Carmilla Karnstein was thirteen years old when she had her first kiss.
Her best friend, Laura Hollis, was sitting next to her in the backyard of her house in Bel Air, side by side with their backs to the fence that ran around the edge of the property. There was one specific place where they sat in the evenings, in the shade of a criminally overwatered lemon tree, because the next door neighbor was a film composer and they could hear him playing his piano most nights while the sun was setting.
The music was slow today, melancholy, and it fit the mood Laura was in. Sarah Jane at school had been harping all week about how she had a boyfriend and they kissed all the time, and when she’d asked Laura what her first kiss was like and Laura had just shrugged and told the truth, paying more attention to the book she was reading than the gossip around her, S.J. made it her mission to tease Laura about it whenever the opportunity arose.
“’Like, oh my god Laura, you’re a teenager,’” Laura mocked, putting on an exaggerated valley girl accent as she imitated Sarah Jane for Carmilla’s benefit. “’What kind of teenager has never kissed someone?’ Ugh, she’s the worst.” Laura pouted, ripping little tufts of grass out of the ground at her feet in frustration. “I can guarantee half the girls that follow her around have never kissed anyone either. They just lied.”
“First kisses aren’t nearly as big a deal as idiots like Sarah Jane make them out to be,” Carmilla drawled, picking up some of the grass Laura pulled out and braiding the blades together. “It’s just like virginity. Our culture has made it into some big deal, but all it leads to is people having disappointing first kisses and first times and wishing they’d waited.”
Laura stared at her and Carmilla tried not to blush. She had been reading a lot of articles about culture and philosophy lately, and it was rubbing off in her conversations. Laura didn’t seem to mind, though. In fact, she enjoyed it. She was the only person in Carmilla’s life that did.
So when Laura’s stare led into a slow smile, Carmilla just rolled her eyes and sighed.
“Why are you looking at me like that, cupcake?”
“We should kiss,” Laura said seriously. Carmilla stared at her blankly. “Seriously! We just kiss right now, you and me, and our first kisses are out of the way. Boom. Nothing to worry about anymore.”
Carmilla found herself rolling her eyes again, but a smile was starting to curve at her lips.
“If we kiss, will you stop complaining?” she asked, letting a teasing lilt slip into her voice and a smirk play on her lips.
“Yes,” Laura promised eagerly, grinning.
Carmilla heaved an enormous sigh.
“Fine,” she groaned as if it was a huge chore, but Laura was still grinning at her and she knew the girl could see right through her. So, without any further warning, she leaned in and pressed her lips to Laura’s.
Laura stiffened in surprise, only to relax half a moment later. Carmilla could feel the warmth of her breath as she exhaled through her nose, and it stirred something in her chest. But she ignored it and pulled back after a few moments, blinking her eyes open and watching Laura thoughtfully lick her lips.
“There,” Carmilla said, tossing Laura her signature smirk. “First kiss is out of the way for both of us. Now we can move on to bigger and better things.”
Laura was blushing but trying to hide it, so she just smiled in that pretty way of hers and turned toward the sunset, leaning back against the fence. Carmilla’s neighbor was still playing his piano, a soft, jazzy tune floating through the warm evening air. It was so relaxing she almost didn’t notice Laura slipping a hand into hers and lacing their fingers together. Almost.
“Thanks, Carm,” she murmured, eyes still fixed on the sunset.
“No problem,” Carmilla replied, forcing her voice into a lighter tone than usual.
She wouldn’t admit it, but that simple peck on the lips had been pretty nice. Maybe all first kisses weren’t disappointing after all.
Nine years later, sitting on Danny’s couch, Laura smiled softly and took a slow breath, eyes darting anxiously between Carmilla’s.
“We never talked about it afterward,” she said quietly. “I’m surprised you even remember.”
Carmilla’s smirk slowly widened into a smile as she gazed at Laura. She licked her lips, catching Laura glancing down at the action.
“It was my first kiss, cutie,” Carmilla said, letting her voice drop into her lower register because she knew it made Laura blush when it was directed at her. “How could I forget?”
Carmilla held her breath and tried not to look too disappointed when Laura swallowed hard and looked away.
An hour later, sitting in the shade on the beach, Carmilla’s nervous muttering was cut off by Laura’s lips.
Carmilla had never felt her brain shut down so completely. The world outside their little patch of shade ceased to exist, because Laura’s lips were so warm and so soft, her kiss so slow and so sure. Her hand was hot and light on the back of Carmilla’s neck, holding her close, and Carmilla let out a sigh. Because Laura made this so easy.
She kissed her like it was normal, like they did it all the time, and Carmilla believed it. Laura tasted like springtime and smiled against Carmilla’s mouth, and Carmilla was done for.
It was the perfect kiss. Nothing else would ever compare. So really it wasn’t her fault when Laura pulled back and Carmilla just said “wow.”
Laura could laugh and tease all she wanted, Carmilla was just being honest. By the time she leaned back in for another kiss, just as perfect as the first, she’d completely forgotten it was all for the benefit of the photographer sitting up the beach.
On the thirteenth anniversary of the car accident that killed her father, Carmilla finally managed to convince Laura to skip class with her.
She considered it a victory even though it was won under false pretenses.
Laura knew very well what day it was, every tabloid in the city drudging it up to lament the loss of powerhouse actor Ben Karnstein, killed so tragically in his prime. Laura tended to tiptoe around Carmilla on this day every year, despite her repeated assurances that she wasn’t particularly bothered by it. She was sixteen months old when he died; she didn’t have a single memory of the man.
But Laura and Carmilla had never really sat down and talked about their parents together, despite how close they’d been for four years.
“Would you stop with all the soft-touching and the doe eyes, cupcake?” Carmilla sighed, pulling two glass bottles of ginger beer out of her bag and handing one to Laura. Carmilla cracked hers open on the edge of the heating duct next to them, and Laura handed her bottle back over to Carmilla to do the same. “I’m not going to start crying if you speak at a normal volume, okay? Just enjoy the view.”
Laura huffed a bit as she took a sip from her bottle, eyes widening a little as she scanned the horizon. It was no easy feat, getting up to the roof of the expensive private school they attended just outside of Beverly Hills. But no challenge was too great for Carmilla Karnstein when it came to making Laura Hollis break the rules.
“Okay, it’s a pretty nice view,” Laura relented at length, bumping her shoulder into Carmilla’s with a half-smile. Carmilla grinned victoriously and Laura rolled her eyes. “I just… I want to talk to you. I want you to talk to me.”
“There’s nothing to talk about,” Carmilla said with a shrug. Laura just leaned over and rested her head on Carmilla’s shoulder, pouting, until Carmilla let out a long sigh. “Okay, fine. I’ll put this as simply as I can.”
Laura leaned back again so she could see her, smiling, and Carmilla had to glance away to hide her blush.
“Yes, Mattie still has her dad, and Will still has his dad, so sometimes it’s just me and Mother,” Carmilla said slowly, her eyes fixed to the horizon. “And Mattie is the apple of her dad’s eye, and Will’s dad got remarried and he has a whole other mom to treat him like a baby.” Laura laughed quietly and Carmilla smiled as she turned to meet her eyes. “I guess that used to bother me a little. But it hasn’t for the past few years, because I have something they don’t.”
Laura just stared at her, a confused frown forming a little wrinkle between her eyebrows. Carmilla laughed and reached up with her thumb, smoothing out the crease and letting her fingers drift down to tuck Laura’s hair behind her ear.
“I’ve got you,” Carmilla said softly, biting down her smile. Laura’s eyes went wide and Carmilla laughed. “Between you and my mother and my siblings and your dad… it’s enough.” She shrugged a little, waiting for Laura to respond. But Laura still seemed completely blown away, so Carmilla leaned over and nudged her with her shoulder. “More than enough.”
“You don’t have to say anything,” Carmilla sighed, pausing to take a long sip of her ginger beer. “Because that was really sappy and I’m never going to say it again.” Laura let out a teary laugh and Carmilla nudged her again. “You’re my best friend, Laura. Now for the love of god, please just enjoy the view.”
“Okay, fine,” Laura murmured, finally relaxing into Carmilla’s side. “Thanks for making me skip class.”
Carmilla let herself laugh brightly at that, Laura’s musical giggles soon joining her. She didn’t realize until much later that telling Laura she was enough was possibly the highest compliment she could have given her.
Eight years later, Laura was sitting in Carmilla’s lap on the couch, tears drying on her face as Carmilla stroked her cheekbones with her thumbs and searched her eyes.
“You want me to call your dad?” Carmilla asked gently. That was what she’d done the last time. Held her until the crying stopped and called Sherman.
But Laura shook her head slowly, a long sigh escaping her. She leaned forward until her forehead rested against Carmilla’s, and her whole body seemed to settle at the contact.
“You’re enough,” Laura whispered.
Carmilla tried desperately to mask the sound of her breath catching in her chest, but she failed. In fact, the wind was very nearly knocked out of her.
She was enough. She was enough for Laura. Nobody had ever told Carmilla she was enough for anything, and now here was Laura, telling her so. All Carmilla wanted in the entire world was to be enough for Laura.
Twenty minutes later, when Laura was tucked in her arms on the couch and her long, slow breaths proved she was fully asleep, Carmilla cried.
Carmilla was fifteen when she met a girl named Elle. Though she was less of a girl and more of a hurricane in human form.
Elle was the only daughter of Hollywood’s hottest power couple. She was beautiful and blonde and accustomed to getting whatever she wanted, and what she wanted at fifteen was to smoke and steal and vandalize.
She also wanted Carmilla.
So she and Carmilla started dating, and Carmilla joined her circle of friends, and soon enough she was smoking and stealing and vandalizing with the worst of them.
Laura didn’t like it. She never said so, but Carmilla could tell. She didn’t like Carmilla’s new friends, and she didn’t like what they were doing, and she especially didn’t like Elle. And that made Carmilla feel guiltier than any punishment her mother could dole out.
Especially when Laura started dating Natalie.
Natalie was about as different from Elle as it was possible to be. She was quiet but brilliant, and she was such a good girlfriend to Laura that Carmilla couldn’t even bring herself to hate her. So she vented her frustrations the same way her new friends did, becoming more callous and destructive than ever, and in the end she and Elle managed to break each other’s hearts in the most painful ways possible before they even reached their one year anniversary.
Carmilla pretended to be unaffected, considering she now had a reputation to maintain, but Laura saw through her. Laura cancelled a date with Natalie to sit on the floor of Carmilla’s bedroom with her and drink Yoo-hoo and sing along while she played all of the Bangles songs she knew on her bass guitar.
At two o’clock in the morning when they were sitting back to back and Laura was giggling her way through Manic Monday, changing “Valentino” to “Carmilla” and switching the “he’s” to “she’s,” Carmilla realized she had never loved Elle. She thought she had, but she hadn’t. And she knew because she realized at that moment that she was head-over-heels in love with Laura Hollis.
Laura Hollis, her best friend since they were ten and the only human being on the planet Carmilla would never let herself hurt.
Her fingers fumbled on the guitar strings and Laura just kept singing. When she finished the verse she leaned her head back on Carmilla’s shoulder, thankfully unable to see the look on Carmilla’s face from that angle. Because her expression was probably somewhere between shock and heartbreak.
Shock, because hello, she was barely sixteen and in love with her best friend. And the longer she thought about it, the more she realized she’d loved her for the whole six years they’d known each other.
And heartbreak, because Laura deserved so much better than her.
She deserved a Nobel Prize winner or an Olympic athlete or a queen. Or at least someone like Natalie, someone just as compassionate and intelligent as she was, someone just as devoted to her.
Nearly a year with Elle and all Carmilla had really learned about herself was that she broke beautiful things. And Laura was the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen.
Carmilla didn’t realize she was crying until she felt Laura turn around behind her, felt her arms snake around her waist and pull her back to Laura’s front. Felt Laura press a kiss to her shoulder and heard her hum quietly.
“It’s okay,” she murmured, and for a moment Carmilla thought Laura was reading her mind. Thought Laura was telling her it was okay that she loved her. But then she remembered she and Elle had broken up yesterday. That was why she was supposed to be crying. That was why Laura was comforting her.
And the fact that that wasn’t the reason at all made her cry even harder.
“I’m here,” Laura whispered, and Carmilla let out a broken sob.
Because in what world would she ever be able to make Laura happy?
It was barely six months later when she broke Laura’s heart for the first time.
They both pretended it hadn’t happened afterward, but Carmilla would never forget it. It was seared into her memory, replayed in her nightmares. The two of them lying on the floor in a blanket fort, Laura with her head on Carmilla’s stomach. Laura’s forced casual tone when she asked if she’d ever thought about it. The two of them. Together.
Of course she’d thought about it. It was all she’d thought about for the last six months. But Laura had Natalie, so she just brushed the thought aside.
Now Laura didn’t have Natalie. Now Laura was asking if she wanted her. And she had to physically bite her tongue to stop herself from replying with “yes, yes, god yes.”
“I’ve… thought about it,” Carmilla managed to say eventually. It was an honest answer, and it gave her more time to think. Because she needed more time.
Why the hell would Laura even want her in the first place?
No, it didn’t make sense. She was just upset over her break up and drunk on wine coolers, she didn’t mean it. She couldn’t mean it. And if she did… no, she couldn’t. Because Carmilla would hurt her. She’d break her heart and ruin everything.
“You don’t… you don’t like me that way,” Laura said slowly, and she sounded so small.
Dammit. She was already hurting her. She was trying so hard not to and she was doing it anyway. She heard Laura sniffle quietly and she wanted to scream. She wanted to run. She wanted to break something. She was dangerous and reckless and all she did was hurt the people she loved.
“I would just… I would break your heart,” Carmilla whispered. She swallowed hard, swallowed her tears and the words she wanted to say and the pain in her chest. “We shouldn’t… we’re better the way we are.”
“Okay,” Laura replied almost too quickly. She scooted away and Carmilla had to stop herself from reaching out after her. “I’m sorry I… I shouldn’t have said anything…”
Dammit dammit dammit. This was awful. Laura was already hurt by Natalie, and now this. Now Carmilla was making it worse. Carmilla always made it worse.
“No, don’t… don’t be sorry,” Carmilla stammered. She couldn’t just explain it, either. She couldn’t just tell her she was bad for her. Because Laura saw the best in everyone, especially Carmilla. And Laura would tell her no, she wouldn’t hurt her. No, she wouldn’t break her heart. She would tell her she trusted her and she believed in her. She would say that, and Carmilla would believe her, and they would kiss and for a while Laura would be happy. For a while they would both be happy. And it would just hurt even worse when the inevitable happened and Carmilla ruined everything. “I just… I’m sorry, I just…”
This hurt so badly. She didn’t know it was possible for something to be this painful without a punch being thrown or a gun being shot.
“It’s fine,” Laura said suddenly, cutting Carmilla’s stammering short. Then she rolled over, curling up against Carmilla’s side without any warning. Carmilla’s breath caught in her chest and she ached, she physically ached to just turn and wrap Laura in her arms. “I’m just glad you’re here.”
God, there was nothing in the world that could have prepared her for how much that would hurt.
“I’ll always be here,” she whispered, closing her eyes so Laura couldn’t see the tears in them.
She didn’t let herself cry until she was sure Laura had fallen asleep.
Six years later, she found Laura sitting in the exact same place on the floor, staring at her shattered phone. The fear and panic that had been consuming her all morning finally slipped away as Laura took her face in her hands.
“I saw that article and I just… I shut down,” Laura whispered, shaking her head slowly. “I was hurting so bad I couldn’t stand it and I just turned myself off. I just left. I’m so sorry.”
“It’s okay,” Carmilla sighed, and she meant it. She smiled a bit, because she knew Laura was waiting for it, and she saw the change in Laura’s eyes as she relaxed just a little. She found herself leaning in without thinking, pressing her forehead to Laura’s like she was drawn to her magnetically. A comfortable hum slipped out of her. “Just… please don’t do it again.”
“I won’t, I swear,” Laura said quickly.
“Shhh,” Carmilla shushed her gently and she fell silent. “We’re in this together, you know?” Laura’s eyes fluttered closed and she nodded. “Whatever happens, I’m right there with you. I promised, remember?”
“I promise too,” Laura said softly. “I promise I’ll never leave you like that again.”
Carmilla felt herself smiling, the corners of her mouth turning up cautiously. Laura always kept her promises. Then, suddenly, Laura’s lips were on Carmilla’s forehead, kissing her softly and causing Carmilla’s breath to catch in her chest almost violently.
Carmilla had kissed Laura’s forehead before, usually when she was having a panic attack over her mom. But Laura had never returned the favor. This was new, this was… intimate. Carmilla relaxed against her, tension draining away from her limbs.
When she moved to sit next to Laura and Laura’s immediate instinct was to take her hand and lace their fingers together, Carmilla felt that traitorous hope bubbling up in her chest. That hope that kept her hanging on no matter how painful it was. That hope that Laura loved her.
When Carmilla was eighteen, she saw Laura truly fall apart for the first time.
They had been living in their apartment together for just under six months when it happened. It had started out as just another day, attending classes all morning and getting home in the late afternoon. Laura and Carmilla walked into the kitchen together, Laura holding the mail and chattering excitedly about the front page article of the copy of National Geographic on the top of the pile. Carmilla dropped the grocery bag of cat food she was carrying onto the kitchen island with a fond roll of her eyes and was halfway to the fridge before she noticed Laura had gone silent.
Carmilla had been present for the last two post cards that had arrived for Laura. But that had been at Laura’s dad’s house with Laura’s dad to comfort her. Now it was just her, just Carmilla facing Laura as her entire world collapsed around her.
“Laura,” Carmilla said softly, approaching the girl slowly with her hands outstretched. Laura didn’t move, knuckles white as she clutched the post card in both hands and posture rigid as her eyes flew over the words too fast to comprehend. “Laura, hey. Can you look at me?”
Laura’s eyes flicked up to Carmilla’s for less than a second. She was visibly shaking, her jaw clenched, and it was then that Carmilla realized she didn’t appear to be breathing.
All of Carmilla’s discomfort disappeared, replaced entirely by a surprisingly powerful instinct to protect Laura.
“Take a breath, sweetheart,” Carmilla said firmly, stepping forward and squeezing Laura’s shoulders. “Come on, you need to breathe.”
Laura exhaled, her breath leaving her shakily. Carmilla nodded, rubbing her hands slowly down to Laura’s elbows and back up to her shoulders.
“Good,” Carmilla whispered. The post card started to crinkle in Laura’s tight grip, but her eyes wouldn’t leave it. “What do you need, Laura? What do you need me to do?”
Laura started shaking her head. Slowly at first, but speeding up in time with her rapid breathing.
“Okay, okay, that’s fine,” Carmilla said hurriedly, reaching up and cupping Laura’s cheeks in her hands to stop her shaking. “We’ll just keep breathing. That’s fine.”
Tears started slipping out from the corners of Laura’s eyes, and Carmilla just brushed them away with her thumbs as they fell.
“I’m here, darling,” Carmilla whispered, and now that Laura was breathing again, all of her confidence was wearing off. Now Laura was hurting and Carmilla was scared. “I’m not going anywhere, okay?”
Laura nodded, and just that small action quelled the fear rising in Carmilla’s chest. And then suddenly Laura was crying, letting out loud, heartbroken sobs, and Carmilla acted on pure instinct. She wrapped Laura in her arms and slid down to the floor, holding Laura as close as was physically possible and letting her cry.
“You’re okay,” Carmilla murmured into Laura’s hair, rocking them slowly back and forth while Laura shook with sobs. “I’ve got you.”
Laura quieted eventually, her breathing slowing back to normal and her grip on Carmilla relaxing. When Carmilla shifted, intending to pull back a bit and give her space to breathe, Laura panicked and clung to her tighter.
“Don’t go,” she whispered harshly, fingers digging into Carmilla’s back.
“I won’t,” Carmilla replied quickly, settling back against the cabinets again. Laura buried her face in Carmilla’s neck, and it took a concerted effort on Carmilla’s part to keep her breathing level. “Are you going to be okay, Laura?”
“Yeah,” Laura sighed, her breath warm and slow on Carmilla’s skin. “Yeah… I just… not yet.”
“I’m here as long as you need,” Carmilla murmured. She felt Laura swallow hard, felt her fingers dig in again before relaxing just a bit. She nodded against Carmilla’s neck and fell still.
Sitting on the kitchen floor with Laura in her arms, struggling to slow her breathing and match Carmilla’s pace, Carmilla thought for the first time in her life that maybe, just maybe, she could make Laura happy.
Four years later, Carmilla had Laura pinned to the wall of a service hallway off the ballroom where the after party of a very important film was taking place, just barely managing to pull herself away from the series of warm, languid kisses Laura was giving her to ask the question that had been at the forefront of her mind for the last five minutes.
“Do I really make you happy?” she asked, her voice sounding somewhere between skeptical and hopeful. Because damn, that was all she wanted in the entire world. For Laura to be happy. And the idea that she was the one responsible for it just took her breath away.
Laura nodded immediately, grinning, and Carmilla had to close her eyes for a moment to compose herself.
“I’m so happy with you, Carm,” Laura sighed blissfully, and Carmilla couldn’t help herself. She leaned in and pressed a line of kisses across Laura’s jaw, grinning when Laura tilted her head just a bit to give her access to more skin. “Always have been. Even when it wasn’t real.”
Carmilla scoffed as she pulled back, sending Laura the smirk that always made her blush.
“It was always real,” she said softly. She took both of Laura’s hands in hers, looking at them thoughtfully as she ran her thumb over Laura’s ring. “So, what do we do about this?”
Carmilla let out a surprised laugh when Laura lifted their joined hands to her lips, pressing soft kisses to her knuckles.
“Carmilla Karnstein,” she began, her voice quiet and serious despite the giant grin on her face. “Will you stop being fake engaged to me, and start being real engaged to me?”
Carmilla felt like her heart would burst, it was so full. This woman was the love of her life, and she wanted to marry her. For real.
“You couldn’t stop me if you tried,” Carmilla said lowly, beaming. Laura was practically vibrating with excitement and Carmilla squeezed her hands. “Laura Hollis, will you marry me?”
Laura looked completely breathless for a few moments and it took everything Carmilla had not to just kiss her on the spot, to hell with her answer.
“Of course,” Laura laughed, tears welling in her eyes. She looked down, trying to blink them back, and Carmilla reached up and cupped her cheeks in her hands. She tilted Laura’s head back up gently, swiping tears away with her thumbs.
“Please don’t cry,” Carmilla murmured, leaning in and ghosting her lips over Laura’s forehead to hide her own glassy eyes. “If you start crying, I’ll start crying.”
“They’re happy tears, I promise,” Laura sighed, tilting her head back against the wall. Carmilla let her breathe, taking the opportunity to take a few deep breaths herself. “Just um… I’ve spent six years convincing myself you don’t love me, so if you could remind me that you do every so often that’d be great.”
“I love you,” Carmilla said, barely letting Laura finish her sentence. She leaned in and pressed a soft, lingering kiss to Laura’s lips. “I love you so much.” Her mouth drifted over to Laura’s jaw, kissing a line from her chin up to her ear. “Always have.”
They were interrupted moments after Carmilla started kissing her way down Laura’s neck, but she couldn’t care less. The rest of the evening passed in a happy blur because Laura was hers. After all this time, all the pining and the heartache, Laura was hers and no one else’s.
Carmilla was twenty two when she learned that Laura Hollis was the best sex she’d ever had.
She made that discovery earlier than she’d expected, as the second they were through their apartment door Laura pinned her to it and took her apart with her lips on her neck and her hand between her legs.
She hadn’t really thought about Laura in the context of sex before. She was so in love with her, the idea of sleeping with her didn’t even matter. Of course she was physically attracted to her, the girl was gorgeous, and of course she’d thought about it abstractly before. Thought about what Laura would look like in her bed, all soft eyes and blushing skin.
What she hadn’t been expecting was Laura to press her to the wall at the bottom of the stairs minutes after she’d finished her at the door, apparently too impatient to make it all the way up to Carmilla’s bed. But it was kind of all Carmilla could think about now, with Laura looking up at her from her knees and whispering that she couldn’t go another second without hearing the sounds Carmilla had made when she came undone again.
It was a little hard to walk up the stairs after that.
But she managed, and when they reached her bed she returned the favor. Both favors. And then some.
And that was how she learned that Laura was impatient when it came to sex. She was also noisy, moaning and whimpering and gasping various combinations of ‘Carmilla’ and ‘please’ and a rather extensive vocabulary of curses. And she was a biter. The impatience and the sounds weren’t particularly surprising, but the biting was. And damn it was hot.
Carmilla, on the other hand, had always preferred it fast, but with Laura it was different. With Laura, she wanted to take it slow. She wanted it to last. She wanted Laura to feel everything as deeply and completely as possible. And judging by the steadily increasing pitch of Laura’s voice, she succeeded.
But Laura learned a lot that night too. Most notably, she finally figured out, after twelve long years, exactly where Carmilla was ticklish.
Carmilla woke up before Laura, a few hours after they’d fallen back to sleep following her mother’s phone call. Laura had always had a tendency to curl her body up against Carmilla’s side when they shared a bed, but this was different.
This was so much more.
More skin, more contact, more love. God, so much love. Laura was pressed up against Carmilla from her hips to her heart, arms wrapped tight around her waist and legs tangled together. Her head was still tucked under Carmilla’s chin, her breath slow and even against Carmilla’s collarbones.
Carmilla wanted nothing more than to pull back so she could look at her, see that beautiful face of hers as she slept, but she was far too comfortable and there was no way she was going to risk waking Laura. So instead she just settled in, smiling and burying her face in Laura’s hair. One of her arms was trapped under Laura’s body and had lost all feeling, but the other was free to stroke lazily up and down Laura’s side.
She didn’t even realize she was humming until Laura yawned and started singing along.
“Quand elle me prend dans ses bras,” she sang softly, and Carmilla grinned at the change of pronouns. “Elle me parle tout bas, je vois la vie en rose.”
“Joke’s on you, love,” Carmilla murmured into Laura’s hair. “I was humming the Louis Armstrong version.”
“So I busted out my French accent for nothing?” Laura whined, shifting herself up in the bed until she and Carmilla were eye to eye. She smiled, cheeks pink and eyes sparkling. “Hey.”
“Hey,” Carmilla barely managed to reply before Laura leaned in that last inch and pressed their lips together in a kiss that would have left her staggering if they weren’t in bed.
Laura pulled back with a slow sigh, eyes closed comfortably. She wound her arms around Carmilla’s neck, pressing their foreheads together with a content little hum.
“So,” Laura started softly. Carmilla kept her eyes trained on Laura’s, waiting for them to open and show her what she was feeling. “It’s the morning after. Daylight. Emotions aren’t running quite as high.” Her eyes fluttered open and she bit her lip to contain her smile. “Still love me?”
“More than ever,” Carmilla whispered. Laura hummed again, a blush coloring her cheeks, and Carmilla couldn’t resist leaning in and dusting kisses over her face. “Still want to marry me?”
“For some reason, yeah,” Laura teased. She cupped Carmilla’s face in her hands, thumbs stroking her jawline softly. “You don’t think we’re moving too fast?”
“We’ve been together for twelve years,” Carmilla pointed out, prompting Laura to laugh quietly. “I don’t think anything we do at this point could be considered moving too fast.”
“Oh I’m sure we could think of something,” Laura said with a smirk. Carmilla rolled her eyes dramatically and Laura let out another laugh.
“You know, we could move in together,” Carmilla said, a slow smile spreading across her face. Laura quirked an eyebrow at her.
“Has it escaped your notice that we’ve lived together for four years?”
Carmilla rolled her eyes again and Laura’s tongue peeked out from between her teeth in an effort to keep from laughing.
“I meant move in here,” Carmilla said slowly, casting a glance around her room. She suddenly felt a bit shy, a bit nervous, and she wasn’t quite sure how to handle it. She looked down, away from Laura’s eyes, and tried to ignore the fact that she was blushing. “I mean… if you want to. Since my room is bigger. So you could like… move all of your stuff in here.” Carmilla let out an irritated sigh, closing her eyes. “Wow. This is so… why am I so nervous right now?”
She opened her eyes at the sound of Laura’s laugh, but there was no malice to it. Nothing unkind. It was soft and quiet and fond, and the absolutely adoring way Laura was looking at her kind of knocked the breath right out of Carmilla.
“Of course I’m moving in with you,” Laura said as though it was obvious. She wiggled a bit, reminding Carmilla exactly how much of their bodies were still touching and causing her breath to hitch. “You think I’m going to spend a single night not in bed with you ever again?” She scoffed. “No. As far as I’m concerned, this is our room now. Has been since the moment you kissed me last night.”
Carmilla hummed thoughtfully, lips twitching into a smile.
“Our room,” she repeated softly, reverently. “Our bed. In our room. In our home.” She sighed, eyes fluttering shut briefly when she felt like Laura’s smoldering gaze would burn right through her. “I like the sound of that.”
“Me too,” Laura said with a grin. She pressed a sloppy kiss to Carmilla’s neck and rolled out of the bed so abruptly Carmilla jumped in surprise. She sat up, eyes following Laura as she walked naked across the room.
“Where are you going?” Carmilla pouted, sticking out her lower lip. “Leaving me here all alone in this big bed?”
“I’m going to take a shower,” Laura said lightly, pausing in the doorway and looking over her shoulder. A smirk spread across her face that immediately doubled Carmilla’s heart rate. “Aren’t you coming?”
Carmilla had never leapt out of her bed so fast in her entire life.
After the shower, Laura went down to the kitchen to start breakfast and Carmilla made good on her promise to call her mother back. Lilita Morgan informed Carmilla, in a crisp, business-like tone, that she was free to tell Mattie and Will the truth about her relationship with Laura if she wanted, but only if she never offered to give her the ‘play by play’ of their sexual escapades ever again. Carmilla agreed.
She made her way downstairs slowly, stopping to lean in the kitchen doorway clad only in black panties and a Siouxsie & the Banshees t-shirt. She grinned at the sight of Laura at the stove, quietly singing New Romantics to herself, dressed in blue and white striped boy shorts and Carmilla’s favorite red flannel.
“‘Cause baby I could build a castle,” Laura sang quietly, hips swaying back and forth to the beat in her head. “Out of all the bricks they threw at me…” Carmilla didn’t say anything, content to just listen. Carmilla had a tendency to hum, but Laura sang. She often didn’t even realize she was doing it. “And every day is like a battle…” Carmilla crossed her arms over her chest and leaned her head against the door jamb, smiling softly. “But every night with us is like a dream.”
There it was. The line that related to Laura’s life right now. Because she never sang something without a reason. Carmilla bit down her grin and decided to make her presence known.
“Why Laura Hollis, as I live and breathe,” Carmilla said with feigned shock, pressing a hand to her chest and smirking when Laura looked over her shoulder at her. “Are you making me breakfast?”
“Maybe,” Laura sang, shrugging and turning back to the stove. Carmilla could see the blush she was trying to hide, and it just made her smirk even more. She slunk across the kitchen, moving silently into Laura’s space.
“Hmmm…” she began thoughtfully, acutely aware of the shiver that shot down Laura’s spine when she felt how close she was. “You’re singing Taylor Swift… so it must be omelets.”
“How very astute of you,” Laura replied airily, humming comfortably when Carmilla’s arms wound around her from behind and she rested her chin on her shoulder. “Or at least it would be if not for the fact that omelets are literally the only thing I can make.”
“That’s not true,” Carmilla admonished gently, turning so her smile was pressed to Laura’s neck. “You also make excellent instant noodles.”
“Flattery will get you nowhere.”
“Flattery already got me all kinds of places just this morning.”
Laura spun in Carmilla’s arms, blushing vibrantly as she pushed her away.
“Oh my god, Carm,” she laughed indignantly. Carmilla pouted and reached back toward her, but Laura fended her off with her spatula. “Back off, lady-killer. At least let me finish making breakfast.”
Carmilla sighed dramatically and slouched the few steps over to the kitchen island, perching herself on a bar stool and resting her chin on her hand.
“Baby we’re the new romantics, come on come along with me,” Laura picked up under her breath, trying to focus on the frying pan even though she could feel Carmilla’s eyes on her. “Heartbreak is the national anthem, we sing it proudly…”
Carmilla grinned at the blush she could see peeking out from the collar of her flannel, and Laura huffed.
“Would you stop that?” she asked without turning around.
“Stop what?” Carmilla asked, the innocence of her tone completely undermined by the low, gravelly register of her voice.
“Stop with the…” Laura trailed off, flailing her hands a bit as she tried to find the right words. “Seduction eyes.”
“Seduction eyes?” Carmilla repeated slowly, her voice a teasing purr, and Laura sent a half-hearted glare over her shoulder.
“Do you really want burned eggs for breakfast?”
Carmilla made a big show of thinking about it, rolling her eyes and sighing before returning her ‘seduction eyes’ to a giggling Laura.
“Maybe I want to eat something else.”
Laura somehow managed to turn even redder, spinning resolutely to face the stove.
“Oh my god,” she grumbled, fighting down her smile and shaking her head. “You’re unbelievable.”
“And you’re cute when you’re flustered,” Carmilla sighed easily, the grin never leaving her face. “But I’ve always known that.”
Laura fell silent, going still at the stove. Carmilla frowned, nervous at the sudden lack of movement. But then Laura shook her head a bit and resumed singing, picking up right where she’d left off.
“We are too busy dancing,” she sang quietly, an audible smile in her voice as she flopped the omelets onto plates. “To get knocked off our feet.” She turned off the stove and spun on her heel, a plate in each hand. “Baby we’re the new romantics…”
She deposited Carmilla’s plate on the kitchen island in front of her, leaning in for a kiss.
“The best people in life are free,” she sighed the words against Carmilla’s lips and pulled away grinning before she sat down across from her. Carmilla stared at her, still tingling from how normal that kiss felt. How easy. Like it was something they’d do every day for the rest of their lives.
She didn’t realize she was staring until Laura cleared her throat and gestured pointedly to her omelet. Carmilla shook herself and dug in.
“I don’t know how you do it,” she sighed after a few bites. “Everything else you try to make is so terrible, but your omelets are always perfect.”
“Thank you?” Laura laughed, eyebrows raised. But the smile slid slowly from her face, fading into something more thoughtful. Carmilla frowned.
“You okay?” she asked quietly.
“I was just thinking…” Laura began slowly, and Carmilla thought of making a teasing comment about how that was always a bad idea, but Laura’s gaze was far away and a nervous knot formed in Carmilla’s stomach. “About something you said when my…” She swallowed and licked her lips. “When Elaine was here for dinner.”
“Something I said?” Carmilla repeated carefully. She set her fork down on her plate silently, her mind immediately racing to figure out what Laura could be talking about.
“You said you’d always imagined us getting married outside, in the fall,” Laura said softly, blushing, and the ball of anxiety in Carmilla’s gut began to loosen. Laura’s eyes finally met hers briefly before she glanced away again. “Was that true? That you’d… thought about it? Us? Getting married someday?”
Carmilla sighed, letting the tension drain out of her. A slow smile spread across her face and she shrugged.
“It was true,” she said quietly, and Laura’s eyes snapped up to hers. “I’d thought about it. As some sort of… distant, impossible ideal, I suppose.” Laura took a slow breath, one side of her mouth curving up in a shy little half-smile. “Are you surprised?”
“A little, I guess,” Laura shrugged. She fidgeted, looking away from Carmilla again. “I mean um… it’s just…” She let out a flustered sigh and started picking at her eggs with her fork. “You do actually want to marry me, right? Like for real?”
Carmilla stared at her, completely nonplussed.
“Of course I do,” she said seriously, frowning. Laura sighed again and pinched the bridge of her nose. “Laura, what’s this about?”
“It’s like you said, we’ve kind of been talking about this like a distant, impossible thing,” Laura blurted, jumping to her feet and starting to pace. She never used to pace, but in the past few years she’d picked up the habit from Carmilla to accompany her occasional nervous rants. “It was fake before, so we’d never get to the actually being married part. But now it’s like…” She paused, hands flailing uselessly. She finally met Carmilla’s eyes, wide and anxious. “I want to spend the rest of my life with you, Carmilla. Just you. You… you want that too, right?”
Carmilla silently reached her hands out, and Laura came to her immediately. She squeezed Carmilla’s hands and Carmilla pulled her in close.
“Of course I want that,” Carmilla said quietly. She kept her tone calm, even though her heart was beating rapidly with fear. “Laura, please. Where is this coming from?”
Laura bit her lip and looked at her feet. She squeezed Carmilla’s hands again.
“It’s just… it’s nothing, we don’t have to talk about this right now…”
“Cupcake,” Carmilla whispered, reaching up and brushing her knuckles over Laura’s cheek. “We don’t have to keep things from each other anymore. Please.” She wove her hand lightly into Laura’s hair, her touch soft. “What’s got you so upset?”
Laura couldn’t meet Carmilla’s eyes, and Carmilla had to force herself to swallow past the lump in her throat.
“It’s just… you said you’ve loved me since we were sixteen,” Laura began in a fragile voice. “But then… even after… you still, I mean…” Laura stepped back, running her hands up into her hair and resuming her pacing. “You couldn’t have known, I mean you didn’t know how much it… how much it hurt, seeing you with all of those girls over the past few years…”
Carmilla felt as if an icy fist had closed around her heart. She dropped her hands to her lap and looked down.
“I’m sorry,” Laura blurted immediately, stopping her pacing to face Carmilla with her hands fluttering at her sides. “I’m sorry, we don’t… I shouldn’t have… we don’t have to talk about this now, we can just…” Laura let out an exasperated breath and rubbed her eyes. “We can just go back to flirting and breakfast and shower sex.”
Carmilla managed a quiet laugh at that, and Laura met her eyes hopefully.
“We should talk about it,” Carmilla said slowly, reaching out again. Laura was hesitant this time as she stepped back into Carmilla’s space, lacing their fingers together and coming to rest between Carmilla’s knees. “I knew we’d have to eventually.”
“We don’t have to now,” Laura whispered, leaning in and peppering kisses across Carmilla’s cheeks and chin and forehead.
“No, I want to,” Carmilla sighed, her voice catching a bit when Laura’s lips brushed the underside of her jaw. She felt Laura smile against her skin. “I told you when I realized how I felt about you, I wanted to… get better. I wanted to feel like I deserved you.” Laura hummed noncommittally at that, either to convey that she remembered or that she still disagreed. “But there was a time when I didn’t think I’d ever get there.”
Laura pulled back a bit, brow furrowed as she searched Carmilla’s eyes. She laced their fingers together and Carmilla bit her lip nervously.
“When we first moved in here I started getting drunk and bringing girls home because it was the only way I knew how to get over you,” she said in one long breath, staring at their intertwined fingers. “I was trying to move on, because I thought… I thought you’d found the person you were going to spend the rest of your life with.”
Laura was silent, and Carmilla glanced up to find her staring at her in confusion. She could practically see the wheels turning in her brain as she tried to count back, tried to figure out who Carmilla could be talking about. She saw the exact moment Laura realized, saw her eyes soften and her lips part just a bit in surprise.
“Danny,” she whispered, and Carmilla just nodded, looking down again. Danny and Laura had dated a bit when they first moved in. The word ‘girlfriend’ was never used, but there had been something there. Laura took in a quick breath. “Is that why you didn’t like her?”
“It wasn’t her,” Carmilla murmured, fingers twitching a bit in Laura’s grasp. “It was the fact that she was better for you than I was.”
“I was willing to take myself out of the equation,” Carmilla went on, shrugging. “If she made you happy, that was all that mattered. I just… didn’t find the healthiest way to deal with it.” She realized suddenly that she was running her thumb idly over Laura’s ring, but she couldn’t bring herself to stop. “I’m sorry, Laura. I didn’t know I was hurting you. The last thing I ever wanted to do was hurt you.”
“You know I stopped, right?”
Laura blinked at her, confused, and Carmilla smiled ruefully.
“The last time I brought a girl here was more than a year ago,” she pointed out quietly. “It had been a while since you had dated anyone and I thought… I realized maybe this would be my chance, so I stopped.”
“You did,” Laura said blankly, frowning to herself. “I just got so used to it I didn’t even… I tried not to notice them, so I didn’t even realize…” Carmilla looked down again, still smiling, and Laura let out an embarrassed laugh.
“It’s in the past,” Carmilla said, her voice just barely louder than a whisper. “We figured it out. And I’m yours.”
Laura looked completely floored by that last comment, all wide eyes and parted lips, and Carmilla couldn’t help but grin. Laura had to shake herself a bit to focus, and Carmilla hummed out a laugh.
“I know you’re about to apologize, but you have nothing to apologize for so don’t,” Carmilla said before Laura could start. “We got here. You and me. And we’re better for all the twists and turns along the way.”
Laura hesitated for a moment, just staring at Carmilla like she was trying to memorize her. Then all of a sudden her hands were in Carmilla’s hair, dragging her lips to hers and kissing her like she needed her to breathe.
Kissing Laura was extraordinary. There was no other way to describe it. Every kiss, from that first kiss when they were kids to the smiling kisses for the cameras to the sloppy, heated kisses in bed, every single one felt like the first. Kissing Laura made Carmilla feel lightheaded and warm and tingly, and it was a feeling she subconsciously craved every second they weren’t kissing.
Because Laura Hollis kissed like she meant it.
She poured herself into every kiss, be it a chaste peck on the lips or an extended make-out. She sighed and she hummed and she laughed into Carmilla’s mouth, and it was completely intoxicating. She always seemed like she was trying to get closer, hands on Carmilla’s shoulders or cheeks, fingers in Carmilla’s hair, the rest of her body following to touch as much of Carmilla as she could.
But even with those hallmarks, it was always different. No two kisses were alike, like snowflakes or fingerprints. God, Carmilla wanted to bang her head against the wall just thinking about it, but every sappy cliché she could think of was true when it came to loving Laura Hollis.
This particular kiss was slow in the way a lava flow is slow. The pace was tame, but everything else was burning Carmilla up. The gentle tug of Laura’s fingers in her hair, the quiet sigh of hot breath from Laura’s nose, the purposeful slide of Laura’s lips over hers, the agonizing pause between every slow stroke of Laura’s tongue.
When Laura finally pulled back, she left Carmilla panting for breath. She grinned, clearly pleased with herself, and Carmilla couldn’t even bring herself to roll her eyes.
“But um…” Laura said quietly when she’d regained enough breath to speak, licking her lips and glancing away. “You and Danny are okay now, right?”
“Yes,” Carmilla said slowly, raising one eyebrow. “Why?”
“Well I kind of wanted her to be one of my bridesmaids,” Laura replied, giggling sheepishly. “You know… since we’re actually getting married and all, we should probably start planning the wedding.”
Carmilla tensed and looked around them dramatically. Laura just gave her a puzzled frown.
“You said the words ‘planning’ and ‘wedding’ in the same sentence,” Carmilla whispered, glancing around. “I was expecting Lola Perry to just… materialize in the room.”
Laura burst out laughing, wrapping her arms snugly around Carmilla’s neck and leaning their foreheads together. Carmilla sighed happily at the sound, winding her arms around Laura’s waist to tug her in closer.
“Maybe she’s like Beetlejuice and we need to say it three times,” Carmilla went on conspiratorially.
“Oh my god, Carm, stop,” Laura laughed helplessly. Carmilla leaned in, pressing her grin into the side of Laura’s neck.
“I’m okay with Danny being your bridesmaid,” Carmilla said quietly after Laura finally stopped giggling. The words were a bit muffled against Laura’s skin, but she hummed happily so Carmilla knew she’d heard. “As much as I hate to admit it, she’s my friend too.”
They stayed like that for a few silent moments, Carmilla seated on her stool and Laura standing between her legs, arms wrapped around each other. Until Carmilla’s hands remembered how much of Laura’s skin was currently available to her, and they started wandering up her sides beneath the loose flannel.
Laura shivered, muscles jumping beneath Carmilla’s fingers.
“Cold,” Laura murmured, sliding her hands down Carmilla’s shoulders and tugging the collar of her t-shirt askew to reveal a patchwork of hours-old bruises along her collarbones and up the side of her neck. Laura ran a finger over them lightly, biting her lip to hold back her grin when Carmilla shivered too.
Just a short while ago, Laura had kissed apologies against those same bruises in the shower, admitting sheepishly to Carmilla that she’d never been a biter before. It was apparently something Carmilla just brought out in her.
The thought made Carmilla grin as she slowly slid her fingers up Laura’s ribs, fingertips tingling from the touch of warm, soft skin.
“Well the omelets are also cold at this point,” she sighed, pausing to swallow hard when Laura replaced her finger with her mouth, lips and tongue gliding over a collarbone and up a shoulder. “So we could either warm them up, or…” She stopped and Laura pulled back to look her in the eyes. Carmilla smirked. “I could warm you up.”
Carmilla felt more than a little lightheaded when Laura smirked right back at her.
“I like the second option,” Laura said lightly, leaning in and brushing the next words against Carmilla’s ear. “We haven’t christened the kitchen yet.”
Carmilla, somehow, managed not to fall off of her bar stool.
The next day found the two of them fully clothed, Carmilla sitting on the couch and Laura pacing anxiously in front of the door.
“Maybe this isn’t a good idea,” Laura rambled, wringing her hands together. “I mean… Will won’t care and Kirsch probably won’t even understand what happened but…” She paused, shooting a slightly panicked glance at Carmilla. “Mattie will be mad, right? She’ll totally be mad. She’ll hate me.”
“She won’t hate you.”
“Have you forgotten the time she locked the two of us in a closet for three hours?” Laura shot back, resuming her pacing. “A literal closet, Carmilla. I mean she’s not exactly one for subtlety, but the irony there is a bit…”
“We were eleven years old, Laura,” Carmilla laughed. “She was fourteen and we were bugging her. Somehow I doubt she’s going to do that again.”
“We shouldn’t do this,” Laura went on as if she hadn’t heard her. “We should call them and tell them we’ve left the country. We should go back to having sex, that was good.”
“Laura,” Carmilla said firmly, getting to her feet and catching Laura around the waist to bring her to a stop. “As much as I enjoyed christening every room in the apartment with you yesterday, there is actually more to life than just sex.” She blinked, shaking her head a bit and letting out a slow breath. “I can’t believe I just said that.”
The look of panic on Laura’s face finally cleared, giving way to a shy smile, and Carmilla leaned in to press an ardent kiss to her lips.
“I’m starting to think you only want me for my body,” Carmilla teased when she pulled back, still close enough that the words brushed Laura’s lips.
“Oh, you’re just starting to think that?” Laura whispered, feigning surprise. “I thought I was pretty clear with my intentions from the start.”
“Cheeky,” Carmilla hummed, but before they could properly kiss again, someone pounded on the door. Carmilla groaned and dropped her head to Laura’s shoulder. “Must be a ginger. They always know just when to interrupt.”
Laura swatted playfully at Carmilla’s shoulder as she backed out of her arms and went to the door. As soon as she opened it, not one, but two gingers burst into the room.
“What the hell, Laura?” Lafontaine demanded, marching across the room without so much as looking at Laura or Carmilla. Perry followed them in with a somewhat sheepish smile and a plate of something covered in tin foil.
“Nice to see you too, Laf,” Laura said with a wince as she closed the door behind them. “Perry. How was Austria?”
“Oh it was lovely, thank you,” Perry grinned, lighting up at the mention of her and Laf’s summer vacation to Styria. She leaned over to smile politely at Carmilla. “Congratulations to the two of you.”
“Thank you,” Carmilla said pointedly, watching Laf circle the room with raised eyebrows.
“Don’t congratulate them, Perr,” Laf said, pointing an accusatory finger between Laura and Carmilla. “There is much more to the story here than ‘hey we’re suddenly in love and our friends will have to find out about our engagement from the tabloids.’”
“Laf,” Laura started, hands up in a placating gesture, but Laf just rolled their eyes.
“Oh come on, L,” they grumbled, crossing their arms. “I have personally been on the receiving end of the ‘we’re just friends’ lecture on too many occasions to count, and you’re seriously going to tell me you’ve been secretly dating for the entire time we’ve known each other?”
“No, we’re not going to tell you that,” Carmilla cut in sharply, crossing her own arms and staring Laf down. “We invited you two here to tell you the truth about all this. So would you please calm down before you give yourself a heart attack?”
Laf stared at Carmilla for a few long moments, then immediately relaxed.
“Oh, why didn’t you just say so?” they said with a puzzled frown. Laura laughed and Carmilla rolled her eyes as Laf went to hug Laura. “Sorry. Thanks for having us over. How’s your summer going?”
“I missed you guys,” Laura sighed, grinning when Perry moved in for the next hug. Carmilla and Laf, rather than hugging, shook hands like they were business partners, a sight that always made Laura and Perry stifle laughs behind their hands.
“I brought brownies,” Perry offered, holding up the plate in her hands. Carmilla immediately threw her arms out toward her.
“Perry,” she said, layering on the fake affection so hard that Laf and Laura started cracking up immediately. “I missed you most of all.”
She moved in as if to hug her, but instead she grabbed the plate of brownies and tore off the tin foil as she brought it over to the coffee table. Perry just shrugged, giving Laura a smile before sitting down at one of the chairs that surrounded the coffee table along with the couch. Carmilla was already half way through her first brownie.
“So is it just us?” Laf asked as they moved to sit in the chair beside Perry’s.
“Nope,” Danny said from the doorway, grinning. “You guys should really learn to lock your door.” She stepped inside, gesturing out into the hallway. “Caught these guys skulking outside.”
“Dude, I was so not skulking,” Kirsch complained as he walked in. “I was invited, thank you very much.”
“It was a joke, Kirsch.”
“Oh. Well anyway, hey Miss K, I brought your little bro!”
Kirsch and Danny moved out of the doorway to let Will in, who just shrugged and said ‘hey’ before plunking down on the couch beside his sister. More hugs were exchanged as Danny and Kirsch made their way to the living room, Carmilla just throwing them both a wave as she started on her second brownie.
“You’re here as our friend today, Kirsch,” Laura said, patting Kirsch’s shoulder. “You don’t have to call Carmilla ‘Miss K.’”
“Oh, cool. Thanks Laur. Dude, are those brownies?”
Carmilla got to her feet to make room for Kirsch and Danny on the couch, leaving one open chair and going to stand by Laura halfway between the coffee table and the door. Laura was just watching all her friends interact with a soft smile on her face and Carmilla sidled up beside her.
“And of course my delightful sister is the only one not here yet,” Carmilla sighed, holding up the half eaten brownie in her hand for Laura to take a bite.
“Apparently all our friends are weirdly punctual,” Laura laughed lightly, leaning into Carmilla’s side and surprising her by grabbing the rest of the brownie in one bite, licking her fingers as she went and drawing a gasping laugh out of her. Carmilla wrapped her arm around Laura’s waist reflexively, not even thinking about the action when she pinched Laura’s hip.
“Excuse you, I was offering you a bite of the brownie,” Carmilla chastised, eyebrows shooting up to her hairline when Laura teasingly snagged her pointer finger between her teeth. “Not my fingers.”
“Oh I wouldn’t dare hurt your fingers,” Laura replied, just loud enough that only Carmilla could hear, and Laura was clearly delighted when a light blush became visible on Carmilla’s cheeks.
Carmilla and Laura both jumped in surprise, heads turning toward the source of the noise. Lafontaine was staring at them, eyes wide and mouth hanging open, and every other head in the room was turning toward them as well.
“I thought you were going to tell us this whole engagement thing was fake,” Laf said blankly. “But you guys are like… domestic and gross.”
“Thanks,” Carmilla grunted, rolling her eyes.
“Well it’s… it’s slightly more complicated than that,” Laura began awkwardly, but Kirsch just laughed.
“No it’s not,” he said, shaking his head and looking around at everyone. “What, you guys didn’t know what was going on?”
“You did?” Carmilla asked with a frown. Kirsch nodded.
“Yeah, totally. I mean I figured it out. Oh, hey Miss Belmonde.”
Laura and Carmilla turned to find Mattie in the doorway, in all her Versace dress and Louboutin glory, closing the door with a snap and locking it behind her.
“You could have warned me that the paparazzi are still surrounding your building,” she huffed by way of greeting, striding across the room like a runway model and perching herself in the one empty chair like she owned it.
“I did warn you, Mattie,” Carmilla replied with a long-suffering sigh. “You just have a tendency to stop listening to me after two sentences.”
“Wait, everyone is here now, right?” Laf cut in quickly, glancing around at the filled chairs and couch. “So you can tell us what in the name of Asimov is going on here?”
“Seriously, you dudes didn’t figure it out?” Kirsch said with a frown, looking around at everyone slowly. “I mean obviously it was fake at first. They always have those rings with them when they go out, and Carmilla was just protecting Laura when she cold-cocked that dude at the bar. But then Ms. Morgan and Laura’s dad had that movie coming out, you know? So they just went along with the whole engagement thing until a couple days ago. Something changed at the after party though, ‘cause when I drove them home they almost did it in the back seat of the car.”
“Kirsch!” Laura blurted, mortified and blushing, but Kirsch just shrugged again.
“It’s okay, little nerd hottie, I said ‘almost.’”
“Wait, so…” Danny began slowly, squinting suspiciously at Kirsch. “Is he right?”
“Yep,” Carmilla said simply. “I mean admittedly he did have a front row seat to the whole thing, but I’m still impressed he figured it out all by himself.”
“Thanks!” Kirsch said, grinning proudly.
“I knew it,” Mattie said quietly, shaking her head a bit and smiling victoriously. “You almost had me fooled, bella. Very well played.”
“So what happened at the after party?” Perry asked with a curious frown.
Laura and Carmilla exchanged a glance.
“I told her I loved her,” Laura said, shrugging a bit and smiling softly. Carmilla squeezed her hip and laughed.
“You mean you tried to make a run for it and I caught you, and then you eventually admitted that you loved me,” she corrected, her smile pressed to Laura’s temple.
Everyone stopped and looked over, surprised to see that Will was the one that had shouted. He was grinning gloatingly at his oldest sister.
“You totally owe me twenty bucks,” he said, pumping his fist, and Mattie just rolled her eyes and pulled a twenty dollar bill out of her clutch without even looking at him.
“Okay seriously, did everyone we know make bets about whether or not we actually had feelings for each other?” Laura demanded.
There was a long pause before Danny and Lafontaine both pulled cash out of their pockets and handed the bills over to a rather smug Perry. Kirsch just shook his head, hands in the air innocently.
“I never make bets when it comes to emotions, bro,” he said solemnly.
“You’re the only honest man in the room, Wilson,” Carmilla replied just as seriously, though a smirk was peeking at the corners of her lips.
“So the fact that you’re all jerks aside,” Laura said with a roll of her eyes. “The reason we invited you all over, besides explaining what Kirsch apparently knew all along, was to ask if you’d be in our wedding.”
The room went quiet then, all wide eyes and pleased smiles fixed on Laura. She blushed a bit, glancing at Carmilla for reassurance before she continued.
“Danny, Perry, I’d like you to be my bridesmaids,” she began, her tone turning a bit shy. “And Laf, I want you to be my Best Person.”
All three of them were immediately out of their seats, dragging Laura into an extremely ginger group hug as they all enthusiastically accepted. Carmilla just smiled a bit and walked slowly over to the couch, leaning on the back and glancing between Kirsch, Will, and Mattie.
“So that leaves me with you three,” she sighed, a smile still tugging at her mouth despite her best efforts. “Will, Kirsch, I want you to be my bridesmen. And Mattie… if you want… I’d like you to be my Maid of Honor.”
Kirsch was the only one of Carmilla’s group to jump up and grab her in a hug.
“Of course, Miss K!” he blurted, reminding Carmilla forcibly of an over-excited golden retriever.
“Kirsch, it’s just Carmilla,” she sighed, making a single feeble attempt to get out of the hug before she gave up.
He finally released her and they both sat down on the couch, the gingers still talking rapidly and excitedly with Laura. Carmilla glanced over at her siblings.
“So? Are you two in or what?”
“I’d be honored,” Will said, only slightly sarcastic as he grinned at his sister, and she just smirked back at him. All eyes turned to Mattie then, who was staring hard at Carmilla.
“I’ll be your Maid of Honor,” she said at length, but her tone suggested she had more to say, so Carmilla just raised an eyebrow in question. Mattie just sighed and focused her attention critically on her fingernails. “We need to talk. When the rest of your… friends leave.” She glanced up briefly, that hard look back again. “Just you, me, and your apparent future wife.”
Will and Kirsch exchanged a somewhat terrified glance and Kirsch cleared his throat uncomfortably. Carmilla just narrowed her eyes and clenched her jaw to keep herself from getting angry at Mattie’s tone. She nodded.
“Okay, you can stay after everyone else leaves,” she said quietly, forcing her voice into something polite and neutral. Before anything else could be said, the sound of Laura laughing immediately softened her expression and drew her attention away. Laura was wrapped up in a hug by Danny, their height difference making it a hilarious picture, and Carmilla just rolled her eyes and smiled as she got to her feet.
“It’s like watching a giraffe trying to hug a puppy,” Carmilla drawled as she approached, prompting a fit of laughter from Lafontaine and a massive eye roll from Laura.
“No need for the snark, Elvira,” Danny grinned, taking a step back from Laura and holding her hands up innocently. “It’s just a hug, I’m not trying anything untoward.”
“Hey, no suspicions here,” Carmilla teased right back, grinning as she slid up behind Laura and wrapped her arms comfortably around her waist, leaning her head over her shoulder to plant a kiss on her cheek. “I was merely pointing out that she’s just my size.”
“Ugh, Laf was right, you guys are gross,” Danny groaned while Laura dissolved into giggles.
It was a few hours before everyone left. Everyone but Mattie, who was waiting in the kitchen for Kirsch to stop hugging Laura and Carmilla long enough to bring Will home.
When they finally went into the kitchen to find her, she was sitting at the kitchen island with her legs primly crossed, scrolling through her phone.
“You wanted to talk?” Carmilla began warily.
Mattie’s eyes snapped up and she put her phone down on the counter, nodding.
“Would you mind if I spoke to my sister alone first, Laura?” Mattie asked politely, though her eyes never left Carmilla. Laura looked to Carmilla immediately, eyebrows raised and worry in her eyes. Carmilla just nodded.
“Sure,” Laura said slowly, turning and leaving the kitchen. She closed the large doors behind her, leaving Mattie and Carmilla alone.
“What the hell, Mattie?” Carmilla blurted immediately. She hadn’t realized her fists were clenched at her sides until she felt her knuckles crack. “If you’re going to be this rude to Laura, then you and I are going to have a problem.”
“Oh, was I being rude?” Mattie asked innocently, eyes narrowing. “I’m sorry, I didn’t notice. Now do tell me more about how you lied to me for two months.”
“We barely spoke at all until the after party,” Carmilla bit back immediately. She started pacing. “And you were a real pain in the ass to me then, so thanks for that.”
“I’m just worried about you.”
Carmilla stopped, confused. Mattie was scowling at her, but there was a genuine tone of concern somewhere in her voice.
“Worried about me?” Carmilla repeated slowly. Mattie scoffed and looked away, and Carmilla realized she was embarrassed. She hated showing that she was actually concerned, so she wouldn’t even look Carmilla in the eyes.
“I watched you tear yourself up over this girl for years, Carmilla,” Mattie said, her voice low and serious and her eyes on the ceiling. “It just seems a bit convenient that she suddenly decided she loves you back.”
“It’s not like that,” Carmilla said, shaking her head, and Mattie finally looked at her. “I chose not to be with her when we were younger, Mattie. I’m the one that kept us apart.”
“What are you talking about?”
Carmilla sighed and sat down on the stool across from Mattie. She shrugged a bit, brow furrowing as she tried to form the words.
“She’s been in love with me just as long as I’ve been in love with her,” she finally said, her voice soft. “Probably longer, actually. When we were younger, she tried… she tried to start something, but I wouldn’t let her. Because I didn’t think I could make her as happy as she deserved.”
Mattie’s eyes widened a bit, her back straightening.
“Carm, why on earth would you think that?” she demanded, and Carmilla laughed.
“That’s pretty much how she reacted when she found out,” she said with a rueful smile. “And you both can tell me all you want that it isn’t true, but I know it was. And I’m glad I did what I did then, so we can be better together now.”
Mattie’s mouth opened a bit like she wanted to say something, but no words came out. She looked a bit thrown by the whole thing, and Carmilla grinned. It wasn’t often she managed to throw Mattie off balance.
“I love her so much, Mattie,” Carmilla said quietly. “I really do. And she loves me too. And it took us a while, but it’s good that it did. Okay?”
“Okay,” Mattie replied immediately, and Carmilla was shocked by the waver in Mattie’s voice. She shook her head a bit, clearly resisting the urge to wipe her eyes. “Of course, bella. I’m sorry, I just wanted to make sure…”
“It’s okay,” Carmilla said quickly, a fond smile curving at her lips. “I know you’re just looking out for me.”
Mattie nodded for a bit, trying to compose herself, and Carmilla just smiled and rolled her eyes as she waited.
“Okay, good,” Mattie said at length, straightening up in her seat again and looking at Carmilla. “Now would you mind sending Laura in? I’d like to speak with her alone.”
Carmilla narrowed her eyes suspiciously as she got up.
“If you make her cry, I’m keying your car,” she warned as she pushed the kitchen doors open. Mattie just rolled her eyes.
Carmilla found Laura pacing anxiously in the living room. She was on her the second she walked out of the kitchen, hands in Carmilla’s hair and eyes peering nervously into Carmilla’s to see if anything was wrong.
“What happened?” she asked quietly. “You okay? I heard yelling.”
“We’re good,” Carmilla laughed lightly, leaning in and catching Laura in a quick kiss. She placed her hands on Laura’s hips and turned her toward the kitchen. “Now Mattie wants to talk to you.”
“Just me?” Laura blurted, stopping in her tracks. “Are you sure? I mean maybe she meant…”
“You’ll be fine,” Carmilla murmured into Laura’s ear from behind her, giving her hips a squeeze. “It’s not like she’s a vampire or something, she’s just my big sister.”
“I don’t see the difference.”
Carmilla scoffed and leaned closer, dropping a sloppy kiss on Laura’s neck and making her squeak in surprise before she pushed her through the doorway and closed the door behind her.
She could hear Laura stumbling to regain her footing in the kitchen and offering an awkward “hi” to Mattie, and she bit back a smile. She turned around to go sit in the living room, but then she paused. She couldn’t help herself. Laura and Mattie so rarely interacted one on one. She was curious. And she could practically hear the awkward silence.
“So,” Mattie began at length, and Carmilla smiled to herself because she could picture exactly what the scene looked like. Mattie sitting up straight and perfect, hands folded, all business. Laura biting her lip and bouncing her leg nervously, not even aware of her fidgeting. “Normally this would be the point at which I would give you the whole ‘you hurt my little sister and I kill you’ speech.”
“Normally?” Laura repeated curiously, and Carmilla could hear a hint of a smile in her voice. Mattie hummed a bit as if in agreement.
“Honestly, Laura, I’ve known you since you were a child,” Mattie sighed, her voice softening in a way that Carmilla rarely heard with anyone but herself and Will. “I’ve watched you grow up. I may not show it, but I’ve always considered you a sort of… extra sister.”
Carmilla was startled by how much that affected her. She felt tears stinging at her eyes and she had to bite her lip to keep from making a sound.
“So I know with certainty that you and Carmilla would both chew your own legs off like coyotes before you would hurt each other,” Mattie went on lightly, and Carmilla had to bite back a laugh. She could imagine the look on Laura’s face, equal parts touched and disgusted, and her smile started to hurt her face. “As long as you keep loving each other as much as you always have, you’ll be just fine.”
“Wow, I…” Laura started, and Carmilla could clearly hear the tears in her voice. “I mean… I don’t know what to say.” She let out an awkward, teary little laugh, and Carmilla heard Mattie get to her feet. There was a sound of rustling fabric and Laura inhaled rather sharply, and Carmilla realized with no small amount of shock that Mattie was giving Laura a hug.
“You were already part of the family, sorellina,” Mattie said quietly, and Carmilla pressed a hand to her chest as if to hold her heart in. “Now you’re just making it official.”
Carmilla hurried upstairs before she could hear anything else. If she did, she would surely start crying. ‘Sorellina.’ She’d called Laura ‘sorellina.’ Carmilla had to sit down on the edge of her bed for a second to catch her breath.
She wasn’t fluent in Italian like Mattie, but she knew what the word meant. It was one of Mattie’s nicknames for her. It meant ‘little sister.’
Carmilla knew she was prickly. But compared to Mattie, she could be downright cuddly. The fact that Mattie had just called Laura her little sister was completely unprecedented. But there was something else that was making it hard for Carmilla to breathe, something else making her eyes sting with tears, and it took her a few minutes of slowly clenching and unclenching her fingers to figure it out.
She was relieved.
She was so relieved that Mattie approved, it made her a little light headed. Because, she realized with a jolt, if Mattie had been unkind to Laura in any way, Carmilla was totally prepared to shut Mattie out. Her own half-sister.
It seemed like every day she realized she loved Laura even more than she thought she had.
“There you are.”
Carmilla glanced up to find Laura slipping through the doorway with a smile on her face.
“Mattie just left. And she wanted me to tell you that she was very nice so there’s no need to key her car, and…” Laura trailed off as she got closer, her forehead wrinkling with concern. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” Carmilla said quickly, reaching up to wipe her eyes before Laura could see the tears in them. But Laura was too fast, catching Carmilla’s hands and tugging them away so she could wipe the tears away with her own thumbs. She tilted Carmilla’s head up gently, brushing stray hairs from her face.
“Carm,” she whispered, leaning down and kissing Carmilla’s forehead. Carmilla’s breath caught in her chest and Laura’s lips curved into a smile against her skin. “Come on. No more hiding things from each other, remember?” Carmilla just hummed and Laura folded one leg up on the edge of the bed beside her, weaving a hand lightly into her hair and scratching her scalp in a way that made Carmilla’s eyelids flutter. “Please tell me what’s wrong.”
“She called you sorellina,” Carmilla said quietly, turning and resting her forehead against Laura’s.
“Considering the circumstances, I’m going to ignore the fact that you were eavesdropping,” Laura began lightly, and Carmilla laughed. Laura beamed at the sound. “I’ve heard her call you that before. It’s Italian, right?”
“She’s only ever called me that before,” Carmilla murmured, fixing her eyes on Laura’s and hoping she could convey how important this was. “It means little sister.”
Laura’s eyes widened just a bit and her lips parted in surprise. Then she swallowed and looked down, her eyes glazing over with a thin sheen of tears.
“Oh,” she whispered, cheeks turning pink.
Carmilla felt her fond smile start somewhere deep in her chest before it got to her face.
“You’ve been officially accepted into the Morgan-Belmonde-Karnstein-Luce family,” she said seriously. “Sorry.”
“That’s a bit of a mouthful,” Laura laughed quietly. “But thanks.” She closed her eyes and let out a breath, the tension of the morning leaving her muscles as she did so. “Oh, and I forgot to mention, Perry has volunteered to help us plan the wedding.”
“I knew it,” Carmilla blurted triumphantly, wrapping her arms around Laura’s waist and falling over backwards. Laura giggled as Carmilla dragged her onto the bed in a mess of limbs. “She just can’t help herself.”
“Neither can I,” Laura sighed, leaning in and catching Carmilla in an ardent kiss. They were really getting the hang of these long, slow, burning kisses of theirs. Carmilla hummed against Laura’s lips.
“Are you taking me to bed, Laura Hollis?” she asked breathlessly between kisses.
“First of all, you took me to bed,” Laura replied carelessly, only a few words at a time escaping whenever they pulled apart to take a breath. “Second, it’s only three o’ clock in the afternoon.” Another long kiss that left Carmilla panting. “And third, yes I absolutely am.”
“Thought so,” Carmilla smirked, rolling abruptly and pinning Laura to the bed beneath her. “How on earth are we ever going to get anything done ever again?”
“Let’s discuss that after you get me done,” Laura replied without batting an eye. Carmilla dropped her head to Laura’s neck, laughing helplessly.
“Oh darling,” she sighed blissfully. “I am more than happy to oblige.”
A week later, they had managed to settle back into their rhythm. Or rather, a new rhythm that was remarkably similar to the old one, but involved less preoccupation with the cameras that followed them around LA and more preoccupation with each other.
Laura called it a honeymoon phase, pointing out that they were especially enamored with each other because the relationship was still new. Carmilla argued that she just really enjoyed having sex with Laura.
Regardless of who was right between the two of them, Betty had been completely wrong about pop culture moving on from them. Their parents’ movie was raking in award nominations left and right, quickly becoming one of the most talked about movies of the decade, and whenever it was mentioned, Laura and Carmilla’s relationship was sure to be brought up as well. They’d become sort of a packaged deal, apparently; the real life love story behind the dramatic events in the film.
So the paparazzi still followed them around. And the internet was still inundated with the pictures and the speculation and the rumors. But now that they were actually together, all of that was much easier to ignore.
As they walked back to their apartment after a morning at the beach, hand in hand as usual, the cameras tailing them may as well have not existed.
“Perry just sent me a list,” Laura hummed, scrolling through the message on her phone and trusting Carmilla not to let her walk into traffic. “The bare minimum of information she needs to get us started planning the wedding.”
Carmilla let out a long, dramatic sigh that made Laura laugh.
“Okay, lay it on me,” Carmilla relented, squeezing Laura’s hand.
“Well I can already answer a couple of these,” Laura began, not even noticing as Carmilla tugged her out of the way of another couple walking in the opposite direction. “Just friends and family, no press. Outdoors.” Carmilla nodded her agreement. “Oh, this is a good one. Will both of us be wearing white dresses?”
“Of course,” Carmilla scoffed immediately, and Laura turned to look at her in surprise. Carmilla blushed. “Weird. Don’t know where that came from.”
“Why Carmilla, have you been holding out on me?” Laura gasped, eyebrows high on her forehead and a wide grin on her face. “Hiding this traditional old woman deep down inside?”
“Oh please,” Carmilla grunted, shoving Laura with her shoulder and smirking at her bright, bubbling laugh. “Do you really think for one second that my mother would let me anywhere near my own wedding if I weren’t wearing a white dress?”
“She’s always had this picture in her head, I think,” Carmilla sighed, lacing her fingers through Laura’s idly as they walked. “Of what she wanted my life to look like. And Mattie’s and Will’s. That’s… I think that’s why she wasn’t exactly on board when I came out to her.” Their pace slowed a bit and Carmilla noticed Laura biting her lip nervously. “But she changed, you know? She came around. And I think maybe part of the reason she did was because of you.”
“Me?” Laura asked quietly. Carmilla laughed.
“The picture in her head is much prettier with you in it than it ever would have been with some boy.”
Laura stopped in her tracks and grabbed Carmilla by the back of her neck, hauling her over for a fierce kiss. Carmilla laughed into it and they eventually had to stop because they were smiling too much.
“God, you’re such a sap,” Laura sighed, eyes closed as she grinned against Carmilla’s lips. “I love you so much.”
“Love you too, cutie,” Carmilla murmured. Then she gave Laura’s hand a tug to get them walking again. “So. Two white dresses. What else is on the list?”
Laura was a bit flustered, so it took her a moment to find her place on her phone again. In the meantime, Carmilla took a brief look around them, suddenly aware that the paparazzi behind them were probably having a field day over that kiss. But it wasn’t a camera man that caught Carmilla’s attention.
They had just made it to the corner where their apartment building stood, and someone was watching them from across the street. Someone Carmilla recognized immediately, and suddenly her whole day was ruined.
Carmilla had to force herself not to freeze. Laura could read her like a book, so she only gave herself half a second to react before she schooled her expression back to normal and wrapped an arm around Laura’s waist. Her mind was racing as she steered them into their building, her heart thudding hard and fast as they got into the elevator.
Laura didn’t seem to notice, by some miracle. She just stuck to Carmilla’s side, smiling to herself as she kept scrolling through Perry’s list on her phone. As soon as they were through the door of the apartment, Carmilla stopped.
“Oh damn, we forgot to get the mail,” she said hurriedly, hoping against hope that Laura was too distracted to notice she was hiding something. “I’ll go get it.” Laura glanced up at her and Carmilla smiled tensely. “Want to um… call Papa Cristo’s and order lunch?”
“Okay,” Laura nodded. She tilted her head a bit, watching Carmilla open the door to step back into the hallway. “Everything alright, Carm?”
Damn. She could always tell.
“Yeah,” Carmilla shrugged, waving a hand dismissively. “Just hungry. Get me a double order of dolmades, will you?”
Carmilla closed the door firmly behind her and let out a long breath. The hand that wasn’t on the doorknob was clenched so tightly at her side that she could feel her nails digging into her palm. She had to make a conscious effort to relax her muscles before she went back to the elevator.
This was bad. This was really bad. Carmilla could feel the anger boiling low in her gut, and she knew it would erupt. She shifted her weight back and forth impatiently, waiting for the elevator to take her from their loft down to the ground level.
Laura couldn’t know.
As soon as the elevator doors opened, she saw her. Standing on the other side of the glass doors like she was waiting for Carmilla. Which she was, of course she was. They’d made eye contact across the street. She must have known this was coming.
Carmilla opened the door and stood firmly in the doorway so Elaine couldn’t get in.
“What the hell are you doing here?” Carmilla said immediately. Her voice was stronger than she thought it would be, not even a hint of a shake. She was so angry, it was a miracle she wasn’t just screaming.
“I want to see Laura,” Elaine said simply. She was staring Carmilla hard in the eyes, steeling herself. Good. She’d need it.
“No,” Carmilla said flatly, crossing her arms over her chest. “Is that all?”
“Can’t I at least apologize-”
“No, you can’t,” Carmilla cut her off, her tone sharp. She forced herself to take a deep breath through her nose to calm down. “You should go.”
Elaine didn’t move. She was taller than Carmilla, and she drew herself up to her full height, trying to appear intimidating.
“She’s my daughter and I deserve-”
“You had every chance,” Carmilla snapped, taking a step forward before she could stop herself and forcing Elaine to back up. She stopped, clenching her fists at her sides. “Goddammit, you had every chance in the world and you did nothing. For fifteen years. And the second you come back you just…”
Carmilla shook her head, counting to five slowly in her head to keep herself from snapping.
“You have no idea what you did to her,” she finally continued, her voice a deadly hush. “Every post card you sent ruined her, and then you just show up and… and you sold her out. We had a deal, for god’s sake. You looked me in the eye and told me you’d be honest with her and you just…” Carmilla shook her head again. “No. You’re never allowed near her again. Not if you’ll just break her heart. She deserves so much better than you.”
“If I ever see you again, I’m calling the police,” Carmilla said firmly, backing through the doorway. “I mean it. Stay away from her.”
Carmilla slammed the door and stood there, staring Elaine down through the glass and waiting for her to walk away. She did after only a few moments of hesitation. Carmilla watched her go, waiting until she was out of sight before she took a deep breath. She was shaking and her head hurt, but she at least remembered to actually get the mail before she went back upstairs.
The panic in Carmilla’s chest dissolved instantly when she walked into her apartment. Laura was sitting on the floor in the middle of the living room, holding Bagheera’s two front paws in her fingers while he stared at her bemusedly and she sang I Want To Hold Your Hand, crooning the lyrics like T.V. Carpio.
There was nothing in the world Carmilla wouldn’t do for this girl.
“Hey, what took you so long?” Laura asked when she noticed Carmilla, grinning at her as Bagheera finally reclaimed his paws and slunk off to hide under the couch.
“I ran into Danny’s next-door neighbor at the mailboxes,” Carmilla said with a shrug, moving over to sit on the floor beside Laura. “Mel, or whatever. She saw something about us on Buzzfeed and wanted to extend her congratulations.”
“Aw, that’s sweet,” Laura grinned, stretching herself out on the floor and resting her head in Carmilla’s lap. “Food should be here soon. Extra dolmades.”
“I love you,” Carmilla sighed, leaning down so she could press a kiss to Laura’s smiling lips.
“I know,” she replied, and Carmilla let out a snort of laughter.
The lie tasted a little sour on Carmilla’s tongue, but she knew it was worth it. Laura didn’t need another heartbreak, and that was all she would get from her mom. But the sound of Laura’s laugh while Carmilla tickled her forced all other thoughts from Carmilla’s mind.
She got to spend the rest of her life with Laura. Nothing else mattered.
“…and when you scan the radio, I hope this song will guide you home…”
Carmilla woke up slowly, aware of Laura’s voice before anything else as the lyrics to Such Great Heights were whispered into her hair.
It was something Carmilla had only learned about Laura recently, now that they were sleeping together every night. Sometimes when Laura woke up first, she would just lie in bed with Carmilla and let her mind wander. And when Laura’s mind wandered, she occasionally started singing without realizing it.
“They will see us waving from such great heights, ‘come down now,’ they’ll say…” Laura hummed quietly, and Carmilla basked in it. Laura, despite being two inches shorter, liked being the big spoon just as much as the little spoon, so they took turns. This morning, Laura’s arms were wrapped around Carmilla’s waist, hugging Carmilla’s back to her front as her hand drifted slowly back and forth over Carmilla’s stomach beneath her t-shirt. Carmilla could feel her breath, soft and warm, against the back of her head as she sang.
“But everything looks perfect from far away, ‘come down now,’ but we’ll stay…”
“The Postal Service, huh?” Carmilla yawned, turning around in Laura’s arms so they were nose to nose. “They’re usually reserved for deep philosophical conundrums.”
“You’re the one with the deep philosophical conundrums,” Laura replied softly, a smile tugging at her lips and sparkling in her eyes. “I have… occasional light-hearted quandaries.” Her soft smile turned into a grin as Carmilla leaned in for a warm kiss. “Good morning. Still love me?”
“More than ever.”
It had become a thing. Every morning when they woke up, Laura would ask and Carmilla would answer. Even though it happened every day, it never failed to make Laura blush.
“So what’s your light-hearted quandary today?” Carmilla asked, reaching up and carding her fingers through Laura’s hair.
“Just wedding stuff,” Laura sighed, eyes fluttering shut comfortably. “Perry’s been bugging me about a location and a date, and since all I have to give her is ‘outside’ and ‘fall,’ our options are kind of infinite at this point.”
“Actually…” Carmilla began instantly, but she caught herself and trailed off. Laura frowned at her. “Um… well it’s just… I sort of have a place in mind.”
Laura brightened immediately, excited and curious in a way that was so perfectly Laura it made Carmilla’s heart ache.
“Do tell,” she said, beaming in a way that showed all of her teeth and snuggling more comfortably into the pillows.
Carmilla glanced away, trying not to blush and failing miserably. There was no reason for her to be embarrassed, but she managed it anyway.
“Well… I know we’ve talked about how I’ve imagined us getting married outside in autumn,” she began slowly. “But I’ve actually… I mean I’ve kind of been picturing a specific place all this time.” Laura nodded encouragingly and Carmilla huffed a bit, trying to look anywhere but Laura’s eyes. “I was thinking… maybe… my father’s family’s vineyard, up in Napa?”
Laura’s expression immediately melted into something soft and a little sad, and that was exactly what Carmilla had been trying to avoid.
“It’s not like a big thing,” Carmilla said hurriedly, and she could see Laura trying to school her expression into something less mushy. God, Laura was everything. She knew what was making Carmilla uncomfortable and she was trying to fix it. “It’s just… you know, it’s pretty there and I remember you always liked it when we’d go up there for summer vacation when we were kids and my uncle wouldn’t charge us or anything and…”
“Carm,” Laura said firmly, taking Carmilla’s face in her hands and forcing her wandering gaze back to hers. “It’s perfect.”
“Yeah?” Carmilla asked, a pleased smile lifting one side of her mouth.
“Okay, yeah,” Carmilla sighed, finally letting herself relax.
When it came to her father’s side of the family, she always got a little weird. She couldn’t help it. She never had her dad there to tell her about her Uncle Andrew, so he was just this man she was related to but didn’t really know. Mother took her and Laura to the vineyard for a few days each summer until they reached high school, and he always called and sent a card and a gift on her birthday, but beyond that she never really talked about him.
Plus Laura always got weird about Carmilla’s dad, no matter how many times Carmilla told her not to.
But this time was different. This time Laura was clearly making an effort not to make it weird, and Carmilla felt herself falling a little bit more in love.
“I can call Uncle Andrew later and see about us going up there to talk to him about it?” Carmilla suggested, and Laura nodded. “Okay. So um… with that in mind, we can pick pretty much any date we want.”
Laura hummed thoughtfully, a small yawn escaping her that was possibly the cutest thing Carmilla had ever seen.
“Well I can think of one specific date in fall that has a certain significance to our relationship,” Laura said at length, a slow grin spreading across her face. Carmilla smirked and pretended to think about it.
“You wouldn’t happen to mean September 22nd, would you?” she asked with an air of great surprise.
“Oh, you mean the day filming of a certain movie starring two of Hollywood’s biggest names ran late, so their ten-year-old daughters were both dropped off on set after school with only each other to entertain them?” Laura teased right back, leaning in closer to Carmilla’s lips as she spoke. “And one of those girls’ idea of an introduction was to pull my hair and call me a baby when I asked her to stop?”
“Hey, it’s not my fault I learned how to flirt from television,” Carmilla protested.
“So you were flirting with me?” Laura shot back with a grin, every word just barely brushing Carmilla’s lips. “Age ten and you already had game?”
“Obviously,” Carmilla replied, arching an eyebrow and leaning in for a long, soft kiss. Laura sighed into it comfortably and Carmilla smiled against her mouth.
“Who would’ve thought it?” Laura hummed as she pulled back. “That very day, I started falling in love with you.”
“And you call me a sap,” Carmilla teased, moving back in for another kiss to cut off Laura’s giggles.
“So that’s it then,” Laura said quietly when Carmilla pulled back. “September 22nd of next year at Karnstein Vineyards.”
“I guess that is it,” Carmilla replied just as quietly, a soft smile on her face that only Laura ever got to see. “Still want to marry me?”
“A little more every day,” Laura sighed, cuddling up to Carmilla’s warm body and closing her eyes. “We don’t have to be up yet, it’s still early.”
“Can we just live in our bed?” Carmilla asked, tugging the blankets back up over them.
Classes resumed in September. A lot of their fellow classmates were a bit more star-struck by Laura and Carmilla than they had been last year, but it wasn’t too bad. The press wasn’t allowed on campus, so suddenly the amount of professional pictures of them on the internet rapidly decreased.
That didn’t stop the occasional cell phone picture of them cropping up from over-excited high schoolers on campus tours and the like, but generally things calmed down.
Except for the actual wedding planning part.
If Lola Perry being heavily invested in the wedding wasn’t enough, it turned out Lilita Morgan was too. It took her actually getting engaged for Carmilla to learn that her mother loved weddings. It was completely bizarre and foreign to Laura and Carmilla to see Lilita Morgan so excited about something like this, but Carmilla eventually likened it to her love for control and perfection and it all made sense.
Needless to say, no expense was to be spared.
But for every insane, ostentatious thing Carmilla’s mother suggested, Perry was there to remind her of what the girls actually wanted: something small and simple, but still pretty and memorable. Turned out, Perry and Mother got along really well. It was weird.
Carmilla’s Uncle Andrew was beyond excited about the whole thing as well, and only partially because of all the free advertising it would bring to the vineyard.
In January, Carmilla turned twenty three. Laura marked the occasion by kidnapping her.
Or, rather, she coerced a grumbling Carmilla into her car the evening before her actual birthday and started driving east without telling her where they were going.
By the end of their three and a half hour drive into the desert, it was the middle of the night. Their destination was Amboy Crater, where Laura laid out a blanket and poured champagne, and they spent the night there stargazing.
As Carmilla was well aware, her birthday happened to coincide with the Quadrantid meteor shower this year. She just hadn’t expected Laura to be aware of it too. And it made her heart feel far too large for her chest while they laid side-by-side and watched the stars shooting above them.
“Do you remember the summer when we finally figured out how to get up onto the roof of your mother’s villa in Monaco?” Laura asked quietly midway through the night, her breath making clouds in the chilly desert air.
“Yeah, and we slept out there for three nights before Will tattled,” Carmilla laughed lightly, turning her gaze away from the stars to look at Laura. She was greeted with a smile that was brighter than any meteor shower.
“That third night, when it was so warm and there were fireflies, you remember?” Laura sighed, squeezing Carmilla’s hand in hers and closing her eyes briefly. “You started pointing out all the constellations you could remember, and telling me their stories, and you held my hand…”
“I remember,” Carmilla said softly, and Laura somehow looked even happier. “Because you kept staring at me.” Laura laughed and Carmilla couldn’t fight the smile on her face if she wanted to.
“That’s because I realized that night that I was in love with you,” Laura whispered, and Carmilla’s heart skipped a beat. Or maybe several.
“Really? That long ago?” Carmilla murmured, eyes wide. “We were what… fifteen?”
“Yep, and it scared the absolute hell out of me.”
Carmilla laughed at that and Laura quickly joined her, the two of them rolling to face each other on the blanket. Carmilla immediately reached out for Laura’s hips to drag her closer, smiling at the way Laura squeaked in surprise. They leaned closer until their foreheads touched like it was a reflex, and Carmilla let out a long, contented sigh.
“Happy birthday, Carm,” Laura whispered. She met Carmilla’s eyes with an earnest, sleepy smile. “I love you so much.”
“I will never be able to describe how much I love you, Laura Hollis,” Carmilla whispered back, watching the way Laura’s eyes lit up at the words. “Thank you.”
It would go down in history as one of Carmilla’s favorite birthdays.
As Laura’s twenty third birthday approached in April, Carmilla was fiddling with the idea of throwing a big bash with all of their friends. But Laura was more stressed than usual lately, some of her classes wearing on her patience and the minutia of wedding planning getting on her nerves.
So instead, they stayed in. Carmilla made Laura her favorite dinner and dessert, and they cuddled on the couch and watched Harriet the Spy. They shared a bottle of wine and a bubble bath, and Laura was a little tipsy but extremely sincere when she was curled up in Carmilla’s arms that night and told her that everything was perfect.
Just over a week later, a post card arrived in the mail. But Carmilla had picked up the habit of getting the mail herself every day since her confrontation with Elaine, so the post card was placed in the ash tray outside the apartment building and burned courtesy of a guy named Theo who lived on the third floor and had his lighter on him.
Laura didn’t need to know that her own mom didn’t remember the date of her birthday. Nor did she need to know that Elaine had “just done the interview for the money” and “she really should have told her first but didn’t think about it.”
Laura was happy. She had her dad who adored her and friends who cared about her. She was studying something she was passionate about and she was marrying the woman she loved. She was happy. And Carmilla would do anything to keep her that way.
Even if it meant lying to her.
May 9th was not a good day for Laura Hollis.
It had been that way as long as Carmilla had known her.
If it fell on a week day, she was out sick from school. If it was the weekend, she would make up excuses not to hang out with Carmilla. When she tried to ask about it, Laura pushed her away.
So, when she was sixteen, Carmilla ditched out of school early on May 9th and showed up at Laura’s window, which she was getting exceptionally good at climbing up to.
“Laura, open the window,” Carmilla called from outside, tapping the glass as she crouched on the gable just below the window frame. “I heard you were sick so I brought movies and popcorn. Totally paid for the popcorn and everything.”
The window slid open and Carmilla grinned as she went to climb in, but it wasn’t Laura. Carmilla froze. It was Laura’s dad.
“Oh, uh…” Carmilla hedged. It took everything in her power not to just cut and run, but being two floors up, she wasn’t in the best position to do so. “Hey, Mr. Hol-”
“Don’t you ‘Mr. Hollis’ me, Carmilla,” Sherman said with a frown. “You only ever call me that when you know you’re in trouble.” Carmilla just gulped, eyes wide, and Sherman let out a sigh. “Come in.”
Carmilla climbed cautiously through the window, peering around Laura’s room as Sherman sat down on the end of her bed. She dropped her backpack just inside the window and swallowed hard, trying not to freak out.
“Where’s Laura?” she asked abruptly, eyes sweeping the room again. “Is… is something wrong? Is she okay?”
“She’s fine,” Sherman said quickly, recognizing the panic in her voice. “She’s just in the shower.” Carmilla let herself relax a bit, still standing warily just inside the window, and Sherman sighed again. “Come sit, Carmilla. Let’s talk.”
Sherman Hollis was a bear of a man, almost seven feet tall and broad and muscular. Which was especially hilarious when he stood next to his five-foot-nothing daughter. But his personality was more that of a marshmallow than a bear, so Carmilla always felt safe around him. Which was why she just gave a sigh of her own and sat down next to him without a thought.
“So you’ve noticed, huh?” Sherman asked quietly.
“That Laura Hollis, the actual healthiest person in the world, gets sick on the same day every year?” Carmilla snorted. “Yeah, I’ve noticed.” She looked down at her knees, chewing her lower lip morosely. “I’ve tried asking her about it but… this is like the one thing she won’t tell me.”
“Today is the day her mom left.”
Carmilla felt like her eyes would fall out of her head, they were so wide when she looked up at the man next to her. He looked tired, and older than usual, and Carmilla suddenly remembered that it wasn’t just Laura’s mom that left. It was Sherman’s wife.
“It was so hard on her,” Sherman sighed, scratching the back of his neck slowly. “She still wonders if she did something wrong, I think. I’ve told her a thousand times, but she still just…” He shook his head and Carmilla’s heart broke at the thought of Laura blaming herself. “I just can’t seem to convince her otherwise.”
“I don’t understand how anyone could want to leave her,” Carmilla whispered, and Sherman put a warm hand on her shoulder.
“I ask myself that question every day,” he replied just as quietly. Then he cleared his throat and retracted his hand. “She cries. In the shower. This one day every year, she stays in there for hours and just… lets herself break down.” Carmilla stiffened. “And I’ve told her she can cry in front of me, I’ve told her she can talk to me, but she doesn’t want to. She goes in there so I won’t follow. And when she eventually comes out, it’s like nothing happened.”
“I’ll wait for her,” Carmilla said instantly. Sherman looked at her and she just nodded. “I can just… I can wait. So I can be here.”
“It could be a while,” Sherman warned, glancing at his watch, but Carmilla could feel a lump in her throat and her eyes were stinging and she didn’t want to cry in front of Sherman.
“What if she needs me?” she blurted, and for the first time since he opened the window, Sherman looked a bit surprised. “She doesn’t… she doesn’t like being alone. Especially when she’s sad. What if she needs me?”
Before she knew it, Sherman had pulled her into a hug. It had taken her a while to get used to the Hollises and their hugs, and even now they could take her by surprise. Like this one.
“Sorry,” Sherman said when he let her go. “I’m just so glad Laura has you, Carmilla.”
“What?” Carmilla asked blankly. Sherman chuckled.
“You’re the best friend she’s ever had, and you care about her so much,” he said slowly. “I couldn’t ask for a better person to be in her life.”
“I um…” Carmilla stammered. She was out of her depth here. She was bad enough at talking about her feelings with Laura, but with Sherman? “Uh… thanks, I guess.”
“You can wait here,” Sherman said, getting to his feet. “It’ll be a little while though. I’ll let your mother know you’re here.”
“Oh wait, could you um…”
“I’ll call the school and tell them you’re out with my permission,” Sherman said with a fond roll of his eyes. “Just don’t make a habit of it.” Carmilla nodded, trying to hold back her smile. “When she comes out, just… give her a minute. She’ll be a little fragile.”
With a final nod, Sherman left the room. Carmilla settled back onto Laura’s bed.
She ended up waiting for two hours, and when Laura emerged, she looked exhausted. But she stuck to her story about being sick and scolded Carmilla for skipping class for her, and it became another ritual of theirs as the years went on.
Carmilla would play along, pretend to believe that Laura was sick. But she’d be there for her, waiting, when Laura was done with her hours-long shower.
This year was different.
It started as usual. Laura claimed she wasn’t feeling well and told Carmilla to go to class without her. Carmilla knew what day it was, so she played along like always and said she’d go. But she didn’t. She paced outside the bathroom door after Laura went in, trying to decide what to do.
Maybe Laura needed this. Maybe she needed to be alone, even though she hated it. Maybe Carmilla and Sherman had been wrong all these years, thinking she cried in the shower so they wouldn’t have to see her break down. But Carmilla could hear her through the door, could hear her sniffling and sobbing quietly, and every second broke her heart a little bit more.
Their relationship was different now. Just a few days ago they’d had some really awesome sex in that very shower. It wasn’t like the fact that Laura was naked was any reason for her to avoid her at this point.
Carmilla heard another sob, broken and quiet, and she couldn’t take it anymore. She was through the bathroom door before she could talk herself out of it.
“Laura,” she said quietly. “I’m coming in.”
“Carm? I thought you… what are you…”
Laura’s crying ceased, mostly out of shock, because Carmilla stepped right into the shower with her despite the fact that she was still wearing her Bikini Kill t-shirt and bright red panties.
“Now’s not a really good time for shower sex,” Laura said quietly, her voice barely audible over the shower and her stare blank and confused.
“That’s not why I’m here,” Carmilla replied gently. She reached for Laura slowly, waiting until Laura nodded in permission before she pulled her into her arms. “I just didn’t want you to be alone.”
“You know… you know why…” Laura began slowly, her voice thickening with tears.
“I’ve known for a long time,” Carmilla whispered into her wet hair, wrapping her arms around her a little tighter and tucking her head under her chin. “This is just the first time I can do something about it.”
Laura stood there, shaking in her arms, for a few quiet moments before she burst into fresh sobs. Carmilla just held her closer, rocking them back and forth slowly under the spray of hot water.
It would still be a while before they got out and Carmilla peeled off her soaked sleepwear and they laughed together while they dried each other off. They spent the rest of the day lounging, neither letting the other stray too far from their comfortable tangle of limbs and blankets, and by the end of the day Laura was happy again.
That became their new ritual. Instead of locking herself away, Laura let Carmilla in. And every year she reminded Carmilla how grateful she was that she’d barged into her shower that day.
Summer came again, and as September approached the stress of the wedding was clearly starting to get to Laura. A fact which became remarkably apparent in the middle of the night in July.
“Carm, wake up!”
Carmilla jerked awake immediately, the panic in Laura’s voice sending a spike of fear through her even in her just-awake state. She sat bolt upright in bed, reaching around blindly for Laura and finding her right where she was supposed to be.
“What happened?” Carmilla blurted, her voice low and gravelly with sleep. “Are you okay? Is something wrong?”
“What are our names going to be?” Laura replied, her voice still just as tense and fearful as she sat up against the headboard, wringing her hands.
Carmilla blinked the sleep out of her eyes and stared at Laura, her heart rate returning to normal now that she was sure Laura wasn’t in any danger.
“What?” was all Carmilla managed to say in response.
“When we get married,” Laura explained, eyes wide. “What will our names be?”
“Well I’m rather fond of Laura and Carmilla myself…”
“No no, our last names,” Laura corrected, rolling her eyes. “Will I take yours? Will you take mine? Will we hyphenate?”
“Oh,” Carmilla sighed, letting herself relax and lean back against the headboard at Laura’s side. “That’s what this is about.”
“Of course,” Laura blurted, anxiously running her hands through her hair. “We’re getting married in like two months and we don’t know! This is something we should know!”
Carmilla hummed thoughtfully as she slipped an arm around Laura’s waist and tugged her close.
“Carmilla Hollis,” she began slowly. “Carmilla Hollis. Hm. Laura Karnstein. Laura Karnstein…”
“I like the sound of Laura Karnstein better,” Laura admitted, snuggling into Carmilla’s side. “But…”
“You don’t want to lose that part of you,” Carmilla said for her, turning and kissing the top of her head. “That connection to your dad.” Laura nodded. “So we’ll hyphenate.”
“Hollis-Karnstein or Karnstein-Hollis?” Laura murmured sleepily. Carmilla held in a laugh. Of course she would wake her up in a panic and then start falling asleep.
“We would be either the Hollis-Karnsteins or the Karnstein-Hollises,” Carmilla hummed. She started rubbing her hand slowly up and down Laura’s side, from her hip up to the bottom of her ribcage and back down again. Laura sighed comfortably. “Hollis-Karnsteins rolls off the tongue much better.”
“You wouldn’t mind my name being first?” Laura yawned.
“Of course not,” Carmilla laughed lightly. “It’s alphabetical. And it sounds better. So it’s settled. When we get married, we will be Mrs. and Mrs. Laura and Carmilla Hollis-Karnstein.”
“Mrs. Laura Hollis-Karnstein,” Laura sighed. Then she let out a giddy, incredulous little laugh. “I can’t believe I get to marry you.”
“Go back to sleep, love,” Carmilla whispered, all too familiar with Laura’s ‘in the act of falling asleep’ voice.
“You too,” Laura grumbled, sliding down under the blankets and pulling Carmilla along with her. Carmilla just laughed fondly and dropped a light kiss on Laura’s forehead. Then her nose. Then her lips. Laura hummed happily.
“Goodnight Mrs. Carmilla Hollis-Karnstein.”
“I love you, Mrs. Cupcake Hollis-Karnstein. Even if you are a huge dork.”
“Love you too. And if I’m a dork, wouldn’t that make you Mrs. Dork?”
Lafontaine was in charge of the bachelorette party. Although at Laura and Carmilla’s insistence, everyone agreed not to call it a bachelorette party, because the idea of needing one last night away from each other to be single was stupid and antiquated and they’d basically been married since they were ten anyway. So instead, Laf referred to it as “that night a few weeks before the wedding where we all go out and get wasted.”
So that’s exactly what they did. Laura, Carmilla, Lafontaine, Perry, and Danny all got in Kirsch’s car on a Friday night in late August, and he ended up driving them all to the very bar where this whole mess had started.
“The Snap?” Laura laughed as they all got out of the car. The cameras started flashing the moment her feet touched the pavement, but Carmilla moved automatically to stand between Laura and the paparazzi on the other side of the bouncer’s rope. She was always much more aware of them and had developed a more refined habit of keeping her back to them. “Laf, seriously?”
“Hey, it’s where all the tabloid stories started,” Laf shrugged, looking rather pleased with themself as they nodded to the bouncer and they were all let in. “‘Carmilla Karnstein punches handsy bro in bar, but hey wait a second, are those engagement rings?’ Even in Nowhere, Austria it was a big deal.”
“It wasn’t Nowhere, it was Styria,” Perry corrected as they walked into the crowded, noisy bar. “And you had a great time, Lafontaine, so stop pretending you didn’t.”
“Sorry Perr, you’re right,” Laf sighed, rolling their eyes at Laura and grinning.
“You’re sure Mattie isn’t coming?” Laura asked quietly, taking Carmilla’s hand and squeezing it as they found seats at the bar.
“Positive,” Carmilla replied, pressing the word to Laura’s temple in a quick kiss. “I believe her exact words were ‘I’d rather gouge out my own eyes with a lash curler than drink with a bunch of children in a den of perverts and frat-boys. Have fun though!’”
“And you’re not… upset about that at all, right?”
“Of course not,” Carmilla snorted, grinning at Laura’s hesitation. “I knew she wouldn’t be coming when I invited her. It was just a courtesy. Going out drinking with my sister is an experience, but I don’t know if I’d call it fun.”
“Okay,” Laura replied, sending Carmilla’s smile right back at her and leaning in to peck her on the lips. “As long as you’re good.”
Laf, Perry, and Danny kept buying drinks for Laura and Carmilla, so it wasn’t long before they were both pleasantly drunk. Carmilla had always held her booze better than Laura, so while Laura slowly got gigglier, Carmilla just got quieter and smiled without restraint.
As the night got later and the bar got louder, the three gingers got up to request a song from the DJ, all giggling about it and refusing to tell Laura and Carmilla what song it was. Unfortunately, while they were gone, Carmilla was just drunk enough not to notice who had just entered the club and was strutting her way toward her.
“Well no wonder the paparazzi were so excited.”
Carmilla froze. Even in all this noise she knew that voice. Shit. She turned around slowly and sure enough, there she was. All blonde hair and sharply winged eyeliner, skinny and well-dressed and smirking.
“You haven’t been this famous since you were dating me,” Elle said.
“Shit,” Carmilla said blankly.
Carmilla suddenly noticed she was clenching her fingers on Laura’s knee and released her quickly, only to realize Laura hadn’t even been aware of it. Laura was sitting rigidly, her steely gaze fixed on Elle and her hand tight around her glass on the bar as if she was debating whether or not to throw her drink in Elle’s face.
“Aw, if it isn’t Little Laura Hollis,” Elle cooed, stepping closer so they could both hear her. “I’d say you’ve grown but, well…”
“Height jokes, really?” Laura sighed, eyes narrowing dangerously. “Wow Elle, you still have all the wit of a YouTube comment.”
Elle grinned, apparently excited by the fact that Laura was biting back.
“Look at this, Carm,” Elle stage whispered, crossing her arms over her chest and leaning toward Carmilla. “She’s actually learned how to use her claws. I never thought she had it in her.”
“Hey,” Carmilla warned lowly, her own gaze hardening dangerously as she leveled it at Elle. “Back off.”
“Oh come on, you can’t still be playing this ‘engaged’ game,” Elle laughed, looking between them like she was waiting for the punchline. She smirked at Laura. “What, was Carmilla just so hung up on you for so long that you felt bad and caved?”
Laura jumped to her feet, and it was only because Carmilla had been watching her that she was ready to grab her around the waist and pull her back.
“How dare you?” Laura shouted, heedless to Carmilla’s arms fastened around her as she kept trying to jump at Elle. “Showing up after all this time and acting like it’s nothing, you have a lot of nerve. I ought to kick your ass you know…”
Laura was still shouting angrily when Carmilla managed to drag her into the mercifully empty bathroom, and she was just drunk enough to be confused by the sudden change of scenery.
“Hey where’d she go? I wasn’t done telling her off,” she grumbled, squinting around the bathroom. “How’d we get here?”
“Laura,” Carmilla said firmly, steadying her hands on Laura’s shoulders so she’d look at her. “She’s not worth it.”
“No, she’s not,” Laura agreed fervently. And suddenly there were angry tears in her eyes and she crossed her arms over her chest. “She was never worth it.”
“Laura?” Carmilla asked quietly, reaching out for her again. But Laura stepped away, shoulders hunched, and Carmilla was reminded forcibly that Laura had always been a light weight when it came to alcohol. She was a bit drunker than she let on.
“She broke your heart,” Laura blurted, pacing back and forth between the sinks and the stalls. “She was mean to you when you were together and she was mean to everyone and she was just… she’s just mean. And you deserved so much better than her but you didn’t see it. You wouldn’t.” She stopped, clenching her fists at her sides and staring hard at Carmilla. “But I couldn’t say anything then. Because you liked her and you weren’t… back then you weren’t…” She let out a frustrated breath. “You weren’t mine.”
A slow grin spread across Carmilla’s face and Laura rolled her eyes.
“Why Laura Hollis,” Carmilla said quietly, feigning affront. “Are you implying that I’m a possession?”
“No, that’s not…” Laura grumbled, running her hands over her face. “I didn’t mean…”
“Hey, honey, hey,” Carmilla laughed, taking Laura’s face in her hands gently and stroking her thumbs along her jawline. “I was just teasing. I’m yours. Every last bit of me.” Laura’s eyes widened and her smile was hesitant but bright. “And you’re mine.”
“‘Kay,” she giggled, blushing in a way she only did when she was drunk. It was adorable nonetheless.
“So, if we go back out there, do you promise not to kill anyone with your tiny fists?” Carmilla asked, her voice dipping low as she leaned in for a few soft kisses.
“Promise,” Laura murmured. She was utterly distracted by Carmilla’s lips, or she would have bristled at the ‘tiny fists’ remark.
When they emerged from the bathroom, You’re My Best Friend by Queen was playing and the gingers were back at the bar laughing themselves hoarse. Laura squeezed Carmilla’s hand and started singing along quietly, giggling the lyrics just loud enough for Carmilla to hear.
“I've been with you such a long time, you're my sunshine,” Laura murmured, stopping in her tracks halfway to the bar and tugging Carmilla back to her. “And I want you to know that my feelings are true, I really love you.”
“You’re my best friend,” Carmilla finished for her, grinning, and Laura threw her arms around Carmilla’s neck immediately to pull her into an ardent kiss.
“Wow, you two are actually ridiculous,” Elle laughed incredulously from behind Carmilla, and Laura groaned. Carmilla had completely forgotten about Elle in the last minute. “You know the paparazzi aren’t in here, right?”
Carmilla turned abruptly to face her, holding Laura’s hand tightly behind her back.
“That’s enough,” Carmilla said, her voice firm but calm, and Elle blinked in surprise. She knew that tone. Laura referred to it as Carmilla’s ‘dangerous voice.’ “Look, Elle, I’m sorry I broke your heart. I’m sorry I sucked. But you broke my heart too, okay? We were both shitty to each other.”
Elle’s mouth closed with an audible click and Carmilla could practically feel Laura staring her down from over her shoulder.
“It was six years ago,” Carmilla continued, stepping closer to Elle and lowering her volume even more. “You need to grow up.”
There were a few long moments of tense silence between the three of them. Unlike the last time they were here, nobody in the surrounding area seemed to have noticed the confrontation, so actual silence was impossible. But then Elle swallowed hard and looked away.
“I knew back then,” she sighed, shaking her head. “I knew you were in love with Laura. Before even you did. I saw the way you looked at her and I wanted to make you look at me like that.” She met Carmilla’s eyes with a rueful smile. “Didn’t work.”
Laura’s grip softened on Carmilla’s hand and some of the tension left Carmilla’s shoulders. Elle let out a long breath and looked down.
“I did grow up, you know,” she grumbled. “I realized how awful I was and I tried to be better. But the second I saw you two I just…” She waved her hands briefly around her head, scoffing. “I was right back there. Like a fucking time machine.” She let out a self-deprecating laugh and shook her head again. “Look… we’re never going to be friends. But you’re right. We can at least be adults. I’m sorry.”
Carmilla’s mouth actually fell open. Judging by Laura’s silence behind her, she was in a similar state of shock. Elle let out a snort of laughter and rolled her eyes.
“Just be happy together, okay?” she sighed, waving her hand dismissively and disappearing into the crowd.
Carmilla tugged on Laura’s hand, numbly leading her back to the bar.
“Who was that?” Perry asked with a concerned frown.
“Ex-girlfriend,” Carmilla supplied blankly.
“Wait, that looked like Elle Sheridan,” Danny said, squinting at Carmilla. Laura and Carmilla just shared a glance and Danny’s eyes went wide. “Oh man, you totally dated Elle Sheridan! I remember now, you two got into all kinds of shit and it was all over the tabloids when I was in high school!”
“Ooooh, she’s the big ex,” Lafontaine added, nodding slowly. “The one that kicked your heart’s ass.”
“Yeah, and we just made amends or something, so let’s move on,” Carmilla snapped.
Laura’s hands were immediately on her face, turning her gently to look her in the eye.
“Hey,” Laura said softly, and Carmilla smiled despite her best efforts. Whenever Laura was drunk, she looked like she had just woken up from a nice long nap, all warm and ruffled and soft. The color of her cheeks matched the pink of her lips, and suddenly Carmilla was having trouble concentrating. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” Carmilla sighed, her smile stretching into a lazy grin. She leaned in and rubbed her nose against Laura’s, causing Laura to wrinkle her nose and giggle. “Never better, cutie.”
“I’m not drunk enough for this,” Lafontaine said with a roll of their eyes.
It was almost two in the morning by the time Kirsch got them home, and just like the last time they visited The Snap, they were too drunk for the stairs. So they woke up the next day on the floor between the couch and the coffee table, all smeared makeup and wrinkled clothes and hangovers.
The biggest difference between this time and last time was Carmilla’s lipstick smudged all over Laura’s face and neck.
That and the fact that the rings on their fingers were actually there on purpose.
The nightmares had started back at the end of August, right after her confrontation with Elaine. But they were few and far between, so Carmilla didn’t pay them much thought.
After the post card in April, they got worse. Weekly, if not more often. And as the wedding inched closer, they became daily.
They always started with Laura finding out Carmilla had lied to her about her mom, and they ended with Laura leaving.
Carmilla had really awful nightmares when she was a kid, but nothing quite compared to the love of her life telling her she hated her and never wanted to see her again.
A week out from the wedding, Carmilla was reaching the end of her rope. She dreaded going to sleep each night, knowing what she’d see. And of course, Laura noticed.
“You’ve been doing that every night,” she said quietly, nodding toward Carmilla’s feet as she paced back and forth across the room. Laura was sitting on the edge of the bed in her tank top and flannel pajama pants, watching Carmilla’s fingers twist the hem of her Runaways t-shirt. “Pacing. What’s wrong?”
“I uh…” Carmilla began, but a lump formed in her throat and she had to keep pacing. She frowned to herself and Laura fidgeted.
“Are you like… getting cold feet?” Laura asked, her voice even quieter and her gaze on the floor.
“No,” Carmilla said immediately, pausing in front of Laura to run a hand through her hair and lay a kiss on her forehead. “No, sweetheart, of course not.”
“Then what is it?” Laura asked, grabbing Carmilla’s wrists to hold her in place. Carmilla looked away, mouth dry.
“It’s um…” she began slowly. “I just… there’s something I…” She let out a frustrated breath and looked up at the ceiling. “It’s your mom.”
Just as she’d expected, Laura froze. She swallowed hard, eyes wide, and her hands slipped off Carmilla’s wrists.
“What about her?” Laura asked carefully.
“She came back,” Carmilla blurted, stepping back from Laura and running her hands up into her hair. “She showed up. Here. To see you.”
Laura just stared at Carmilla blankly, her mouth open a bit in surprise. Carmilla started pacing again.
“It was a year ago. Probably like… a month after the article? She was waiting across the street and I saw her so I told you I had to get the mail and I came down and I…” Carmilla stopped herself to take a breath, avoiding Laura’s eyes. “I told her to stay away from you. She wanted to apologize but I knew she’d just break your heart and I told her never to come back.”
Carmilla finally paused and glanced at Laura, wringing her hands nervously in front of her, but Laura was just staring at the floor with a frown, processing. Carmilla only managed to stay still for a few moments before she resumed pacing.
“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have… I mean I really didn’t have any right to… but you were finally getting better after that damn article, and you stopped flinching every time you opened your laptop, and I didn’t… I knew she’d just make it worse.”
Carmilla let out a long breath, slowing to a stop in front of Laura again. Laura looked up at her, expression unreadable, and Carmilla glanced away.
“I didn’t want her to hurt you again,” she said softly. “She sent a post card two weeks after your birthday, too. Didn’t even know the right day. I’m sorry, Laura.”
“Come here,” Laura said at length, holding out her hands. Carmilla took them immediately and let Laura draw her in close. Laura stood from the edge of the bed and looked steadily into Carmilla’s eyes for a few silent moments. “It’s okay.”
Carmilla stared at her, shaking her head slowly.
“I wish you hadn’t lied,” Laura acquiesced, shrugging. “But I understand why you did. You’re right. I’m not rational when it comes to her. I let her get to me even though I know how much it hurts.” Laura shook her head with a rueful smile. “I’m better off without her in my life. I’m glad you told her to stay away.”
“I know you don’t like it when I get too protective,” Carmilla sighed, hands falling to Laura’s waist to tug her closer. “And I try not to. I do. But she’s… different.”
“I know,” Laura murmured, sliding her hands up from Carmilla’s elbows to her shoulders. “I forgive you.”
Carmilla let out another long breath that she felt like she’d been holding for months.
“Thank you,” she whispered, leaning in and pressing her forehead to Laura’s. “I’ll make this up to you, I promise.”
“You don’t have to do anything,” Laura laughed lightly. “Just, you know, marry me in a week.”
“No force in the universe could stop me.”
The nightmares stopped that night.
Carmilla’s mother walked her down the aisle.
Lilita Morgan had never been a crier, but her voice shook when she hugged her daughter and whispered how glad she was that she was happy, and when she took her front row seat she had to dab at her eyes.
Kirsch and Danny came next, Danny grinning and Kirsch so excited he practically hopped down the aisle. Then came Will and Perry, who already had tears in her eyes. Mattie and Lafontaine came last, Mattie throwing Carmilla a wink and Laf giving her a thumbs-up. Carmilla rolled her eyes, but couldn’t quite fight back a smile.
Carmilla forgot how to breathe when she saw Laura.
She was holding tightly to her dad’s arm, her eyes fixed on Carmilla’s and her smile the widest and brightest it had ever been. It never occurred to Carmilla that she was just staring at Laura with her mouth hanging open, as the pictures would show, but she couldn’t have cared less anyway.
All that mattered in the entire world was Laura, and how beautiful she looked right in that moment.
Sherman wrapped both girls up in his signature bear hug before he took his seat, sniffling.
The sound of the officiant’s voice faded in and out of Carmilla’s attention as she held Laura’s hands in hers and looked into her eyes. She’d been nervous earlier, more about being up in front of a lot of people than anything, but now she had never felt so calm. Laura was just smiling steadily at her, squeezing her hands lightly with the beat of her heart, and Carmilla could have stood there for days without noticing.
They had written their own vows with the promise to keep them short and sweet. They both hated attending overlong weddings, so they tried to make theirs painless.
They both made it through Carmilla’s without crying, but by the end of Laura’s they were both in tears.
It all passed in a sort of happy haze. All the planning and preparation and suddenly it was happening, and everything was beautiful and perfect, like the inside of a snow globe. The reception went late into the night, all lit up with fairy lights and lanterns, and Laura finally had to tell Carmilla to stop telling her how beautiful she was because it was getting out of hand.
They had two father-daughter dances. One with Sherman and Laura, and one with Sherman and Carmilla. Carmilla hadn’t been aware of it beforehand and she got a bit more choked up than she would later admit.
“How would you have proposed to me?” Laura asked quietly while she and Carmilla were slow dancing near midnight, the party having settled down a bit now that it was late. “If we hadn’t already been fake engaged and dated like normal people, I mean.”
“What, we aren’t normal?” Carmilla asked seriously, and Laura just giggled and leaned her head on Carmilla’s shoulder. Carmilla hummed thoughtfully. “I suppose… I would have taken you to New York. The real Metropolis, home of your hero Lois Lane.” Laura laughed again and Carmilla grinned, slowly guiding them around the dance floor. “I’d propose somewhere cliché and sappy, I guess. Like the Empire State building. I know you’re a sucker for art deco.”
“You make it sound so romantic,” Laura said with a roll of her eyes, but she leaned in and pressed a kiss to Carmilla’s cheek anyway. “I’d have taken you to Paris. It’s your favorite place in the world. But we’d just do normal stuff, blend in with the locals, because you hate it when people think you’re a tourist, and I’d propose at Shakespeare & Company because you still wax poetic about that weekend we stayed there when we were nineteen.”
“Way to make me look bad,” Carmilla grumbled, smiling against Laura’s neck. “Can I change my answer?”
“Nope. Too late. We’re already married.”
They both dissolved into giggles.
“I love you so much,” Carmilla sighed happily.
“I love you too,” Laura replied easily. “Always have.”
They stayed at Carmilla’s mother’s villa in Monaco for their honeymoon. They did as little as possible and enjoyed every second of it. Each night, they laid on the roof together and Carmilla traced the constellations with her finger, telling Laura their stories.
Not much had really changed. Not much really needed to.
Nine years later, Carmilla woke up to someone poking her in the face. She grunted and rolled over, prompting a giggle from her attacker.
“Mommy, wake up!”
“No,” Carmilla grumbled, burrowing further into the blankets as her daughter climbed on top of her. “You can’t make me.”
“Momma says it’s time for breakfast!” the little girl laughed, squealing in delight when Carmilla suddenly sat up and grabbed her.
“Oh she does, does she?” Carmilla growled, dragging her daughter into her arms and tickling her. “And she got you to do the dirty work, eh?”
“She did,” Laura replied.
Carmilla and her daughter both looked up to find Laura leaning in the doorway with her arms crossed over her chest and a fond smile on her face.
“We need to have a conversation,” Laura said lightly, walking over to her desk and grabbing her laptop before joining her wife and daughter on the bed. “About a video that a boy at preschool showed to Rory yesterday.”
Carmilla frowned at the screen, only to see a shaky cell phone video. She wasn’t sure what she was seeing at first, until the crowd on screen parted and she saw herself and Laura in a dimly-lit club. She was just beginning to realize what it was when screen-Carmilla punched a guy in the face.
“Oh,” Carmilla said, meeting Laura’s eyes with a wince. Laura just raised her eyebrows and Carmilla closed the laptop slowly. Rory stared up at her, the look in her eyes so like Laura’s that Carmilla couldn’t help but smile. “Um… well, that was a long time ago. And that guy was being mean to your mom. So I punched him, because boys are icky and gross.”
“Okay, fine, I shouldn’t have punched him, necessarily,” Carmilla hedged, all while Rory just looked between her moms blankly. “Violence is not the answer. At least not until you’re older.”
“I guess that’s as good as I’m going to get,” Laura sighed, rolling her eyes. She reached out and brushed a hand through Rory’s hair, pushing it away from her forehead so she could drop a kiss there. “Go back to the kitchen and start your breakfast, kid. We’ll be right there.”
They both watched their four-year-old scramble out of the bed and race out of the room. When Carmilla looked back over at her wife, she was already staring at her.
“What?” Carmilla asked, grinning, and Laura just rolled her eyes again.
“You’re unbelievable,” she sighed, leaning in for a kiss regardless. “Good morning. Still love me?”
“More than ever,” Carmilla hummed against her lips. Laura rolled out of bed with a smile on her face as Carmilla sat up and stretched. “Where did that kid even find that video?”
“It’s trending, apparently,” Laura replied lightly. “That guy you punched? He was just nominated for a Golden Globe.”
“I wish I was.”
Carmilla groaned as she got to her feet, grabbing Laura around the waist as she walked by and pulling her into a long, languid kiss.
“Maybe we should send him a thank you note or something,” Laura murmured, and the kiss ended abruptly because Carmilla couldn’t stop laughing.
Carmilla Karnstein was thirty two years old when she walked into the kitchen for breakfast with her wife and daughter and knew she would never be happier.