All the windows were open, the morning light helping itself to my dark little world, bringing with it a cool, dewy breeze. I stopped in the middle of the kitchen, suspiciously eyeing the cold toast sitting popped up in the toaster, and the two mugs, half-filled with milk and coffee, awaiting the hot water. There were signs of life, but no Mike.
“Oh, well, no sense made from wasted toast,” I pilfered the half-cooked bread, poured some hot water into a mug then grabbed it and the plate as I headed for the table.
The sudden appearance of a face scared the dishes right out of my hands, sending them toward the floor; I covered my ears as the clatter of glass on tiles masked my squeal, and coffee splashed into the air, coming back down over everything below knee-height. “Eric!”
“Sorry, my bad.”
“Argh.” I bent down to pick up the glass, shaking the coffee of my fingertips. “I wish it really was true about vampires and thresholds.”
“Now what fun would that be?” Eric grinned, squatting down to help me.
“Fun wasn’t what I had in mind.”
He winked at me, reaching over to wipe my chin. “You have coffee here.”
“Yeah, no thanks to you.” We stood up again. “What are you doing here, anyway? I thought I told you to go away—forever.”
“I came to apologise—for being in your bed this morning. That was pretty rude of me.”
“Yes, it was. And invasive and creepy and—”
“I know.” He traced a circle on the floor with the tip of his toe. “I thought maybe a forceful-but-humorous approach might win you over.” He offered a remorseful smile. “I am really sorry.”
“Argh! Fine.” I dumped the pile of glass in the sink. “Apology accepted.”
“Great.” He looked at the glassy mess, his hands in his pockets. “Can I take that to the trash for you?”
“Yeah, thanks. I’ll just get this mopped up.” I headed for the broom closet, stopping when Eric gave a little yelp, jerking back from the sink. “What happened?”
“Cut myself.” He held his thumb up, squeezing the base until a round, full drop of dark-red blood pooled out.
“Wait, vampires don’t get cut by glass,” I said with wide eyes, taking a step back. “You did that deliberately.”
“Perhaps.” He grinned, walking slowly closer. “You’ve tasted vampire blood before.”
“Mh-hm.” I nodded, tasting it in the air.
“It’s addictive, isn’t it?”
My breath shuddered, cold heat rising up to my cheeks. “David never warned me about that.”
“Well, he didn’t need to. He wasn’t counting on you making friends with a vampire.”
“Eric, don’t come near me, please.”
“Because…I want it.”
“Have it.” He offered his thumb.
I turned my head away. “No. It was intimate with David, and it took me a long time to stop craving it.”
“But I’m here now—you can have it whenever you want.”
“No. I don’t want it.”
“It’ll make you feel good.”
“I know, that’s why I don’t want it.” I leaned right back against the counter.
“No, you don’t want it because you’re afraid I’ll take your virginity after.”
“You will.” I looked from his thumb to his chocolate eyes, the pupils spreading out over the whites like ink.
He flashed that mischievous grin. “I’ll only do what you ask me to do.”
“Eric, I’m asking you not to do this,” I said with zero resolve.
“You’ll thank me later,” he said, and cupped the back of my neck, forcing my lips apart with his thumb.
I tried to turn my head, scratching at his arms like a cat tugging a collar, but a rush of flavor eradicated the fight, giving rise to a thirst—an involuntary desperation for blood--his blood.
My chest felt bound, thickened and restrained, my lungs expanding the way they did only when I ran—pumped full of adrenaline—until at last the sensation of calm saturated me, and the splendour of his taste came into focus, my heart and soul suffering the elation of his life-force, fighting only for the will to drink—to make this moment last forever.
I gripped his hand with mine, drawing at his flesh—swallowing his blood in the small gulps the tiny cut would allow. And I didn’t care that it was blood, that it was considered gross by human definition. I didn’t care that, as he moved his knee between my legs, I parted them, completely submitting to my humanistic desires. He was like my favourite meal, the one you have after being on a camp for four days eating nuggets and badly cooked eggs. I wanted his blood, and I’d give him anything in return for that.
He slid his finger further into my mouth, and I bit the base, pushing the blood out—moving it around with my tongue. He tasted so different to David—almost sweeter.
His mouth came alongside mine, his cool breath on my upper lip. I turned my head to invite him—to show him I wanted his touch—wrapping my arms around his neck as he slipped his other foot between mine.
“Amara?” his whisper was hesitant.
“That’s enough.” His grip released and his thumb came away, leaving me cold where my lips searched the air for absent flesh.
“But I wasn’t ready,” I said.
“I know.” He brushed my hair back firmly, holding my face, his fingers slowly going taut like wet ropes. “But I kinda like you, and I’m about to kill you.”
When my eyes opened to his smiling face, instant regret flooded my sinking heart, like gravity dropping inside me. “Oh my God! What’ve I done?”
Eric pressed his brow firmly to mine, his breath spilling into my mouth. “You liked that—don’t be ashamed.”
My eyes glassed. “But I am, Eric. Why did you do that to m--”
Eric drew back; I jumped ten mile into the air, my breath stopping somewhere under the rise of my shoulders. “Mike!”
“Who’s your friend,” Mike asked, his stance widening.
Eric walked confidently over and extended his hand. “Hey, I’m Eric.”
“Nice to meet yo—” Mike’s voice trailed off to a grunt as he pulled Eric close with a jerk, flipped his arm over and looked at his wrist—then at me. “What the hell, Ara?”
“Mike?” I pleaded, watching as the pink in his face became bright red and his shoulder rolled back, taking his elbow with it.
I had no time for any reaction other than to cover my face as he drove his fist forward; Eric stumbled back, crumbling the kitchen cabinet with his weight, and rolled away, leaving Mike’s next strike to powder the chipboard into a cloud around us.
“Get back here, you little shit,” Mike yelled. “I’m not finished with you.”
“No!” I grabbed Mike by the sleeve, but he yanked loose, folding over to scrunch his probably broken hand against his chest.
“What is your problem, man?” Eric held his arms out widely.
“You are my problem.”
“Mike!” I yelled, grabbing his arm as he stomped toward Eric again. “Mike, stop.”
“No, it’s all right, Amara.” Eric stood tall. “Let him go. Let him get it all out.”
“No!” I rushed between them.
“Leave. Now,” Mike growled through his teeth, peeling me away from his path.
Eric looked at me, his jaw tight, still red where Mike hit, then exhaled loudly. “Okay, I’ll leave, but only because I know it’ll kill her if I hurt you. Amara?” He took a step closer; Mike moved sideways to block his path. “I’ll see you later, okay?”
I went to say okay, but he turned and headed out the front door before I had the chance.
“Mike, what the hell is your problem?” I moved away from him.
“That guy is my problem.” He pointed to the front door.
“You already said that; it explains nothing.”
“What is he doing here?”
“He’s my friend.”
“Friends don’t force themselves on each other, Ara.” He aimed that finger toward the place I’d been standing with Eric.
My world stopped, but everything around me moved, rolling forward as if I’d jumped on an invisible conveyer belt. “You saw that?”
Mike simply stood taller, dropping both hands to his sides.
The movement of my rocking world felt like a hot room—a sauna left on high with the door closed—making my cheeks tingle, my lips numb, until it dissolved with a rush of cold.
Mike’s frown loosened and a quick jolt of panic flashed in his eyes as the sound rang out around me...
...coming back in like heavy breathing and a constantly beating heart. My eyes inched open to a stream of daylight, firm arms holding me down.
No, wait, not holding me down--holding me.
Looking around, I aimed my eyes to the yellow wall beside my bed—to my photos and the rainbows shining through my crystals. But as I focused properly, my heart sunk, and the dream of my dad’s house, of Mike and David, slipped away to the bright white walls and strong embrace of my best friend. “Mike?”
“I called work for you—you passed out,” he said in a stern, emotionless tone. “You’re not eating, are you?”
“What? Why would you say that?” I sat up from his chest and looked down when I felt the brush of sheets on my bare skin. “You undressed me?”
“You had coffee all over your clothes. I only took your shoes and jeans off—and your shirt.” He shrugged, but the normal glint of mischief in his eyes was gone.
“You’re mad at me,” I stated, sitting up properly.
“Yes.” He looked away.
“I don’t like it when you’re mad with me.”
“Ara, are you starving yourself because you miss him?” he asked, anger gripping his usually gentle tone.
“I’m not starving myself, Mike. How many times do I have to tell you?”
“Bull shit, Ara,” his voice got frighteningly louder. “Look at you. I saw you there earlier, standing in that sheet—” He pointed to my dresser. “And I thought that was bad enough—your shoulders, your spine. You look sickly, girl. But this—” He drew the sheet away from my waist and showed my hipbones. “Don’t tell me you’re not starving yourself, because if you were eating, you wouldn’t look like that.”
“Wait, are you mad at me for being skinny—or because of what happened with Eric?”
He went to speak, exhaling like a raged bull instead. “Let’s just address one issue at a time.”
I shrunk sizably. “Gulp.”
He held stern for a second then a little smile slip. “Don’t try to be cute with me, Ara. It’s not funny. This is serious.”
“I don’t want to be in trouble, Mike. I hate it when you look at me like that.”
“That.” I pointed to his face. “Like you want to smack my butt and put me in my room.”
He laughed aloud. “I do want to. But only because I care about you, baby. I don’t want to see you do stupid things. And this Eric business, and this—” He motioned to my thin self; I covered my waist with the sheet. “That’s two strikes.”
My chin rolled to my chest in defeat. “I’m not starving myself, Mike. I don’t really get hungry anymore—and, yes, it’s because I miss David. But it’s not intentional. And…I didn’t actually realise I’d gotten so thin until last week.”
“How can you not realise?”
“I just…I never really look in the mirror that much. I mean, I knew my clothes were loose, but…by the time I actually saw how bad it was, I…well, I’ve been eating a lot of fatty foods to fix it.”
“That won’t fix it, baby. You need to add extra protein and good fats. Otherwise, you’ll just cause a heart attack or something, and…” He looked away. “I can’t lose you again.”
“I’m sorry, Mike. I know I’m stupid. I really didn’t mean for thi—”
“Baby. You’re not stupid.” He pulled my arm until I laid my face on his Batman chest. “And I don’t think that of you. But I am worried. Really worried.” He went quiet for a long while, then added, “You’re not…throwing up, are you?”
“God, no.” I laughed the words out. “It’s not like that. Like I said…this was an accident. It just kind of happened, like, overnight.”
“People don’t get emaciated overnight.”
“I’m not emaciated.” I slapped his chest.
“No, but…you’re not far off.”
“I know. But, you’ll help me put weight back on, won’t you?” I said with a sweet grin.
“Will you accept my help?”
I nodded against his chest.
He let out a breath. “So, if I cook for you every day, you’ll eat it?”
“Okay. Now—” He pressed his thumb to the underside of my wrist and waited until I looked up at his eyes. “We need to talk about this.”
“I don’t want to talk about it.” I snatched my hand away defensively and sat on the edge of the bed, closing the lines of communication with my turned back.
“I don’t care.” He gently tugged a strand of my hair. “There are some dark secrets that need a little airing around here, Ara. And clearly, you need to talk.”
“Why did you look at Eric’s arm?” I asked, spinning around. “When you shook his hand? Why did you do that?”
“I know what he is.”
I doubled back, then folded my arms defiantly. “Oh yeah, then what is he?”
“Ara, stop it. The fact that you asked why I looked at his arm means you obviously know that I know.”
“How do you know?”
“I have my sources,” he said, and sat taller, moving the pillow into the bed’s curve behind his back. “Just tell me one thing. Where is your goddamn brain? What if he’d bitten you? What if he’d put you in a coma again? What the hell were you thinking sharing blood with him like that—and in the damn kitchen, of all places?”
I bit my lip.
“Does David know that guy’s hanging around you?”
“How would he know? He’s gone, Mike. He fled as soon justice failed for him,” I said spitefully.
“Justice?” He blinked a few times, thought narrowing his features. “What are you talking about?”
“Eric was at the hearing. David had J—” I halted my words, redefining them before sending them back out into the world again, “--A man tried for my attempted murder, but he lost the case.”
“What? Whoa, whoa, wait. Hang on. So they found the guy?”
Clearly he didn’t know it was Jason. “Um, yeah, I guess so.”
“And…how does Eric know David?”
“He was in the same….” Did I say group, Set or organization? I wasn’t sure how much Mike knew. “The same circle.”
Mike ran his hand through his hair. “So…is…did David send him here—to check up on you?”
“God, no. Like I said, David left, Mike—”
“Left what—the Set?” His eyes popped as he realized I hadn’t meant David left me.
“Yeah. Eric said he defected.”
“Bloody idiot,” Mike said under his breath, shaking his head.
“Yeah, apparently he’s in a bit of trouble if he comes back.”
“Oh.” Mike’s brows almost touched the sky. “I don’t doubt that. So this Eric guy knows where he is?”
“No,” I said quietly, folding my arms. “No one does. And Eric says the fact that David didn’t take me with him means he never really cared about me.”
“Eric said that, huh?”
“So…” He pressed the bend of his thumb to his front teeth, his eyes deep pools of thought. “Your obsession is with guys that can kill you, then?”
“What!” My eyes darted to the window as if day might shed some light on his meaning. “Mike, what are you talking about?”
“I’m just trying to figure out what the hell a smart girl like you is doing hanging out with complete, not to mention, dangerous jerk like that guy.”
“He’s a nice guy.”
“He forced you to drink his blood.”
“He didn’t force me. I wanted it.”
“No.” He sat taller. “I heard you say it—your exact words were; Why did you do that to me?—He forced you, Ara. Don’t try to cover for him.”
“You just don’t get it.”
“Oh, I get it. Ara. I bloody get it. What would you say if I’d forced…I don’t know…heroine down your throat?”
“Blood is different.”
“Because it doesn’t do any harm.”
“Spoken like a drug addict.”
“Well, that’s just the problem, Mike. It is addictive. David and I shared blood once and, since then, I haven’t been able to get it out of my head. I feel—” I looked at my arms. “I actually feel better now than I have in a long time. I don’t feel tired. I don’t feel weighed down by the world. I feel like I could actually get up and go into work and deal with the day. Don’t you know how good it is for me to feel that way—for once? God—” I slumped back on the pillows. “Half the time I feel like the walking dead.”
“And that’s because David made you drink his blood?”
“I don’t know. I’m not sure if it’s just that I’m still recovering from near death, or possibly depressed, which makes you feel like you’re tired, or if its because of the addiction, but after having Eric’s blood…I feel good.”
“Did David’s blood make you feel that way?”
“Yes. For, like, ages after.”
“So…is he an addiction then?”
“Eric. David. Both of them. Are you addicted to the danger they pose, or the blood—is that why you’re hanging around them?”
“I’m—I hung around David because I loved him, Mike. Before I ever even knew he was a vampire.”
He scoffed. “Right. And that had nothing to do with his supernatural lure.”
“It didn’t, okay. Or maybe it did. Who cares? But Eric has the same lure, and I don’t love him.”
“But you want to sleep with him.”
“No. I don’t. I mean. Okay, maybe a little. But what’s wrong with that? How many girls did you sleep with before you found the right o—I mean…”
I looked down.
“Yeah, nice one, Ara.” He looked away.
“But I’m right, Mike. There’s nothing wrong with me wanting to sleep with Eric. I’m a grown, single woman.”
“You’re right. I’m sorry.” He raised both hands. “I guess it’s just, you being a girl, I kind of expect you not to have any…primal urges.”
I smiled timidly at him. “That’s pretty silly.”
“I know. But I don’t want to think of you having urges—needing to…quell them.”
I touched his arm. “I’m not going to quell them with Eric.”
“Sure. Right. And I was born yesterday.”
“I’m serious, Mike.”
“Okay, let’s just pretend you are serious. What’s stopping you from ‘quelling’ with Eric?”
“Well, I don’t have a death wish, for one, and also I’m really not that kind of girl. I might have the urge to…be human…but I don’t want to end up sleeping with random guys—trying to find a way to fill the hole David left.”
“Yeah.” I nodded.
Mike reached across and stole my hand. “You really do still love him?”
I toyed with his thick fingertips. “Yeah.”
“Then…I just don’t get why you’re dating Eric.”
“Okay, first of all, I’m not dating Eric. We’re friends. That’s it. And that’s mainly only because he can keep an eye out for David for me. He’s—”
“So that’s it.” Mike’s breath of relief hit the ceiling as he rolled his head back. “You keep him around to get inside info on David?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Duh.”
“Oh, thank God.” He brought his head back down. “I was worried for a bit there, you know. I really thought you couldn’t like a guy unless he could kill you.”
“Mike? That’s a horrid thing to say.”
“Sorry.” He shrugged. “But I was about two seconds away from threatening you, myself, just to see if it was true.”
“And what then? What would you have done if I’d fallen lovingly back into your arms?”
“Have you admitted into hospital.”
I stole my hand back.
“Sorry, baby, but it’s my job to look out for you. You’re—” he pinched my hip, “—dead skinny, miserable, tired all the time. I’m not blind and I’m not dumb. I know damn well you’re hanging on the edge, girl, and I’m worried.”
“Don’t be worried, Mike.”
“I am, though—even more so now because Eric’s blood just happens to make you feel good. So what now? Now I’m going to have to contend with a best friend who has a drug addiction?”
“It’s not a drug, Mike.”
“So says everyone who has ever been on drugs, Ara.” His voice rose. “You need to wean yourself off it. You need to say no.”
I sat back. He was right. I didn’t want to believe him, and the drug in me was tossing his words aside, practically on the phone to Eric right now, asking him to come back, but the commonsense part of me took a breath and a moment to let just a little of his advice sink in. “Okay.”
“Okay. I’ll…I’ll try not to have his blood.”
“He’s…” I smiled to myself. “He’s very persuasive.”
“Then you need to stay away from him.”
“You know I won’t, Mike. I like him.”
“And what would David say—if he found out?”
I smiled again. Maybe he’d be mad enough to come back and steal me away. “Let him get mad,” I said dismissively.
“Why, so he’ll come back and punch Eric, then run off into the sunset with you?”
I slapped his arm. “Stop reading my mind.”
He laughed, cupping the back of my neck as he pulled me down against his chest. “I can’t. You’re too easy to read.”
“Yeah, well, nothing’s changed, Mike.” I sat up. “You might know all my secrets now, but I’m staying friends with Eric, and if I want his blood, and it’s on offer, I…” I rolled my cheek to my shoulder. “I’ll probably end up taking it.”
His eyes narrowed. “Fine then,” he challenged.
“Fine then what?”
“Fine then, we just need to find David and bring him back.”
My eyes went from his running shorts, still a little coloured with sweat, to his brown arms and up to his eyes. “How?”
“I’m a cop, Ara.” He scoffed. “And David, though he might be a vampire, is also only human. Everyone leaves a trail.”
My smile widened. “And you’d do that…for me? You’d find him?”
“Ara, I’d cut my heart out for you,” he said, making a fist over it. “You know that.”
I looked away instantly as the smirk he always wore faded to a teary-eyed frown. “That’s a little melodramatic, don’t you think?”
“It’s the way I feel.”
“Well, I don’t want you to feel that way, Mike.”
“Then kill me.”
“Now who’s being sadistic?” I said playfully.
“God.” I breathed out a massive sigh. “I’m so glad you know about David and Eric. You don’t know how many layers of isolation and worry you’ve taken off my shoulders.”
He touched my shoulder. “Always happy to share the load.”
“So…” I removed his hand and held it in my lap. “When did you figure it out—what David and Eric were?”
“I didn’t. Not really.”
I frowned at him. “Did you lead me into telling you?”
“No. David told me.”
“While you were dying.”
“You talked to him then?”
“Course. He and I…we had our moments, but we became pretty close, you know.” He looked down at his hands. “I…I was actually pretty torn up when he left, too, Ara.”
I sat back, my eyes tearing the room to a foggy haze. “How much did he tell you?”
“Yeah, he…” He sat forward and turned my face by the chin. “He told me everything. All about himself, his kind, the Set…you.”
“Told me everything you two had been through, everything you told him. Ara—” He rubbed his face. “When I heard some of those stories—some of the things you talked to him about, heard what you’d had to deal with for losing him because you didn’t want to kill, I…I cried. I was so heartbroken for you, baby.” His voice trembled. “It only made me love you so much more. And I just wish I could have told you that before our wedding—wish I could have told you that I understood…everything.”
My eyes were locked to his. I couldn’t look away.
“You were never alone, Ara. I had you. I had your back. I always have.”
“No, you know that now. But you didn’t know that then. And I think…if you had, if I’d told you I knew about him—if you didn’t feel so alone—you might have married me.”
I realized then, as I looked at his face—his downturned mouth, his sad eyes—that he blamed himself for me walking out on him. “Mike? I left because I…I can’t lose hope that David will come back. I’ll die. I love him more than life itself. But if I was married, even if he came back, I could never have left you.”
He smiled, taking my hand. “You wouldn’t have broken your vows?”
“Not for anything.”
“Then, I guess…” He thought for a moment. “Thank you—for not marrying me.”
We both laughed.
“I wouldn’t have wanted that, baby,” he added. “I wouldn’t want you to have married me and been miserable. I mean, you’re miserable now, but if we were married, I’d think it was because you had married me and—”
“And you’d be right. In ways.”
“Yes, but not because you don’t love me. It’d be because you just love him more.”
I nodded. “Yeah. Exactly.”
He nodded, too. “If he never comes back for you, Ara…”
I squeezed his hand. “Mike, don’t say it.”
“No, I have to. Look, if he doesn’t come back, just…consider me your fallback guy.”
I shook my head. “No. You need to move on, Mike. Find love. I’m not sure I’ll ever get over David.”
“And what if we find him—and he says he’s not interested?”
I never thought of that. I’d dreamed him up in my mind to be some saint who was just waiting to come back to me. But what if Eric was right? What if David left me behind when he ran away because he really didn’t care? “Then we better hurry up and find him. Because I need to know. But, even then, I’m not sure I’d ever move on from that, Mike.”
His brows slowly crept up to his hairline. “I am well aware of that, baby girl. But even if that’s the case, you’re going to need a man who understands that.”
“And you need a girl who loves you for the amazing, wonderful, charming, sweet, loving and compassionate guy you are.”
He leaned closer and kissed my cheek. “I have her already.”
What could I say to that? He was right. I did love him as much as any girl probably ever could. And I appreciated everything he was—everything he meant to me, and that I meant to him. He’d be hard-pressed to find that anywhere else. “You make me so confused.”
“Just when I think I’m strong enough to let you go, you swoop in and be great, and then I wonder if maybe we should be together.”
“Tell you what—” He laid on his side, leaning on his elbow. “How ‘bout we find this vampire of yours—the good one, not that little shit Eric—and you can see how you feel about me after that?”
I nodded. “Okay. But, if, in the meantime, you meet a nice girl and she sweeps you off your feet, please don’t wait around for me. Promise?”
He linked his pinkie over mine. “I promise.”
“Okay.” I grinned with a nod, hugging a pillow in my lap as I sat up on my knees. “Now, tell me everything you and David talked about. I need to visit him vicariously through your memories.”
Mike laughed. “Okay. Where do you want me to start?”
“Start with how you took it when he said he was a vampire.”
“Okay, well, it wasn’t like the way you did, which, by the way—” He grabbed my hand and kissed it again. “I’m very proud of you for that—for not trusting him.”
“Any time. So, well, let’s see. I was waiting for the paramedics to bring you in. I’d called my mum and dad to let them know what happened, and after I hung up, the screen went back to ‘previously missed calls’. And David’s number was there. So…I called him.”
“And he answered?”
“He picked up straight away.”
“Did he know I’d been attacked?”
“No. He answered with ‘Hey, what’s up, Mike?’, so I figured then that he hadn’t heard, or, perhaps, was pretending.”
“You thought he was guilty?”
“I had my suspicions. I asked him where he was, and he said he was across town—that he’d been in a meeting, which I know now was with the World Council.”
“What was if for?”
“To request an eighty years leave of absence.”
“Yeah. They denied him.”
I nodded. “Figured as much.”
“But, he must have heard something in the tone of my voice, because he asked what had happened.”
“What did you say?”
“I…I was very matter-of-fact. Maybe even a little unfriendly. I just told him you’d been attacked, possibly raped, that you were in General Hospital, and he appeared beside me about ninety seconds later.”
“Yeah, oops. My cop brain went into overdrive and I started thinking the depraved prick had attacked you—been standing by to watch his victim suffer, you know, like that case I was working on last year.”
I nodded, not needing any details on that one again.
“Anyway, I did a bit of probing. He didn’t seem to know too much, so I settled down a bit, but I still thought, by some way, maybe even association, he was to blame. I just wanted to ring his bloody neck the entire time.”
“Did he know it was a vampire attack?”
“No. Not then. He kept asking about your dress—where it was. He wanted to get dogs on it to get the scent. I—I didn’t know it then, but he actually wanted to track the guy down himself and do…any manner of unspeakable things to him.” Mike laughed. “We shared that sentiment. Anyway, when I finally told him the police had it, he just paced the floors. I knew he wanted to kill me—knew he blamed me for letting you get kidnapped.”
I squeezed Mike’s hand.
“I blamed myself enough, though, Ara. I didn’t need him adding to it.”
“Did he say he blamed you?”
“No, but he looked at me like he was gonna kill me a few times. If I’d known then what I know now, I would have been terrified.” He laughed.
“Hm.” I smiled to myself. “He would have also been reading your mind, you know, to see if you’d actually done it.”
“Probably.” He laughed. “That was bloody annoying—that mind-reading thing.”
“I know. Trust me, I know.” We both laughed easily.
“Anyway, so, they brought you out of surgery and wheeled you into intensive care. When the nurse started talking about the laceration on your neck…” Mike’s eyes went dark.
“What? What happened?”
“I guess that’s when he realized it was a vampire attack. He covered his mouth, felt for the wall and just fell back against it.”
“What did you make of that?”
“Well, we were all devastated. When they brought you in and Vicki saw you for the first time, she actually fainted. Greg was dealing with her, and I was talking to the doctor. But David just lost it. I didn’t think too much of it at first, just thought maybe he was really devastated, but I knew then, at that moment, that it wasn’t him who hurt you. Except…”
“I wouldn’t listen to myself. I pegged him as guilty, you know, right from the moment you were kidnapped. I mean, to add to my suspicions, the guy, Ara—that guy looked just like him. And I’d never seen his face—David’s—until that night at the hospital, but when I saw that jaw and those eyes, I pegged him as the kidnapper no matter how good his acting skills were. Didn’t matter what fact or sensibility told me. I was gunning for revenge, and he was the one who was going to pay.”
“Did you report him to the police?”
“No.” His fists tightened. “I followed him out the parking lot. Found him hyperventilating against a wall—completely unable to catch his breath.”
I covered my mouth.
“I grabbed him by the shirt, spun him around and screamed in his face, demanding he admit it.”
“Did he hurt you?”
“No.” Mike’s eyes dropped to his lap. “He did the opposite. He said it was his fault. He told me to kill him. Told me he did this to you.”
“But he didn’t.”
“I know. But that was all I needed to hear. I pounded my fists into his face so many times his skull should have caved in—his skin should have come off his bones, Ara. It’s lucky he was immortal because I’d be in prison right now, if not.” Mike looked at his knuckles; at the tiny white dots littering the tops of his hands, then tightened his fist.
“These were from David?” I ran my fingers over the scars as if maybe some small piece of David might still be in there. “How did you…I mean, how were your hands not broken after? I can’t believe you even managed to make him bleed.”
“Oh, they bleed, Ara, and they feel pain. Granted—” he squeezed his fists tighter, looking off into the corner of my room, “—it takes a hell of a lot more to break their skin, says the twenty cracked and shattered bones in my hands, but they do break.”
“Yes, but they don’t die.” I cupped his healed hand, as if I could make it all better, even this far into the future. “I can’t believe you even tried to kill him.”
“I didn’t try to kill him, Ar. But I did beat him until the fury wore off, wondering all the while why he was still breathing—still conscious.”
“Is that when you caught on?”
“Nope. Not even then. I was exhausted—pretty beaten up, myself. I just couldn’t hit any more. I sat down beside him, covered in his and my blood, and just cried.”
I pictured it all, seeing the shadows and dark corners of the underground parking garage at the hospital—seeing two guys I loved, almost equally, sitting side by side, both bleeding, bodies and hearts damaged almost beyond repair.
We stayed silent for a minute, both of us clearly lost in thought—his, a memory, mine, imagination.
“And then what?” I asked.
“Then, he stood up, well, stumbled up, and said it would never be that easy. There was no death for him—that, as he said, God would not bless him with such mercy. I asked him what he meant, and he just stopped limping away, turned back to face me, holding his smashed-up arm to his chest, and said I’m a vampire. That girl is laying in that bed, dying, right now, because I exist.”
“What did you say?”
“I wasn’t surprised by this point. I just stood up. My hands were so damaged I couldn’t even feel the wall under them, but I got up and asked him if he’d actually attacked you.”
“What did he say?”
“He just looked down at his hands and said, It’s as if I did.”
“And then what?”
“Then, he walked away. And I realized I’d just taken my fury out on, and almost killed, an innocent man.”
“I can’t believe you did that.”
He laughed. “No. Me either, and I felt really bad about it. He went and had a feed, or something, I guess, then came back an hour later, clean but still cut and bruised, and sat by your bed until morning.”
“Why didn’t he heal?”
“I don’t think he was eating enough. He was…I guess, punishing himself. I think, in some way, he wanted to heal like a human.”
“Yes.” He nodded, sympathy eating his eyes. “And I respected him for that.”
“And you talked a lot?”
“It took a while. At first we bickered a lot, but, over time, we realized we had a lot in common—mainly you—our love for you, and the fact that we both just wanted what was best.”
“Yeah, except he thought it was best to leave me.”
“No,” he said simply.
“Yes, he did.”
“No. He had no choice, Ara.”
“There’s always a choice.”
“Not in his world.”
“What would you know about?” I crossed my arms.
“He and I discussed it at length. He wasn’t even supposed to stay in the hospital as long as he did, and he was actually punished by the Set for not returning to duty when requested.”
“What kind of punishment?”
“It’s okay, Ara—” He touched my shoulder with the palm of reassurance. “They actually just cut his pay for three years.”
“Yeah. When I showed my surprise at that, he said they weren’t all torture and gore.”
I felt my body come back to life again, the ghost of worry sent home for a while. “So they gave him more time—to be with me?”
“A little. They were actually very understanding and compassionate. But he knew he’d have to go eventually—if you didn’t turn.”
“Did you ever think that was a possibility?”
“Yeah,” he said with surety. “We were actually almost sure of it. But, Ara, we just had no idea what signs we were looking for or if you’d die first then come back, and his uncle wouldn’t comment—wouldn’t come to see you and check if you were changing. He wanted no part of it.”
“Because if you turned, despite this being an attack, apparently he was worried David might be accused of turning you, and face a pretty gruesome punishment.”
“Yeah, so, he just wanted to stay out of it—told David if you turned that he should kidnap you and make sure no one ever found you.”
“Yup. And he’d made plans—had passports ready if that was the case. But…” He scratched the top of his knuckle. “We also had to talk about the other option—what would happen if you woke up human or…not at all.”
“Would he have left if I’d not woken when I did?”
He held silent for a long time. “I’m not sure.”
“No.” He looked right at me. “Not ever. And David made me promise him that, no matter what, whether you woke or stayed asleep, I would never leave you. Not for anything.”
“And that’s why you came back here?”
“It was one of the reasons.” He nodded. “But I didn’t make that promise for his sake, Ara. I made it for yours, and I made it to you a long time ago—before we ever even knew David.”
“I know.” I saw that memory as a bright sunny day in my mind. “I guess I just never expected you to actually keep it—especially not after I broke your heart.”
“My heart is fine.” He patted my knee. “Okay? I’m still breathing. I still have you. I’ll be fine.”
“And so will David,” I said spitefully.
Mike sat for a second, his lips pressed thin, his thoughts elsewhere. “I don’t know about that.”
“What do you mean?”
“It hit him pretty hard, you know. As I said, we waited to see if you’d turn. And we had no idea when it would happen. But…when you died—when your pulse stopped then you started breathing again with a full beating heart, he had to face the reality that you couldn’t be immortal—ever. And there was no way for me to console him. I just…I had to just stand back.”
“So, he’d rather I’d died?”
“No. He was overjoyed that you survived. But once that elation stepped aside, the rest sunk in.”
“He didn’t seem too upset that I had to stay human?”
“I know, baby.” Mike took my hand until I looked at him. “But you weren’t there to see him break. I…I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone fall so hard.”
I looked down at my knees.
“He still loves you, baby. I’m sure of it, okay, so…I know your heart is broken right now, but we’re gonna find him. And I’ll make him at least stay with you for a while—just until you’re ready to cope without him.”
I rolled forward and laid down with my face in Mike’s lap. “Thanks, Mike.”
“Don’t mention it. Just…” His arm folded around my waist, resting firmly. “Just do me a favour, though; don’t let that Eric shithead force his blood on you again. He shouldn’ta done that to you.”
“I know. And he’ll be feeling pretty bad about that right now, but…they get overtaken by their vampire nature, Mike. They lose control. He wasn’t thinking about me. He was thinking about the hunger, the lust—” my voice lowered, “—the desire.”
“And what were you thinking about?”
I thought back to that moment. “The blood.”
“Hm.” He nodded. “Does it taste awful?”
I shook my head. “It’s actually really nice. You should try it.”
“Uh, yeah, over my dead body.”
“Well, I have a pet vampire. That could be arranged.”
“Oh, so, now you’re starting with the death threats.” He tickled my ribs. “It won’t make me love you more.”
“Good, then you don’t need hospitalizing.”
“Not like you do, huh?”
I snuggled against his lap, instead of slapping him, and watched the two on the bed through my mirror’s reflection. The girl looked…happy. “Thanks for calling work for me, by the way. I really hate that job.”
“I can’t quit. I need the money.”
“Take mine—I’ve got plenty.”
“Mike, stop it.”
“Mike. I’m not taking your money—you know me better than that.”
“Fine. Then what do I have to do to get you happy with your life?”
“You mean aside from bringing David back?” I said, thinking. “Give my students the will to learn.”
“Your wish is my command.”
I laughed. “Yeah, if only. They’re all just snobby rich kids with no talent. Except one—Aaron. When I eventually run classes from home, I’m taking him with me.”
Mike wrapped his arms tighter around me. “Two more years then, and you can afford that piano.”
“Yep,” I said sleepily. “Just two more years.”