I sit on the couch and gently pat Max absentmindedly. My fingernails scratch the dog behind his ear and the animal leans into my touch.
“So,” John says, sitting down next to me, “How are you?”
I look to him and he has that sympathetic look on his face that everyone gets when they're around me.
“Don’t worry,” he smiles, “it will get better.”
“That’s what they all say,” I sigh, my throat is sore from all the screaming and the lack of speaking, “it’s just getting worse, I was freed from the monsters and put into the arms of others,” I reach up and touch the fading scar on my temple, “Now I’m a slave to my mind, every time I close my eyes I can see the horrors that happened, things I wish could stay forgotten. I don’t want to remember the first time I was raped, I don’t want to remember how it felt, I want it all to go away.”
“When I was twenty-four, I was taken by a vampire after he slaughtered my whole family,” John says, his voice is deep and full of anger, “That was six years ago, I’ve been hunting all my life, the vampire was a maker of a vampire I previously killed. The vampire took me and wanted me to feel what it was like to lose everything. I didn’t understand.”
“When a vampire loses a prodigy, they lose everything,” I explain, “A great pain rips through them, it’s said that it’s like losing a child, the pain is worse the closer the maker is to the prodigy.”
“I know that now,” John smiles, “I was with the vampire for three days, three endless days of pain and torture. When I got free it was all I could think of for years after. For a time, it feels as if everything is just getting worse, but I promise you, it does get better. Remembering the pain, it can help, because by remembering the pain, you realise that all it is memories. James was a corrupt man and what he did should never have happened, it got sorted in record time and he is gone for good. The vampires who had you are mostly dead and the ones that aren’t soon will be. Rowaelin, it will eventually turn out okay.”
I sigh and shrug my shoulder.
“I want to take you somewhere,” John says, standing and putting a leash on Max.
“Where?” I ask as he offers me his hand.
“Come on,” he smiles, I trust him, I take his hand and he pulls me to my feet, he takes me outside and I feel the sun warm my pale skin.
“I don’t think I am dressed for going out,” I say when John walks me to the front gate.
“You look fine,” John smiles, all I wear are jeans and one of Adrian’s flannel shirt, “Though you are dressed for the wrong season.”
I like these clothes, they don’t highlight any of my features; everything is covered and not at all provocative.
John walks me down the street and things begin to feel familiar, my heart races when I spy the ice-cream shop.
“No,” I whimper, I take a step back and John takes my hand in his.
“What are you afraid of?” He asks, speaking softly.
“She’ll find me again,” I whimper as my mind becomes frantic, “She’ll take me again, I don’t want to go there.”
“Rowy, you are safe,” John promises, “she won’t find you again, I promise. The sun is out and she has no humans to hunt for her anymore. I’m here, so is Max, I swear to you that we will not let anyone take you.”
I look to the shop and then to the massive hunter in front of me, my hands tremble and I want to run home, but I want to face my fear.
“Breathe,” John says, he inhales deeply and I copy his example, “Everything is going to be okay.”
I take several deep breaths and then look to the ice-cream shop again.
“Okay,” I whisper, John smiles and then leads me into the shop. As the bell over the door chimes I feel like I have taken a step back in time, my tongue feels thick in my mouth and my stomach sinks.
“Breathe,” John reminds me, putting his hand on my back, he hands me Max’s leash and I grip it tightly.
“Dog’s aren’t allowed,” a man behind the counter says.
“He’s a therapy dog,” John growls back, the man’s eyes widen as he looks to me, but I am looking right at the booth I sat in before I was taken.
“It’s going to be okay,” John says softly as he leads me to a different booth, as I sit down, Max crawls under the table and lays down.
I take a deep breath as John leaves to buy ice-cream. I look around the shop, my eyes moving quickly; scanning for danger. There aren’t many customers in the shop, but the ones inside don’t pay me much attention aside from the occasional glances.
Someone slides into the booth across from me and I look up expecting to see John, but instead, I see a young man in front of me.
“Hi,” he says shyly, I keep my lips closed and look to John who is talking to Wilson who now stands behind the counter.
“Do you… remember me?” the man asks, I turn back to him and stare at him. His eyes are big and round and the colour of a stormy sky.
“Thomas,” I breathe, placing his features with a boy I knew when I was young, Wilson’s son, “Tom-Tom,” I smile, using the nickname I gave him.
The man smiles and nods, his smile warms me, it’s exactly as it was when I last saw him.
“Hi, Rowy,” Tom smiles, using the nickname he gave me.
“You’ve grown up,” I breathe, trying to hide the shakiness in my voice.
“Yes, I have,” Thomas smiles, leaning forward on his elbows, “I was so overjoyed when I heard that you were found.”
I nod my head tightly as he looks over to the booth where I sat.
“I heard what happened,” he says, his eyes darken as he looks back to me, “I’m sorry.”
“Do you remember our wedding?” I ask, needing to change the subject because Thomas doesn’t know the half of what happened when I was gone and I don’t want him to find out.
“Of course I do,” Thomas laughs, “we were six years old, it was the day after your party.”
“You wearing your Sunday suit,” I smile.
“And you wrapped in a white towel,” he finishes, I laugh as I remember hiding away in the shed with Thomas as he put an aluminium ring on my finger while I put a ring made of string on his.
“You were my only friend,” I say, as John comes back to the table with ice-cream for the both of us.
“The man behind the counter said this was your favourite,” John says, sliding in next to me as he places the cup in front of me.
“Every Monday afternoon, without fail, Rowy would come here and buy that flavour,” Thomas laughs, extending his hand to John, “Thomas Jefferson.”
“Dr John Jonas,” John says, shaking Thomas’s hand, “I’m helping Rowaelin try to re-enter society.”
“Ah,” Thomas says.
“What else did I do?” I ask, feeling the gap in my mind.
“Rowaelin has been experiencing some gaps in her memory,” John explains, “Perhaps you could help us, you seem to know her.”
“She could never mind her business,” Thomas smiles looking back to me, “We met the second time you came here with your mother, I was playing with dinosaurs, at this very booth, when your mother was ordering you came up to me and sat down without even introducing yourself.”
“I saw your toys,” I recall, “I wanted to play. I had no friends and I didn’t know how to make friends.”
“You then made a habit of coming here every Monday afternoon,” Thomas smiles, “And I made a habit of sitting here and waiting for you. I never saw you at school, you said you were too smart for the school, that your mother was teaching you. You then started teaching me and we spent many days together at your house.”
“I tried to teach you algebra,” I laugh as I remember showing him my big books.
“I was so confused,” he laughs, “You and I would play here or at your house. And then I began to play baseball.”
Thomas’s voice becomes quiet as his eyes darken, that’s why he wasn’t here that day.
“You had a game,” I whisper and he looks to me and nods, “I came here because it was hot and I wanted to wait for you to come back.”
“I remember coming here and looking for you,” Thomas whispers, “But all I saw were police everywhere. I didn’t understand what was happening. Your mother was screaming frantically and I remember feeling so scared. They told me what happened and I ran, I tried to find you but my father wouldn’t let me. I’ve never played a game since then. I used to sit here and wait for you, expecting you to come waltzing through the door.”
A tear rolls down my cheek and drops onto the table.
“It wasn’t your fault,” I breathe, seeing how Thomas blames himself.
“If I had just been here,” he sighs, handing his head, I reach out and take his hand, “I’m sorry, Rowy.”
“It’s okay,” I say softly, I squeeze his hand and he smiles.
“I can’t believe your back,” he smiles and it’s like I’m looking at the little boy again.
“What do you do now?” I ask, wiping the tear on my face.
“I’m a cop,” he smiles, “Graduated last year.”
“What made you want to be a policeman?” John asks.
“I wanted to help people,” Thomas says, “I wanted to help find missing people and stop the bad guys.”
“A heroic gesture,” John nods, I slide my ice cream to him when I catch him staring and he digs in.
“I’m sorry about your mother,” Thomas says, my heart skips a beat as he reaches across and holds my hand. All words die in my throat as I stare at the table, at our fingers that are entwined.
The door to the shop opens and the bell chimes, I look up as a man walks in with a blank expression on his face, an expression I’ve seen many times before, an expression I’ve held before.
“John,” my voice shakes as the man looks to me.
“Rowaelin,” the man’s voice is deep and rough as he approaches the table.
“That’s far enough, mate,” John says, standing to his feet, “Who are you?”
“I have a message for Rowaelin,” the man growls, glaring at John. Max begins to growl from under the table and Thomas stands to his feet.
I need to move, I need to go; this man has been compelled.
“He wants you back,” the man says, looking past the big men in front of him, he looks right to me and my heart races.
“I’m not going back,” I say, my voice shakes as I stand and move out of the booth, I move past John and stand in front of the man, “I’m not going back and he can’t make me.”
I notice the look on the man’s face, behind the blankness is sadness and fear.
“Sir, I think I’d be best if you come with me,” Thomas says, he takes a step forward but the man doesn’t flinch.
I move away from the man and his eyes follow only me. When Thomas touches the man, he leaps back and then pulls out a gun, which he then aims at me.
“He wants you back,” the man growls as Thomas pulls out his gun.
“Drop your weapon, sir,” Thomas says, John puts an arm around me and pulls me behind him.
“He wants you back,” the man says again, “If he can’t have you, no one can. I can’t miss.”
“Sir, I order you, drop your weapon!” Thomas shouts as people scream and dive under their tables.
“I can’t miss,” the man says, he then starts to cry, he is afraid, but the gun in his hands doesn’t shake, it stays trained on me.
Then it happens, two shots go off, the first form the stranger’s gun, the bullet flies from the chamber and suddenly I’m falling. Another shot goes off, and then the man is falling too, his gun flying from his hand.
Pain unlike any I’ve ever known, fills my body. I try to scream, it hurts so bad, my hand goes to my neck and I can feel the wetness of my blood escaping me.
I hear panicked shouting and then John kneels next to me, I see his face, filled with fear and worry as he takes my hand away from my neck and replaces it with napkins, he’s trying to stop the bleeding.
My eyes feel heavy, they start to close, but John takes my hand and begs me to stay awake.