I woke to the ostentatious morning sun piercing my twilight dreams. Tiana, who was sleeping beside me, snored suddenly. I sat up and saw that I was in the hotel room.
The very first thought that popped into my head was that last night might all have been a dream. Panic gripped my heart.
Frantically, my hands fumbled around my body and found my cell phone in my back pocket. My fingers jitteringly turned on the screen and searched my list of contacts. From A down to K, L, M, N—Yes, it was there! Nicholae’s name was right there, glowing on my little screen! So it all really did happen. He must have snuck me in here after I had fallen asleep.
I fell back into the bed, holding my phone to my heart and smiling like a fool. Last night had been arguably the best night of my life. I had come to this town a little lost and sad, and now the world was just filled with bright and wonderful possibilities. I could hardly wait for night to fall so that I could see Nicholae again, and I wondered if he had flown back to Tucson last night after leaving me, or if his vampiric flight was proficient enough to get him from New York to Tucson tonight.
Just then, Doyle burst through the door and gave us our wake up call. The other three girls sharing my room groggily woke and made groans of protest and reluctance at having been awakened.
“Hurry up and get ready,” she said. “We leave for the airport at nine o’clock.” Then she closed the door and left us to ready to ourselves.
I chipperly got out of bed and changed my clothes, the smile still shining on my face. I swear, not even Doyle can take away my smile today, ha!
“Well, I guess you had fun last night,” said Tiana.
“Huh? Oh, yeah,” I said.
“We came back at one o’clock in the morning and you still weren’t here yet,” she said. “And what’s with that smile? Did you meet a guy last night? Oh, tell me everything!”
I bit my lip and turned for the door. “Actually, I’m all ready, so I’m gonna go downstairs and eat,” I said. “I’ll see you down there.”
“Wha—you’re not gonna tell me what happened?” she asked.
“Nope!” I shrugged and skipped merrily out the door.
“Crimson, you missed lights out last night,” Doyle said when I came downstairs. “Where were you?”
“Oh, I guess I just lost track of time,” I said, made unafraid of her authority by my newfound joy.
And just when I thought she was going to really let me have it, she did something completely unexpected.
“Well, you all did a great job yesterday, so you deserve to celebrate,” she said. “Just, pay a little more attention the next time I let y’all loose.”
I was stunned. Was Doyle actually going to start being nice, like a real person?
We got back to Tucson at five o’clock in the afternoon. I called Mom from the airport and asked if she could pick me up, rather than wait with the rest of the band for the buses.
“How was your trip?” she asked when I got in the car. “Was it as boring as you thought it would be?”
“Actually, it was really fun,” I said.
“And, we won second place in our division!”
“That’s great!” she said. “I’m glad you enjoyed it.”
“And this morning, it was the strangest thing, but Doyle was actually being nice to me! It’s like winning cured her of her bitchiness.”
She laughed and shook her head.
We got home and I went straight to my room. It was five-thirty and the sun would be going down soon. Nicholae promised me that he would be here tonight, but I didn’t know when, or how exactly this was going to work.
So I sat on my bed and tried to distract myself, anxiously shaking my leg, as I always did when I was nervous. I looked out the window every few seconds to see the indigo darkness growing outside, wondering when he would be here, or if he was even going to come at all.
I couldn’t sit anymore. I had to get up and walk around. I left my room and went down the hall with the pretense of scavenging the fridge for nothing in particular. Mom was at the front door, talking to someone in a cheery tone, but I couldn’t see who it was.
When I got a little closer, I absently looked out the door, and then I froze on the spot.
It was Nicholae! He was here, he came!
I hurried to the door, almost forgetting that Mom was there at all. I was so happy to see him I wanted to hug him.
“Crimson, you never told me you met the guy who saved you,” Mom scolded.
The story of my recovery from Madera Canyon came back to me, and I went along with the charade.
“Oh yeah, sorry, Mom,” I said. “I guess I’ve just been so busy with everything that’s been happening that I forgot to tell you.”
She frowned at me dubiously.
“Nick, was it?” she asked him.
“Please, come on in,” she welcomed.
He sat on the couch. I wanted so badly to be near him, to touch him in some small way to be sure he was real, but Mom was watching so I had to behave myself. I sat a fair distance away from him—as few inches as necessary!—and Mom sat on the loveseat.
“So you said you were moving down here in the valley?” Mom asked him.
“Yes, it will make everything much easier for me,” he answered.
“What will you be doing, since you obviously won’t be able to be a park ranger down here?”
“That was really just a hobby, not an occupation,” he said, a flawless liar. “My first job is writing novels.”
“You’re a writer? How neat! What kind of books do you write?”
“Oh, mysteries, thrillers, mostly vampire stories.”
“Ah, Crimson, that’s right up your alley,” she said.
“Would you like to stay for dinner?” she asked him hopefully.
“Actually, Crimson and I have a prior engagement,” he said.
“Another thing you forgot to mention?” Mom asked me.
“Sorry,” I said with a quick innocent smile.
“If you don’t mind, Ms. Wilkinson, Crimson and I should get going,” he said.
“Oh, please, call me Samantha,” she said. “‘Ms. Wilkinson’ makes me sound like my ex-mother-in-law.” She made a face.
He laughed and nodded. Then he stood up and I followed him to the door.
“Be back later, Mom,” I said before I went out the door.
“I’ll want details when you get home,” she called after me.
As soon as the door was closed and we were safe from view, I pulled him in for a hug. I don’t know how long we stood there, or why I was quivering. He just held me, like I was a delicate china doll, until I pulled away.
“I told you I’d be here,” he said.
“I knew you would,” I lied, and he smiled. “But did you really have to introduce yourself to my mother?” I asked jocularly.
“Absolutely. I’m going to be hanging around a lot from now on. She should know who I am…well, sort of. Now, come on, let’s go.”
He took my hand and pulled me down the driveway to the metallic silver Mustang parked on the curb.
My heart quickened, and I knew he had picked this car because he knew I loved Mustangs.
He opened the passenger door for me, then he got into the driver’s seat.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“I would like to take you to dinner again,” he answered. “I enjoy watching you eat, watching you enjoy yourself, watching you be human. It is one of the great contradictions about this whole thing.”
“You mean that you like me as a human even though you look forward to the day that I’m not one?” I asked.
“Do you ever miss anything about being human?” I asked. “Any foods you miss, or drinks?”
“I don’t really miss them,” he said. “If I were to somehow become human again and taste them, I’m sure I would find them deficient compared to the taste of blood.
“But there is one thing I definitely miss about being human,” he said wistfully. “I miss the sun. In the beginning, when Laramie used to pine over the loss of it, I never thought I would care about it. I never much enjoyed the sun while I was alive, so I didn’t think not having it would make a difference to me.
“But after two hundred and forty years, even the smallest things gain the greatest importance. I see the sun in your memories, sometimes in your dreams, and it’s so beautiful. I really don’t think it ever looked that glorious in London, but here, in this desert paradise, it’s like nothing else on earth. I wish I could witness one of your desert sunsets, see all those bright colors that you see every evening. Just once, that would be enough.”
He was silent for a moment after that.
“Do you think I would miss it?” I asked. “If I chose to be one of you?”
“I think all vampires do,” he said. “It is just inherent in our species. It is a natural consequence of being in the darkness for so long.”
I thought about that, about never seeing the sun again. If I became a vampire tonight, would I be okay with not seeing the sun tomorrow? Or ever again? Would I be okay with parting forever with the feeling of the sun’s delicious warmth of my skin?
He took me to some fancy Italian place I’d never heard of before. When the waiter came around, Nicholae ordered everything on the menu that had sounded good to me. And when I tried each dish, he watched me all the while, smiling when something tasted good to me. I didn’t mind him watching me this time. I imagined he was reliving humanity vicariously through me, that he could somehow gauge the different tastes I was experiencing by reading my mind.
After the waiter brought the check, Nicholae pulled out his wallet, placed a hundred dollar bill on the table and took my hand to pull me out of the booth.
“Nicholae, that was like a fifty dollar tip!” I said when we left the restaurant.
He shrugged happily. “The waiter has a sick child in the hospital. I wanted to tip even more.”
Aww, how sweet.
“It’s a wonder you can keep your wealth with all your splurging,” I teased as we got in the car. “Throwing around hundreds, buying fancy Mustangs.”
“Not really,” he said. “I have more money than Bill Gates, in banks all over the world. It’s not easy to spend that much money.
“Well, unless, of course, you are like Benny,” he said, a note of irritation in his voice. “He’s in trouble with vampires everywhere, forever in debt. He owes so many covens that he doesn’t even try to borrow from them anymore. You know that bank robbery in Zurich last month? That was him.”
“He robbed a bank? I never thought a vampire would do something like that.”
“That’s Benny for you. And I’d wager that all that money he stole he’s already spent.”
“On what?” I asked, unable to fathom what he could possibly waste such funds on.
“Who knows,” Nicholae shrugged.
It was ten-thirty when we got back to my house.
“Your mother is waiting for you in the living room,” he said after a second of extrasensory surveillance. “She wants to interrogate you about me.”
I wasn’t looking forward to a talk with Mom, and I didn’t want my time with Nicholae to end yet.
“You can go ahead inside, have your talk, and I’ll be waiting for you in your room,” he said.
“Sounds perfect,” I said.
I walked up my drive and went inside. Mom was sitting on the couch, pretending to watch TV.
“So, how was your date?” she asked.
“It was good,” I said.
“What did you guys do?”
“Just drove around, had dinner,” I summed up to hint that I wasn’t interested in talking about it.
She nodded lengthily. “Are you going to see him again?” she asked.
“Yes, probably tomorrow,” I said.
“Wow, you really like this guy, then?” she asked.
“Yes.” That was an understatement!
“How exactly was it that you two became acquainted?”
“He came by a few days after the whole Madera Canyon thing to check on me,” I lied. “We’ve sort of been talking ever since, and we really hit it off.”
“Crimson,” she said in that voice that meant she was about to lecture me. “I don’t want you rushing into a new relationship just because of what happened to Stephen.”
“Mom…” I grumbled.
“I know, I’m sorry to bring it up, but it needs to be brought up,” she said. “I know that you must be…lonely now that…now that Stephen is gone, but you should give yourself some time before you start something new with someone else.”
“Mom, Nicholae has nothing to do with Stephen,” I said. “I would be putting the same focus on Nicholae even if Stephen was still here.”
She shook her head. “I really don’t believe that’s true.”
The rebellious teen in me wanted to argue, but I knew it was useless to try to convince her. She didn’t know the situation, and it was better that way. I should just let her keep her misconceptions and just go to my room where Nicholae was waiting.
“Well, whatever,” I shrugged apathetically. “I’m going to bed now. I have school tomorrow.”
I heard her exhale loudly through her nose. “Goodnight, then,” she said.
I went down the hall to my room. Nicholae was sitting on my bed. I sat next to him.
“I hope you don’t mind that I was eavesdropping on your conversation,” he said, “but something you said has me curious.”
“Of course I don’t mind,” I said. “I knew you were listening. What is it?”
“You told your mom that you’d still be putting the same focus on me even if Stephen was still around,” he said. “Did you mean that?”
“Absolutely,” I said without hesitation.
He looked away, out the window at the bushes outside. “Before Stephen did what he did, I often wondered that very thing. It’s not easy for me to admit that I was jealous of him. Perhaps that jealousy fueled my rage at what he did to you. But there were times, when you seemed most comfortable with him, that I debated entering your life, at all. He could have given you a life, a family. There are a lot of things I can give you, but a family is not one of them. You could have been happy with him.”
I was shaking my head the whole time he was saying this. Some part of me always knew being with Stephen didn’t feel right. I was never really myself with him, never felt free to be myself, I always felt I had to play some part to impress him. But with Nicholae these last two nights, I didn’t have to put up any walls, didn’t have to be someone else.
“Even if Stephen hadn’t hurt me, and he was still here and I had accepted playing the role of his girlfriend, I would still be sitting here with you right now,” I attested. “I would have called him this morning and broken up with him, told him I had found someone else but hoped that we could still be friends.”
He nodded, but he didn’t seem convinced.
I reached up to touch his face. His skin was so hard, not giving in the slightest to the pressure of my fingertips like a human’s skin would. He closed his eyes at my touch, as if savoring it. I looped my index finger around his chin and turned his face toward me so that our eyes met.
I kissed him, hoping that this gesture would reassure of him of my conviction. He opened his mouth as if he was helpless not to, and I pulled down onto my bed. We kissed sweetly, slowly, both of us keeping our passions at bay. As always, he touched me and handled like I was something fragile, like a flower he wouldn’t dare wither.
Was it insane that I knew I was in love with him? I had only known him, really known him, for two days. Was it just the notion of a young, inexperienced, hormonal teenage girl? Was it just that he was a vampire and his ethereal magic was hypnotizing me? But I knew that wasn’t the case. And was it insane that I had fully forgiven him for killing my friend? I felt guilty for not feeling any sort of enmity about it, but it was such a complicated situation, and I was in love with him.
I pulled him away and held his face above mine, and I said words I had never said to a non-relative. “I love you.” I opened up my heart and let him feel everything I was feeling, showing him the depth of my words.
He sighed, the sound like a moan of pleasure, and he rested his forehead against mine. Then he kissed my forehead and lay down beside me. He turned me so that I was on my side and spooned me from behind, putting his arms around me. “I love you, too, with all my immortal heart.”
I let myself sink into him, inhaling his sweetness. And we lay like that in silence, treasuring each other, until I fell asleep.