We stood together at the station, exposed to the early morning air. It was meant to be spring, but the wind lashed out ceaselessly with icy hands and the sun seemed to perpetually hide behind grey and foreboding clouds. Away from watchful eyes, at the rear of the platform as Carmilla had steadfastly insisted upon, I allowed myself to lean up against her under the pretence of keeping us warm. I think I should have been too embarrassed to touch her if I had thought that anyone might have been looking in our direction.
Despite my protests, Carmilla had insisted on dressing smartly for when she would meet my father upon arrival, resulting in her wearing a formal skirt and a fitted black blouse, decorated with lines of red thread. With her rich dark hair and the contrast of her milky skin, the overall look had been strikingly attractive and perhaps very faintly gothic - not that Carmilla would have appreciated such childish generalisations.
Next to her I felt distinctly out of place with my casual worn jeans and khaki fleece, but I knew it was more appropriate for the weather. If I had been dressed as she was, I fancy that I would have been shivering uncontrollably, much as I often had done while waiting for trains in the season before. However, true to her words of insistence, she seemed almost unnaturally comfortable in the shade and the cool breeze. Even so, I didn't think it could have been terribly good for her.
"I wish the sun would come out," I mused aimlessly, rubbing a gloved hand against her arm.
"Laura, don't say that," she replied both sternly and sarcastically, with a mocking smile, "I sunburn so terribly in the summer."
She laughed and so did I; I wasn't sure I really understood the whole meaning of the joke, but it seemed amusing enough at the time. Frequently I got the feeling that there was often more to her than I understood. Perhaps it was because of the way she always seemed to choose her words so carefully, or the wicked smile that so often graced her pretty lips. She was always a deeply mysterious person, as I cannot emphasise enough.
"Don't you think the day would be much nicer if the sun was out though?" I asked.
"No. No, I don't," she answered me seriously, but still wearing a smile.
"Carmilla dear, you don't find any beauty in a summer day?" I continued, mimicking her distinct style of speech in cheery parody.
"I find the summer quite vulgar," she elaborated, "There's no beauty in such ubiquitous brightness and colour, only a hideous gaudiness. True beauty is more subtle than that - it's elegant and contrasting. For example, a single flower blooming in a snow covered field, or in the purposeful gait of a wild predator stalking through the undergrowth."
I have to confess that I thought there was an element of truth to her statement, upon consideration; perhaps even more so now. The ideal of subtle and elegant beauty which she confessed to me was certainly one which I had often applied to her. However, it was beyond me as to how she could truly consider a summers day to be something so hateful.
Eventually the train arrived at the station and we made our way on board behind the rest of the passengers. As was true of British transport far too often, the carriage was packed full of people and, rather than push through in search of seats, we opted to stand in the door compartment. I offered Carmilla my backpack to sit on, which she did after mild protest, and then sat on the floor beside her. Despite her obvious initial displeasure with the situation, Carmilla's mood soon changed for the better, evidently pleased with the unexpected privacy provided by the uncomfortable compartment.
As per my suggestion, she passed the time by reading from her book. I regarded her fondly as her face took on the nostalgic look I'd seen before. I wanted to ask her about it, but I couldn't bring myself to disturb her - lest I spoil the tranquillity of the moment. I turned instead to the window and idly watched the trees sweep by in a continuous blur of greens and browns.
Some time after the change of train in Ely, I realise that I have must have nodded off, as when I awoke, my head was resting in Carmilla's lap and the train was pulling into a stop at the station of my home city. Sharp dark eyes looked down at me, her cascading ebony hair brushing pleasantly against my rosy cheek.
"Mm, how long have I been asleep?" my broken voice managed.
"An hour I think, perhaps two. I don't tend to note such passages of time."
"You should have woken me, it must have been boring for you."
"Not at all. I had my book and I was pleased to see you resting; it's better that you do."
There was no point arguing with her.
Norwich station was a terminus, so in fact it was perfectly safe to fall asleep on the train without fear of missing the stop and, as such, I had developed a bit of a habit for doing so on my journeys home. However, it was only the early afternoon, leaving me somewhat surprised by my own apparent fatigue. Rationalising it, I simply supposed that habits died hard and thought little more of it.
Leaving the train and the station behind, I lead Carmilla to the taxi stand outside. Ordinarily I would have walked the hour distance to my suburban home, but in the condition I was in, I doubted that I would have made the distance at all. The taxi was at least quicker and more comfortable, even it had been quite grossly expensive.
My home was a mid-sized detached house on the northern edge of the city. It wasn't the most convenient or impressive of locations to be sure, but I was happy to call it my home. In truth, before moving away to university, it was the only home I had ever known; my father owned the building and had lived there long before I had ever been born. As we stood together on the shingle driveway, I looked up at the ageing brickwork fondly, happy to see that nothing had changed in my time away.
"This is it," I announced triumphantly, turning to face Carmilla with a nervous smile, hands placed on hips.
"It looks like a wonderful home," she replied kindly.
I couldn't tell if she was simply being polite or whether those had been her honest feelings, but all the same I felt glad about her comment. I wanted her to feel as though she belonged and that she could stay without imposing or being imposed on. Aside from the change of location, I really just wanted things to continue as they had done before.
"If you'd like, perhaps you could stay over during the summer as well," I suggested hopefully, "or at least for some of it."
"We'll see when the time comes," she replied whimsically. "Should we not be going in? I wouldn't want you to keep your father waiting."
I was somewhat disappointed by her non-answer, although perhaps it was a little too much for me to ask. Despite this, I didn't feel too let down, after all it was quite ingrained in her nature to treat every day as it came. This was an aspect of her I was becoming quite used to, and one which I had noted, often with mild amusement, many times before.
"Actually, he probably won't be up," I explained sheepishly, searching haplessly through my pockets for the door key.
"Oh yes, you said he worked nights, I remember now. Still, will he be up later? I'm sure he'd like to see his daughter after all this time."
I found the key and moved over to the door, carefully dropping my bag beside it.
"Yes, he should be about for a while later on. When I was at home - before starting university that is - he used to sleep during the day and then we'd eat dinner and spend some of the evening together before he had to leave for work."
"My, quite the vampire," she said with that now familiar grin.
Oh, how I'd laughed at that one.
"Yes, he is rather," I joked alongside her.
I opened the front door and asked Carmilla inside. Having finally arrived, there wasn't actually a vast amount for us to do. I imagined that Carmilla was likely too tired of travelling to want to turn back out and look around the city. I wondered for a moment if perhaps catching the taxi straight away had been a mistake. However, the weather had still been unpleasant and it would have been awkward to carry around our bags with us. On reflection, I'd likely made the correct decision.
"Would you like to go into the city tomorrow?" I asked. "We could see what's on at the castle art gallery."
"I think that would be an excellent idea,"
I beamed a happy smile in response. I had been looking forward to that since first suggesting it back in Leicester.
Time passed with idle conversation as we sat lazily together in the living room, television on quietly in background. However, there was something pressing quite heavily on my mind. In truth, I was somewhat worried about meeting my father. Though I had spoken to him on the phone before, I had not exactly elaborated upon the details of the situation. How could I have when I hardly understood them myself?
Perhaps I loved Carmilla then - I remember how Sarah had thought so. I certainly could not deny that her personality intrigued me greatly and that I felt overpoweringly attracted towards her. Perhaps she even loved me - not that my naïvety would ever have let me truly understand what went on behind those dark and mysterious eyes. I was terrified by feelings which I had no experience in dealing with, made worse by how out of the ordinary it all was, and yet I was also the happiest I had ever been.
I was in no fit state to make complicated or important decisions, but I couldn't summon the bravery to discuss it with her. Instead, I simply waited, resigning myself to go with the flow as it happened. It had always worked out for Carmilla. Of course, I risked that my father might have concluded that we were more than simply friends - and we were more than friends - in less than ideal circumstances. It was a risk I couldn't help but take.
My father awoke later that evening and came downstairs as I had predicted. He was noticeably surprised by the presence of Carmilla, likely expecting my friend to have been a young male. However, he showed no signs of suspecting that there was anything suspicious between us. Perhaps he was as naïve as I, or perhaps he was simply too happy seeing me to give it any prolonged thought. Regardless, it had been a weight off my mind.
"Dad, this is Carmilla," I introduced. "She's my house mate back in Leicester. She didn't have anywhere to go."
"Thank you for allowing me to stay," Carmilla said politely, going so far as to curtsey.
I could see that my father was somewhat taken aback by the formal gesture and tone, as he glanced away from her in order to look to me for an explanation. I could only smile and shrug in return. Carmilla's oft bizarre habits and idiosyncrasies were something I had long since become quite used to, though I could never think how she came to have them; she was ever reluctant to speak of her childhood, except cryptically in passing.
"I'm pleased to meet you, Carmilla," my father began, recovering from his mild surprise, "I'm glad to see my daughter has a good friend at university with her. She always seemed so lonely here."
"Dad!" I exclaimed in embarrassment.
The words he spoke were true of course. Although I wonder now if I had truly realised how lonely I had been at the time; for when one has spent a lifetime unknowingly in a kind of detached solitude, there exists nothing with which to compare it. Carmilla had quite forcefully entered my life and filled a void of emotions which I had been quite ignorant of, at the same time forcing me to acknowledge that it had always been there.
"It's a parent's job to embarrass their child. You'd do well to remember that when you have children of your own, both of you," he continued, ignoring my burning face.
Embarrassing as that had truly been, it had at least further eased my mind of my prior worry. I intended to explain things eventually of course, but only after I had further opportunity to consolidate my thoughts and feelings.
"I'm also pleased to finally meet you," Carmilla said seriously, before turning to look at me with a somewhat mischievous glimmer in her eyes. "Your daughter is such delightful company."
"It's reassuring that you think so," he replied. "She can be so shy sometimes that I can't help but worry about it."
"Dad, I'm standing right here," I said, exasperated.
"I'm sorry, Laura, but it's true. I used to worry that it might have been my fault for not being around enough. You never really seemed to have any properly close friends before."
"It wasn't your fault. I'm just not comfortable with big groups of people, you know that."
"All the same," he said, turning back to Carmilla, "perhaps you can help bring Laura out of her shell a bit. Go out and do things, meet people."
"I'm sure your daughter can be more bold than you imagine," she answered dismissively.
"You think I should just have more faith in her then?"
"I shouldn't use such an ugly word, but yes, the thought is the same."
I took the opportunity following her answer to step back into the conversation and to change its direction. It made me feel quite indescribably uncomfortable to have people talking about me in such a way; more so due to Carmilla, as some of her words held more meaning to me than they would have done my father.
"I was thinking of showing Carmilla around the city tomorrow. She's studying The History of Art, so I thought she'd like to see the gallery too."
"Hmm, yes," my father considered, "that sounds like a good thing to do. The cathedral is worth visiting too, if you're thinking along those lines."
I remember Carmilla gave me a disparaging look. I just smiled at her understandingly in return. My father was a very kind man, but sometimes he could be quite prone to interfering with one's plans or to suggesting things which he would rather have done himself. In such situations, it was usually better to humour him than to disagree.
"I don't know what else we might do though, it's okay if we're not back until later?"
"Of course, but make sure to have a phone with you."
"We will," I replied, feeling unduly patronised.
After that, we retired to the dining room and casually passed the rest of the evening until my father had to leave.
I had trouble sleeping that night and lay wide awake for hours. It had been strange in a way, being home and in my old room again after so many months away in such different circumstances. However, it's funny how familiarity ebbs and wanes like that. Only on my previous visit home had I been so eager to sleep in my old bed, that I had collapsed into it not minutes after entering the front door. Yet there I was, completely unable to sleep, my thoughts wandering unhealthily to Carmilla in the room beyond and anticipating the day which awaited.