"Something's bothering you," her dad said from the other side of the table. "You've barely touched your sundae, and I happen to know Jim Dandy is the only man you'll ever date."
Laura dipped her spoon into the quickly melting ice cream in front of her, but she did manage an ever-so light huff-laugh, the kind of laugh that's provided when it's understood a laugh is required, but the joke isn't that funny.
"So what's wrong, sweetie? You're usually not talking at Friendly's because you're too busy eating your ice cream before it melts, but this not talking while your sundae sits mostly untouched in front of you is starting to freak me out."
Laura dipped her spoon back into the ice cream in front of her, but she immediately put the spoon down again and sighed.
"Sorry, dad," she said. "I guess I'm just thinking about Carmilla and how she's going to be all alone over the break."
"Carmilla? Your roommate Carmilla?" he asked, a little shocked. He'd only ever heard Laura complain about her roommate. "I didn't think you two were particularly close," he said, hoping to understand Laura's concern.
Laura's face bunched up in the way it had since she was a little girl. It was the face she made right after being told to go to bed or when she'd be cut off from the cookie jar or when, god forbid, he asked her to turn off Dr. Who and go do homework. "We're not," she confirmed. "We barely even speak, but it's Christmas, and no one should be alone for Christmas."
"What about her family?" her dad asked.
"I don't think they're close. I mean, she never talks about them. And I may have eavesdropped on her talking to her mom, or rather her stepmom, and it didn't sound good."
"You eavesdropped?" he asked, surprised.
"I was on my bed doing homework. It's not my fault she chose that moment to have a fight over the phone," she explained. "It's not like I could concentrate on my reading for all the yelling."
Bill Hollis smiled and shook his head. "Okay, then," he began, "I'm assuming you're asking me in your roundabout way if you can invite her to join us?" He knew his daughter better than anyone, and he knew she would feel bad all holiday if she didn't at least try to include Carmilla. She'd done this sort of thing her whole life. In kindergarten she was chosen to be the teacher's special helper for the day, an honor desired by every kid in the class and earned by some distinction, either academic or exemplary character or anything else the teacher wanted to praise. One of the perks of being special helper was the student was allowed to pick someone else from the class to help them. Laura chose Lupe, a quiet girl who the other kids tended to ignore, mostly because she didn't speak much English. When he'd asked her why she picked Lupe, since they weren't, to his knowledge, friends, she replied: "Lupe hasn't been picked yet. I thought she'd like it." Then there was the time in 6th grade when she found a litter of orphaned kittens behind the shed that she insisted they nurse to health. He only let her keep one of the kittens, even if she'd put together a full presentation of why they should keep all four kittens. And when Andy Sawyer, a really great kid with Down's syndrome, asked her to the homecoming dance her freshman year, she didn't hesitate in answering yes, despite the fact that she didn't want to go to the dance in the first place. But Laura was always doing little things like that—championing the disenfranchised—and he was proud he helped raise such an amazing and giving person.
"I doubt she'll come," she said sadly, bringing his attention back to the Carmilla dilemma. "We're not exactly friends and I'm not even sure she likes me, but, I just-It's Christmas and she's basically all alone, and I-I want to try."
Bill smiled at his daughter to convey his understanding. "I'm happy to have someone else join us. The more the Merrier Christmas."
Laura rolled her eyes, but at least she was smiling again. "You know, dad, I really don't miss all your dad jokes, but thanks," she said and then finally attacked her sundae as was normal for her.
She didn't broach the subject with Carmilla until a week after her dad's Thanksgiving visit. She'd been thinking about it all week and avoiding it for just as long. The truth was Carmilla wasn't her friend. They rarely even spoke, despite Laura's best efforts, and when they did, Carmilla was less than nice.
In response to Laura asking why she wasn't nicer to her friends: "They're not my friends, Cupcake."
After Laura questioned what had happened to the emergency package of Chips Ahoy she was saving for after her lit exam: "Why don't you ask one of your friends who's always barging in here, Lauronica Mars?"
When Carmilla accidentally walked in on an almost-kiss between Laura and her TA, Danny: "You're not seriously interested in the Philistine, are you, Creampuff? She's a control freak who could literally stomp all over you. Plus, her lit analysis is shit."
That time that Laura ventured too closely into the personal to ask about her family. She was only trying to make small talk to get to know the girl she was sharing a room with: "Don't try to figure me out, Lois Lane. You probably won't like what you learn."
She was so frustrating. And even if she could ignore her snark and surliness, she couldn't ignore that she wasn't even good at the rest of the roommate stuff. She was actually pretty terrible. She made no effort to keep her side of the room tidy, and Laura often found a random t-shirt of sock of hers on her own bed. She borrowed Laura's things without asking, including that throw her grandmother crocheted for her right after her mom died and, weirdly, her yellow pillow. And that didn't include Laura's mysteriously diminishing cookie or grape soda supply. But worst of all, there was that time that she came into the room to find one of her many "study buddies" drinking her hot chocolate from her favorite Dr. Who TARDIS mug. Carmilla had the decency to look a little ashamed and quickly removed the mug from the girl's hand, and then washed and returned the mug before leaving the room with her friend.
And yet Laura kept hoping they could be friends. She couldn't shake the feeling in her gut that underneath all the sarcasm and bravado was a person worth knowing. Maybe it was because she'd never overheard a conversation with her mother that didn't leave Carmilla even broodier than normal. Maybe it was because, when it was just the two of them in the room, Carmilla wasn't completely terrible. She even, on rare occasions, asked what book Laura was reading that week in her lit class and because Carmilla had read it—she'd always somehow already read whatever Laura had to read for class—they'd discuss the reading and Carmilla helped her interpret the material in new and really helpful ways. And Laura couldn't forget how, just a few weeks ago, after she returned home drunk from a Halloween party at some frat house, Carmilla, who'd stayed home that night, took care of her as she emptied the contents of her stomach into the toilet. She'd brought her water and paracetamol and tucked her into bed and made sure when she woke up the next morning that she drank more water and took more paracetamol and then left to buy her a breakfast burrito to help with her hangover.
But all that goodwill vanished just as quickly as it came. Carmilla had a way of making Laura feel ridiculous, and she seemed to know exactly what buttons to push for greatest effect. She did this to everyone, so Laura told herself again and again to not take it personally, but there was no denying that sometimes Carmilla could be a real jerk. Danny, especially, liked to remind Laura that Carmilla was just a "miserable bitch who can't tolerate any kind of goodness or happiness," but Danny, for reasons Laura still hadn't figured out, had a special hatred for her roommate, so she couldn't adopt her stance. And, as of a couple weeks ago, Danny's opinion didn't really matter anymore anyway.
Strangely it was Carmilla who had been right about her lit TA all along. Danny, while gorgeous and smart, was controlling. What Laura had once thought of as chivalry—Danny's concern for her wellbeing and safety—had started to make Laura feel that Danny thought she was fragile or weak or, worst of all, stupid. And their brief flirtation (Laura wasn't even sure they had been officially dating) ended the day after that Halloween party when Danny freaked out about Laura going to the party in the first place.
"Is she feeling okay?" Danny asked Perry, Laura's RA, who was rubbing light circles on Laura's back at an on-campus cafe once she and LaFontaine coaxed her out of the room around three o'clock. Laura looked rough, but thanks to Carmilla, she wasn't feeling sick, although she was tired.
Laura sighed, annoyed that Danny asked Perry instead of just asking her. "I'm fine," Laura answered for Perry, taking a sip of coffee in front of her. "I'm just tired."
"Laura is recovering from a wicked hangover," LaFontaine said from across the table. "We may have overdone it at the Alchemy Club's Halloween Party last night," they added. They shrugged their shoulders when Laura glared at them from across the table.
"You went to the Alchemy Club's Halloween Party?" Danny asked Laura, frowning. "I thought we discussed it and decided you weren't gonna go."
Laura, in no mood for any criticism or reprimands, rolled her eyes. "We didn't decide anything," she said pointedly. "You told me you didn't think it was a good idea and told me I shouldn't go, but it sounded like fun. It was fun."
"She came so I didn't have to go alone," LaFontaine said, interrupting what was becoming tense and awkward. "Perry had an RA thing and I went to see if Laura was free."
"I don't need you to defend me, Laf," Laura said. "I went because I wanted to go. That's all. End of story."
Perry stopped rubbing Laura's back, and Laura could feel her tensing up beside her.
"But Laura," Danny started again, "crazy stuff happens at those Alchemy parties and—"
"And what, Danny?" Laura asked, her voice louder than was appropriate for a public place. "Why aren't you lecturing LaFontaine about going to the party?"
"I'm not lectur—"
"No, you're making me feel like my dad's just busted me for breaking curfew and is gonna start listing the things that might have gone wrong."
"But I care about you and I don't want something bad to happen to you," Danny implored.
"And what did you think would happen me to that couldn't also happen to LaFontaine, or anyone else at that party?" Laura asked, her anger seething inside of her.
Danny was visibly shaken, but Laura had had enough. She had enough of the "text me when you get home" or the "don't stay at the library too late" and the "be careful when you go into town" or any of the other subtle commands Danny reserved for her. She knew Danny was only concerned about her, but she wasn't a little kid. She didn't need a protector, and she'd survived her first year of university without Danny, so she wasn't sure why Danny treated her like she couldn't hold her own or defend herself. Her dad made her learn Krav Maga, for Christ's sake. Laura knew she could handle herself.
"You got drunk, Laura! Anything could have happened to you," Danny tried again.
"Yeah, I got drunk. Just like every other college kid does. And I'm fine. LaFontaine made sure I got home safely, and then Carmilla made sure I didn't choke on my own vomit."
Danny didn't say anything. Perry and LaFontaine also remained quiet, which Laura couldn't really blame them for. She took another sip of her coffee, but it had become tepid, and all she wanted was her bed.
"You know, Danny," she said after she stood up and decided she was leaving. "I liked you. A lot. And the thing is, yeah, I lost my mom when I was young, but I don't need anyone to replace her." She took her scarf and began to tie it around her neck before saying, "I'm not sure what we were, but I think it's better if we're just friends." And she turned and walked away and began to cry.