura had to bite her tongue when Carmilla insisted on picking up the cheque. But she did apologise a few more times for her dad’s inconvenient presence.
Carmilla merely smiled, brushed the apologies off, and whisked her away to a café-cum-lounge bar a block away from Broadway. One of the actors who was playing a minor role in Carmilla’s show had a small set there that night. Over cocktails and decadent cakes, Carmilla introduced Laura to some of her colleagues. And when the lights dimmed, and the actor took the stage, Carmilla and Laura—tucked away in a booth—kissed softly and slowly.
Because Laura’s dad really had no idea of Carmilla’s “untoward intentions” towards his daughter, he expected Laura to return to the hotel. Even if everything inside her was telling her not to—she was a grown woman, after all—Laura snuck into their hotel room at two in the morning, still with the taste of Carmilla’s gin and tonic-flavoured lips on her tongue.
Carmilla didn’t lie; she was great with parents. But it wasn’t like Sherman Hollis was a tough nut to crack. He even surprised her with how warm and down to earth he was. Carmilla was aware that she made assumptions about people, and years of being mostly right may have made her too cocky. Yes, Laura’s father was a rugged, small-town man who often voiced his grievances about the New York City crowds, the constantly honking car horns, and the “overpriced” restaurants. However, he also had a nerdy sense of humour that was not unlike Laura’s, progressive political views, and he had read widely.
The more stories he told of Laura growing up in provincial Manitoba, the more Carmilla realised that she shouldn’t have been that surprised at all. Sherman single-handedly saw Laura through her formative years. And Laura was… great.
They spent the Monday and Tuesday going around the tourist spots of New York. On both those nights, after dinner, Sherman would excuse himself, thank Laura and Carmilla for the good day, and take a taxi or the subway back to their hotel. Carmilla never asked for any explanation why he chose to do that, but she wasn’t complaining. She had a few hours alone with Laura.
On Wednesday, she couldn’t join them until the afternoon because Lilita Morgan had somehow found out that Carmilla had the day off. Through Will, she called a Skype meeting about Carmilla’s future. Specifically, what she was intending to do once her show’s run finishes on Off-Broadway. If Carmilla was being honest—which she found difficult whenever Lilita Morgan was involved—she liked who she had become in New York. She didn’t want to go back to Vienna just yet.
Laura and Sherman must have sensed that her mood was a little off—because of course they would—when she met them at Central Park. After a bit of stilted small talk, father and daughter traded glances at each other, and then Sherman turned to Carmilla. “We were just about to get something sweet from one of these food carts. My treat,” he said. “Do you want a toffee apple? Ice cream sandwich? Churros? Caramel popcorn?”
Carmilla began shaking her head. “Sherman –”
“Come on, it’s a nice day, and I wanna do something nice,” Sherman said. “You’ve been a gracious host.”
“I would hardly call it –”
“I’d like an ice cream sandwich, Dad,” Laura volunteered. She grasped Carmilla’s arm. “Come on, Carm! You look like you need some sugar in you.” She paused, eyes wide, looked quickly between her dad and Carmilla, and giggled.
Carmilla couldn’t help but chuckle. “All right,” she relented. “I’ll have churros. Thanks, Sherman.”
“My pleasure.” Sherman fished his wallet from the pocket of his vest. “You girls hang tight, I’ll be back.” He joined the line to the churros food cart.
“Thanks, Dad.” Laura turned back to Carmilla. “You all right? You seem a little stressed out, which is so unlike you.”
“Yeah.” Laura shrugged. “You’re usually so chill. Nonchalant . You know, the whole aloof and mysterious thing you got going on.” She gestured vaguely at Carmilla.
Carmilla shoved her hands into her jacket pocket. “Really? I don’t feel so mysterious around you. Or your dad, for that matter,” she said.
“We’re not the most perceptive of people, but… it’s a Hollis thing,” Laura said. “So, what’s up?”
“My manager’s just being a megabitch, that’s all,” Carmilla said. “She’s on my case about going back to Vienna, as if there are amazing projects waiting for me there… She’s just after her cut.”
“Well, are there amazing projects?” Laura asked.
“Will’s sent me a few, but nothing has jumped out,” Carmilla said. “I like this play, and I like being in New York. I don’t wanna think about all that for now.”
“You realise you’re going to have to, right?”
Carmilla shot Laura a sideways glance. There was just so much to think about and she wasn’t looking forward to sitting down and facing it all. “Cupcake, since when have I ever across as the type of person who likes to think about the long-term consequences of my decisions?”
For a second, Laura looked as if she was taken aback.
But before she could reply, Sherman had returned from the churro cart, handing Carmilla a box of churros and chocolate dip. “Here you go, Carmilla.” And to Laura, he said: “Okay, honey, I’m just grabbing us some ice cream sandwiches.” He zoomed off to the food carts again.
Later that evening, they had dinner at an all-you-can-eat izakaya restaurant. Laura had told Carmilla that she and her dad considered fresh seafood as a delicious novelty, and Carmilla had kept that in mind when she made the reservation. The Hollises protested at first, but Carmilla insisted. It was their last night having dinner together. The next evening they would be going to see Carmilla’s show. And then after that, they’d be flying back to Toronto.
Three rounds of sushi and sashimi—along with copious amounts of green tea—later, Laura excused herself to go to the bathroom, leaving Carmilla and Sherman alone at their table. Carmilla realised that this was the first time this had happened. She reached for the pot of tea.
“Oh, cool, I’ll have a refill, if you don’t mind,” Sherman said. He nudged his cup towards Carmilla.
“Of course,” Carmilla said. She poured tea into his cup before pouring some into her own. She placed the pot back on the table, then picked up her cup. “Cheers,” she mumbled, before taking a sip. “Ow!” she yelped. She had forgotten that the pot had just been refilled with water. “Shit!” Upon saying this, she looked to see Sherman’s reaction.
“You okay?” Sherman asked, before he started to laugh.
“Sorry.” Carmilla reached for the glass of water next to her plate and took a long drink.
“What are you sorry for?” Sherman asked.
Sherman leaned forward. “For saying ‘shit’?” He laughed again. “Carmilla, for the last thirty years of my life, I’ve worked on all sorts of construction sites. You know the kinds of people who work on construction sites? They talk more shit than you.”
“Right,” Carmilla said.
“You okay now?” Sherman couldn’t keep the paternal instincts from creeping into his voice. “Didn’t burn your tongue too badly?”
Carmilla shook her head. “Just the tip, I think. I’ll live,” she said.
Sherman glanced towards the direction of the corridor that headed to the bathrooms, before turning his gaze back onto Carmilla. It was eerily similar to how Laura looked whenever she wanted to know something. He cleared his throat—a sound that made Carmilla’s stomach clench slightly. “So... I’ve been meaning to ask,” he began, “and I have a feeling that you’ll be more honest with me… Is there something going on between you and my daughter?”
“What?” Carmilla froze. “Uh– well– Of course not! No! What made you think tha–”
“Carmilla.” It was so weird how Sherman and Laura used the same tone to shut her up. “Don’t bother lying to me. I’ve seen the way Laura looks at you, and the way she acts around you. And vice-versa. Also, Laura doesn’t get on a flight for just anyone . I totally hijacked your little vacation, didn’t I?”
Carmilla would have responded immediately if her jaw wasn’t slack. Were they that obvious? “Sherman, no, you didn’t hijack anyth–”
Sherman chuckled. “It’s all right. I’m used to it. I think Laura was around nineteen when she stopped talking to me about her dating life,” he said. “She told me that I was embarrassing her. So, I understand, you know, if she asked you not to tell me until you two were ready.”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, wait,” Carmilla said. “Sherman, Laura and I aren’t together.” Technically, she wasn’t lying.
“What?” Sherman scratched his head. “I could’ve sworn . I’m always right about Laura. I was right about her being a lesbian, for example.”
“Wow, that is a story you have to tell me another time.” Carmilla’s eyes darted towards the direction of the bathrooms. There was no way in hell she was going to let Laura walk into this conversation. “Look, Laura’s a great girl, really, and we’re good friends, but we’re not together.”
“Hmm.” Sherman leaned back in his seat. “That’s a shame then.”
“What’s a shame?” Laura had returned and was sliding back into her chair.
“Oh, we were just talking about how I don’t get any fresh seafood in Vienna either,” Carmilla said. She shot Sherman a look, and fortunately, he responded with a small nod. She picked up her menu to read. “Shall we order some more beef nigiri? And those scallops?”
Laura didn’t seem to suspect a thing. “Sure, I’m up for it!”
Thursday came and Laura felt strange. This visit to New York didn’t work out the way she was expecting it to, but for some reason, she didn’t feel like she missed out on anything. Sure, more quality time with Carmilla would have been nice, but then she enjoyed spending time with her dad, and she really enjoyed seeing him and Carmilla strike up a friendship of sorts. She thought her dad wouldn’t have gotten along with Carmilla. But then again, Carmilla was a perfectly nice and funny person once you get past her cosmopolitan European tendencies, and her dad was the kind of guy who took the time to reach out to people.
Laura and her dad had brunch together, and then they shopped for presents for their friends. Well, really, Laura helped her dad pick out presents for the people in their Manitoba town. She couldn’t afford buying her friends anything. Afterwards, they went back to their hotel room to for a little rest before they got ready to go to the theatre. By six, they headed back out to have a light dinner. The show started at seven-thirty.
The play centred on four people, estranged friends from high school, who end up in an accidental reunion when the commuter train they were all on broke down in the middle of nowhere. Laura thought that the play was great, and she could tell that everyone in the theatre did, too. As they went out to stretch their legs during intermission, there was a real buzz in the lobby.
Laura’s dad returned from the bathrooms with a smile on his face. “Wasn’t that first act just great, honey?” he asked. “You know, I think a lot of the people my age came here today expecting some sort of whiny HBO millennial drivel—don’t make that face, you know exactly what I’m talking about—but they’re… surprised. And Carmilla! Boy, can she act!”
“She really can, huh?”
Although Carmilla shared the stage equally with the other three principals, Laura couldn’t help but watch her the most. Her character was introduced as a self-absorbed “social media guru”. Throughout the play, the character revealed more and more of her insecurity and vulnerability. Carmilla convincingly sold that aspect of the character, who would otherwise be seen as no more than a grating nuisance.
At the end of the night, the buzz was still palpable in the air as people walked out of the theatre. Laura held onto her dad’s arm to slow him down. “Carmilla said she’ll be out in ten and we should wait for her at the stage door,” she told him.
When Carmilla eventually joined them, they went to a café for coffee and cakes. Well, Laura and her dad had cake. Carmilla helped herself to a salmon and cream cheese bagel. She was pleased that the Hollises enjoyed the play and gracefully accepted their praise. However, other than that, she tried not to talk about it as much as she could.
Laura assumed it was because it had been a long night and Carmilla might not want to be talking shop. She understood that, and she could sense that her dad did too. They finished their food and coffee. They stepped back out into the chilly New York streets.
“How far do you think our hotel is from here?” Laura’s dad asked.
Carmilla thought about it for a moment. “Three blocks that way,” she pointed to her right. “I would suggest taking a cab, though. Are you turning in already, Sherman?”
“Yeah, dad,” Laura said. “It’s only after ten, and it’s our last night here.”
“I’m beat,” Laura’s dad said. “And I thought I should leave you girls alone to have fun.” He turned to Carmilla. “It was so lovely to meet you, Carmilla. Thank you for showing me around the city, and thank you for the tickets to your show. It was brilliant.” He shook her hand heartily.
“You’re welcome,” Carmilla said. “Thank you for coming.”
Laura’s dad, ever polite, shook his head. “No, thank you ,” he said. Once you got a Canadian started on a “thank you” chain, it was hard to get them to stop. “I hope I see you around again, eh? Maybe in our neck of the woods. I’m sure Laura would love to play host.”
“ Dad !” Laura said. Last night, back at the hotel room after their dinner, he had confessed about asking Carmilla about the nature of their relationship. Carmilla hadn’t brought it up, but Laura was still mortified about it. She frantically flagged down a cab. “Okay, Dad, a cab’s coming this way, I’ll see you later, it’s time for you to go.”
“Okay, okay, honey, I’m just trying to return the favour to Carmilla here,” Laura’s dad said. “Jeez.” With one hand on the cab door, he looked at Laura and Carmilla. “You two have fun tonight, but not too much fun.” He winked, and Laura felt like she was having an aneurysm. “We have a flight to catch tomorrow. Good night, Carmilla.”
“Good night, Sherman,” Carmilla said.
With a final wave, he got into the cab.
The cab pulled away from the curb and rejoined the traffic of the New York streets. Laura turned to Carmilla, who was smiling at her. “So…” Laura said. “Now that that’s over…”
“Where would you like to go?” Carmilla asked.
They ended up at a nearby late night dessert café that Broadway audiences often went to after a show. Most of that crowd were beginning to clear out. Carmilla ordered another hot chocolate for Laura and black tea for herself, and then settled into their table for two.
“So,” Laura said.
“So,” Carmilla said back. “How did your dad know that you were gay before you even told him?”
Laura’s eyes widened. “He told you that?” In her head, she tried to recall all the times she had left Carmilla alone with her father. And then she began to recall all the embarrassing stories her father could have told Carmilla in that amount of time.
“Well, he told me that much,” Carmilla said. “Oh, don’t look so worried! He didn’t tell me anything else.”
“Sorry,” Laura said. “I’m just trying to think of the context of when and why he would have mentioned that.”
“It was during that conversation last night when –”
“Wait! I know which one you’re talking about, and I’d prefer that you spare me the humiliation,” Laura said. “Carm, I’m so sorry my dad… put you through that. That’s super embarrassing.”
“I didn’t mind, really,” Carmilla said. “Your dad loves you. He might be a bigger fan of you than I am.”
Laura inched forward in her seat. “Fan, huh?”
“Are you going to tell me the story or not?” Carmilla asked.
“Fine,” Laura said. Honestly, it wasn’t that embarrassing. “I was neither a tomboy or a girly girl growing up, really –”
“Which made you a tomboy.” Carmilla shrugged. “I don’t make the rules.”
That was true. “Well, yeah,” Laura said. “Anyway, I was more of a bookworm, nerd-type kid.” She watched as Carmilla opened her mouth to interrupt, but she raised a finger. “Yeah, I know I still am. By the time I was twelve I was kinda sure that I was never going to be interested in boys, so I threw myself into fandoms and hoped my dad would think I was just going to be one of those Comic Con girls who likes fictional universes more than looking for boys to date.”
“Bet your dad loved not having to worry about you on that front,” Carmilla said.
“Oh, definitely. But anyway, he was driving me to university at the beginning of my first year. I guess he was finally worried that me being away from home would mean that I would start looking for boys, so he started rambling on about what college boys are like. And it was getting uncomfortable so I was like –”
“Laura, you did not come out to your dad in a moving vehicle!”
“I did ! I really did.” Laura laughed just thinking about it. That was pretty much the rule number one of coming out to a family member or a close friend. “I told him, ‘Dad, I don’t think it’s the boys that you need to worry about. I’m a lesbian.’”
“Holy shit. What did he say?” Carmilla asked.
“No joke, he said, ‘Thank god you finally said it,’ and told me that he had suspected that I had something going on with this girl who was my writing partner for the school newspaper,” Laura said.
“And was there something going on?”
“Oh, yeah,” Laura said. “She wasn’t even my writing partner. That was a boy. She was on the newspaper staff though, and we liked each other, I guess.” She could hardly call it a romance. It was just fooling around for a couple of months until they finally graduated. Laura had awkward, fumbling sex with her at the beginning of the summer, but after that, they both grew distant and only saw each other in large social gatherings until they both went away to university.
“ Laura !” Carmilla said. She was clearly not expecting Laura to have engaged in that sort of behaviour.
“Anyway, I denied that to my dad. I mean, there were nights that she stayed over and everything!” Laura said. “So he’s like, ‘Well, I still had a feeling anyway, because throughout high school you’ve been weirdly obsessed with Lois Lane and Jean Grey and all the women in those shows and comics you like so much.’”
“Oh, good choice.” Carmilla murmured appreciatively. “I’m more of an Ororo Munroe and Rogue girl, myself. Maybe a Fleur Delacour.”
“So what the hell are you doing with me then?”
“They’re fictional, cupcake.” Carmilla laughed. “So basically, your nerdiness gave away the fact that you liked girls.”
“Pretty much.” Laura shrugged. “What about you? How did you come out to your parents?”
“Oh, I didn’t have to. When I was seventeen I went out partying with some of my castmates on this teen show I was working on, and the Austrian tabloids caught me kissing one of them out on the street. They wouldn’t stop talking about it for a month. Her name’s Ell, and I was playing her best friend on the show.” Carmilla’s tone was casual, but Laura could see a hint of sadness in her eyes. “My parents were shocked, but they were more concerned about how it would affect my career. When our contracts ended, Ell and I went to university. I stayed in Vienna, but she moved to Berlin. She still works there. Neither of us had trouble finding acting jobs after, so… I guess it worked out okay.”
“Wow.” That was a sobering story. “Were you,” Laura cleared her throat, “were you two in love?”
“As in love as you could be at that age,” Carmilla said. “We didn’t keep in touch, but I’m happy for her. She’s landing a lot of roles, and she’s starting to make a proper name for herself.”
“Well, maybe she’s happy for you too,” Laura said. “I mean, I would be. If someone tried to wreck my life at seventeen and I came out of the whole thing stronger? Someone better be proud.”
“Hmm. That puts things in perspective, doesn’t it?” A slow, acceptant smile appeared on Carmilla’s face. It seemed like whatever happened in the past had been troubling her for a while, and that she needed the reassurance. Laura might have just given it to her, albeit inadvertently.
It was over another month before Carmilla had the time to see Laura again. She went to the producers and asked for a three-day leave. All the principal actors were contractually entitled to one of these throughout the course of their run. On Friday morning, she flew out to Toronto. This time, she was going to try something new.
The reception of the school Laura worked at was not unlike what she remembered of her school’s reception back in Austria. Same wooden counter with the same pleasant, middle-aged lady behind it, same frames hung up on the wall, and the same clearfile of student achievements placed carefully on the coffee table by the cosy chairs.
“Excuse me, Miss Karnstein,” the receptionist caught her attention. “I just got off the phone with Miss Hollis. She says she’ll be on her way.”
“Perfect. Thank you,” Carmilla said.
A couple of minutes later, Laura burst through the internal set of doors, looking harried and confused. “Carm? What are you doing here?” she asked.
Carmilla smiled as she stood up. “Surprise,” she said. “I took some time off work, decided to visit you.” With her toe, she nudged her weekender bag, which was on the floor. The shock hadn’t worn off from Laura’s face. “Is that okay?”
“Uh, of course it’s okay,” Laura said. She shook back the sleeve of her blazer to look at her watch. “Sorry, I know you assumed the school day was over, but I’ve got a thing on tonight. Do you want the keys to my place and you can just Uber?”
“Oh, sh–” Carmilla caught herself, “ shoot . I’m not very good at this surprise thing, am I?”
Laura chuckled. “Yeah, you could do a bit of work on that,” she said.
“So, where are you off to tonight?” Carmilla asked. “History club quiz night? Settlers of Catan championships? Debating tournament?”
“The High School Newspaper Awards, actually,” Laura said. “Hence the getup.” She gestured at her outfit: a well-fitting navy suit jacket and trousers, a light pink button down, and dark brown loafers.
“You mean you don’t wear a suit to work every day?” Carmilla asked. “That’s a shame.”
“Oh, shut up,” Laura said.
“Is it all right if I come with you?” Carmilla asked. “Or is it one of those fancy, RSVP-only events?”
“It’s open to the public,” Laura said. “It’s just set in one of the nice auditoriums in town. It’ll take a couple of hours, though. I’m actually taking the kids to get some food first. You don’t wanna go there hungry, trust me.”
“So can I come?” Carmilla asked. She suddenly felt self-conscious about wearing a denim jacket and black jeans—her comfiest pair. “I know I’m a bit underdressed.”
“Actually, you’re not,” Laura said. “The principal just likes that the staff and students present themselves well at these events, you see. In case we get called up to win a prize. It looks good in the photos.”
“Right,” Carmilla said.
“So you’re coming?”
“I guess I am.”
“Cool.” Laura grinned. “Wait here, I’m gonna go back to my classroom to get the students and then we’ll meet you back here, then we’ll head over to my car together.”
Laura returned a moment later with two teenagers, a girl and a boy, that were taller than both of them. They were dressed like they were going to work at an actual newsroom, except for the bulging backpacks strapped to their bodies. They introduced themselves as Rory and Matthew. Laura introduced Carmilla as her “friend from New York”.
They got in the car and Laura drove them to a burger joint and declared the dinner her treat. “Petty cash from the extracurricular fund,” she muttered at Carmilla, as the students decided on what they wanted to order.
Dinner was more fun and interesting than Carmilla had expected. Rory and Matthew were bright and articulate teenagers, and they seemed fond of Laura. It was nice to see Laura in a different setting and interacting with different people.
The High School Newspaper Awards lasted for an hour and a half, but it felt much longer. Although the event was open to members of the public, there weren’t many of them there. There were a few parents and other teenagers, presumably schoolmates, but the majority of the people in the auditorium were teachers and the student representatives.
During lulls in the ceremony—and there were plenty—Carmilla noticed that a lot of the teenagers were on their phones. She couldn’t blame them; she was attached to her phone as well. But she had expected them to have more self-control, particularly at an event like this. Some of them were taking pictures !
Towards the end of the evening, Laura and her students were called up on stage to receive the award for Best Critical Writing. Carmilla watched as Rory and Matthew gushed about their experiences with the student newspaper, and profusely thanked Laura for her guidance. Soon after that, the night was over. The ride home was a happy one, with the two students leading the conversation. Laura drove them both to their houses.
Stopped at a traffic light on the way back to Laura’s apartment, Laura turned to Carmilla. “Do you wanna stop someplace before we get home? Supermarket, Starbucks, Home Depot…”
“It was the first thing that came to mind,” Laura said. “Is Costco a better option?”
“Laura.” Carmilla laughed. “Let’s go back to your place.” Anticipation was building in the pit of her stomach. For the first time in a long time, she was going to be alone with Laura. Properly alone.
The light turned green.
Laura gasped as the cold air from outside swept over her chest and stomach. “Carmilla, seriously?” she asked. “Can we at least shut the door first?”
As she was busily kissing her way down the goosebumped skin of Laura’s breasts, Carmilla made a small noise of protest.
Carmilla raised her head and glared at Laura. “You’re killing me, Hollis.” She took a step to her right to close the door and lock it.
Laura, her back against the wall, took this as a chance to catch her breath. “Potentially catching the flu or attracting night burglars is your idea of having fun?” Carmilla was fiddling with the door locks, and although the outside air was gone, Laura still felt cold without Carmilla pressed against her. Of course, sometime in the first couple of minutes of getting inside the house, Carmilla had managed to untuck and unbutton her shirt—while still leaving her suit jacket on.
“There,” Carmilla said, clicking the last bolt into place. “Why do you have four locks on your door?”
“It used to be two, but my dad came to visit last year and had a very stern talk with my landlady,” Laura said. “But Carmilla?”
Laura gestured to her open shirt. “Come here. I’m starting to feel ridiculous.”
“Oh, god forbid ,” Carmilla said sarcastically. But she pressed the length of her body against Laura’s and pinned her against the wall, her lips nipping at Laura’s neck. She slipped her hands under the fabric of Laura’s shirt and roamed up and down her sides. “You should wear suits more often,” she whispered in Laura’s ear.
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Laura said. She chose not to tell Carmilla that wearing suits made her feel like Leslie Knope, which erred on the non-sexy side of powerful. Laura’s hands moved from Carmilla’s hips to her neck, sliding up to cup her face. She tilted Carmilla’s head upwards and pulled her in for a kiss. She couldn’t help moaning as Carmilla’s tongue slipped into her mouth.
Carmilla’s hands skated lightly across her ribs before moving up to Laura’s breasts.
The filthiest noises emerged from Laura’s throat. She could feel Carmilla smirk against her lips, but Laura wasn’t even ashamed. She couldn’t even fathom being ashamed. It had been a long time since she last had this. She felt Carmilla reach around to her back to the clasp of her bra. She broke the kiss and pushed Carmilla a bit backwards.
Carmilla looked confused as Laura grasped the lapels of her jacket and push it off her shoulders. She obliged and shrugged the jacket off, onto the floor. She pulled her grey t-shirt off as well. And then she looked expectantly at Laura.
Even in the darkness of her hallway, Laura could see the desire in Carmilla’s eyes. She stepped forward, took her jacket off, and hung it on her coat tree—it was expensive ! And then she faced Carmilla, who had the gall to look amused. Laura smiled. Her shirt joined Carmilla’s t-shirt and jacket. Her bra followed immediately after. She kicked her shoes off. “Race you.” She didn’t even bother to hear Carmilla’s response as she made a beeline for her bedroom.
Carmilla found Laura standing by the bed, in her bra and underwear, her suit pants tossed on small stool in front of her dresser. But Carmilla had already gone one better. On her way to Laura’s room, she had gotten rid of most of her items of clothing. All she had left on was her underwear.
Laura didn’t swear very often, but if any situation deserved some well-timed profanity, it was this one. “Fuck.”
“That’s right.” Carmilla was clearly smug at the effect she had on Laura. She hooked a thumb on the waistband of her underwear. “Are you going to take this off or am I going to have to do it myself?”
Laura’s response was to rush forward, grab Carmilla by the hips, and turn them around so she could push Carmilla onto the bed.
They exhausted themselves after several rounds. They held onto each other, not speaking, as they caught their breath. Finally, they settled into a comfortable silence. They were under the covers. Laura was spooning Carmilla, and her nose was nestled in the space that connected Carmilla’s neck and shoulder. She pressed soft kisses on the skin there.
Carmilla responded with murmurs of happiness. “You like teaching, huh?” she asked.
Laura stopped kissing her. “Uh, yeah, I love it,” she said. “But that’s a strange question to ask.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. Would you prefer more conventional topics of pillow talk?”
“I don’t even know,” Carmilla said. “But I can see that you love teaching. You and those kids today… That was nice to see. I’ve never seen you like that before. You were in your element.”
“Wait until you see me with Grade 9s last period on a Friday,” Laura joked. “That is totally not my element.”
“Why did you decide to become a teacher?” Carmilla asked.
“Well,” Laura took a deep breath and pulled Carmilla closer, “I always thought that I’d do well in any career that involved me working with people. So I went to university with that in mind. That I was gonna become someone who was gonna work with people. I thought about a few things, like social work, and nursing, and community organising, all that… But in the end, teaching won out. I made that choice and never looked back.”
“There are days. Grade 9 last period on a Friday kind of days.” Laura chuckled. “What about you, though? Why are you an actor?”
“I tried it when I was nine and I thought I was good at it, and apparently everybody else did, so I just kept doing it and nobody really stopped me,” Carmilla said. “Also, sometimes being on stage or behind a camera is easier than being a real person. I like acting because it lets me have that.”
“How so?” Laura asked. “I mean, how is being a fictional character easier than being a real person?”
“Most of the characters I’ve played have a lot more guts than I do,” Carmilla said.
“I think you’re a pretty gutsy person,” Laura said. “I mean, you have shown up unannounced at my figurative front door twice now, just expecting me to drop everything for you.”
“I don’t expect you to but you do it anyway,” Carmilla said.
“You know, before we know it, it’ll be a year since we first met. And in that time, you’re the only person I’ve made time for like this,” Laura said. “And to be honest, Carm, I’m kinda sick of pretending that we’re just friends.”
Carmilla wriggled out of Laura’s arms so she could turn around and face her. “What?”
Despite the confidence in her voice, Laura looked nervous. “I like you,” she said. “I know that we agreed that this was just going to be fun and casual, and that we didn’t need to make it any more complicated than it is, but I like you.”
But once Laura got started, she kept going: “And guess what? I didn’t want to like you. Not in the way I do now, anyway. But god, you made it so hard! The trips to New York, the after-work messages and phone conversations… you being so good with my dad! That was the last straw for me, anyway, the fact that you really made an effort when most people wouldn’t have. And I know I’m stupid because I know that you’re in New York right now, and I have no plans of leaving Toronto, but sooner or later you’re gonna go back to Vienna –”
“Laura, listen,” Carmilla said. She felt a laugh bubbling in her stomach. “I’m not going back to Vienna anytime soon.”
“With all that happened tonight, I forgot to tell you why I actually came to Toronto.”
“The show got picked up for Broadway. It’s debuting in November for a yearlong run. The producers have been asking the cast on whether we wanted to stay on,” Carmilla told her. The last week had been a whirlwind. When she wasn’t on stage, she was in and out of meetings with producers and Skype calls with Will. “When I get back to New York, I’ll be signing a contract that keeps me in the city at least until May next year.”
“Oh my god. Seriously?”
Carmilla nodded. “I’m shocked too, honestly,” she said. “It became more popular than anyone imagined.”
“What does your manager think about that?” Laura asked. “Isn’t she dying for you to get back to Austria?”
“I haven’t spoken to her yet, but I asked the producers to forward the details onto Will,” Carmilla said. “She’s not going to be too happy.” Lilita Morgan had been pulling strings left and right, offering Carmilla potential roles that might just entice her to cross the Atlantic. “When she took me on after I got out of the seminar, she did it because she wanted to build me up to be the next big thing in Europe. Like the Léa Seydoux of Austria.”
Laura made a show of examining Carmilla’s face. “More like the Alicia Vikander,” she said.
“Only Alicia Vikander can be Alicia Vikander,” Carmilla said.
“One day they’ll be saying that about you. Besides, she has awful taste in men,” Laura said.
“Well, I don’t have a taste for men at all.”
Laura laughed. “Trust me, I know.” With her fingers, she began to trace circles on Carmilla’s bare arm. “Wow. You’re gonna be on Broadway, huh?”
“Yes, and most importantly, I get to be in New York for another year,” Carmilla said.
“So we’re just gonna keep doing what we’re doing?” Laura looked hopeful.
“Well, I don’t know what you want to do,” Carmilla said. “But I like you, too. In the same way you like me… I think I’ve liked you since I bought you that ticket to New York.” As soon as she saw Laura’s eyes light up, excitement coursed through her veins. She spoke quickly. “I was thinking, we finish on Off-Broadway in the middle of June, and I’ll have a couple of months off. Why don’t we spend that together? Don’t you have the summers off? We could go somewhere, or we could stay in New York, or here in Toronto…”
“Whoa, Carmilla, wait,” Laura said. “I’m glad you like me back, but are you asking me to U-Haul with you? This is all a bit too fast!”
“You did say, before we know it, it’ll be a year,” Carmilla said. “It’s just a holiday together. One that maybe doesn’t include your dad.”
“What do you have against my dad?” Laura asked jokingly.
“Oh, nothing.” Carmilla inched forward. She reached out to push Laura’s hair out of her face. “I just want you all to myself.”
“Yeah?” Carmilla leaned in to kiss Laura slowly and tenderly. The kiss eventually deepened. Carmilla felt Laura’s arm snake around her torso and pull their bodies flush against each other. She sighed into Laura’s mouth. She realised that she hadn’t felt like this about anyone in a long time. And that she had felt like this about Laura for a long time. It had taken a while for her to be honest—to herself, and to Laura—but she was finally there. They both were. That was what counted, right?
Nothing had really changed between them, in terms of their routine when they were together. The level of affection, the depth of conversation, the sex… It was as if their conversation last night was less an admission, but more of a confirmation of what was going on all along.
Saturday was spent in a daze. Laura and Carmilla didn’t talk further about their relationship. They were too busy enjoying each other. The logistics and the specifics could come later. When Carmilla’s play was finished. When Laura had the summer off. What they were putting first was the fact that they were finally honest with each other about their feelings. There was no hurry. At least that was what Laura was telling herself.
On Sunday, they finished cleaning up after breakfast and decided to watch some Netflix. They ended up making out on the couch, and things were getting heavier and heavier until a ringing phone startled them. “I think it’s mine,” Carmilla panted.
Laura got off from her place straddling Carmilla’s lap. She settled into the couch with a groan.
Carmilla stood up and disappeared into Laura’s bedroom. She emerged a few seconds later speaking rapid fire German into the phone. She looked pissed off, and it didn’t look like it was just because someone interrupted her. She ran a hand through her already-messy hair, exhaled heavily, then shot Laura an apologetic look, before walking back into the room.
A couple of minutes later, she emerged frazzled. “Laura.” She was waving her phone around. “Do you have a Tumblr?”
Laura had an account that she used semi-regularly, mostly to kill time when she was extremely bored. “Yeah, let me just grab my laptop,” she said. She logged onto the website after her laptop was powered up.
Carmilla sat next to her on the couch. “Search my name.”
Laura typed Carmilla Karnstein into the search bar, and her heart dropped as soon as she saw photographs of Carmilla in the auditorium during the High School Newspaper Awards. She scrolled down the page. There were photos of her and Carmilla talking in the lobby after the awards. There was one where she had her arm around Carmilla’s waist, presumably leading her somewhere, but the intimacy of the gesture was blatant in the photo. There were photos of the two of them surreptitiously touching hands while sitting down in the auditorium. Photos of Carmilla talking to her students.
There were different photos too, mostly screencaps and GIFsets of Carmilla in films, and even a few from her older TV shows. There were at least a hundred notes on a handful of these, indicating that Carmilla had a following on Tumblr. A tiny one, but a following nonetheless. There was one GIFset that was a collection of her various projects, with a caption that read: wlw actresses [23/?]: carmilla karnstein .
Carmilla must have spotted it too, because she asked: “WLW?”
“Women loving women,” Laura answered.
“Okay.” There was a tremor in Carmilla’s voice as she read out a caption under a photoset that included the one where Laura’s arm was around her waist. “So, I was at a thing for the school newspaper when I saw Carmilla Karnstein in the audience! At first, I thought I was just seeing things, but then as the night went on I got pretty sure that was definitely her. That lady she’s with is one of the teachers from one of the schools there. I know Carmilla is openly WLW and I know she’s been doing that play in New York… So this could be a Canadian girlfriend.” Carmilla finished reading with a grim expression on her face.
“Oh, crap,” Laura said.
I may have mentioned this before, but this was my favourite chapter to write. Don't you just love Sherman Hollis?
Keep your comments and messages coming! I'm so glad you're enjoying the story so far. Thank you so much for reading.
Next week—shit gets real.
Things were not going the way Carmilla expected them to go. After the indignant phone call from Mattie, she received a message from Will saying that he was on the next flight out to Toronto. Carmilla didn’t want him anywhere Laura was, so she told him that they would meet in his hotel room on Monday, while Laura was at work. When Monday morning came, Carmilla kissed Laura goodbye, watched Laura drive away, and then she got ready. She thought she had a battle on her hands.
But no, that was not what she got. Carmilla could tell as soon as Will opened his hotel room that he was exhausted, but there was something else there. Will came to Toronto with ideas. He was prepared to work. He had his laptop and tablet set up on the table in the hotel room.
“What’s all this?” Carmilla asked. Before Will could start talking, she cut in again: “And get straight to the point. If I’m in trouble, you should tell me.”
“Take a seat, Carmilla,” Will said.
“Tell me, William.”
Will ran a hand through his already-dishevelled hair. “You’re not in trouble. Lilita didn’t send me here to deliver bad news,” he said. “We have some ideas for you.”
“Sit down,” Will said. When Carmilla didn’t budge, he took a seat and gestured to the empty one on the other side of the table.
Carmilla relented and sat down. “All right, so what ideas?” she asked.
“Look, Lilita admits that she was a little misguided in terms of what she wanted for your career. The stuff online? They just proved that she wasn’t looking in the right direction,” Will said. “You’re young, you’re attractive, but, to use Lilita’s words, you shouldn’t be peddled to the wrinkly old perverts that roam the European film circuit.”
“I don’t think I should be peddled at all,” Carmilla said. She had no idea what Will—well, really, what Lilita Morgan—was getting at.
Will cringed. “Oh, of course not. That’s not what she was trying to say,” he defended lamely. He cleared his throat and took a moment to collect himself. “Lilita has gotten in touch with lesbian and gay producers and directors all over Austria, seeing if they would like you as the lead for their next project. She has received quite a few responses, and we’ve narrowed it down to six offers.” He tapped a key on his laptop and turned it towards Carmilla. “She’d like you to pick the two you’d like to do.”
“Hang on, wait.” Carmilla waved the laptop away. “I feel like I’m missing something here. Why did she do all this?”
“Carmilla, don’t you get it? She’s seen that you have an online fanbase. Sure, in terms of numbers, it’s a small one, but there’s a lot of room for growth. And fans that are developed in an organic way like this—and by this, I mean through online communities—have a lot of staying power. A lot of loyalty. An international loyalty, too. It’s genuinely valuable, you know?” Will explained. “When we found these posts online, Lilita was astounded . Now she’s kicking herself for not securing you a lesbian role sooner.”
Carmilla didn’t know whether to be surprised or to be angry. Her documented presence at some nerdy high school event was probably a radioactive bomb of privacy violations on Laura’s end, but all her management could think about was that they never thought to get her—an out lesbian actress—a role where she played a lesbian? She pulled the laptop towards her and scrolled through the project synopses she was given. Admittedly, there were a couple that caught her eye. “Will, Lilita does know that the play I’m in just got picked up for Broadway, right?” she asked. “And that it’s my intention to continue to portray my character there, too.”
“Lilita managed to pull this off for you in such a short amount of time, you know,” Will said. “Less than twenty-four hours, in fact.”
“Of course she did.” Carmilla didn’t meant to come off as ungrateful; she was aware of how fortunate she was as a young actress. Being the favourite of an entertainment powerhouse in Austria meant that she was auditioning significantly less than others her age. She was discovering that there a price to pay for that.
“Yeah, and besides,” Will scratched his head, “you haven’t even signed the contract for Broadway yet.”
“That’s the first thing I’m doing when I get back to New York,” Carmilla said.
“Carmilla, some of these projects only get offered once, and for most people, they don’t get offered at all,” Will said. “And you’re going to pass over them for some Broadway play? You said it yourself before, right? Theatre isn’t as democratic as film. We know that you have the opportunity to reach more people with these projects.”
Carmilla pinched the bridge of her nose. She wasn’t a fan of people using her own words against her. Yes, theatre wasn’t as accessible as film, but it wasn’t like she was going to quit film. She signed onto that play because it was a story that she believed in. And if Lilita Morgan wasn’t going to allow her to do the projects that she believed in, then what was the use of having an industry heavyweight for a manager? But wasn’t worth arguing with Will, so she took the defensive. “My, my, William. I’ve never heard you speak with that much conviction,” she said. “Is it really you talking, or is it Lilita?”
“She warned me you’d do this,” Will said. “It’s that woman, isn’t it? The one in the photos. You don’t want to leave because of her.”
Carmilla didn’t respond immediately. Doing so would have meant playing into Will’s—and Lilita’s—hands. Instead, she uncrossed her legs. “Tell Lilita that I’m grateful that she went to all that trouble, but I committed to this play, so I won’t be available until May next year,” she said. “Tell her that if she prefers, I’ll contact those producers and directors and explain the situation myself.” She stood up and smoothed down her clothes. “And tell her that perhaps listening to the people she manages would be a better course of action. You know, for the future. Good talk, Will. I’ll see you later.” She didn’t give Will an opportunity to respond. She simply went straight out the door.
People who knew Laura would say that she was honest to a fault. Indeed, Laura prided herself on her integrity, no matter how much it scared her. No matter how much others would have said that it was unnecessary. Her Monday went by uneventfully. There were no mentions of the fact that potentially hundreds of teenage girls would have seen her photos with Carmilla. But at the end of the day, she still knocked on the door of Elizabeth Cochran, the school principal and her boss. She told her everything . She knew that it was probably too personal for what one would usually tell their boss, but Laura felt like she needed to cover her bases.
After Laura had finished explaining, Cochran pressed her steepled fingers to her lips for a moment, and then lowered her hands. “I appreciate that you told me this, Laura, but if I may backtrack a little bit,” she said. “Why would anyone from the Toronto High School Newspaper awards recognise your,” she cleared her throat, “friend?”
“Just one of those strange overlaps where a diehard film-slash-theatre nerd also happens to be on their school newspaper staff, I guess,” Laura said.
“Interesting. I’ve never noticed that intersection, but I suppose it makes sense,” Cochran said. “Did the students you were with—sorry, what are their names again?”
“Rory and Matthew.”
“Yes, Rory and Matthew. Did they approach you about their pictures being online, for other people to see?”
“I don’t think they know,” Laura said. “Which is why I came to you first. I wanted to be preemptive and proactive, you see. I don’t want them or their parents to think that I intentionally violated their privacy.”
Cochran pursed her lips. “How old are you again?” she asked.
Laura frowned at the question. “Twenty-six, ma’am.”
“So, you’re rather young. I would think that you wouldn’t fuss over a situation like this half as much as you are currently fussing over it,” Cochran said. Was Laura’s mind playing tricks on her or did Cochran sound amused ? “It’s the internet age, Laura. I would have thought that your generation, of all people, would be a bit more blasé about things ending up online. Especially if they’re not incriminating.”
“As I said, it’s not the nature of the pictures, it’s that there are students in some of them.”
“I don’t think it’s that. You know what I think? You’re running to the wrong place, Laura.” Cochran waited for Laura to shake her head before she continued. “Listen to me. I think that what you’re really worried about is that these photos being out there, being taken by people you don’t know, means that whatever’s going on between you and your friend has been defined by strangers. And you don’t want anyone else to define it for you.”
Well. Laura was speechless. That was exactly it. She knew that the photos ignited a flurry from Carmilla’s people in Vienna, but even Carmilla wasn’t clear on why they were freaking out. But the fuss over it from their end was enough to make Laura worry. The families of the school she worked at was decidedly white collar, but these parents still had enough litigious instincts to have money for lawyers. And in the age of social media, parents loved to feel like they can exercise control over their children’s privacy. The truth was that they couldn’t, and more and more of them were learning that. If they set lawyers on anyone who ever posted a photo of their kid without permission, they’d be broke. Laura knew this, and Cochran knew that she knew this. No, Laura’s problem was about something far removed from parents and their lawyers.
Cochran smiled patiently at Laura. “Tell me something,” she said. “This actress friend of yours… are you two just dead set on fooling around?”
“Principal Cochran!” Laura exclaimed. She was mortified. And she had just told her principal that there were photos of her and Carmilla—her friend with benefits? Fuck buddy?—online! She was hoping that was about as personal as this talk would go. Sure, she had always felt a kinship with Elizabeth Cochran, which was reciprocated. She did mentor Laura during her beginning years of teaching. Before she took up a leadership position, Cochran used to teach the same classes Laura did, and she was in charge of the school newspaper. Still, Cochran was a consummate professional, which Laura admired. In their relationship as mentor-mentee, their conversations rarely got personal.
“I don’t think so, but we haven’t really talked about it yet,” Laura admitted. Yes, they did talk on Friday night, but besides admitting their feelings to each other, they hadn’t figured out how the relationship would work.
“Okay.” Cochran nodded, as if she had the solution to Laura’s problems. “Thank you, Laura, for giving me the heads up about the photos. This shows that as a teacher, you’re willing to be accountable for actions that happen off-campus that might affect your standing here. But—and please allow me to overstep my boundaries here as your principal and colleague –”
“You mean more than you already have?” Laura didn’t mean to say that out loud. “Oh!” she clapped her hands over her mouth.
Cochran smiled at her tightly before continuing. “What you’re struggling with here has very little to do with you being a teacher.”
Laura considered that. “So my job’s safe?” she asked sheepishly.
“The nerve of that comment aside—though you are probably right—your job was never in danger in the first place,” Cochran said. “You better head home. I’m not the person you need to be talking to right now.”
Before she drove out of the parking lot, Laura sent Carmilla a message: Leaving school now. Are you home?
Carmilla’s reply was almost immediate: Yes .
“When are you going back to New York?” Mattie asked her. Carmilla sent her a message when she rode the streetcar back from Will’s hotel, and they had been talking on Skype as soon as she arrived at Laura’s apartment.
“Tomorrow night,” Carmilla said. “I have a meeting with the producers on Wednesday to sign the Broadway contract.”
“Are you still going to sign it?” Mattie asked. “For all you know, Lilita might have already contacted the producers for you.”
“Fuck.” Carmilla didn’t think of that. “They would’ve gotten in touch with me, right? If Lilita had ‘changed my mind’ for me. They would try to call me and confirm that.”
“I would assume so,” Mattie said. On Carmilla’s tablet screen, she leaned forward and squinted. “Where are you, by the way? Are you at Laura’s house?” Despite the situation, her smirk was silly and teasing.
“I am,” Carmilla said. “She’s on her way back from work.”
“Oh, how awfully domestic!” Mattie giggled. “I know you didn’t answer Will, but you can be honest with me, Carm. Are you staying in New York because of her?”
Carmilla sighed. She had been thinking about that a lot. It wasn’t that Lilita was being malevolent with her intentions of bringing Carmilla back to Vienna. She was controlling and self-interested, yes, but she hadn’t done anything wrong . She used her connections and got projects that fit with what Carmilla wanted. If it wasn’t for the play. But was it really because of the play or was it because of Laura? It was an excellent play, but it wasn’t too long ago when Carmilla was at Cannes, in Venice, Berlin, Toronto, promoting projects she loved just as much.
“You are, aren’t you?” Mattie asked.
Carmilla twirled the cord of her earphones around her finger. “Honestly, Mattie, I don’t know.”
“Are you in love with her?” Mattie always did get straight to the point.
“I don’t know that either.”
“Then what do you know?” Even from the pixelated screen—Mattie’s internet connection from her quaint terraced house in Nice wasn’t the greatest—Carmilla could feel Mattie’s stare breaking down her resolve.
“What do I know?” Carmilla sighed. She raked her fingers through her hair. “What I know is that the weather here is crappy, New York is just too crowded, and nobody knows how to drink coffee properly. What I know is that I miss Vienna, but not that much. I enjoy performing on stage, Mattie. I’m gonna be on Broadway!” Getting carried away with herself, she smiled. “And I don’t know what I’m going to do after that but I’m learning to be adventurous. Maybe it’s New York, maybe it’s Laura, maybe it’s being away from Lilita…”
“But mostly Laura, right?” Mattie asked. “She’s the biggest factor that’s changed. She wasn’t even a blip on the radar when you auditioned for that play.”
“We had already met then, yes, but she was…we were... We were just playing around,” Carmilla said. “I don’t think we’re just playing around anymore. I don’t want to call it love or anything like that. But it’s not playing around.”
Mattie chuckled. “You were always such a sap, Carm.”
Carmilla heard the whirr of a car approaching. She turned her head and saw Laura’s blue hatchback through the gap in the blinds. She turned back to Mattie. “Hey, Laura’s back,” she said. “I’ll talk to you later?”
“Of course, just send me a message,” Mattie said. “You need to do some thinking, and you need to talk to Laura.”
“I know,” Carmilla said. “And I need to talk to Lilita, too.”
“Oh, fuck Lilita,” Mattie said, in an emphatic use of English. In German, she continued: “She can bring you all the fame and fortune but you’re always going to have to put her first. You’ve seen that, haven’t you?”
Carmilla had seen it. It happened to Mattie. But Mattie was smarter than her. She didn’t know if she would be able to pull off what Mattie had done for herself.
“Look, darling, I should leave you alone,” Mattie said. “But just remember: you’ve been putting yourself first ever since you decided to move to New York. I don’t see any reason why you should stop now, when you’ve been doing so well. Don’t let Lilita sway you.”
The locks on the door clicked open one by one. “I won’t,” Carmilla said. “I’ll get in touch with you later, Mattie. Bye.”
The door swung open, and Laura walked in, her blazer draped over one arm, and her backpack hanging over her other shoulder. She nudged the door shut with her heel. She smiled at Carmilla, warm and bright. “Hey,” she said.
“So… we should talk.”
It went against her dad’s advice, but Laura drove home anxious and distracted. She was relieved that she wasn’t in trouble, but as her talk with Cochran made her realise, that was the least of her problems. When she arrived at her apartment, Carmilla was at the dining table with her tablet, the lit screen of which indicated that she had just finished a Skype call.
“Uh.” Laura gestured at the screen. “Was that your manager just then?”
“No, it wasn’t,” Carmilla said. “It was Mattie. She’s an actress too. We were on the same show growing up, so I guess she’s my best friend.” Her accent was more pronounced than usual, so Laura assumed that she had been talking for a while. “So, tell me about your meeting with the principal.”
Laura removed her shoes, tossed her blazer and bag on the couch, and sat at the dining table across from Carmilla. She told her the short version of the story, leaving out the part where Cochran tried to give her relationship advice. Carmilla looked more and more relaxed as Laura talked. Laura guessed that she felt relieved as well. When she finished the story, she asked Carmilla: “What about you? Didn’t you see Will today?”
“I did, earlier.” Carmilla’s expression morphed into a deep frown. “I’m not in trouble either.”
“So why the long face?”
Carmilla shook her head. “My manager has found a way to leverage my small internet presence into what she believes will be worldwide fame,” she said. “She’s discovered that an audience of women who are into women actually makes for a permanent fanbase.”
“Clearly she didn’t watch Xena: Warrior Princess ,” Laura said. Carmilla didn’t tell many stories about her manager, but from the little Laura knew, Lilita Morgan was a bit stuck in her ways. “But you know, isn’t that a good thing? Like, we still can’t discount the power of word-of-mouth, especially as social media is word-of-mouth on steroids.”
“It would be a good thing if she wasn’t twisting my arm.” Carmilla sighed. “She really wants me to go back to Vienna. At any cost.”
“Well, that’s old news, isn’t it?”
“It’s different this time around.”
Carmilla rubbed the back of her neck. Laura noticed that she was getting tense again. “Lilita seems to think she’s got it figured out. She thinks that if she pushes me towards lesbian projects, I’d be more inclined to go back and continue my career in Europe,” she said. “She just… She’s just refusing to understand that I’m committed to staying in New York. It’s like talking to a fucking brick wall.” Her tablet beeped. She turned on the screen to check the notifications. “Oh, look, it’s like I’ve conjured her.” She tapped on the notification, which opened an email. She let out a growl of frustration upon reading it.
“What did she say?” Laura asked.
“Oh, she just thought to email me the list of projects she thought I’d be a good fit in,” Carmilla said. She proceeded to tell Laura about how Lilita Morgan somehow managed to contact quite a few producers and directors in such a short amount of time on a Sunday .
“Oh okay, so she’s scarily efficient,” Laura said. She reached for the tablet. “May I?”
Carmilla handed it to her. “Sure.”
Laura read each synopsis carefully. The names attached to them weren’t familiar to her, but the stories were interesting. There was a typical offbeat, edgy, New Queer Cinema-type film, and there was a historical drama of a lesbian romance in Allied-occupied Austria. But what interested Laura was the indie romantic comedy about a small town ice cream store employee and an upper middle-class, city-educated tourist, and the family drama centred on a brother and sister on a road trip. She had been to enough film festivals to know that these kinds of concepts, if made well, were the ones people enjoyed seeing.
“You’ve never played a lesbian character before?” Laura asked.
“I didn’t feel like I had to,” Carmilla said. “I mean, my first role was someone’s daughter on a soap opera. And then I was on those teen after-school shows and I’d have male love interests. Then I was outed…” She shrugged. “I never felt a strong inclination to just play a lesbian character just because I’m a lesbian. That’s not the first thing I consider when I’m looking to play a role…”
Laura gave her a questioning look. “I feel like there’s a ‘but’ there.”
Carmilla hesitated. “Yes, you’re right, there is,” she eventually said. “Lilita had never disapproved of my sexuality but she did keep pushing me onto these projects where I was ostensibly straight or where I didn’t have a love interest at all. I just felt like she thought there was no future in doing a lesbian project, and I didn’t question that. It wasn’t like I ended up doing projects I didn’t like. But you know, she sent me these proposals and I just realised how she could actually get me projects that not only have a lesbian character, but also, these are actually roles I’d want to do… And I’m a bit frustrated that she never gave me that opportunity before.”
“Because now you’ve discovered she could actually make those opportunities happen for you?”
“Exactly,” Carmilla said.
“Carm, I think these projects are really good,” Laura said. “I mean, they’re not obvious box office hits, but if your manager really believes in the people behind them, you being attached to one of these could be something big.”
“I know that, Laura. Why do you think this is so difficult?” There was an edge of exasperation in Carmilla’s voice.
Laura frowned. “What’s difficult?”
“This. This whole thing!” Carmilla made a vague gesture with her hands. “I wouldn’t be where I am now if it wasn’t for Lilita. That’s the truth. Yes, I am a bit of a household name in Austria because I was on TV when I was younger, not to mention all the stuff that went down with Ell and the tabloids, but you know, I was getting my name out there. Not because of me, but because of Lilita. Yes, I had the talent, but that doesn’t mean anything if you don’t know anyone.” She buried her face in her hands, and then lifted her head after a moment. “I need you to tell me that I’m not throwing anything away by staying in New York for another year.”
Laura knew she couldn’t tell Carmilla that. Carmilla’s revelation that she was committing to stay in New York—on Laura’s side of the Atlantic—for another year gave her a sense of happiness she never knew she could feel from someone she never expected to fall for. She knew that Carmilla didn’t have to stay on; new casts came on Broadway from Off-Broadway shows all the time. Laura would never have the guts to ask, but she couldn’t stop wondering if Carmilla had chosen to stay on because of her. And if staying on because of Laura meant that Carmilla missed out on potentially amazing opportunities in Austria, then…
“Honestly, Carmilla?” Laura sighed. “I don’t think you’re throwing anything away. I think you’re great on stage, I think you’re doing well in New York. But I know that if I were you, and I was given projects like these? And I could have my pick? I would jump at the chance.” She shook her head. “But that’s just me.”
“Are you saying that I shouldn’t do the play?” Carmilla asked.
“I can’t answer that for you! It’s not fair for you to weigh that decision based on what I think,” Laura said.
The words burst out of Carmilla with an odd intensity: “But I care about you.”
And Laura felt the same way. Whatever this was with Carmilla, though, it was new. Not as new as it would seem, but it was newer than her dedication to her career, or Carmilla’s dedication to hers. Laura refused to let herself be held responsible for what will happen to Carmilla’s career. And so, because she valued her integrity and she valued her principles, she responded: “I care about you, too.” She felt like bursting into tears as soon as she saw a small spark of hope in Carmilla’s eyes.
“But?” Carmilla asked softly.
“I don’t think you should be putting us first.”
“What if staying in New York is, believe it or not, me putting myself first?”
“I don’t know!” Laura exclaimed. This was frustrating. She wanted Carmilla to stay but she wanted to make sure that Carmilla was doing it for the right reasons. “Look, you do whatever you want to do, but I want you to be realistic and do it for yourself—not for me, and not for us . Broadway is what, eight shows a week? And I can’t fly to New York every weekend. It was hard enough just being casual with you, so let’s be real. Even if you were in New York, what’s the likelihood that we would work out? You’re going to be so much busier.”
Carmilla looked like she had been slapped. Suddenly, she appeared to coil into herself, and her face took on an expression with which Laura was unfamiliar. Carmilla fell into this version of herself with unnerving ease. “All right,” she said. “I understand what you’re saying.” She reached out to take the tablet from Laura, and then she stood up from the table and started walking towards the bedroom.
“Where are you going?” Laura called after her.
“I’m booking a hotel room,” Carmilla said. “I don’t think I can stay here anymore.”
Later that evening, alone in her apartment, Laura admitted to herself that she might have gone too far.
Carmilla found New York a million times more irritating upon her return. The heat was starting to get sticky, the traffic was awful—New York drivers couldn’t stop using their damn horns—and her favourite café was closed for three weeks because, according to the note on the door, its owners had to go to New Zealand to attend to urgent matters. It seemed that when bad things happened to Carmilla, they just kept happening. She resolved to seize some good for herself.
On Wednesday morning, she went to her meeting with the producers with a changed mind. She was going to finish the run on Off-Broadway, but after that, she was moving back to Vienna. The producers were understanding of the reasons she gave them. They told her that it was no problem at all, they were re-auditioning a number of roles anyway, and they wished her well.
The next thing Carmilla did was call Lilita Morgan. She told her that she had made her choice. She named the two projects she wanted to work in the most. Expectedly, Lilita was smug, but Carmilla didn’t hesitate to shut her down. She had no time for Lilita gloating about how she clearly still ruled over Carmilla’s career, and in turn, Carmilla’s life.
Carmilla spent the rest of her time focusing on work. She started showing up at the theatre earlier than usual. She began to form more established friendships with the crew. Every night, when she was scheduled to go on stage, she zoned into her performance. Unless she was invited out for drinks, she would go straight home, take a shower, read a book, and then go to sleep.
The establishment of this routine was the start of an unusually monotonous life for Carmilla. Nonetheless, it was helpful in preventing her from thinking about Laura. Of course, sometimes that was inevitable. Carmilla always had this romantic streak that she preferred to keep hidden, but even she was surprised at how upset she felt about what Laura said to her. She didn’t expect to have fallen for Laura. It just… happened.
It was Sunday evening, so Carmilla popped open a bottle of pinot grigio while she flicked through her phone for the photos she had of Laura. She gazed fondly at a photo of the two of them at the New Year’s Eve party at Laura’s friend’s Perry’s house. They were out on Perry’s porch with their coats unbuttoned and haphazardly thrown on. They were holding champagne flutes and flashed cheesy smiles at the camera. Laura’s arm was around Carmilla’s waist, and Carmilla’s body was turned more towards Laura than towards the camera. It was an intimate way to be standing together. It was as if whoever took the photo had interrupted a private moment beforehand.
“I’m pathetic,” she muttered to herself.
Her phone rang, and she felt her heart skip a bit. Could she have conjured Laura up? She hadn’t heard from her in a while, but it wasn’t for lack of trying on Laura’s part. When Carmilla was upset, she was very good at ignoring people. But it had been two weeks since Laura’s last message and Carmilla had concluded that she had finally given up… Or had she?
No, the caller was Mattie.
“Hi,” Carmilla said.
“You sound like shit .” Mattie almost always cursed in English, because despite all the affectations of German, it was way more effective when she did. “I have a fun fact for you: I’m still signed up to Lilita’s ‘industry newslettters’,” her eyeroll was practically audible, “and this month’s issue came out with very intriguing news.”
“Really now,” Carmilla deadpanned. But she opened her emails up on her tablet anyway. Every month, Lilita sent out a carefully curated email to her mailing list. It was filled with announcements of new projects any of her acts had signed on. June’s newsletter headlined Carmilla coming onboard as the lead in a film produced by a relatively prominent studio, with an acclaimed director taking the helm. “Wait a second. It says that I’ve also signed on to be the lead of a new German crime series premiering next summer.”
“Indeed it does!” Mattie said. She must have noticed the confusion in Carmilla’s voice. “Wait, you did sign up for that, right?”
It was Carmilla’s turn to swear in English. “Fuck!” she exclaimed.
“I’m Googling it.” From the other end of the line, Carmilla heard the sounds of frantic typing. “Oh, darling. It’s the German affiliate of the studio that’s producing your movie.”
That was the deal Lilita made to get Carmilla that offer. Of course it was too good to be true. “Fuck,” Carmilla said again. She felt sick. When she had picked that project, she was sincerely interested in it. Hell, she had just received her schedule—production was starting in October—and she was actually looking forward to getting to work. She felt like she had control making that decision, and that she set it on her own terms. But Lilita was one step ahead of her. As always.
“Carm,” Mattie began.
Carmilla meant to snarl, but her voice came out flat, defeated. “Don’t say ‘I told you so’, Mattie.”
“No, I wasn’t going to say that.” Mattie’s tone had softened. “I’m sorry, Carm.”
“I had it coming, didn’t I?”
But they both knew that whatever Lilita Morgan did to anyone, they most likely did not deserve it.
The end of the school year couldn’t come sooner for Laura. It came to a point in the year where she had enough of her colleagues. The Carmilla situation didn’t make it any worse. Her friends had picked up on her heartbreak quite quickly, and they weren’t very sensitive about it. Then again, they weren’t the most emotionally astute people anyway.
LaFontaine made repeated comments about Laura “pining”, but that didn’t come close to Danny’s train of thought that she believed was worthy of sharing. She had a weeklong obsession around her theory that Carmilla had girls she hooked up with in different cities, and this was just her way of breaking up with Laura. It was so insensitive, even Kirsch called her out on it. Perry, to her credit, kept bringing her baked goods.
Laura was just glad that she didn’t have to see them until mid-August.
A week into the summer vacation, she packed her things and flew to Winnipeg. Her dad picked her up at the airport in the same truck he bought when Laura was thirteen. He wouldn’t have bought it if his thirty-year-old pickup hadn’t called it quits. It still smelled the same on the inside, like wood shavings and stale sunlight.
It took two hours to drive back to their small town. Their family friends had surprised her with a “Welcome Home!” barbecue at the Hollis residence. The food was already cooked, the drinks were cold, and the people were excited to see her. Laura was sufficiently distracted from everything going on back in Toronto, back in her personal life, and she didn’t even have to lift a finger.
Her dad didn’t get the chance to ask about Carmilla until the following evening. At that point, Laura was so exhausted that she didn’t bother hiding. For only the second time in her life—the first was Thanksgiving during her third year of university—she found herself in her dad’s arms, crying about a girl.
“Oh, sweetheart,” her dad had stroked her hair and squeezed her tighter, “it sucks, I know.”
“I really thought I was doing the right thing, Dad,” Laura said. “I didn’t want to hold her back.”
Her dad hummed. He let go of Laura and gently pushed her back so she could meet her eye. “Can I ask you something? Did you ever try properly asking her what she had planned? If she cared about you, how was she going to make your relationship work?”
“I didn’t think to… She was pretty adamant on wanting to know what I thought of her future,” Laura said.
“Right.” Her dad sighed. “Am I allowed to be your father and tell you what I think?” He had taken to asking that question after he figured out that his very stubborn little girl grew up to be a very stubborn teenager, and eventually, to a very stubborn young woman. Oftentimes, Laura resented life lessons from him.
Bewilderment flashed momentarily on her dad’s face, replaced by his typical expression of understanding. “Okay.” He cleared his throat. Obviously, he hadn’t been expecting Laura to actually want to solicit his advice. “I think that you spend so much time and energy in protecting yourself. Keeping yourself safe.”
Laura shrugged. “Well, that’s what you taught me, Dad.”
“I don’t mean physically, Laura,” her dad said. “I mean like, your emotions. Your heart. I know that you’ve always had trouble putting yourself out there, and I don’t blame you. Caring’s hard, loving’s hard… you’re always scared to lose people.”
Laura nodded. Tears sprung to her eyes. “Is that a Hollis thing?” she tried to joke.
Her dad sighed. “It might as well be, honey. Anyway,” he gently wiped the tears falling from Laura’s face. “The point is, Carmilla was– is special to you, and you’re special to her, and when you told her to pick her career over you, she got confused because you put your walls back up. She probably thought you trusted her already. Trusted her feelings about you.”
“I don’t want her to blame me if her missing out on those opportunities would come back to bite her,” Laura said.
“There you go again! You don’t know what’s going to happen, and neither does she,” her dad said. “But Carmilla wanted you to take the risk with her and she probably doesn’t understand why you wouldn’t. You opened yourself up to her, and then pulled away. I get why you do it, I do, but that’s confusing for a lot of people.”
“Carmilla’s not exactly the most open person in the world either.”
“Yes, but she was open to you, wasn’t she? Maybe she thought she deserved reciprocation.”
“I miss her, Dad,” Laura admitted. “I wish I could just go back in time and take back what I said, and handle that whole situation better.”
“I know, honey,” her dad said. “But what is it that you historians say?”
Laura couldn’t help chuckling as she wiped her tears. “Hindsight is twenty-twenty?”
“Exactly! Listen, Laura, you have to think about what you want to do next. And think carefully. Any person fortunate enough to get to know you wouldn’t want to lose you,” her dad said. “And Carmilla is a pretty sensible young woman, isn’t she? So, you know, I think it’s worth a shot.”
Laura had been taking that shot. In fact, she had been taking many shots. She had sent Carmilla dozens of messages. She didn’t get a single reply. The last thing Laura wanted was to be that girl, but she just wanted Carmilla to talk to her. When she wasn’t busy catching up with the people in her hometown, she was at home, trying to figure out what she could say to Carmilla that would just get her to respond.
One Monday afternoon, as she absentmindedly binged watch Doctor Who on her dad’s couch, she realised that Carmilla’s play had its final show the day before. She reached for her phone on the coffee table and opened Instagram.
Carmilla posted a new photo forty minutes ago. It was a black and white shot of the boarding gates at JFK Airport.
Laura knew that Carmilla had a habit of posting photos at least a few days after they were taken, but unless she left her show early, there was a possibility that Carmilla was sitting in an airport, playing with her phone. Praying that Carmilla hadn’t boarded the plane, she pressed call.
After five rings, Carmilla picked up. “Laura?” Her voice no longer held the wry fondness it used to when speaking to Laura.
“Carmilla!” Laura scrambled for the TV remote to hit mute. She sat up on the couch. “Hi!”
Carmilla felt like forever had passed since she last heard Laura’s voice. “Laura,” she said again, though she couldn’t hear her own voice over the sound of blood pumping in her ears, “is everything okay?”
“Everything’s fine. I just saw your post on Instagram.” Laura sounded shaky. “You’re still at the airport?”
“Yeah,” Carmilla said. “The play ended yesterday.”
“I know that,” Laura said. “Are you flying back to Vienna?”
“Paris,” Carmilla said. She was planning to stay there for a couple of weeks, and then travel to Nice to spend time with Mattie. She intended on getting all the rest and leisure she could, but she also needed the time to figure out how to deal with Lilita. Leaving New York meant leaving the play, leaving Laura, leaving this new life she came to enjoy. She felt like that was a huge sacrifice that Lilita should at least acknowledge appropriately.
“I, uh, just called to say goodbye, and I’m sorry,” Laura said.
“Laura, you calling me in New York from Toronto is just as easy as you calling me anywhere else in the world with an internet connection,” Carmilla said.
“Oh, well, I just didn’t think you’d want to talk to me again.”
“I didn’t say that,” Carmilla said. Truthfully, she was still in the process of sorting her emotions out. However, that didn’t mean that she was going to deny Laura of her right to some sort of closure. “Look, Laura, I’m sorry things turned out the way they did, okay? I’m sorry that we didn’t work out. And I’m sorry it ended so badly.”
“I’m sorry, too, Carm.”
Carmilla’s heart melted at Laura’s use of her nickname. “I enjoyed what we had, but maybe we were too optimistic for the idea of something more,” she said. That wasn't entirely true. Laura made Carmilla see possibilities that she wouldn't have considered. That wasn't a bad thing at all.
“Maybe we were.” Laura admitted. She sounded the saddest she had ever been. “Anyway, thank you.”
“Thank you, too, I guess,” Carmilla said. She glanced at the digital clock on the wall. “I have to go soon.”
“I know,” Laura said. “Have a safe flight. Take care. Bye.” With that, she hung up.
Well, that's a wakeup call... I have agonised too long on how this was going to play out, but ultimately, I think I went for the "shattering of the fantasy" route. We'll see what happens next week, shall we?
As always, thanks for reading. Your comments brighten up my day. Buckle up for the big finish next week!
Time away from Toronto had always been beneficial to Laura. She preferred the hustle and bustle of the city over her quiet Manitoba town, but there were times when there was definitely no place like home. Recovering from heartbreak was one of those times. Laura usually stayed with her dad up until the Toronto Pride festival, when she flew back to attend at least a few events with her friends.
That summer, she opted for small town Manitoba over Toronto Pride. She tried to learn how to cook, and she rode her old bicycle to deliver her attempts to her dad on his building sites. Oftentimes, she drove her dad’s truck around town—trying to remember to drive a manual transmission was a welcome challenge—and watched as people waved and pointed, calling out, “Hey, Sherman’s kid is back in town!” She went to the weekly pub quiz. On Sunday afternoons, she would walk with her dad around town, running errands and saying hi to the people with whom she spent the first eighteen years of her life.
She returned to Toronto at the beginning of August, refreshed and ready to take on the new school year. She had the same classes as always: two Grade 10 classes—one in Civics and Citizenship and the other in Modern Canadian History—along with one Grade 11 Canadian Politics and one Grade 12 World History. Her homeroom class had moved up to Grade 12. The school newspaper staff felt like the strongest one yet. It was a good start to the year. It was made better by the fact that her colleagues did not ask her one question about Carmilla.
That didn’t stop Laura from thinking about Carmilla, though. She hadn’t tried to get in touch with her since their phone call before Carmilla left for Paris. Laura often wondered what Carmilla was doing, how she was getting on with work, whether she had found a new coffee place, or if she had picked up an interesting book from a flea market stand… She used to be privy to the happenings in Carmilla’s life. It was still hard to realise that loss, but Laura knew that she just had to allow time to prove itself as a wonderful healer.
So she threw herself into work. She refreshed her lesson plans. She introduced new content. She tried to teach each lesson so that it was better than the last. She made contacts and pulled strings for her kids on the school newspaper. She didn’t cut out her social life completely, but when she wasn’t catching up on a TV show from her younger years— Veronica Mars happened to be on Netflix—she was making herself into a better teacher.
As far as she knew, that was all she had.
Carmilla was not the biggest fan of the beach and warm weather, but she was proud of herself for grinning and bearing through it. A change of scene did wonders for her. She let herself have a proper vacation. Sleeping in, spending the day reading, going swimming at night, and then sleeping with the intention of doing it all over again.
The copy of her script was sent to her sometime after Bastille Day, so she focused her attention on learning it back to front. For Carmilla, learning the script wasn’t just about learning the lines. It was about learning how the story ebbed and flowed. How did the character grow into the story? Where were the turning points? Was the change obvious, or was it a little bit sneaky? At which part did everything just go so wrong?
“Carm. Earth to Carmilla!” Mattie’s voice snapped her out of her annotation-induced haze.
“Sorry.” Carmilla dropped her pen on the table and rubbed her eyes. “What were you saying?”
“I was wondering you would like to come shopping with me,” Mattie said. “Word on the street is that the autumn produce has started rolling in, and I want to check it out.”
“Wow, Nice is really your town, huh?” Carmilla smiled at her friend’s eagerness.
“Why, yes. Don’t you think it’s just the best place on earth? Except for Marrakesh, of course. That’s still my favourite. Oh, and Santorini !” Mattie gushed. For half of the year, she was based in Vienna, but if she didn’t have a project on, she was in Nice or somewhere in Southern Europe, sometimes even in Morocco. That lifestyle suited her, and she got too cranky when she was in an urban jungle for too long.
“It’s a nice place to have a holiday in, that’s for sure,” Carmilla said. She stretched her arms above her head, and it hit her how long she had been sitting at the table as she pored over her script. Well, scripts . Carmilla went to the local stationery shop to have three copies of the script printed and bound. One copy was her clean copy. The second had her scenes highlighted. The third copy was the most well-thumbed, with her highlights and annotations all over it.
“Holiday? Darling, you have been working non-stop for the last three weeks,” Mattie said. “Don’t tell me you haven’t learned your lines yet.”
“The first table read is in September.”
“And August just started,” Mattie retorted. “Your brain could use a break. Besides, if you really want to work, you’d consider my suggestion of jumping ship from that TV show you didn’t agree to.”
Carmilla didn’t want to do the TV show. She thought she’d changed her mind when she had a better look at the project, but it just failed to resonate with her. But she was committing to it anyway. “Lilita would drop me if I tried to do that,” she said.
Mattie sat down beside Carmilla. “That’s the point.”
“Mattie, you do know that the continuation of my career hinges on me and my manager having a good relationship with each other, right?” Carmilla asked. “Don’t you think I’ve crossed Lilita enough?”
“It is so peculiar hearing you all defeated like that. You were so defiant when it came to her.”
“Well,” Carmilla shrugged, “things change.”
Mattie picked up Carmilla’s clean copy of the script. “Do you mind if I read this?” she asked. She must have seen the doubt and worry that crossed Carmilla’s face—a shared, or worse, a leaked script, carried dizzying legal repercussions—because she said, “It won’t leave this house, I promise. I just want to know what you’re up to.”
“All right,” Carmilla said. There was no use refusing Mattie.
“Thanks, I’ll read it later,” Mattie said. She stood up and tossed the script on her coffee table, where it landed with a thump. “I’m heading out to the markets. You’re still welcome to join me!”
Carmilla looked out the window. It was a beautiful day. It might not be so bad to be outside. She shut her annotated script. “Mattie,” she said. “Wait up!”
Needless to say, Carmilla enjoyed her day out, despite the sun and the salty sea breeze. There was something about Mattie’s presence that made her enthusiasm infectious.
Two days later, Mattie emerged from her bedroom as Carmilla was sipping her morning coffee. She was holding the script. She placed it on the dining table next to Carmilla. It was as immaculate as the day Carmilla last saw it.
“So, what do you think?” Carmilla asked.
“You’ve got a gem on your hands, darling. I’m happy that you decided to take it,” Mattie said. “But this is all the more reason for you to do something about Lilita.” Her mouth twisted into a wicked smile. “I might have an idea.”
Just like that, the end of semester loomed. Laura made her way through her pile of grading with minimal complaints. After all, she had resolved to be a better teacher. Not that her colleagues were appreciating—or understanding—that.
“Come on, Laura, that’s what winter break is for,” LaFontaine teased, as Laura set aside a stack of posters from her Grade 10 Civics and Citizenship class.
“Winter break is going to be marking the finals for my Grade 11 and Grade 12,” Laura said. “And the kids made such cool posters, I want them to have it back before they go on break so they could show their parents.”
LaFontaine examined the poster on the top of the pile. “About how you’re indoctrinating them towards a centre-left government?”
“We were under the Conservatives for far too long, LaFontaine!” Laura retorted. She turned her attention to her next pile: an end-of-semester test she had set for her other Grade 10s. As she reached for it, she heard LaFontaine make a noise of protest.
“Come on, Hollis! It’s a Friday! If we wait for you, we’ll miss happy hour,” LaFontaine said. “And you know Danny doesn’t like missing happy hour.”
Laura hadn’t stopped going to Friday drinks completely, but she went less often than she used to. “You guys can go ahead. I have a meeting with Cochran in like, ten minutes, and I’m pretty beat, so I’m probably just gonna go home,” she told LaFontaine.
“What? What’s Cochran talking to you about?” LaFontaine asked.
“I actually don’t know,” Laura replied. “I got an email from her PA telling me when to turn up.”
“Oh, okay.” LaFontaine placed a sheepish hand on Laura’s shoulder. “I’ll pass that onto the others. Good luck, Hollis. See ya Monday.” They hoisted their backpack over their shoulder, gave Laura a tiny wave, and then made their way out of the staffroom.
As she packed up, Laura placed just the Grade 10 tests in her bag. She still had the Grade 12 research papers to get through, but she figured she was going to be able to finish those by the end of next week, at the latest. She left the staffroom to make their way across campus to Principal Cochran’s office.
Cochran’s door was ajar when Laura turned up, and the principal was behind her desk, typing away on her computer. She glanced at the door and spotted Laura. Her face broke into a smile. “Come in, take a seat,” she said. She took her reading glasses off and waited for Laura to sit down. “How are you going?”
“Oh, you know, lots of grading,” Laura said. “It’s that time of the year.”
“It is,” Cochran said. “But you are doing well?”
Laura nodded. “Uh, I was just wondering what this meeting is about, actually,” she said.
“At the beginning of the week, I received an email from the Toronto District School Board saying that they had one guaranteed, fully-funded place for the International Summit for Social Sciences Education,” Cochran said. “You know I’m not in the business of comparing ourselves or competing with other schools, but apparently our school has the highest scores in the district under the social sciences and in Canadian and world studies.”
“That’s great,” Laura said.
“That’s why they’ve decided to give us a place for a worthy teacher.” Cochran smiled again. She wasn’t a severe lady, but this was the most relaxed Laura had ever seen her. “Your excellent work this semester has not gone unnoticed, Laura. That’s why I’ve made a decision to offer you the place.” She slid a document across to Laura. “This is the information you need. There are other things, but I’ll get the school board to email it to you. If you’re interesting in going that is.”
Laura read the document. The International Summit for Social Sciences Education was going to be held in Helsinki, Finland. It was going to start on the Friday of the penultimate week of semester, and finish on the Tuesday of the last week. The school board had paid for the flights, the registration fee, and the accommodation. “Of course I’m interested in going!” Laura exclaimed. “Wow. Principal Cochran – “
“Elizabeth,” Cochran corrected.
“This is an honour,” Laura finished. She hadn’t been to many academic conferences in her short career, so the prospect of attending one in Helsinki was exciting. She had never been across the Atlantic Ocean. “I started this year with the intention of improving my teaching practice, and I’m glad that I’m going to be able to learn from experts around the world. So, thank you so much.”
“You deserve it, Laura,” Cochran said. “I wouldn’t have chosen you otherwise.”
“Thank you,” Laura said again.
“All right, off you go.” Cochran waved her away. “I’m going to tell the school board that you have accepted the position, and they should get in touch with you by Monday.”
“Okay.” Laura picked her up her bag and stood up. “Thanks again. Have a good weekend!” She was off to have one herself.
Over the years, Carmilla had learned to expect the outrageous whenever Mattie had an idea. They weren’t ideas as much as they were schemes. And when Mattie had a scheme in mind, Carmilla had learned early on that the best course of action was to just close her eyes and go with it. Avoid asking questions. Don’t worry about the consequences.
However, with Mattie’s latest scheme, Carmilla could not afford to be so blasé.
The way Mattie saw it, there were three ways for Carmilla to free herself from Lilita Morgan’s clutches. The first was to shoot the film as normal, and then breach contract with the producers by committing to a Hollywood project and having to back out of the TV series. The effectiveness of this plan depended on Mattie’s contacts finding a suitable Hollywood project for Carmilla. The second plan was to expose Lilita Morgan for the manipulative, controlling bitch that she was, using a very public firing from Carmilla and her lawyer—once she had hired one—in a restaurant somewhere in Vienna, which the Austrian tabloids were sure to capture. This was Mattie’s preferred plan—she did enjoy drama, after all—but Carmilla refused. She wanted to have a career after Lilita, and making a scene was one way to jeopardise that.
The third plan was the one Carmilla wanted. It involved doing things the long way. Getting lawyers, explaining to the producers that Carmilla’s original contract was agreed to without her consent, renegotiating the contract, and finally, firing Lilita.
Mattie had made it clear to Carmilla that she thought that this plan was boring. But because it was Carmilla’s career on the line, she knew it wasn’t her choice to make. So, as Carmilla’s supportive best friend, she helped her make things happen. They flew back to Vienna together, ready for a battle.
Lilita Morgan didn’t go away without a fight. She lawyered up. There were weeks of debating and negotiations between Carmilla’s lawyer, Lilita’s lawyer, and the producers’ lawyer. Carmilla’s lawyer had advised her not to speak unless necessary, and Carmilla would have reneged on that if she had been less determined. Lilita and her lawyer threw everything they had, but nothing stuck. Eventually, Carmilla was permitted to renegotiate her contract with the producers.
The next thing she did was to fire Lilita.
There was barely a peep from the Austrian tabloids. The entertainment section of the newspaper did run one short article about it. Carmilla refused interviews. She released a statement to the public about how she was focusing on her new film. She threw herself into production. Filming began in October and wrapped midway through November. And then some of the cast were called in for additional filming. Production ended during the first week of December.
The evening after her last day on set, Carmilla had dinner with Mattie at their favourite restaurant in Vienna. Halfway through their meal, Carmilla remembered what Mattie had done a couple of months before: she read the script. “Mattie, can I ask you something?”
“Fire away, darling,” Mattie responded.
“After you read the script, you told me that you were going to do everything your power to help me stand up to Lilita,” Carmilla said. “What made you decide?”
Mattie smiled, her eyes glinting in that omniscient way. “I read that script in one night,” she said. “This film, Carm? I hope you did your best and acted the hell out of it. It’s going to be something big. I just know it. The world will forget that you fired Lilita Morgan once they’ve seen what you can do with your work.”
Laura was overtaken with a wild impulse. This didn’t happen to her very often.
The International Summit for Social Sciences ended with a bang. Well, as much of a bang that could be created by having nearly two thousand teachers under one roof. Laura was grateful that she got to attend; she knew that she would be taking what she learned from here into the classroom for years to come.
Because her school had given her leave for the entire last week of the semester, Laura called the school board and asked if she could change her flight home. She was flying home via Berlin, but she paid the extra money to push the flight for another week. That flight would still be leaving from Berlin, but she decided to buy another plane ticket first. To Vienna.
Vienna in early December was beautiful. It was cold, but not as cold as Helsinki, or even as Toronto during that time of the year. Not unlike Toronto, the city was decorated in Christmas paraphernalia, but for some inexplicable reason, it looked a lot less tackier. It looked like the picture perfect towns in the Christmas movies Laura liked as a kid. There was a light dusting of snow on the ground, which looked even more magical after the sun had set, when it served as a reflector of the city’s impressive Christmas lights display—their enormous power bill crossed Laura’s mind as an afterthought.
Before this, Laura had never travelled on her own. She had her dad, she had friends, and last year, she had Carmilla. There was something about seeing a new place for the first time and having no one to immediately share it to that made her more reflective. As she roamed around the city, she thought about the events in her life that led up to making this action possible. She had changed so much in a relatively short span of time. Laura from a year ago wouldn’t have jumped at the chance to go to an overseas academic conference, or to take another week to explore a strange European city by herself. Laura from a year ago would have clung on to what she knew best because, as her dad had rightly pointed out, she wanted to keep herself safe.
Laura checked out the Advent markets. Vienna was full of them, and they were her favourite part of the visit so far. The cheeses, the preserved meats, the mulled wines, the pastries and other sweets… they all looked amazing. There was a quaintly festive energy in the air. Laura bought a bottle of mulled wine and sausages to take home to her dad. She bought some chocolates for the people at work. And because she couldn’t resist being that person, she took plenty of photos and posted them on Instagram.
It was Laura’s third night in Vienna. She had just gotten back to her hotel room after a long day of visiting museums and art galleries. She went through the photos she took and posted the select ones on Instagram, and then she took a shower. After her shower, she checked her phone for notifications. That was when she saw a name that she hadn’t seen a while on her screen.
Hi. Are you in Vienna?
Laura’s heartbeat quickened. Yes , she typed. Barely a moment after she sent it, her phone rang. She accepted the call. “Hello, Carmilla?”
On the other end of the line, Carmilla’s words were slightly slurred: “Laura. Hey, how are you?”
The wrap party was held in a bar in the city. Everyone looked rested and refreshed from the hectic eight-week filming schedule they had. Carmilla spent the evening drinking wine and talking to people she had come to be friends with. She used to avoid staying too long at wrap parties, but she was surprised when three hours had passed and she was still enjoying it.
The writer and the 2nd AD were leading the conversation, waxing lyrical about their favourite Austrian filmmakers. Everyone else either had too much alcohol, or were checking their phones.
Following their lead, Carmilla dug her phone out of her purse. She opened Instagram. Since she had come back from New York, it had become a habit for her. She scrolled down the screen, then stopped when something caught her eye. It was a shot of the Christmas Village in front of Belvedere Palace. The photo was posted by Laura.
Carmilla straightened up in her seat. Laura was in Vienna? She tapped to see the rest of Laura’s photos. It appeared that Laura had been doing a bit of travelling. A few photos down on her feed, it looked like she was in some Nordic city. She opened one up. It was a shot of Laura standing outside what looked like a convention centre, wearing a coat and scarf, but still beaming. The caption said: Just like that, the International Summit for Social Sciences Education is over… Not only did I learn so much, but I also discovered that Helsinki is a beautiful city. Till next time!
So Laura was in Finland. And now she was in Vienna.
Carmilla didn’t know what she was thinking when she sent Laura a message. They hadn’t spoken to each other since that phone call at the airport in June. But Laura being in the same city should be a sign, right? When she was alerted to Laura’s response five minutes later, she excused herself and went outside, where the evening chill started to sober her up. Again, on that same vein of not thinking about her actions, she called Laura.
Laura picked up. “Hello, Carmilla?”
“Laura. Hey, how are you?” Carmilla was concerned that she sounded drunk. She cleared her throat. “I’m sorry. I know it’s late.”
“I just got back to my hotel, actually,” Laura said. “Why did you call?”
“Honestly? I don’t know.” Carmilla laughed, despite herself. “I saw that you were in Vienna and I wanted to talk to you, I guess. How are you liking the city?”
“Well, it’s very beautiful,” Laura said. “I hope to come back one day.”
“When are you going back to Canada?” Carmilla asked.
“I’m taking the train to Berlin in four days’ time, then I’m flying from there,” Laura replied.
“Oh.” Carmilla fidgeted. She didn’t know if it was the cold—she did go outside without her coat on—or the excitement in her stomach that had blossomed into butterflies. “Laura. Which hotel are you staying at?”
Laura told her. “Uhm, Carm, why are you asking?”
“I want to see you,” Carmilla said. “Can I come see you?”
“What?” Even in Carmilla’s wine-induced haze, she noticed that Laura couldn’t keep the hope out of her voice. “Right now?”
“Yes, right now,” Carmilla said. She feared that she had overstepped her boundaries. “If that’s okay. If not, we can see each other another time,” she rambled. “For lunch, or dinner, or a walk around one of the Advent markets… It’s completely up to you.”
“Uh, you can come here,” Laura said.
Carmilla grinned. “All right, all right, I’m going to get a taxi.” She went back inside, rustled through the coat rack for her coat, and then shrugged it on, not even bothering to zip it up. She stepped outside and practically jogged to the nearby taxi stand, mentally working out how far the hotel was. “I should be there in twenty minutes.”
She was there in fifteen.
The first thing Laura thought when saw Carmilla was that she was underdressed. She opened her hotel door in her pyjamas, with her damp hair tied into a bun.
Carmilla, on the other hand, looked ready for a party, not unlike the way she was when they first met in that Toronto club. Her hair was tucked under a knit cap, but her parka was unzipped, revealing her outfit. She wore a black collarless leather jacket, zipped up to a point where only a bit of her blue top was visible. Her faded grey jeans were tucked into equally faded black combat boots.
“Hi,” Laura said.
“Hi,” Carmilla said.
“Come in.” Laura ushered Carmilla in, and that was when she caught a whiff of wine. Panic alarms went off in her head. She had never seen Carmilla drunk , so she didn’t know if Carmilla was the type to be lucid and making crazy decisions about showing up at hotel rooms inhabited by former friends with benefits. What if this was a booty call? What if it was just convenient for Carmilla that Laura happened to be in town, staying nearby to whatever club she was partying at? Was that the only reason Carmilla turned up tonight? “Oh shit,” she blurted out, without realising.
Carmilla, who was already standing on the other side of the room, in the process of shedding her coat, looked at her with a raised eyebrow. “Pardon?”
“You’ve been drinking.”
“Laura.” Carmilla’s face slowly broke out into an amused smile. “It’s minus five degrees outside. I think I’ve well and truly sobered up.”
Laura shut her door. “Isn’t the cold bad for you when you’ve been drinking? Because you can’t really feel how cold it is?”
Carmilla laughed. “Trust me, I felt that,” she said. She was definitely sober enough to acknowledge the dread on Laura’s face. “Hey, Laura, it’s okay. I was at the wrap party for the movie I just shot.”
“Oh.” Laura knew from Carmilla’s Instagram that she had been filming for the last two months. She plopped down on the bed. “Which one did you end up choosing?” She never told Carmilla which of the projects she liked the best, but there was a part of her that hoped that Carmilla chose the same.
“The one about the lesbian corporate lawyer going back to her hometown in rural Styria to save the dying industry,” Carmilla said. “And you know, she finds love along the way…”
“That’s… an interesting choice,” Laura said. From what she remembered, the lesbian corporate lawyer was returning to the place that didn’t accept her in her teenage years. “I didn’t think you’d want to do a film with a homophobia narrative.”
“It was more the ‘coming home’ narrative I was after,” Carmilla said. She tentatively sat down beside Laura. “Not to mention, the one about ‘finding love in unexpected places’.”
Laura could feel the heat of Carmilla’s gaze on her. There was a time when that excited her. This time, it was only a reminder of what she had screwed up. “So how was going back to filming movies? Did you miss it?” Her voice had gone up an octave.
Thankfully, Carmilla turned the smoulder down a notch. “I did,” she responded. She sat down on the bed, a good, safe distance away from Laura. “I saw on your Instagram that you were in Helsinki for a conference.”
“Yeah, I got a grant from the Toronto District School Board to go,” Laura said. “It finished on Tuesday, and I had leave for the rest of the semester anyway, so I was like, ‘Why not go see Vienna?’ You’d told me so much about it, so I took the chance. Figured I was already in Europe anyway...”
“It’s a beautiful city, isn’t it?” Carmilla asked.
“It is,” Laura said. “And the winter’s not so bad. Beautiful, actually.”
“It’s what a winter should feel like,” Carmilla said. “Not the grey sky, gusty wind, miserable chill that you have in Toronto and New York.”
“Hey, come on,” Laura laughed, “surely it wasn’t that bad. And I told you, that was a warm winter!”
It was so easy to fall back into old habits with Carmilla. Too easy. Once they found their rhythm, they grew more comfortable with the other. Jokes were traded and laughs were shared. Eventually, Carmilla had removed her boots and claimed one side of the bed, stretching out her legs as she propped herself up on pillows. Laura was about to make a comment about how Carmilla had already made herself at home, until she realised that her body was in the same position.
“You know what I miss about the States and Canada?” Carmilla’s voice had gone soft.
“What?” Laura asked, half-hoping that Carmilla would be romantic and say she missed her .
“The food,” Carmilla said. “You guys come up with the weirdest shit. Poutine? Corn dogs?”
“You did not just compare poutine to corn dogs,” Laura said.
“I meant it in a good way, Laura! They’re both so delicious,” Carmilla insisted. “I think I gained more weight than I expected to when I lived in New York. But it was worth it.” She snapped her fingers. “Wait! You know what I had that wasn’t good for me and totally didn’t regret?”
“Carm, that was pretty much everything you ate.”
“Frozen custard,” Carmilla said. “Over on Coney Island, remember? I had the most wicked stomach ache afterwards, which didn’t help on the journey home, but that was fucking amazing . Better than gelato.”
Laura remembered Carmilla buying frozen custard, despite Laura’s warnings that it had enough dairy to knock her out of commission for the rest of the day—it did. “Wait, you willingly had gelato, too?” she asked.
“You don’t go to Italy and not have gelato,” Carmilla said. “That’s just criminal.”
“You sound like my dad when he ordered that sandwich at Katz’s Deli that took almost an hour to arrive,” Laura said.
“You mean Meg Ryan’s fake orgasm sandwich?”
“It’s a pastrami sandwich! God, I can’t believe you had the nerve to say ‘Meg Ryan’s fake orgasm sandwich’ in front of my dad!” Laura exclaimed. She almost choked on her soda when Carmilla called it that. Her dad had to blink away his shock and go on as if he wasn’t nearly as mortified as his daughter. In hindsight, perhaps Laura should have found it cute that Carmilla knew exactly which sandwich played the part in When Harry Met Sally ’s iconic scene.
“He dealt with it better than you did.” Carmilla laughed. “How is Sherman, anyway?”
“He’s great. I actually went to stay with him right after the school year finished,” Laura said.
“Oh yeah? I bet he appreciated that.”
Laura nodded. “I stayed there for six weeks,” she said.
“That’s pretty long. How did you survive without ordering food in?” Carmilla joked.
Laura laughed, and lightly shoved Carmilla. “Well, if you must know, I learned how to cook,” she said.
“That is interesting news.”
“I’ve saved so much money since I got back to Toronto,” Laura said.
“Wait, so when you called me. At the airport,” Carmilla said. “Were you at your dad’s place?”
“Yes, I was.” Laura bit her lip. “Also… I kind of told him about our whole situation.”
Carmilla shook her head. “Oh god, he must hate me,” she said.
Laura thought it was sweet that Carmilla genuinely cared about what her dad thought of her. “I mean, I skipped over all the parts where he would think you had been,” she felt a blush coming on, “defiling me.”
“But I did defile you.” Carmilla’s tone was light, but her cheeks were pink, too.
Laura shoved her again. “Carm.”
“You brought it up, not me,” Carmilla said. “So, what exactly did you tell him?”
Laura shrugged. “You know, all the things people say about wrong timings,” she said.
Carmilla nodded understandingly. She placed a hand on top of Laura’s. Her voice was gentle and sincere: “Well, I’m here now.”
Laura looked at Carmilla’s hand, and then back up to Carmilla’s face. Carmilla was gazing at her intently, and her eyes were sparkling, not with mischief, but with… Affection? Or—should Laura dare think it?— love ? Laura didn’t waste another second trying to figure out the difference. She closed the gap between them, and pressed her lips against Carmilla’s.
Carmilla kissed back without hesitation. As Laura leaned into her, one of her hands cupped Laura’s cheek while the other rested on her shoulder. She shifted her hips as Laura turned her body so that her torso was practically on top of Carmilla’s. The hand on Laura’s shoulder moved down to Laura’s side. The kiss became passionate very quickly. Carmilla’s teeth grazed Laura’s bottom lip before she slipped her tongue into Laura’s mouth.
Laura moaned softly in response. Her right palm was planted on the mattress, bracing herself, and her left hand slid down from where it was tangled with the hair on the back of Carmilla’s neck, to the zipper of Carmilla’s leather jacket. As she began to tug down on the zipper, she felt Carmilla’s grip on the fabric of her t-shirt loosen.
Carmilla turned her head away from Laura, effectively pulling away from the kiss.
Laura rested her forehead against Carmilla’s cheek. She let go of the zipper and started slowly running her hand up and down Carmilla’s upper arm. “Why d’you stop?” she asked quietly.
Carmilla kept her head turned. “It shouldn’t be like this, Laura,” she said. Gently, she pushed Laura off of her, and shuffled off the bed. She ran a hand through her hair, fished her knit cap from the pocket of her coat, and put it on. “I should go.”
“Laura,” she said. “This is not a good idea.”
Laura stood up, and straightened out her clothes. “Why did you want to come to my door late at night if you thought that this was a bad idea?” she demanded.
“That is not what I meant,” Carmilla said. “I didn’t come here to hook up with you.”
“I didn’t agree for you to come here so I could hook up with you!” Laura sighed. “Look, Carm, I miss you. I miss you so much, and I didn’t even know until now. When you walked in here, I thought I’d be okay, I thought that we could make this drama free and just be a couple of pals catching up, but,” her voice shook, “you kiss me and it cracks me open, and all my stupid, messy hopes come tumbling out in maybes and somedays… and that’s not fair for either of us.”
“Why not?” Carmilla asked. “I miss you too. And I know things are different now, but maybe that’s good for us.”
Laura felt as if her heart was in her throat. “Us separately or us together?”
“Us together. At least, that’s what I’m hoping anyway,” Carmilla said. She glanced at the clock radio on the nightstand. “Look, it’s two AM. I know we need to talk, but this isn’t the right time. I’m going home, but… can I see you again? Before you leave?”
Carmilla looked deflated. “All right,” she said.
“No, no, I don’t mean that,” Laura said. “I was wondering if you could stay. It’s late, it’s cold…”
“Laura – “
“I’m not asking you to stay so we could do stuff . I’ll feel better knowing that you’re here instead of out there.” Laura shifted from one foot to another. “Also, I don’t want to be alone tonight.”
Carmilla simply stared at her for a moment.
“Uh, but you know, it’s up to you. I don’t want to pressure you to stay or anything.”
“Vienna is very safe at night, you know. Significantly safer than Toronto.” Carmilla gave her a small, but warm smile. “But for you, Laura, I’ll stay.”
The next morning, Carmilla opened her eyes. She was still wearing the blue sleeveless top she had on last night, except without a bra, along with a pair of Laura’s pyjamas. The numbers on the clock radio read 09:27 . It was still dark in the hotel room, though, except for the strip of winter-dulled sunlight seeping through the bottom of the black out curtains onto the floor by the window. Carmilla turned over to see Laura lying on her back, snoring softly, with an arm thrown over her face. There was a good amount of space between them, as if an invisible boundary had been drawn as they slept. Carmilla smiled, despite herself. Waking up beside Laura was not how Carmilla expected her night to go, but it wasn’t like she was about to complain.
“Are you– ” Laura began groggily, “are you watching me sleep?” She made cute noises as she stretched her arms above her head. Her eyes remained closed.
“Only for a couple of minutes, cupcake,” Carmilla said.
Laura’s eyes opened at the nickname. “I can’t believe you’re still here,” she said. “I thought you would have left by now.”
“I don’t want to be anywhere else,” Carmilla said, and she meant it. Yes, she and Laura still needed to talk, but last night, Carmilla realised how deeply she felt about the other woman. She didn’t want to waste the chance to be by her side, even if it was in the most innocent of capacities. “Do you want me to get us some coffee?” she asked her. “I know a place near here.” Her favourite café in Vienna was just around the corner from the hotel. It was surreal; a few months ago, Carmilla dreamt of taking Laura there, just as she took Laura to her favourite New York café.
Laura groaned as she stretched her legs. “Do they serve breakfast?”
“Only the best breakfast in Vienna,” Carmilla said.
“All right.” Laura rolled over on her stomach. “Give me half an hour.”
“You can make it twenty minutes if you get out of bed now.”
Twenty-five minutes later, they were seated inside the café. As expected, it was busy, but the Carmilla was familiar with the café’s owners, so they had set up a table for them near the back. She had her usual: a kleiner Brauner —a single shot of coffee with soy milk—accompanied with a croissant, butter and honey. Laura ordered a hot chocolate and feta, mushroom and spinach Palatschinke .
“I forgot to tell you,” Carmilla started, “I’m looking for a new manager.” After the fuss over Lilita died down, Carmilla put off finding a new manager until she finished her film. She wasn’t in any hurry to book new projects, so she shared the responsibility of sorting through potential offers with Mattie.
Laura’s eyes widened. “What? What happened to Lilita?”
“Long story short, I decided that I didn’t want to stick with a manager who didn’t have my best interests at heart.” Carmilla shrugged. “What the hell would I be paying them for, right?”
“Carmilla, congratulations,” Laura said. “That’s huge! I’m happy for you.”
“Me too,” Carmilla said.
When they finished their breakfast, Carmilla asked Laura what her plans were for the day.
“Can you show me around Vienna?” Laura asked.
“Where haven’t you gone yet?” Carmilla asked.
“I don’t care if I’ve gone there or not,” Laura told her. “I want to see the city the way you do.”
Carmilla took Laura to her favourite places in Vienna. From the arthouse cinema where she saw her first independent film, to the LGBT bookstore Löwenherz, where she had spent many afternoons as a student. She showed Laura the bus stop where she first saw the poster for her film in public. They explored her favourite Advent market, before going to the Haus der Musik, where Carmilla shared her love of classical music. Later that afternoon, they found themselves atop the Donauturm, enjoying the vast views of Vienna.
“Thank you,” Laura said.
Carmilla tore her gaze away from the city to look at Laura. “For what?”
“I had a great time.”
“I did, too,” Carmilla said. She had been so wrapped up in work that she had forgotten what it was like to enjoy her city. And besides, she had excellent company. The longer she spent with Laura, the more she remembered why she changed her life. “Laura, last night –”
“What about it?” Laura interrupted defensively, her brows furrowing.
“Last night, you said something about maybes and somedays. You don’t have to answer me, but,” Carmilla took a deep breath, steeling herself, “I was thinking about what you meant by that.”
Laura didn’t respond immediately. She turned back to look at Vienna. The sun was dipping lower and lower in the sky, and the lights of the city have started turning on.
With bated breath, Carmilla waited for Laura’s answer.
Finally, Laura turned to face Carmilla again. “I was hoping that maybe we’ll figure this out,” she said. “And that someday, we’ll be happy together. Doesn’t matter if I’m in Toronto and you’re in Vienna or New York or Berlin or LA… I want to figure this out with you. I shouldn’t have ever let you go.”
Tears sprang to Carmilla’s eyes. It was what she wanted Laura to say, and somehow, it sounded even better when she actually said it. “Laura, I, uh,” she choked up. Knowing that she couldn’t get through an entire sentence without breaking down, she hastily wiped her tears with the back of her hand, and pulled Laura in for a kiss. Everything she felt, everything she wanted to tell Laura, she poured into that kiss. She knew they were in public, but it was easy to forget that with Laura pressed against her, her soft fingers stroking the back of her neck.
They left the Donauturm to have dinner, and then Carmilla invited Laura to her house. She needed to get out of last night’s clothes. And she wanted to spend the rest of the night with Laura, making up for lost time.
“I can’t believe I’m saying this because you’re always so cosmopolitan , but small town girl looks good on you,” Laura told Carmilla. She had the week off because of mid-winter break, so she and Carmilla made the trip back to Manitoba to visit her dad.
“I think I prefer being cosmopolitan. I’m dressed like you!” Carmilla looked down at her outfit: forest green flannel shirt and straight cut blue jeans tucked into snowproof boots, with a fur-lined navy barn coat—all but the boots were borrowed from Laura.
“It was either that or double denim, Carm.” They were going to a bonfire with Laura’s dad at a family friend’s farm, and Laura thought that Carmilla should dress the part. She found it hilarious. Despite an outfit that Laura thought screamed provincial —even if Carmilla protested that every lesbian in Toronto dressed that way—Carmilla still didn’t look Canadian. Not that Laura wanted to change that. It was just that Carmilla didn’t bring any farm-appropriate clothes. “Besides, at least we don’t look like twins.” She was wearing a similar pair of jeans and boots, but with a heavy knit grey sweater and a black down jacket.
Carmilla pouted. “You’re lucky that I love you,” she said.
They had been official still December, yet Laura still couldn’t quite believe that Carmilla loved her and actually told her often. She grinned at her. “I love you too,” she said. “We better go, Dad’s waiting.”
The last three months had been a journey for their relationship. Laura ended up staying in Vienna until the New Year. She checked out of her hotel and stayed at Carmilla’s house. They forced themselves out of the domestic bliss quite quickly because they knew they had to talk through things. Because of their careers, their relationship would have to function as a long-distance one.
Laura returned to Toronto while Carmilla finished whatever she needed to do for post-production. And then she flew to Toronto on the last week of February, where they spent their evenings and weekends together.
After mid-winter break, Carmilla would have to fly back to Vienna to sort out promotional material for her new film—they were waiting to hear whether it had scored a premiere slot at Cannes—and she was going to start production on the new TV show she had signed on to with her new manager. When that was finished, Carmilla would finish the rest of the film circuit in Europe. The school year would have ended by that point and Laura was planning to join her for a couple of weeks, and then perhaps they would go on a proper holiday, maybe in Croatia or Spain or Portugal.
It was hectic, and they know that they wouldn’t be able to do it forever. However, Laura believed that as long as they were both willing, they were always going to find a way to make it work.
But first, Carmilla would have to face the good people of Laura’s Manitoban backwater.
“What if they don’t like me?” Carmilla asked, just as they were about to get out the door.
Laura kissed her. Sweet, chaste and quick. “My dad loves you, I love you… They’ll love you too. And if they don’t, then that’s on them,” she told Carmilla. She kissed her again, deeper and longer this time. “They don’t know what they’re missing out on,” she said as she pulled away.
“But that’s just for you,” Carmilla said, smirking.
“I don’t mean that !” Laura exclaimed.
“Laura, honey? Carmilla?” Laura’s dad’s voice echoed from the other side of the front door. “Come on, ladies, I don’t want to be late!”
“Coming, Dad!” Laura called out. She reached for the doorknob, but Carmilla yanked her in for another kiss. She managed to pull herself away before it evolved into making out and heavy petting. “Carm!” she yelped, even if she enjoyed every second of it. Before Carmilla could make another move, she opened the door and practically skipped outside.
Carmilla was visibly flustered as she followed Laura out and into the truck. “Still killing me, Hollis,” she muttered, so only Laura could hear.
Laura’s dad started driving, and had the radio turned up to some 70s rock song.
And all Laura could do was make eye contact with Carmilla through the rearview mirror and smile.
And, it comes to an end... Y'all have no idea how much your comments and your messages have meant to me. This fic evolved from many different iterations. My main inspirations were the films Notting Hill and Weekend. The latter, especially, influenced the dynamic I wrote for this universe's Laura and Carmilla.
I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it. As always, my ask box is open. Thank you so much, and till next time!