Chapter 3: An Apple a Day
The greatest gift a parent (or in my case - a guardian) could get was the happiness of their child. The week passed in a swirl of Jeremy’s glee. Once he learned that the three boys (who kept him company in Disneyland) were attending the same school as him, Jeremy couldn’t stop grinning from ear to ear.
To Jeremy, that was an extraordinary coincidence; however, the truth of it was I was a little stalker behind an iPad all night. It took hours of research to find the elementary school; then I contacted parents of the boy named Billy. His mother, Greta, was ever so kind as to help me with information and enrolment process. She was delighted that her shy son finally made a friend and was more than happy to give a helping hand (or more like it pulling strings) to quicken the process of admitting Jeremy to the new school. Greta magically made it happen that Billy had a new school mate.
At first, the homeroom teacher was anything but glad to have a new student in the middle of the semester; however, that doubt was quickly put to rest. It turned out that the new boy she thought would be a terrible dead weight on the class was an actual smart cookie. Jeremy could easily follow the lessons and he even surpassed his fellow classmates. It appeared that the hospital school which he attended was very advanced; according to the homeroom teacher.
I wouldn’t be surprised if he played hospital school with Jeremy every single time he pretended to be a doctor.
When I was presented with an option to let Jeremy skip a grade, I addressed the issue with a person that would be most affected by it. Jeremy declined the option flatly without a second thought. I suspected the reason was Billy, his first friend outside the hospital walls. They were together all the time, so Greta even suggested to pick them up and let them do homework and play at their house while I was busy with my online university classes. Soon that became a routine; however, not all were happy by that choice.
“Are you absolutely certain about your decision Miss Conell?” The headmistress Venatici worriedly leaned on the edge of her massive desk, which was neatly organised. I received summons by her secretary a day before because of my decision to let Jeremy stay in the current class. The headmistress wanted to discuss the topic and with luck on her side to persuade me to change my mind. “Think about your brother.” She urged while looking at me patronisingly. “The development and academical advancement Jeremy could achieve if he is on the same level as is his mind.”
“But I am thinking about him, Ma’am. ” Interrupting the passive-aggressive accusations her eyes projecting at me, I stood my ground. “As much as I would love to see Jeremy excel academically, I just can’t ignore his wish to stay in the class he is currently at. I presented the option to him directly, and Jeremy made his own decision.”
The headmistress pursed her lips until they became paler than the fish’s belly. “A child cannot decide what is in its’ best interests-”
“I understand where you are coming from Ma’am. But I fear that if Jeremy is forced away from his friend that might do more harm than good. Jeremy lacked a social experience a normal child usually has due to his illness, so I believe and support him fully in whichever choice he believes is for him.” I politely stood my ground even though I saw Headmistress Venatici containing herself not to explode in anger or start crying while pleading on her knees for me to see reason.
“If that is what you think is best.” She spoke out of her tight lips.
Smiling at her stern expression, I nodded and soon left her office.
Jeremy was ecstatic at the news, but when I wanted to ruffle his hair as I always did, he slapped my hand aside and put a cap on his head. That was probably the sign he was disliking being babied because he was now eight! However, it wasn’t just that; he continuously moved out of my way when I wanted to ruffle his hair and protested wildly when I even mentioned a haircut.
Oh boy, we are at that stage where even a hug is gross to a boy.
Because he was always with his group of friends I saw him only before school or in the evenings at dinner. Our time was now so short that straight after dinner he went to bed because he was so tired after a whole day running around.
Quickly a month had passed, and Jeremy was smiling every day, and I was watching less and less over my shoulder. I started to relax and not continually expecting someone to jump from a side street and say: “I spy with my little eyes someone that should be in Camaraderie.”
The daytime wasn’t the problem. It was after the sunset that my anxiety rose toward dangerous heights. Not just for an apparent sun-not-to-the-vampire-taste reason but because I saw the black cat continuously on our street from my little balcony. It strutted around like an overconfident ball of fur. At times it was looking up at me as if it knew who I was. That was what was most unnerving about this whole bizarre situation.
Hyeon didn’t approach me after he went all ghost-town on me; either he was truly gone, or he just kept his distance not wanting to find himself in one of my irritating diarrhoea conversations. Yet the words Hyeon meanly spat at me echoed in my empty heart; where he had a place before. Many times my finger hovered above Will’s number, I wanted to appease my curiosity and get the final nail in the coffin where my feelings would be laid to rest. But somehow I couldn’t bring myself to do it. There was a tiny, shrivelled piece of hope left that didn’t want to leave. It clung and resisted to be disposed of like an old bubble gum that was stuck on the floor as well as on the shoe at the same time.
On one such evening, I sat on the balcony, hugging my knees, contemplating. Sorting my emotions was a regular nightly thing for me; especially after Jeremy went to sleep. I wasn’t going to let my brother see me fall apart. It wouldn’t be fair to his childhood innocence which was already severely depleted while being sick. While Jeremy was thriving, I was lonely, missing my friends and yes deep-down underneath resentment, anger and violent tendencies to rearrange facial features I missed him too.
Am I pathologically attracted to people that torture me? Are my daddy issues coming up on the surface? Will my trying to prove I am good enough and continuously trying harder, doing better, lead me toward misery? Was the rejection from my father that strong catalyst to lead me into toxicity?
If my thoughts were proven to be correct, I was in deep shit. Perhaps I needed therapy? But what therapist would understand that I was feeling resentful yet longingly toward a ninety-something-year-old vampire who betrayed me, was controlling, a liar and was hiding my brother away from me during our ‘relationship’? After my session, either I would be locked somewhere that had padded walls, or the therapist would need therapy.
Will would be the perfect person to talk too and he would do almost any shenanigan too cheer me up, while Rosa would hold the bitching parade in his honour. Ali, on the other hand, would help me get rid of my frustration with an excellent technique of punching something (to Ali, preferably someone) while Matteo would be the perfect listener and advisor. While I wasn’t as close to Gus-Gus as the others, I suspect he perhaps would pop in a game for me. Tammy (who was the last acquisition to our group and was Gus-Gus’s girlfriend as well as a Stainless vampire) I didn’t get the chance to know. However, from the first impression, my gut feeling was telling me that she was a person with a heart in the right place. Better than some humans even. In the Camaraderie, I saw more hostility and rivalry in a few months than in all my twenty-four years of life. Like Renée, who was the first friend I made; however, she suddenly flipped a switch after she returned from her mysterious trip to France. The ‘why’ had plagued my mind many sleepless nights, yet I was no closer to an answer than when I started. In fact, the more I thought the more it seemed I was going backwards rather than forwards toward a satisfactory answer.
The blur of glistening black fur caught my peripheral vision. Looking up while squinting my eyes, I noticed something on a tree that had different coloured eyes. A black cat was gazing down at me from the branches. Its' fur made it look like it was a black ominous cloud with small eyes.
I recognised it immediately. “What? Are you stalking me too?” I threw my arms up in disbelief. “Unbelievable first a vampire then a cat. What's next? An overly attached pigeon that will show its’ affection by taking a massive daily crap on my car?”
The question was met by silence. The cats’ eyes glistened every time a car passed on the street below. I became unnerved by its’ constant stare.
Blink you little fur ball.
“What is it? Why do you keep staring at me?” Damn it; cats can be cute yet sometimes they were freaky little weirdos. I had a feeling that this one was making fun of me as it stared like it knew something and I didn’t.
“Want some milk, is that it?” I swear I saw it roll its’ eyes at me.
Can cats even roll their eyes?
“You already have an owner, so don’t even think of adopting me as your new one. I already have one kid to look after.” I warned it; however, I had a suspicious feeling that I had absolutely no choice in the matter.
The cat gave a little wiggle of its’ bum then leapt into the air. For a second it was airborne and seemed as if a fur fury was flying through the air. It; silently landed on my balcony railing then not satisfied with a cold metal beneath its’ ass; it jumped on my lap with a plop.
“You don’t even give a single F, do you?” Pulling gently on its’ brush of a tail, I whispered.
The massive cat curled into a ball and closed its’ eyes, while I felt its’ sharp claws as it kneaded at my thighs.
From that moment on, I was no longer alone during my long and sleepless nights.
A knock sounded from the front door, and I turned over the book to not forget where I left off. I knew it couldn’t be Jeremy since he was at School. My yelling could wake up almost anyone, even the dead but not my younger brother in the mornings. I almost made a human child burrito out of Jeremy and his blankets which I would proceeded to throw out of the window and onto the yellow school transportation; however, the sleeping beauty boy woke up in the end. I still needed to drive him to School since he missed the bus.
I tip-toed toward the peak-through-hole trying to be stealthy as I carefully looked to see who it was in the corridor. A head full of black hair seemed strangely familiar. Once recognising my visitor, I threw the door open with agitation. “I thought you retired from Peeping Tom and Associates.”
Hyeon rolled his eyes and strolled into the room without a greeting or even a word in my direction. He made himself comfortable on my little couch with his hands crossed over the chest.
“Oh, hello Hyeon, why don’t you come in.” I sarcastically made small talk with the hallway to emphasise that he hadn’t issued an invitation and was not welcomed in my apartment. I heard the grunt coming from behind me, or more like cussing something - me, under his breath.
I will give you something to curse about.
“You should know that I have around a hundred questions and at least a thousand cat jokes prepared especially for you.” With a bang, I closed the door, pointing out my annoyance. Unfortunately, the uninvited guest was making himself sung and cosy. “I don’t like jokes,” Hyeon grumbled like a sleepy bear that was just interrupted in the middle of winter hibernation.
But at the moment I had another bone to pick with him. “Next time you warn a girl what is coming around the corner not scarper and leave her to meet gruesome and grimly fate.”
“It seemed obvious that if a vampire runs, you definitely dash too.” Lifting one brow in a perfect arch, Hyeon worded the sentence in a way that made me seem like I was an idiot even to state such request.
“Excuse me if I am not afraid of a common domesticated cat.” I earned myself a nasty glare.
“And who says I am?” Hyeon thundered in a demanding voice.
Sheesh, he is behaving as if I came into his home and was making astonishing, wild accusations.
“I don’t know. The first clue was you bolting while staring as if hell itself was coming from the corner. Then a cat appeared just moments later.” Giving Hyeon a wicked grin I delivered my next jab. “I thought you were a vampire, not a mouse.”
The man sitting in front of me didn’t even twitch with his lips. Hyeon remained stoic and secretive. “That was no ordinary Felis Catus.”
“Meaning it was bigger and furrier than the usual cat?”
With an exasperated sigh, he leaned back like he was giving up on me. “No, you are jumping to an unjustified conclusion.”
“It had a tail, ears like a cat and it meowed. Me and Jerry, the mouse, would come to the same conclusion.” I uttered the next words slowly and accentuated each one with a clap. “It. Is. A. Cat.”
“And because I look like a human I must be human? That is precisely why the supernatural beings have no fear of being exposed to your species. Everything must be what it rationally seems to humans.” With his eyebrow raised, Hyeon challenged me while having a tiny little smirk on his mouth.
Oh, I knew his kind of male well. Hyeon belonged to a species of men who loved to be always right, and to prove it; they would sometimes humiliate or shame a person who lacked the knowledge the other party possessed. The only difference was that the vampire in front of me had the actual intellect to pull it off without people even knowing they were being put in their place. I didn’t like Hyeons’ type of people. They preach, teach and carry themselves as if they have more value because they carry the information the others lack. So, I was going to make him lose his temper. Perhaps my constant nagging will make him spill some info I needed most desperately.
Let the games begin.
Crossing my arms, I mimicked the stance of defiance. “So, oh wise one, what was that animal? An overly large mouse?” The tone of my voice was a little higher, as if I was trying to argue my point of view indefinitely. “I still have a feeling you just don’t like cats.”
It actually worked.
Hyeon narrowed his eyes until only two slits remained. Other than that he was like a statue. An overly snobbish yet irate statue.
“Why are you here, anyway? I mean after a month I got my hopes up that you perhaps decided it was time to relinquish the noble job of stalking.”
There was a slight flash of green coming from his eyes. “Your questions are starting to annoy me.”
“Oh, dear me. I deeply apologise if I wounded your ego while you are sitting, uninvited I might add, in my apartment.” An overly innocent act was finished with placing a palm on my chest. “But do tell me how to think and act in my space.”
“Look, I am trying to warn you that the cat you keep in your lap at night is not exactly an innocent feline-”
“What? Did it eat your pet rat or something?”
Hyeon glanced around in confusion as if not knowing if I was making fun of him or was actually genuine. “Why would I have a pet rodent?” He shook his head in disbelief his eyes still roaming around as if by chance, I had some audience to my performance.
“I don’t know; I am just throwing suggestions willy-nilly while hoping that one would stick and give me an answer to your unreasonable cat phobia. For goodness sake, man, you are a vampire.” I threw my hands in the air as if only the gods above knew the answer to my questions.
Then like he knew what I was doing, Hyeon’s eyes glimmered with intelligence. “I’m starting to wonder if you really escaped your Stainless like rumoured or did he just threw you out because you shredded his nerves like you do mine.”
It was like a slap hit me with a force of a shovel. I needed a moment to gather myself, waiting for oxygen to enter my lungs. I snapped for real this time. “That is for you to speculate and for me to know.”
“I can see that this is a waste of time; I’m leaving.” The Korean vampire with an invisible movement leapt to his feet, done with this whole conversation.
I waved my hand towards the entrance. I was only half bluffing, the other part of me really wanted Hyeon gone while I go to my room and lick the old wounds he caused to reopen. “Great. Hope the doors hit you on the way out.”
A moment of silence came over us; neither of us cared enough to break it. We were two strangers who were forced into a situation neither of us wanted to be in. Gwilym forced Hyeon with whatever leverage he had over him to guard me (if that was the truth) and the Rogue vampire stalked me, imposing himself into my life without my permission. No wonder we were like two wild dogs – growling and snapping at each other if either of us come to close.
Hyeon was the first to break the quiet. “There will come a day where you will need me, and your attitude will be the only one to blame when I don’t show up.”
I don’t know what he implied, but my mind immediately portrayed a picture of smiling, healthy Jeremy that quickly turned sickly pale. I had known that version of my little brother for far too long. Something in me fractured, and the heat of anger filled my stomach as if a little volcano lived there. “Oh, bite me you obnoxious piece of-.”
Before I could finish the elaborate insult I had planned to hurl at Hyeon, he with vampiric speed loomed over me. The dark eyes were replaced by the green and red coloured abyss that promised death. “You might be used to those fancy nips that the Stainless gave you, but the Rogues do not play as nice.” The whispered words were scarier than him shouting, pressing me against the very door that I suggested to slam on his butt.
Do vampires go to school and learn how to be chillingly intimidating.
Then it dawned on me. I finally got some information that I could use to my advantage. Even if the anger was still there, I was happily celebrating this little victory.
“Nice, now I know in which category of vampire you are. Who turned you?” A smile bloomed on my lips.
Hyeon looked like he was about to pummel something into stardust. “How come I came here to help and end up wanting to do much worse to you than-” He stopped himself to cuss like a sailor in Korean. Somewhere in the cluster of - to me unknown words. I knew I had a particularly special spot somewhere in there.
“Damn it Gwilym and his stupid debt,” Hyeon muttered low; however, I still caught and deciphered paramount information.
“Aha!” I shouted with delight. “What does Gwilym have on you? I have a feeling that you are just as unhappy and pissed off to be my nanny as I am.”
Rolling my eyes, I added the words I have heard from him more than once. “I know, I know. None of my business.”
Hyeon smirked and leaned his shoulder against the door. “And they say you can’t teach old dog new tricks.”
I don’t know why but he just rubs me the wrong way. Will is an irritating asshole sometimes, but his heart is in the right place. This being in front of me is just a standard, size no.5, prick.
“You are the one to talk. Scared of cats.” Provokingly I scoffed returning the ball into his court. Hyeon glared at me, and I wiggled my brows. “What? Cat got your tongue, Hyeon?”
“Would it be so bad to just kill you and be done with it?” Grumbling, Hyeon raked his fingers through his ink-black hair wanting to find a justification to his question and when none came, he returned to his designated spot. The couch sagged under his weight.
I turned toward the kitchen sink to do the morning dishes, sensing that perhaps our banter turned to a sort of cordial teasing. “Perhaps you don’t realise that I will cooperate once I get good explanations to my questions.”
“I doubt that a lot.” A grunt sounded from the direction of the living room.
“Give it a shot, and you’ll see.” I prompted while scrubbing the dishes.
“I didn’t survive as a Rogue this long because I gave it a shot.” Complaining like an older man, Hyeon snorted. Soon he was going to start answering with grunts if I let him be.
“Who’s your Created?” My question was shot out of my mouth as a direct bullet from a gun. I decided that the filterless approach would be the most reciprocating with this man.
There was a long silence, and if I didn’t know he had an acute hearing, I would think he hadn’t heard me. Waiting for longer than usual, I just opened my mouth to repeat my question when I got an answer.
“Don’t know.” Behind the nonchalance Hyeon tried to portray, there was a buried resentment that clashed with want.
“Does your answer mean that now you’ll answer my other questions?” My blind optimism surprised even me.
I should have known.
“And you think I’m irritating.” It was my turn to grumble. Here I thought we were making some progress. If I ever saw Gwilym again, I needed to tell him to find a more likeable nanny next time. If not for me then for the next victim, he decided to ‘protect’.
I felt a sudden gust of air that usually indicated that a vampire used its ability to super zoomed around. Hyeon stood right behind me, and I felt his breath on my neck. I was just about to throw the cloth at his face and introduce him to the concept of personal space, when he spoke. “Look, just do yourself a favour and ditch that cat. I sense it has an inhuman master otherwise it wouldn’t stink so much of vampires and other supernatural beings. I have an apartment in which you and your runt could stay for a while.”
“And I should trust you because?”
Hyeon gave me no reason to put my trust in him. I knew nothing about him. Over these months, I learned a valuable lesson; that trust needs to be earned and not give away as I had before. I was burnt once, and I still nursed the injury from that time. It ran more profound than just on the surface of my skin, and I would be an idiot to do it again without a second thought.
Hyeon sighed and touched my shoulder to indicate that I should turn around. Our eyes meet, and for the first time, his were less guarded. “Gwilym has got your best interest at heart.”
That is unexceptionally forward of him. On the border of informative
“Why? For fucks sake I don’t know.” The Rogue mumbled, while letting go of my shoulder as if it gave him a nasty bite.
And the prick is back.
“I thought you have his confidence. Like a true little solder.”
“Only Gwilym depends on Gwilym,” Hyeon stated the fact coldly, devoid of emotion. His ability to give facts without any feelings was very unnerving to me.
“And he has some dirt on you otherwise you wouldn’t do as he says.”
A hint of a smile played on the corners of Hyeon’s lips. “Smarter than she looks.”
Lifting my brow, I earnestly gave him a laugh. “Thank you.”
“That wasn’t a compliment.” Looking away from me it almost seemed to me that he was embarrassed.
Shrugging my shoulders without a care in the world, I patted his cheek a little too condescendingly. “I will take what I can get.”
Hyeon recoiled and gently slapped my hand away. The warmth of the moment vanished with the brush of his hand.
The little burner flip phone rang on the coffee table demandingly. Without looking at my guest, I rushed toward it. The only people that had this number were Greta, Will and Jeremy’s school.
I checked that the callers’ ID was known and when I was appeased, I answered. “Hello?”
Hyeon glared at me as if he wasn’t happy that I disturbed our conversation, but I just returned his mean gaze. Why did he so frequently and conveniently forget that he was a visitor at my home, was beyond me.
A panicked voice, on the other side, quickly got my attention from the vampire in my living room. “Miss Conell, there is an emergency. Jeremy collapsed in school during a lesson. He needed to be taken away to a local hospital because he hasn’t regained consciousness.”