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Hall of Mirrors

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The sun was shining through the small window in her bedroom as Laura’s alarm went off. She whimpered and stretched as she kept her eyes closed. She swiped her phone, killing the annoying song she had set as an alarm tone. She slowly drifted off to sleep as the next alarm started blaring. She huffed again before slowly opening her eyes. She squinted in the sunlight, but pushed herself up into a seating position.

“And another delightful morning,” she whispered to herself outloud.

She shut the alarm off and turned off all the others one she had set, just in case she overslept like she usually did. She slowly got out of bed as she stretched her arms over head. She heard her back pop and made her way to the to the hallway. The distant sound of the shower running clicked in her head and she frowned.

Damn it. Why is it so hard for her to learn my schedule? I get up everyday around this time and she should know that. She probably just doesn’t care, Laura thought as she made her way down the narrow hallway to the kitchen.

She lived in a two bedroom apartment in Brooklyn. It was a small railroad apartment. When you opened the door to her apartment, you were faced with the long hallway. When you closed the door, their small living room was to your left. Down the hallway on the left were the bathroom, Laura’s room and then Betty’s room. At the end of the long hall, stood the kitchen. It was nice and she loved where she lived, except for her roommate. The only reason she had a roommate was because she couldn’t afford rent otherwise.

Betty was kind of annoying and loud. She never seemed to care about Laura’s schedule. She made noise at all hours of the day and night. Laura was courteous and quiet almost always. Laura has always been a bit of a loner. She doesn’t go out much, even though Betty tries to get her to join her at this bar or that restaurant. Laura would try to be polite, but would always decline. She liked being at home, in her room, by herself.

Laura splashed some water on her face from the kitchen sink, trying to ignore the sound of the water drumming against the basin. The biggest reason she hated it when Betty took showers in the morning is because her bladder was almost always full. She grabbed a paper towel to dry off her face, as she made her way back to her room to get ready for the day.

Laura sat down on her bed and pulled out the minimal makeup she wore everyday. She decided to watch an episode of Buffy while she got ready. A few moments later, she heard the bathroom door open and she practically sprinted out of her bed. Luckily Betty was already in her room, so Laura didn’t have to have an awkward “good morning, you know I get ready at this time five days a week” talk. She quickly relieved herself before brushing her teeth.

Laura quickly finished her makeup and got dressed. She chose a plain t-shirt and jeans. She was self conscious about the small tummy she had, so she made sure to throw on her black sweatshirt. It was baggy and helped her hide the things she didn’t like about herself. Once she was ready to go, she chanced a glance in the mirror. Laura once realized she barely ever looked at herself in the mirror besides her compact. She avoided them like the plague.

I guess this is as good as it’s gonna get, Laura thought before throwing her bookbag strap over her shoulder.

“Morning,” Betty said, loudly as Laura made her way to the apartment door.

“Yeah, Morning,” Laura replied.

“I'm going to that new bar down the street later and I think you should come,” Betty offered.

Laura smiled. “Can I let you know?”

“Can I let you know is Laura Hollis for no. Come on, Laura! It's Wednesday night. That means the work week is almost over! It'll be fun!” Betty seemed to be pleading.

Laura on the other hand was already looking forward to her regular weeknight plan. Come home, eat some Chinese food, followed by some cookies and binge watch something on Netflix.

“I'll let you know,” Laura said again before quickly making her way out the door.

As she walked to the subway, her mind was running a mile a minute. I should go! It would be fun, but I would only know Betty. That usually leads to drunk Laura making a fool of herself or shy Laura who feels uncomfortable and counts every second until she can get out of there. Why can't I just be normal and have a good time? Be care free?

Laura continued to taunt herself as she made her way down the subway stairs. She jumped on the 4 train, taking her uptown to the bookstore. She managed to get a seat when she noticed a girl staring at her.

Why is she staring at me? Is there something on my face? Relax, Laura. She probably just thinks I'm ugly or it's my body. Maybe she's surprised I could fit in this space on the seat.

Laura soon realized today wasn't going to be a good, sunny day like she had hoped. However, most of her mornings started out this way. She tries to ignore her thoughts by reading some Harry Potter fanfic on her phone. It worked for the time being.

Laura was soon off the train and heading in the direction to the bookstore. It's green awning stood out proudly as she saw the familiar “Hemingway and Company” sign written in white. She walked in and felt the quiet store, calm her.

“Hey, Killer,” David said.

“Morning, Boss. How many boxes are we expecting today?”

“Well the semester is starting in a couple weeks so I think you know the drill.”

“I guess, I'll put my stuff down and prepare myself for the madness.”

David smiled at her as she made her way downstairs to basement. She liked David a lot. He was like a brother to her or at least someone she trusted enough to call if she ever needed help. He was in his early 30’s and alway had a friendly smile on his face. He had a shabby beard that was as black as his scruffy hair. He definitely looked like the guy you would expect to own a bookstore. His shirts always seemed to have hole in them somewhere, but he was happy with his life.

Laura threw her stuff by her desk and started up her computer. She was in the back of the basement, which sometimes was the perfect place to be, like during the rush at the start of the semester. However, days like today, where she couldn't shut her mind off, her desk was a personal hell of self deprecation.

Laura knew the boxes wouldn't arrive until around 11 or noon, so she decided to go back upstairs and help David out. She started labeling some of the leftover books from yesterday. The front door chimed and Laura saw the familiar red hair of one of her best friends.

“Hey, Frosh.”

“You know, Laf, after all these years, you think I could get a new nickname?”

“Where would the fun in that be, Laur?” Lafontaine smiled.

“Morning, Lafontaine! Ready for an exciting day of training?” David asked, jumping down from one of the shelves.

“Absolutely! You know I love helping the newbies feel as welcomed as possible.”

“Are the new hires starting today?” Laura asked.

At the start of every new semester, the bookstore hired people, temporarily, to help with the rush. They were hired to get students in and out of the store as quickly as possible. They would work the registers, help with labeling the new books, putting them on the shelves under their assigned classes and assisting in anyway possible. Unlike most college bookstores, Hemingway wouldn’t allow students to get their books. The students would come to the counter, hand off their syllabi and let the bookstore employees grab everything they needed.

“They are. Now, Lafontaine, where is your partner in crime?” David asked, shuffling some papers in his hands.

“Perry is making the coffee/doughnut run this morning. She'll be here soon.”

“Excellent!” David said, sharing a high five with Lafontaine.

“Oh and Laura, we've brought in a new receiver from our Hunter College store.”

“David, I'm capable of doing this on my own.”

“I know that, Killer. But we've had more professors put in orders this semester, so I thought it be best to add another. And the best part is we don't have to train her. She should be here soon and she'll be taking Lafontaine’s spot downstairs.”

“Wait, so Laf won't be helping at all?”

“Nope. David wants me on the floor, monitoring the minions, which I'm fine with. I hated receiving anyway.”

“But it's math. You love math,” Laura countered.

Lafontaine rolled their eyes dramatically. “Yes chemistry involves equations and some math, but I prefer the science part of it rather than the actual math,” Lafontaine argued.

“Anyway, Laura. I've heard she's a good and fast receiver. And I know I don't have to ask you to be nice because you always are.”

Laura gave the best smile she could. She was always nervous around new people. Every thought passed through her mind when she noticed David staring at her.

“Are we good?” David asked.

“Uh, yeah. Perfect.”

“Good. I've got to finish hanging up these class tags on the shelf. We've got time before the delivery truck comes. Care to help?” David asked as Lafontaine made their way to one of the stores computers.

Laura jumped at the opportunity. Behind the counter were three long rows of steel shelves that held 5 to 6 rows each. This was one of her favorite aspects of the bookstore. They didn't use ladders to reach the top of these shelves. They would climb up like monkeys. It was fast, easy and reliable. You had to be in shape for this job.

“Can you start the classics section for me? The tags are on the shelf,” David said, working his way back to the math section.

Laura got to work immediately when she heard the door open.

“Hello, Sweetheart,” Laura heard Lafontaine said. She poked her head around one of the shelves.

“Morning, Perry.”

“Good morning, Laura. I got you a hot chocolate and two Homer Simpson doughnuts.”

“Thanks, Per!”

Laura jumped off the shelves and made her way to the counter. She took a bite of her strawberry frosted doughnut with sprinkles and smiled. She collected the other one along with her hot chocolate and a couple of napkins before making her way back to hanging tags.

A couple hours passed quickly enough when the UPS truck started loading in their shipment of books for the day.

“How many do we have today, Mike?” Perry asked, when he came in with the first load.

“No too many. About 20,” Mike replied.

David walked out of the back with a hand truck to help unload the truck. Laura was relieved at the number of boxes. The rush was coming, but not today. Twenty boxes was a walk in the park for her. When she could consistently work, her mind was too focused to concentrate on the thoughts looming in the back of her head. Once all the boxes were inside, they counted, signed and sent Mike on his way.

Laura grabbed a box and swung it over her shoulder, carrying it downstairs to the counter attached to her desk. She was content with this. She didn’t enjoy exercising so for Laura, going up and down the stairs with boxes on her shoulders and climbing shelves were enough. She liked the people she worked with and the light jazz David played throughout the day helped keep her centered while she worked.

Once all the boxes were downstairs, Laura headed up to finish the last few remaining shelf tags. The little trip up and down the stairs, made Laura warm so she discarded her sweatshirt, pulling her t-shirt away from her stomach. It's too tight. Why did I wear this shirt?

When she reached the top of the stairs, David was standing at the counter, talking on the phone.

“Hey, Bill. Yeah is this girl at your store?... The one you were sending to us to help us receive… She was supposed to be here an hour ago… Well let me know if she comes to your store.”

“So I take it this new girl isn’t coming?” Laura asked, hopeful. The less she had to interact with someone new, the happier she felt.

“I’m not sure. I want you to wait an hour or so before you start receiving, just to see if she gets here.”

“Sure thing. I’ll hang out with Laf and monitor the store.”

“Thanks, Killer.”

“When are the new hires coming?” Lafontaine asked, eager to start their task.

“Later. After lunch,” David replied.

Laura and Lafontaine entertained themselves by watching movie trailers on YouTube. They helped the small amount of customers that came and went, but it was a rather slow morning. They were deeply intrigued by one trailer when someone cleared their voice. Laura looked up to see an extremely attractive girl. She was not much taller than Laura with pale skin and curly black hair. She was in all black. Laura didn’t understand how this girl was not sweating with the summer heat that was in full swing outside.

“Can you help me?” The girl asked, sounding rushed and annoyed.

Laura stuttered. “Uh, certainly. What book are you looking for?”

The girl tapped her fingers against the green counter. “I’m here for David?”

“Oh. Are you the new girl?” Laura asked.

“Why don’t you get David and we’ll figure it out together,” she said with an annoyed tone.

Rude, Laura thought. “Sure, one second,” Laura replied, trying to match this girl’s tone of annoyance.

She walked to the back of the stacks and saw David fiddling away with more tags.

“Uh, David. I think the new girl is here.”

“Ah, perfect.”

David followed Laura out and up to the front. The girl was still standing there. She still had the annoyed expression, almost impatient. She made eye contact with her when she saw the man behind her. She stood up straighter and tried to smile.

“David?” Carmilla asked.

“Yes. You must be Carmilla.”

“Yes, Sir. Sorry I’m late. The 4 train was stop and go all the way from Brooklyn and I might have overslept.”

“No harm done. Next time, just try and call the store or text me saying you’re going to be late. That way we have no miscommunication.”

“Will do. So let’s get down to business, shall we? Where will I be working?” Carmilla asked, getting straight to the task she was sent here to do.

“You’ll be downstairs with Laura,” David replied, gesturing towards Laura.

“Uh, hi. I’m Laura,” Laura said. She stuck out her hand for Carmilla to shake. Carmilla glanced but remained where she was.

“Pleasure,” Carmilla said towards her before turning back to David, ignoring Laura completely. Laura immediately put her hand down, feeling stupid for putting it out there to begin with.

“So did you already get your shipment?” Carmilla asked.

“Yes. Laura, why don’t you show Carmilla where she’ll be working.”

“Uh, sure,” Laura mumbled. She felt like every time Carmilla looked at her she was being studied and judged. Her head was running a mile a minute as she started to compare herself to Carmilla. She is so beautiful. I wish I was that beautiful. She’s confident. I bet she gets all the guys or girls, depending on what she wants. I wonder what that’s like. Laura continued this mantra as they walked down the stairs and to the back of the basement.

“So this is it. This is me,” Laura said, pointing to her left, “And your desk/computer is the one right down there on the other end.”

“Great,” Carmilla said without any enthusiasm. She looked around Laura’s desk, noticing all the weird art and post its on her wall. She looked at Laura with a raised eyebrow.

“Oh, uh, sometimes the rush hires like to draw stuff and put it on my wall. Everyone does. It’s fun. You can do it too if you want.”

Carmilla gave her a light smile before grabbing a yellow post-it pad and a Sharpie from Laura’s desk. She turned her back so Laura couldn’t see what she was drawing. Once she was finished, Laura tried to look.

“Nope. Let it be a surprise, Cupcake,” Carmilla said, with a glint of something in her eye.

Carmilla peeled the post it off and looked at the wall. “Hmm,” she said in a low tone. “Where do I want this post it to go? Can I move stuff?”

Laura was particular about the order her stuff was in. “I rather you not,” Laura said.

“Okay. I’ll just put it here then,” Carmilla said. She put the post it above the rest and managed to keep it hidden the entire time. Laura was too busy checking out Carmilla’s backside to even notice what was on the post-it.

Carmilla turned around quickly and smiled.

“I hope you like it,” Carmilla said, slowly passing Laura to throw her bag on the counter beside her desk.

Laura could feel her face blush, knowing Carmilla had caught her. Whatever. It’s not like that would ever happen anyway, she thought before looking up at the drawing. It was a middle finger sticking up and written in pretty cursive, it said, “fuck this”. She turned around and looked at Carmilla who was chuckling.

“Like it?” Carmilla asked.

“Charming,” Laura muttered. She felt herself deflate a little bit as she made her way over to one of the boxes. “I assume you know how to receive, so you can get started,” Laura said.

Carmilla got up and grabbed a box from the counter that Laura had laid them on. Laura quickly followed suit to distract herself. She noticed the tone muscles in Carmilla’s arm and instantly felt jealous when she looked down at her arm. She had muscle, but didn’t have definition to prove it. Of course she has no fat, that’s why I can see her muscles. I wish I were that skinny. Laura shook her head and opened the box. She pulled out the invoice and started to work. She checked to make sure all the books listed on the invoice were in fact in the box. She exhaled with relief. She wouldn’t have to call the publishers to tell them she was missing books. She hated talking on the phone.

Laura and Carmilla managed to work in silence and Laura was grateful. She felt uneasy next to Carmilla, like she had eyes on her. She turned to see Carmilla staring at her, not doing any work with her feet up on the desk.

“What?” Laura asked, continuing to receive.

“I’m trying to figure you out,” Carmilla said, as if it were simple.

“Trying to figure what out?”

“You’re story. I see something in you, but I don’t know what it is.”

“You don’t know anything about me.”

“So enlighten me, Cupcake. How old are you?”

“It’s Laura, not Cupcake. And I’m 25.”

Carmilla didn’t say anything as she continued to stare. Laura was starting to get annoyed. She just wanted to get her work done. It was making her feel on edge. Like an animal in a zoo or a freak show at the circus.

“What?” Laura asked, turning in her chair to look at Carmilla again.

“It’s the same thing, Cupcake. I’m trying to figure you out.”

“There’s nothing to figure out. Will you please stop staring at me?”

At that question, Carmilla stood up from her seat and walked towards Laura. Laura sighed as she felt Carmilla stand behind her. Carmilla’s presence was strong and Laura felt herself getting smaller and smaller. She could feel Carmilla’s breath on her neck.

“Maybe I don’t want to,” Carmilla said lowly in Laura’s ear. Laura didn’t move as she felt a chill run down her spine before Carmilla let out another light chuckle.

“You’re so easy to tease,” Carmilla laughed.

Laura rolled her eyes and decided to ignore Carmilla’s laughter. She won’t lie though, she was a tad bit disappointed. It’s not like anyone as hot as she is would ever be attracted to someone like me.

Laura heard Carmilla’s phone ring which seemed to stop the laughter all together. Carmilla tsked at her phone before answering it.

“Hello,” Carmilla said, sternly. “Elsie, I told you to stop calling me.” She paused, and Laura was surprised Carmilla’s eyes weren’t stuck to the back of her head with how much she seemed to be rolling them. Carmilla huffed. “We had fun, but that’s all it was, fun. I told you that to start with and you said you were fine with it.” Carmilla paused again as this Elsie person continued to talk. Laura continued to work as she tried not to act like she was eavesdropping. Then she heard Carmilla’s light chuckle. “Yeah? You like it when I do that?” Carmilla asked with a little hum. Laura suddenly felt uncomfortable. This is not a conversation to have at work. She took a chance and looked at Carmilla, who was biting her lip and staring at Laura. Carmilla was leaning back in her chair and her legs were spread wider than necessary. “How about I do it again tonight? Alright, I’ll be there at 7. See you then.”

Carmilla put her phone down and Laura immediately felt like she needed to leave as Carmilla's gaze fell back on her. Laura looked at the time on her computer and noticed it was 1pm. She decided now would be a good time to go get lunch. She left without saying anything to Carmilla and headed upstairs with her bag.

“David, I’m gonna go to lunch,” she said as she passed by him quickly.

Laura used the back exit to leave the store. She felt a little relief as she stepped outside. It was a warm day, but definitely cooler than it had been for the past couple of days. She took her usual, short walk to the pizza place.

“Hey, Laura. Two cheese slices?”

Laura smiled. “Yes, please.”

Laura never could remember this guy’s name, but they always chatted back and forth while her pizza was being reheated. She paid and thanked him before heading to the deli next door to get a can of Dr. Pepper.

Laura made her way back to the bookstore. The back of the building had a couple stairs where Laura usually sat to eat her lunch on beautiful days like today. She liked watching the people go by, as she got some sun on her skin. She set her pizza box and drink behind her on the landing before taking her bag off her back. She pulled out a pack of Marlboro Lights and took the cigarette in between her lips. She knew she shouldn’t be smoking, and swore she was going to quit, but couldn’t bring herself to do it. She knew you had to be fully committed to quit and she wasn’t. She lit her cigarette and leaned back on her elbows, watching the people pass by and wondering where they were headed; what their lives were like.

“You know, I didn’t peg you for a smoker,” the new familiar voice said.

“Yeah, well, most don’t,” Laura replied.

“Can I give you a dollar for one?” Carmilla asked.

“You can just take one,” Laura said, holding out her pack.

Carmilla grabbed the pack and took a zippo lighter from her pocket. “Thanks,” she mumbled, with the cigarette hanging from her mouth. “Mind if I sit next to you?” Carmilla asked.

Yes.

“Not at all,” Laura said, gesturing to the open space on the stairs.

They sat quietly, smoking their cigarettes. It was awkward and forced from Laura’s perspective. She just wanted to Carmilla leave her be in peace. Laura flicked her cigarette into the street before grabbing her pizza box.

“I’m sorry you had to hear my conversation downstairs. I promise that won’t happen again. This girl is just kind of sensitive and doesn’t seem to get the point of what’s actually going on with us,” Carmilla said, out of nowhere.

“It’s whatever,” Laura said.

“Well,” Carmilla stood from the spot. “That pizza looks good. Where did you get it?”

“Right down the block.”

Carmilla nodded and started to walk away. She turned around and smiled at Laura. “Thanks for the smoke, Cupcake. See you in a bit.”

Laura gave a small smile. She waited until Carmilla was further away before taking a bite of her pizza. She suddenly felt subconscious about her body weight as she watched Carmilla’s slim figure walk away. Laura wasn’t large by any means, but she always had a small little gut that hung over her pants and it bothered her. She knew eating pizza wasn’t helping with that, but for some reason she accepted her stomach, even though she wasn’t proud of it and wished she could lose it. She tried to push her uneasiness away when she made eye contact with another girl. She felt like she was being judged by this skinny blond and she could feel herself falling. Feeling down again, she went back inside and down into the basement.

Laura sat downstairs at her desk and ate as quickly as possible, leaving half a slice behind. She dumped her Dr. Pepper out in the sink as she willed her body not to cry. The images of skinny girls played in her head. Her thoughts uncontrollable. They’ll never know what it’s like to worry about their stomachs hanging over their pants. I wonder what that’s like. Laura mindlessly pulled at her t-shirt that seemed to be glued to her stomach. She went back to her desk and put on her baggy sweatshirt. To distract herself, Laura decided to finish up the last few boxes of books. Once they were completed she printed her labels.

As Laura walked to the office to retrieve them, she was stopped by Carmilla.

“Did you finish the boxes?” Carmilla asked.

“Uh, yeah. Sorry.”

“That's okay. Thanks, even. Now I don't have to work.” Carmilla smiled.

“Uh, yeah you do!”

“Well my job is to receive and the receiving is done. So I hand off my labels, put my feet up on my desk, listen to some music and maybe take a nice little nap.”

“Seriously? We don’t do that here. We only hand off our labels when the huge shipments come in from our whole sales. When it comes from the smaller publishers, we do it ourselves,” Laura said, throwing her arms up in the air as if it were obvious. Her nerves were starting to wear and the day was dragging. She just wanted to go home, get into her bed and close the world off.

Carmilla didn't reply. She turned around, went to her desk and did exactly what she said she'd do. Laura frowned, but went about her business. She grabbed her labels and headed back to her stack of books.

“Just so you know, only some of the rush people are starting today and they won't be labeling until tomorrow. So you might want to print and do your job.”

“Or just leave them for some newb to do tomorrow,” Carmilla suggested.

Laura's hand closed in a fist around the labels in her hand. She cracked her neck to relieve some of her annoyance and focused on doing her job, as she stacked the labeled books on a cart.

“Not that it’s any of my business, but aren’t you warm in that sweatshirt?” Carmilla asked.

Laura felt self conscious again. She looked down at her body and frowned.

“I got cold,” Laura lied.

“Are you sure? You seem to have a little sweat collecting,” Carmilla noted.

She knows I’m fat. I’m sweating because I’m too fat and I need to cover myself up so other people can’t see all of me.

“I’m fine,” Laura stated.

Laura felt Carmilla looking at her again, but when she looked back, Carmilla had her eyes closed. She quickly finished labeling her books and loading them onto her cart. Once Laura's cart was full she pushed it to the bottom of the stairs and started to lift it up one stair at a time.

“Let me help you with that, Little Hottie,” she heard a light, male voice say.

“No,” Laura said sternly. “I do this everyday, I've got it.”

“Whoa. Okay. Cool!”

Laura pulled the rest of the cart up the stairs and behind the counter.

“Aw, good! More examples to help you guys learn where the classes are and books go,” Lafontaine gestured.

Laura smiled as she took in the faces of about ten new people.

“Oh and this is Laura,” Lafontaine announced. “She is our full time receiver, so she'll be the person to go to if you can't find a book on the shelf, but says it was received. I'll show you where her desk is later when I give the grand tour.”

“Can I help you with anything, Laf?” Laura asked, hoping she could get a break from Carmilla.

“We're good! Thanks though!”

“Right,” Laura paused. “I have more books to label so I will get on that so you guys have more to shelve.”

Laura exited around the counter and back down the stairs. Before turning the corner, she took a deep breath, trying to calm herself down. She knew her emotions were more caused by her thoughts than the people around her. She turned the corner and saw Carmilla and David talking. Instead of interrupting, she decided to go into the office.

“Hey, Per!”

“Oh, hey Laura!”

“How's the ordering going?”

“There's definitely a lot more this semester, but we're getting there. How's the new girl?”

“Um she's okay, but she’s getting under my skin a little bit.”

“Uh oh,” Perry smirked.

“I hate that look. That's your knowing look,” Laura replied.

“You think she's hot.”

“What?! I do not, Perry!”

“And you're blushing.”

Laura crossed her arms.

“Oh come on, Laura. You are always attracted to the girls who get under your skin. We all remember Danny.”

“She got under your skin, not mine.”

“But she did eventually,” Perry added.

“True. But I don't find Carmilla attractive.”

“Sure you don't.”

Perry turned her attention back to her computer.

“Laura sure doesn't what?” David asked, making his way into the office.

“Find Carmilla attractive,” Perry said, sarcastically, before Laura could answer.

“I don’t,” Laura protested. “She's annoying and lazy.”

“Uh huh. Is that wedding bells I hear?” David asked before giving Laura a light punch on her arm. Laura smiled at him. Not for me,Laura thought, trying to keep the smile on her face. David laughed to himself before heading back up stairs with more class labels in his hands.

“Look whether I find her attractive or not, it doesn't matter,” Laura said.

“And why is that?” Perry questioned, turning to look at Laura again.

“I could never get someone that attractive. That's the dream girl of sexiness. She's way to hot for me.”

“That doesn't even make sense, Laura.” Perry said, rolling her eyes. They were used to the way Laura thought, but always tried to make sure Laura understood that what she thought wasn’t true.

“It doesn't matter. It's just me.”

“Stop being so negative. If you want her, go get her.”

“Yeah,” Laura said, lightly as she made her way to her desk. She'd heard that before. She was constantly told to stop being negative, but she wasn't. She was stating the facts she believed to be true. The only way I could get a girl like that is if I was dreaming.

When Laura reached her desk, she saw Carmilla putting labels on her books.

“Get in trouble?” Laura asked, smirking.

“What's it to you, Cupcake?”

“It's nothing to me, Carmilla. Just curious,” she teased.

“Maybe I just didn't want to leave and then you'd end up having to do it. I was being courteous,” Carmilla offered.

Laura eyed her curiously. Carmilla smirked.

“Okay. Maybe David found me leaning back in my chair with eyes closed.”

Laura chuckled.

Carmilla's cart was now full of books as Laura finished up her last stack of freshly labeled books. She could feel Carmilla's eyes on her again.

“Yes?” Laura asked, putting the last book on the cart.

“Now what do I do, Cupcake? New store, remember. I don't know how you guys operate.”

“Oh, right. Sorry. You take the cart upstairs,” Laura said, simply.

“And how do I get the cart upstairs?”

“Follow me,” Laura replied.

“Gladly,” Carmilla smiled.

Laura felt her cheeks blush. As she pushed her cart in front of her, to the bottom of the stairs. Once there, Laura started to pull her cart up yet again. Carmilla watched her curiously.

Once Laura was upstairs, she wheeled it behind the counter and waited for Carmilla. After a few moments, she went back to the stairwell to see Carmilla hadn't moved at all.

“Problem?” Laura asked, smirking.

“Nope,” Carmilla said, dismissing Laura.

Carmilla pulled the cart up with ease and pushed it behind the counter. She looked at Laura, who seemed a little displeased at how easy that was for Carmilla. Most of the new receivers had no strength, so Laura would end up being the one to pull the books up. It made her feel important and strong.

Carmilla passed Laura, wheeling her cart to an opened aisle. “I like a girl with muscles,” Carmilla whispered.

Laura gawked at her before Carmilla turned around and winked. Laura wish that little gesture and comment didn't have an effect on her like it did.

The rest of the day went smoothly and without comments from Carmilla. Laura gave Carmilla and the new rush hires a tour of the store with Lafontaine. They laughed and made fun of each, but Laura started to feel better. It was around 6 o’clock when David decided to close up shop. They didn’t really have store hours when the new semester started.

Laura went outside and was starting to pull down the gates when the beefy guy from earlier popped out.

“Do you need help?” He asked, smiling at her with his blue eyes.

“No, I'm good. Thanks though.”

“You're like, one tough chick-”

“Okay. Okay. My name is Laura. Not hottie, not chick. Just Laura.”

“Oh, sorry, Laura. I'm Kirsch!”

Laura smiled and held out her hand. Kirsch took her hand and shook it.

“It's nice to meet you, Kirsch.”

“You too! My offer still stands to help, if you ever need it.” Kirsch asked, cautiously.

“I'm honestly good. I do this every day.”

Kirsch nodded and went back inside the store. Laura sighed before pulling the first gate all the way down. Once she had it locked, she noticed someone was standing there, watching her. She turned and jumped at how close Carmilla was to her.

“Fuck, Carmilla. Don't do that!”

“Why so jumpy, Cupcake?”

“We live in New York City. If anyone stands that close to me and over my shoulder, I have a right to jump.”

“You should work on that. It makes you look vulnerable. A easier target,” Carmilla stated.

Laura shrugged as she reached for the second gate and pulled it down.

Carmilla smirked at her.

“What?” Laura asked.

“Nothing. Like I said before, I really do like a girl with muscles.”

“Well I hope your girlfriend has them,” Laura muttered, remembering having to listen to their conversation earlier.

Carmilla's smirked faltered, which made Laura feel a little proud. An awkward pause happened between them. After a few moments of silence, Laura started to go inside, happy that she managed to silence Carmilla. Carmilla cleared her throat.

“She's definitely not my girlfriend. We just like to have fun, you know? Don't you like to have fun?”

That made Laura uncomfortable. She knew Carmilla was implying sex as a way of “having fun.” Danny was really the only girl she had been with and they had broken up a couple years ago. She had tried to “have fun”, but sleeping around didn’t do much for Laura. It always made her feel empty afterwards so she decided, rather quickly, that it wasn't for her. Laura looked at Carmilla one more time and tried to stop thinking. She decided it was easier to just ignore the question as she tried to not falter into her thoughts and the sudden ache she felt at her loneliness.

“Uh, goodnight, Carmila.”

“Wait! I hope I didn't offend you,” Carmilla started, reaching out to touch Laura’s arm.

Laura tried her hardest to smile. “Nope. Not at all. I just have to help Laf finish up.” Laura pointed back inside the store and slowly backed her way to the door. Carmilla watched her until she was inside. She saw Carmilla kick a rock before leaving the area in front of the store.

“You develop crushes so easily and obviously,” Laura heard Lafontaine said.

“I don't have a crush on her,” Laura said through gritted teeth.

“Alright. Relax, Frosh.”

“Do you need any help?” Laura asked, avoiding eye contact with Lafontaine.

“Nope. I’m pretty much done here.”

“I'm gonna head out. It’s been a long day.”

Laura ran downstairs and grabbed her stuff. She wanted to take her sweatshirt off because she knew it was warm outside, but couldn’t bring herself to do it. When she came back up, Lafontaine tried to stop her.

“Per and I are going out to dinner. You should come.”

They asked this question almost every day. Laura didn’t mind having dinner with them, but she also didn’t like to interrupt their date night. She felt like they always offered because they felt sorry for her. Tonight was not a night she felt like being the third wheel.

“Thanks but I'm actually going out with Betty tonight,” Laura lied.

“As in your roommate, Betty?” Lafontaine asked.

“Yeah. She invited me out this morning.”

“She invites you out every morning and you always decline. Why tonight?”

“I don’t know. A change of pace. Try something new.”

“Well if you change your mind, you're always welcome!”

“Thanks, Laf. See you tomorrow.”

Laura left in a hurry and rushed towards the subway so she could have a moment of peace to herself. She tried reading, but her brain was wrapped up in Carmilla.

I bet her hair is silky. She's so beautiful. I wonder what it would be like to be with her.

Laura thought of every possible scenario that involved being with Carmilla while she got off the train and walked towards her apartment. She stood outside her apartment building, so she could light another cigarette. She let the nicotine fill her while she continued thinking about Carmilla.

Laura then felt the familiar pain. The pain of reality.

All this is never going to happen. She is just so beautiful. She'd never go for a girl like me.

Laura looked down at her small tummy that she could suck in when needed, but it was still there. She frowned as her thoughts deepened.

I’d squish her. She's so thin, that if I was on top of her, she wouldn’t be able to breath with my body weight. I wish I could be that small. I wish I knew what it was like to be that skinny.

Laura finished her cigarette and flicked it to the street. Just as she was about to go in, she saw a cute lesbian couple walking down the street, hand in hand. She always tried to be happy when she saw lesbian couples, but she always felt a pang of jealousy instead.

“Thanks, Universe,” she mumbled to herself. “Just the icing on the cake after today.”

She took out her keys, unlocked the door and went inside. She felt her eyes start to water at all her faults, as her thoughts became louder and louder. She shook her head and made her way towards her bedroom, relieved that Betty was nowhere to be found. She slipped on some sweatpants and a baggy t-shirt before grabbing her phone. She went to her Seamless app and ordered Chinese food from the local place. She sniffled as she laid down in her bed. She opened her iPad and opened her netflix account.

She started to binge watch Buffy. After consuming her Chinese food and countless hours of watching, she decided to have another cigarette. She reached into her bag, only to realize her pack was empty. She groaned, but put on a pair of old jeans and made her way towards the deli.

The deli was only a block away from her apartment. She liked going there. One time, after having a few drinks, she hung out at the deli until 2am. They taught her some things in Arabic while drinking and smoking. Laura smiled at the memory.

“Hey, Laura.”

“Hey, Ali. Can I get pack of Marlboro’s?”

“Sure thing.”

Laura heard the door open while waiting. She saw the blur of a blonde and brunette walking in together and laughing. Ali handed her, her usual and she paid.

“See you later,” Laura smiled.

Laura put the pack into her pocket when she was stopped by a figure in front of her.

“Hey, Cupcake.”

Crap.