The King passed on a Wednesday evening.
It was raining; the sky soft and gray, the streets damp as if already in mourning.
Laura had closed the pub. She knew she ought to keep it open, she could have made a fair amount from the mourners wanting to drink as they watched the news play out on her old TVs, but something inside her twisted uncomfortably at the thought.
She ushered out the few disgruntled patrons, comping their drinks and promising another free round their next visit. She locked the door behind a particularly annoyed older man, rolling her eyes as he mumbled complaints under his breath.
After, she poured herself a glass of dark liquor from a dusty bottle she kept perched on the highest shelf.
Old and expensive and, frankly, disgusting to Laura's palette. But it was commonly known it had been the King's drink of choice, when his serious wife had allowed him one. It was tradition for all pubs to keep a bottle of the stuff, as if the King would ever stop in for a drink.
Laura swirled the dark liquid in her glass, eyes flicking up to the muted old black and white TV she had mounted in the far corner of the room.
They were playing footage of a cricket match earlier that year. The King was waving to the cameras, his body thinner than it had been for most of his life. Laura hadn't noticed it then, but now she could see it; see how gaunt he had become, how tired his eyes looked.
Maybe his death wasn't that much of a surprise after all.
The images changed, flashes of his wedding and the birth of his children; a famous clip where he had tripped disembarking a plane and was laughing at the bottom of the boarding stairs as the Queen glared down at him. Another of the prince and the princess riding bicycles around the palace grounds as the King watched on.
Laura took a slow sip of the whiskey, her chest burning as it slipped down her throat.
The TV flickered to darkness and then lit up again. A photograph was on the screen, posed and impressive and befitting of the royal family. It was the last formal photo of all of them before the King's death, according to the text that scrawled beneath the image.
King Richard. Queen Lilita. Prince William.
They were the same age, Laura thought briefly. Their birthdays were only a few days apart; her mother used to tell her all the decorations people put up for the princess were for Laura too. It used to delight her, thinking how close in age they were.
Now it felt heavy in her chest.
Laura took another sip from her drink, the heat blooming in her chest at the liquor's burn.
The new Queen of England was twenty six.
Laura shook her head, downing the rest of her whiskey. As she clicked off the TV with the worn remote, Laura wondered what new liquor she'd have to keep on hand in the King's whiskey's place of honor. She wondered if Princess Carmilla had a favorite drink.
Laura hoped she did; she was certain she was going to need one.
Laura swiped the damp rag over the bar, her tired muscles doing the motion from memory. The rag dragged against something sticky, no doubt a spilled shot from some overzealous frat boy, and she spent the last of her energy scrubbing at it. She loved the pub, she would never say otherwise, but sometimes she wished she let other people close it down once in a while.
She couldn't though, not really. She'd put her bartenders on the schedule to, taught them how, and wandered to her apartment upstairs. But it was like fate wouldn't let her sleep unless she had her moment of solitude in the old, tired tavern. Even if someone had already done the cleaning, washed the glasses, and stacked the chairs, Laura would find herself wiping down the bar one more time in the dim light that poured out from the back kitchen.
She threw the now ruined rag over her shoulder, glancing at the clock. Three in the morning. Honestly, it wasn't the latest she'd been down there, but her tired legs were aching and she was ready to collapse into her very warm, oversized bed. Laura turned, checking the levels of the liquor bottles on display on the back wall of the bar, taking quick stock of how much was left and mental notes of what she needed to order. The familiar sound of the door opening hit her ears and she stifled the groan in her chest.
"Sorry, I'm closed." She offered, not bothering to look at her new customer.
"Are you sure you can't spare one drink?"
Laura laughed, the sound hollow and annoyed. She pulled the rag from her shoulder and flopped it down by the bottles before turning, shaking her head as she moved.
"Listen, I get it, everyone wants their minute alone but its three in the morning and I-"
Laura's words caught in her throat.
Standing before her, sinfully wrapped in leather and lace, was the future queen of England.
"Please don't freak out." Carmilla said, holding her hands before her in surrender.
The girl laughed, her whole body both stiff and almost drunkenly loose.
"Freak out? Why would I freak out? Who would freak out? Me? What? Never. There's no, there's an absence really, of, um…freaking."
Carmilla held in the laugh that was bubbling in her chest. She hadn't laughed in years. No need to start now.
"Right." Carmilla said, sliding on to the closest stool. "I know it's very late, but I've had a rather bad week. Stay awake another ten minutes and get me a whiskey?"
The girl looked at her, emotions flickering across her face like images on an old movie screen. Wordlessly, she turned and reached for the highest bottle on the back shelf. Carmilla couldn't see what it was, but top shelf wasn't a bad place to start. The bartender carefully brushed dust off the cap and cracked it open.
"On the rocks?" The girl questioned, not turning back.
"Neat. Please." Carmilla answered as politely as she could. She wasn't very good at polite, but this girl was technically doing her a favor.
Suddenly, a glass was in front of her and the smell alone was enough to make Carmilla's throat tighten.
"Where did you get that?" She managed, her words low and rough.
The girl shrugged, placing the bottle back on the highest shelf.
"Was nearly illegal not to have it. I figured…well, you might like it. I can get you something else."
The bartender's hand was already reaching for the glass when Carmilla snatched the drink away.
"No, no. I…I didn't…that's not…" She couldn't think, she couldn't breath. The smell of the whiskey, the color, the weight of the glass in her hand. It was all so familiar, so him, and it made her ache.
Her father's favorite brand. Hidden right in the little pub Carmilla managed to sneak off to. She brought the liquor up to her nose and took a slow sniff. Her eyes watered, betraying her.
"He seemed like a good man." The girl offered, eyes downcast.
Carmilla nodded, unsure how to answer.
The girl's voice came again.
"My mother died. Six years ago."
The bartender was staring at Carmilla when she looked up. Carmilla felt her high walls crack a tiny, immeasurable amount.
"What's your name?" The words fell out of her mouth, her curiosity unstoppable.
The girl smiled, tossing the dirty rag over her shoulder with a sense of pride Carmilla was envious of.
Carmilla could feel her chest tighten; a long unfelt tension that lit up her veins and sent her ears pounding. She shook her head of it, sighing as she gestured to her whiskey.
"Laura. My name's Carmilla. How much do I owe you?"