We went out of his house and onto the sidewalk.
“Now, let me show you the perks of being a vampire,” he said, smiling impishly.
Before I say anything, he swooped me up into his arms.
“Hold on tight to me,” he advised.
I put my arms around his neck and locked them together.
Suddenly, we were flying over the sidewalk. Colors and lights zoomed past us, making streaks in my vision. There were lots of people up ahead on the sidewalk coming our way, but Nicholae swerved around them, darting in between groups at top speed without any of them being aware of it—though they might have felt a slight breeze. So many times I thought he was going to crash right into them, but his agility was precise and carefully measured.
All of a sudden, we were off the sidewalk and in the middle of the street, running along with the speeding cars. He was having such fun with this, I could tell. He easily ran in front of cars that must have been going at least forty-five miles an hour. He veered in front of them, dashing around them like they were sedentary obstacles in a course. We were going so fast that I couldn’t imagine anyone driving these cars could see us.
Adrenaline was flooding my veins and speeding my heart rate, and I wasn’t even the one doing anything. But he showed no sign of stress at all. I couldn’t feel him breathing, couldn’t feel any rise or fall of his chest. He could have been sleeping for all his apparent comfort.
I could never get used to such speed, never get used to the blur of my surroundings or the quickly fading staccato of the cars as we passed them. I was terrified every minute, but happily so, like I was on the world’s greatest rollercoaster.
We were coming up to a red light a few hundred meters ahead and all the cars around us were slowing. But Nicholae wasn’t slowing with them, even as cars started speeding across the path ahead horizontally.
Why wasn’t he slowing down? We were going to hit them! Even as preternaturally fast as he was, there was no way we could get through that! It was suicide!
I looked up at his face and he was smiling wickedly. Impossibly, he increased his speed, within mere feet of the rushing traffic. Holy crap, I can’t look!
I felt his feet spring forward beneath me and we acCaelerated into the air, high above the street. I looked down at the cars we narrowly missed and they looked so tiny, a river of streaking lights.
From this height, I could see over the buildings, see an ocean of lights covering the earth in all directions. It was so pretty, so incredible! And in his arms, I hasn’t afraid of being up this high, because I knew he would never let me fall.
We started to come back down, much faster than we went up. The ground was heaving upward to catch us, gravity demanding we be crushed into the pavement. But Nicholae landed without falter, softly as if stepping onto a pillow. Then he continued his stealthy mercurial running.
Before I was aware of it, we had stopped. My vision continued to lunge forward, tunneling inward and making my head spin. He didn’t put me down on my feet until my dizziness dissipated.
“Are you alright?” he asked. “I’ve never done that with a mortal before.”
“Yes, I’ll be fine,” I said eagerly. “I want to do that again! It was fun!”
He laughed and shook his head, as if I should be more traumatized.
“You amaze me,” he said, invigorated.
I looked around at where we were, in a shadowy alley perpendicular to a bright and busy street. The rich aroma of Italian spices danced up my nostrils, and I licked my lips instinctively.
“How does pizza sound?” he asked.
“Wonderful,” I said, and I suspected he must have known from watching me the past year that pizza was my favorite thing to eat.
He put his hand on the small of my back and guided me toward the street, and I couldn’t help but shiver at the touch of his fingertips. We emerged from the shadows and I followed my nose to a quaint bistro to the right with little metal tables in front, half of them filled with people enjoying the delicious cheesy pies.
We sat down at an empty table, and when the waiter came by, Nicholae ordered my favorite toppings without even having to ask—beef, tomato and jalapeno. He really does know me well.
I smiled and took a moment to really appreciate the look of him. Even if he were only human, he was still by far one of the most attractive men I’d ever laid eyes on. Ethereally smooth skin, rugged jaw, rounded chin, long golden eyelashes half mast over shimmering sapphire eyes. Their shimmer was opalescent, and that very shimmer suddenly had me on edge. If I was aware of all Nicholae’s exceptional qualities, his porcelain skin, his catlike eyes, his metallic hair, than everyone else around us could be, too. They might suspect he was not human. They might try to hurt him. I now felt very protective of him.
“You do see the irony of that, don’t you?” he said softly, smiling teasingly. “A human being protective over a vampire? Shouldn’t it be the other way around?”
I laughed, realizing that his mind-reading was going to take some getting used to. But if he could read my mind, certainly he could read the minds of those around us.
“Well, why don’t you tell me,” I said, somewhat jokingly. “Do I have anything to worry about?”
“Only that the girls sitting at the table to our far left are bitterly jealous of you for sitting here with me,” he said with a wink without looking at the table to which he was referring.
Being only human, of course I looked, and I saw a table of three girls about my age glaring at me and huddled clandestinely together, only to look away when they saw me look at them.
Nicholae laughed, and feeling just a little embarrassed, I did too.
The waiter came by and placed the large steaming pizza on the table before us, along with two glasses of soda, then he mumbled niceties and walked away. I eagerly removed of piece of pizza from the tray and began to eat it, keenly aware of the fact that he was watching me like I was on display. I so hoped I wasn’t getting sauce anywhere unsightly.
When I reached for my second piece, it was only then that I noticed he wasn’t eating. Then I felt like an idiot for not having remembered that vampires don’t eat. Would anyone else notice that he wasn’t eating? Why then did he order a drink for himself? I looked at him and waited for an answer, knowing he had heard my internal question.
“It’s just a force of habit as a vampire,” he explained. “If I order a drink in a restaurant, nobody will really notice I’m not drinking from it, they would only notice the lack of a drink in front of me.”
I nodded. Remembering that he was a vampire, really knowing it in my heart, was going to take time. There are so many things that we as humans come to expect as common behavior for our kind, and when that behavior is missed, it’s definitely noticeable. I wondered how long it would take me to get used to it.
There was so much I wanted to ask him, but I still felt so paranoid about the people around us, that they might overhear our conversation, and I didn’t want to do anything to expose Nicholae.
“I really don’t want you to be uncomfortable,” he said. “If you’d prefer, we can take the rest of this back to my place.”
“Yes, I would like that much better,” I said.
We had the waiter box up the pizza and we left the bistro, heading back for the alley from whence we’d come.
“Wait,” he said, suddenly stopping.
I looked at his face to see why he stopped, and a look of irritation crossed his face as he narrowed his eyes. He started to growl, low like a cat about to pounce. Faster than I could blink, he disappeared from my side.
I turned all around franticly, searching for him. I ran out of the alley and back into the street, darting my head from side to side for any hint of him. Then I spot him across the street in another alley. I ran to him without hesitation.
Nicholae grabbed someone fiercely and slammed him up against the wall, clutching the guy’s shirt so he couldn’t escape; he did this all so quickly that I was afraid he might expose himself, but he didn’t seem to care.
“Hello again, Benny!” Nicholae hissed through barred teeth.
I got close enough to take a good look at whoever Nicholae was detaining. The guy looked so familiar. He had short-cropped black hair that was bleached at the top, and he had the same stark white flesh as Nicholae, which I now automatically recognized as vampiric.
“Oh, Nicholae,” the vampire said with a calm, even tone. “I didn’t know you were here.”
“Bullshit!” Nicholae snapped. “What the hell are you doing here!? And it better not be the reason I think it is or I swear that I will slaughter you right here!”
“Calm down, calm down,” the vampire said, still unintimidated. “I was only watching, that’s all.” He looked at me and smiled.
Holy crap, I know where I’ve seen him before! He was the guy from the mall that day, the one who talked to me in the bookstore! He was a vampire!?
Nicholae looked back at me just as the other guy did, and I could see in his face that he had seen the memory in my mind, for his countenance became monstrously angry.
“How dare you!” Nicholae hissed at the vampire so low I could barely hear.
“What? I wasn’t going to hurt her, I promise. I was only curious. I saw that you were stalking a girl and I wanted to know what interest you had in her. I give you my word that I will not harm your little human pet.”
Nicholae held him there for a moment, not saying anything, remaining perfectly statuesque. Then he exhaled and released the cloth of the shirt from his hands.
The vampire stepped aside and smoothed his wrinkled shirt. He smiled at me again, the kind of smile that made me want to smile back.
Nicholae quickly appeared back at my side, his arms protectively around me.
“Nicholae, who is he?” I asked.
“His name is Benny,” Nicholae replied with distemper. “He is the most annoying vampire I have ever met! For the last three years, this insect has been spying on me and killing my victims right before me, on the very night that I finally decide I want them.”
“If you didn’t make it such fun, I wouldn’t keep doing it,” Benny said playfully.
I couldn’t believe how laid-back this guy was around Nicholae, as if he didn’t fear him at all, or just found pleasure in annoying him.
“Yes, he does find pleasure in annoying me,” Nicholae sneered.
“Aw, Nicki, don’t be so hostile toward me,” Benny said. “It’s all in good sport.”
“Don’t call me ‘Nicki’,” Nicholae grumbled.
Benny came toward me and extended his hand to me.
Nicholae tightened his hold on me and pulled me away.
“Testy,” Benny scoffed. “Geez, I was only trying to be polite to your lady friend.” His hand was still extended.
Nicholae’s arms would not relax around me, keeping me locked in place.
“Nicki, please, let us start over,” Benny said. “Consider this my peace offering, my treaty. Let us sit and chat for a bit.”
“Fortunately, Crimson and I have other plans,” Nicholae replied, his voice dripping with disdain.
“Aww, that’s too bad,” Benny said with a shrug. “Well, I’ll be sure to drop in on you two some other time, then, soon.” Then he disappeared without so much as a disturbance in the air.
“Good riddance,” Nicholae muttered as he slid off the stool.
“I don’t know, I kinda like him,” I said.
Nicholae frowned at me.
I laughed teasingly. “And I think I know why he’s been doing that to you, taking your victims right out from under your nose. Maybe he admires you. Maybe he was just trying to get your attention.”
“Hmm,” he hummed doubtfully.
I shrugged. “I think it’s interesting.”
“Well…just don’t let him fool you,” he said. “I don’t like that he was following you. I don’t trust him at all.”
We went deeper into the alley, away from prying eyes on the street. He gathered me in his arms once more and we shot up into the night.