Carmilla walks through the streets with no destination in mind, simply weaving through the bustle of New York City for lack of anything better to do. But it’s not like she doesn’t have time to waste – she has all the time in the world. She’s not usually one for crowds, and Christmas time in New York is the epitome of that, but she thought the people-watching would provide as a distraction. She should have known better, though; it never worked in the past and it sure as hell isn’t working now. Her mind always drifts back to it, no matter how hard she tries.
Carmilla was lounging on her bed when Laura walked in, back from her day of classes.
“Hey, cupcake, I got you those cookies you like. They’re by your computer,” Carmilla said, motioning to Laura’s desk without looking up from her book.
Carmilla looked up at the sound of Laura’s voice, studying Laura as she sat down on her bed across the room from Carmilla. Carmilla lifted herself from her own bed and walked over to Laura, sitting down beside her.
“Carm, what are we doing?” Laura asked, her voice barely above a whisper.
“What do you mean?”
“What are we doing with us? How did we ever think this was going to work?”
Carmilla froze. “Where is this coming from?”
“We were talking about photography in class and the professor showed us this series of photos of a woman who lived in the same house her entire life. She took a photo in front of it every 5 years and she changed over time but the house remained almost the same,” Laura explained, her eyes unfocused on the floor in front of her. “Carm, I’m the woman and you’re the house.”
“What are you getting at?” Carmilla asked, although she already knew. She needed Laura to say it.
“I’m going to get old and you’re not. We can’t avoid that fact anymore,” Laura said, looking down at her hands.
“I was never under the impression that we were avoiding it. We knew what it meant when we got into this.”
“But I don’t think we really understood what it meant,” Laura replied, tears forming in her eyes as she looked up at Carmilla.
Carmilla felt her breath leave her. “Don’t you love me?” She asked, her voice smaller than Laura had ever heard it. It was an abrupt question but Carmilla didn’t know what else to say, her thoughts an incoherent mess.
“Of course I love you. Probably more than I’ll love anyone,” Laura answered, her voice strained. “I just don’t think that’s enough.”
“I’ve been around a long time, cupcake, and I’ve seen a lot of shit. Love counts for more than most people think it does,” Carmilla argued.
“I wish I believed that. I love you so much and I want to believe it, but I can’t. I can’t believe it when I think about me getting old and you staying the same, when I think about not getting to share the same experiences because you’ve lived for so long already and I’m only just starting my life.”
By now, tears were flowing freely down Laura’s face and Carmilla was trying to hold back tears of her own, willing them not to fall. Carmilla wanted to argue with Laura, to say anything to change her mind, but she stopped herself because as much as it pained her to admit, she knew that Laura was right. She couldn’t hold Laura back – Carmilla loved her too much to do that to her.
“So what do you want to do then?” Carmilla asked, her voice shaking slightly.
Laura looked at Carmilla for a long moment before leaning in to give her a light kiss on the lips. “I think we have to break up.”
Carmilla laughed humorlessly. “So that’s it then? All this ends with just a five minute conversation?”
Laura let out a shaky breath. “I hope you know this isn’t easy for me. Everything in me is telling me that I’m making the wrong decision and that I should stay with you for the rest of my life. We would have such a great life together, you and I – we would be so happy. But there’s this part of me that knows if we did stay together, there would always be this doubt in the back of my mind. You would always be waiting on me, doing things just because I wanted to do them. I don’t want you to wait on me.”
Carmilla silently pulled Laura into her arms, with Laura folding into the embrace. Carmilla knew that there was nothing she could say and holding Laura for one last time would have to be enough.
They almost came to New York once, when they were laying on the grass at Silas planning where they would travel for the summer break. They were deciding between New York and Tokyo, opting for Tokyo since Laura had never been to Asia before. Carmilla didn’t care where they went; she had traveled the world twice over and she would go anywhere as long as Laura was next to her.
Carmilla almost smiles but she remembers that it’s just a memory now and nothing more. She wills it away, looking at the buildings around her to bring her back into the present. It’s been at least 20 years since she’s been to New York but the city hasn’t changed too much. It’s never been her favorite city but she doesn’t hate it either, which is saying something.
Carmilla walks past a construction worker and narrows her eyes in disgust when he spits on the sidewalk four feet from her but she doesn’t break her stride. She’s about to pass a 7-11 when a woman exits with her head turned, almost bumping into Carmilla.
“Oh, sorry! I didn’t mean-“ She starts, stopping mid-sentence when she looks up. “Carmilla.”
Carmilla is stunned for a moment, not believing the sight in front of her, but she quickly composes herself. “Laura,” she responds with a polite nod.
Laura blinks, slightly dazed. “Uh, how have you been?”
“Oh, you know, same as always.”
Laura nods in acknowledgement but doesn’t say anything.
“What about you? What have you been up to?” Carmilla asks, keeping the conversation on safe ground. She can easily find this information out for herself but she is respecting Laura’s wishes – one of the two wishes that Laura made Carmilla promise to honor all those years ago. Carmilla couldn’t agree to fulfill Laura’s first wish, which Laura understood, but not looking Laura up was a promise Carmilla could keep, so she makes sure she knows nothing about Laura’s life, no matter how it difficult it is. It’s what Laura wants and Carmilla could never deny her.
“I’m working for the New York Times now. I mean, it’s a low position and it’s hard work but I love it.”
Carmilla gives a genuine smile. “The New York Times was on your list. I’m happy for you.”
“Thank you,” Laura replies, giving a small smile of her own.
They both look to the ground, not knowing what else to say. Carmilla glances back at Laura, taking the opportunity to really look at her. She notices that Laura still seems the same, albeit older and calmer than she was in college. Carmilla didn’t know what else she was expecting, though, considering it’s been eight years since they’ve seen each other and Laura is human after all – eight years is a significant period of time in a human lifetime, even though it’s merely a blip for Carmilla. She thinks about all the adventures Laura must have been on, all the experiences she must have gone through by now. She thinks about not being the one by Laura’s side through any of it.
Carmilla can’t help herself. “Are you with anyone?”
“It’s an innocent enough question.”
Laura sighs, knowing that it isn’t. “Yes, I’m with someone.”
Carmilla looks down at her shoes. She prepared herself for either answer but she still feels like someone sucker punched her, the air leaving her lungs. “Are you happy?” She asks, looking up again.
Laura looks at her for a long second before answering. “I am.”
Carmilla nods. “Good. I’m glad.”
“Are you happy?” Laura asks tentatively.
“As much as I can be.”
Laura looks down at her hands, knowing the reason behind Carmilla’s answer.
Carmilla can see the guilt forming on Laura’s features. “Hey, I’m trying,” she reassures, smiling sadly. “I told you I couldn’t make any promises but I am trying.” She knows it’s a lie but she can’t bear the thought of her being the reason for Laura’s unhappiness, no matter how temporary it may be. She reaches her hand out to nudge Laura’s arm but she catches herself and pulls it back.
Laura doesn’t seem convinced but she lets it go. “Listen, do you want to get coffee or something?”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Carmilla answers, her chest tightening. It takes everything in her to refuse Laura’s offer but she has to hold herself together somehow, even if it is with tape and glue.
A flash of disappointment crosses Laura’s face but it’s gone as fast as it came. “I understand.”
“I better let you get going. You’re probably really busy.”
Laura understands the meaning behind Carmilla’s words, smiling tightly. “Yeah, I should. It was nice to run into you.”
“I’m glad you’re happy,” Carmilla simply responds, saying nothing more. It’s the only honest thing she can say that doesn’t go beyond polite pleasantries.
Laura is about to walk away but turns back on impulse and embraces Carmilla in a tight hug. Carmilla keeps her hands at her side, not knowing whether it’s shock or self-preservation that keeps her from responding.
Laura releases Carmilla and smiles awkwardly before backing away slowly.
“Bye, Carm,” Laura says, eventually turning and walking away.
“Bye,” Carmilla whispers, although Laura is too far away now to hear her. She watches Laura until she is out of sight and even then, Carmilla doesn’t move. She feels the weight of the last eight years on her chest and she closes her eyes, willing it away.
Carmilla turns and walks in the opposite direction from where Laura went. She can feel herself falling apart again and all it took was a five minute conversation.