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Ordinary Loneliness

By Natchez

Horror / Romance

House Rules

Nashville, Tennessee, 2004

Lindsey Hargrove looked at her cell phone. It had been two days since she was taken. The place where "they" were keeping her was nice enough, she supposed. It was a two-bedroom condo somewhere in Nashville. She figured that much out by looking out the window. Nothing spectacular. Pretty much beige and boring. But the only clue she had about why she was here was the booklet on the coffee table labeled "House Rules."

The booklet opened with a "welcome" paragraph (were these psychos kidding?) stating she was taking part in a research project and was chosen because "you have few family ties and no current employment." Way to say she didn't have any close family and was in Nashville to look for a job. It did say that, after the "prescribed time for the project ends, if you complete it successfully, you will be amply compensated." What did that mean? The first several "rules" told her not to destroy the property, not to bang on the walls or doors for help, etc. She was being watched at all times, and was to obey any instructions she heard over the speaker immediately. Lindsey had already determined trying to escape was useless, so until she came up with a better solution, playing by the rules was the best one.

She hadn't seen her capture coming, for sure. She was in a store in downtown Nashville, when she felt someone jab her in the arm with something sharp. She whirled to see who it was, but her vision went suddenly blurry and her mouth went dry. She vaguely remembered a man saying his girlfriend was having a low blood sugar attack and she would be fine. Then, she woke up here. And that's all she knew. So she figured she was stuck. So far, no one had tried to hurt her. Didn't make her feel any better, though.

Food was in the fridge, and she was expected to prepare her own meals, but a restaurant meal would be brought in once a week, the rules said. If she had any special dietary requests, she could pick up the phone and place those requests. The phone was only to be used in case of an emergency or for requests for groceries or other consumables.

She could watch television and there was a computer in one of the bedrooms, but her email was not accessible, and browsing was limited. The rules said she could make two calls on her cell each week, but could not reveal anything about her circumstances. Like she even really had anyone to call.

For the moment, she was alone, but she knew that was going to change at some point. The "rules" said so. There was a whole section about her as-yet-unseen roommate to be. She read it, and that section, more than anything, is what had her scared to death. It said that, if either of them died, unless it was an unavoidable accident, the other person would be killed, also. This, it said, extended to suicide. Who were they putting in with her – some serial killer? The thought was terrifying, but so far, she was by herself. The booklet also said that any time the rules were revised, she was obliged to read and follow said rules immediately.

Lindsey was watching television, without really seeing it, when a voice came over the speaker, instructing her to go into the bathroom, close the door, turn on the vent fan and stay put until she was told to leave again. The voice was gender-neutral, neither identifiably male nor female. She sighed, picked up a magazine, went into the bathroom and closed the door. There was a vanity area with a seat and she sat there while she waited. She could hear voices, shuffling, noises, as though something heavy were being brought in. She also thought she heard the refrigerator door open and close. This must be her new roomie. She sent up a prayer.

Things had been quiet for a while when Lindsey received the word to leave the bathroom. She looked cautiously out into the den, but no one was there. No one in the kitchen, either, or in the room where the computer was. The bedroom door was closed and she turned the knob quietly and looked inside. A man lay on the bed, unconscious. All he wore was a pair of jeans. He was barefoot and shirtless – and he was worth seeing shirtless, no doubt. There wasn't an ounce of extra fat on him anywhere that she could tell. She could see his chest rising and falling evenly, so she assumed he was drugged, as she had been when she arrived. His face was angular, his jaw strong, he had black hair and was handsome as sin. She wondered what his eyes looked like. But she remembered the section about them not killing each other and a chill ran up her spine.

She left the room quietly and saw a folder on the coffee table in the den. It was labeled "read immediately." So, she picked it up and began reading. After the first several sentences, she put the folder down and said out loud to whomever was listening, "You have to be kidding me. This cannot be happening. It's got to be some kind of psychological 'Manchurian Candidate' kind of thing." Still, she kept reading. She was afraid not to.

The folder contained what was, in essence, a biographical sketch of the man in the bedroom. A photograph accompanied it. "Oh, my Lord," she said, as she saw the man's startlingly blue eyes looking calmly out of the picture. It read in part, "The man in the bedroom is Damon Salvatore. He was born in 1839 in Albemarle County, Virginia. He became a vampire in 1864, at age 25. He is heterosexual." Like that made a difference, she thought. He wasn't going to be interested in her, unless it was for lunch.

The piece went on, "Like most vampires, Salvatore needs regular meals of human blood (provided in the refrigerator) – well that was a relief – but also consumes human food. Vampires have strength and speed far exceeding an unaltered human's, and also have the power of compulsion, which is the ability to compel unaltered humans to do whatever they ask. Salvatore himself has been compelled not to use this ability on you. You both must learn to co-exist without it." Well, that also explained the line about not killing each other. Lindsey just hoped this vampire didn't have a suicidal – or homicidal - streak.

"We anticipate Salvatore will regain consciousness about a half-hour after his arrival. We recommend you immediately point him to the blood in the refrigerator, since he is likely to be hungry. Learning to co-exist peacefully is one of your aims, and is a goal of this project. Salvatore is known to have a mercurial temperament, so it is recommended you do not provoke him." Provoke a vampire? Not likely. And vampires in general. She was a living, breathing, rational human in the 21st century and she was supposed to believe in vampires? Really? Still, she got up, went quietly to the kitchen and looked in the fridge. She gasped. There had to be at least 50 bags of blood in there! How much did this guy eat - er, drink - anyway? She wasn't sure she wanted to know.

"Unless you're on the menu, you might consider giving me one of those, instead of just staring at them in shocked amazement," said a voice laden with sarcasm and menace. Lindsey whirled. Damon Salvatore stood in the kitchen doorway. She grabbed two bags and tossed them at him. He caught both in one hand. She edged over to the table and sat down, eying him warily. He was still in the doorway and she didn't want to try to get past him.

He went to the microwave and put the bags in to warm. When they were the correct temperature, he pulled them out, broke the seal on one and drank the contents. "That's better. Now can you please tell me where I am and how I got here?" His voice was quiet, but had a tone that made the hair on the back of her neck stand on end.

"I don't know the answer to either question, except that we're in Nashville. I assume you got here the same way I did, which is that we were both abducted. By whom, I don't know. For what? There's a folder on the coffee table that has a little information. But other than that, I have no idea. I was in town looking for a job and found myself here. That's all I can tell you."

He broke open the second bag and sat at the table, too, which made her even more nervous. "Lucky for you, I believe you," he said. "Because you sure as hell didn't get me here by yourself, and I don't remember seeing you before I was taken."

"I've been here two days already. The information does say that if we run low on anything, we're supposed to call. I guess that means blood, too."

"Good to know. What else does the information tell you?" His tone had gone from menacing back to sarcastic.

"You probably need to read it, but there was a biographical sketch about you." Lindsey wanted to run like hell out of there, but kept her seat. She. Did. Not. Trust. this man.

He raised an eyebrow. "About me? And nothing about you?"

"I'm not nearly as interesting as you are, I guess. If you want to know something, ask me. If I can answer, I will."

"All right. Do you have a name?"

"Lindsey Hargrove."

"How old are you?"

"36."

"What kind of job were you looking for?"

"Journalism. I was going to try to get an interview with The Tennessean."

"You're right. You're not nearly as interesting as I am. Guess I need to read the rest of that stuff. Coffee table has the goods? O.K." He left the kitchen.

Lindsey looked after him bitterly, even as she sighed in relief. Serial killer, maybe. Monumental jerk, definitely.

There was a futon in the office and Lindsey took her magazine and went in there to read. She might as well get used to it. She could see spending a lot of time in this room, especially if she intended to "co-exist peacefully" with Damon Salvatore.

"So what's there to do here?" Damon said, startling her. He was lounging in the doorway.

"Well, there are some books in the den, some magazines, television, and you can surf the net a little." She gestured to the computer.

He waved the rules booklet. "How carefully did you read this?"

"I skimmed it. Why?"

"You didn't see the part about us sharing a bed every night?" He was Not. Happy.

Lindsey's face lost all color. "No, I didn't. Look, I'll let you have the bedroom. I can sleep here on the futon. It's OK."

"With you, and definitely with me, but not, apparently, with the people who brought us here. Which makes me wonder if you know more than you're letting on." He was back to menacing.

"No Damon, I don't. I wish I knew what these people really wanted, but I don't."

He stood there, staring at her in disgust. He shook his head. "If they were going to kidnap me and give me a roomie, at least they could have put me in with a sexy chick, not you." He walked back into the den.

Lindsey flinched as if he had slapped her. She went to the door and closed it. She cried as quietly as she could, figuring he could hear her. She muffled her sobs in a cushion. Suddenly, suicide looked like an attractive option. She didn't know if she could live with this man for however long.

She crept into the kitchen for a bottle of water. "Lindsey, come here," Damon called her. She ignored him and went back into the office. He appeared in the doorway. "Why didn't you come in there?"

She looked at him. "Just ignore me, please. I think it'll be easier on both of us if I'm just the ghost here. I know what I look like. I'm sorry you didn't get a supermodel. Believe me, if I had a choice, I wouldn't be here, either. So, if you can possibly find a shred of compassion for the fat girl, please just leave me alone and I promise I'll do the same for you."

He narrowed his eyes. "I was going to apologize, but since you're determined to be a martyr about it, I'll leave you in peace." He left.

Suddenly, Lindsey was as pissed off as she had been in years. She flew into the den. "How dare you! How dare you! A martyr? Sure. Yeah, right. No, I'm just smart enough to know when to leave! Being insulted once was enough! I'm not the type to hang around for it to happen again, and gee, excuse me for having zero trust in you – certainly not enough to come back in here while you told me again how disappointed you were because you didn't get Britney Spears in here. I got it the first time. I'm long past the stage where I'll take any kind of shit some cute guy wants to hand out, hoping to God he might decide I'm O.K. and say something nice to me!" She left the den, went into the office and slammed the door as hard as she could.

Damon glared down the hall after her. "Damn. I need a drink." He got up and prowled the condo until he found a likely place, and jackpot! Bourbon – the good stuff. He poured a large shot of Wild Turkey and tossed it back. That hit the spot, so he had two more shots. The liquor soothed his temper and he could see how it probably wasn't the best course of action to antagonize this woman, who clearly had no more say in her whereabouts than he did. And what had she done to him? Nothing. He was just pissed off and felt the need to be a dick to her. Switching off his humanity again was far too risky, but he could certainly ignore any feelings of guilt. Still, she hadn't deserved that. And Damon prided himself on giving people what they deserved. Naturally, he had read the bio sketch on himself and raised his eyebrows at the "mercurial temperament" part. By which they obviously meant he was an obnoxious asshole. And he could be, he knew. It was his specialty, in fact.

He left Lindsey alone for a while and then decided he couldn't avoid this forever – not in a two-bedroom condo. So, he actually tapped on the door and opened it. She was huddled on the futon, wrapped in a blanket. "Lindsey?" No answer. Not surprising.

"Lindsey, look. I shouldn't have said that. You didn't deserve that." Nothing. In fact, her brown eyes were fixed on the far wall and she looked as if she had retreated into some kind of trance. He walked over to her and touched her shoulder. She flinched and tensed, as if expecting him to hit her. He sighed in exasperation. "O.K. I tried," he said, and left the room.

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