WHEN MY TWO-WEEK sentence is complete and I tentatively walk out into the breaking dawn. I feel the warmth of the sun on my skin and I can feel the faint, euphoric harmony in my body. Thankfully, I do not burst into flames.
Standing behind me, Amanda asks nervously, “Are you okay?”
I turn to her, and as the heavens turn blue, and vanilla clouds are scattered in the sky above me, I decide to tell her, “Amanda, I think I love Andrew.” I see her take a step backwards in shock and her mouth opens to speak, but I say hurriedly, “Do not say anything because I know how stupid it is. I will live far longer than he ever will, but I feel helpless, though, wanting to know everything about him, wanting to know all the little things nobody else knows. I need love and I have this strong desire to be loved by someone unreservedly.”
She steps closer to me and I see the pity in her eyes.
I step away and I continue, “They say there is someone for everyone and all these years I have never found it until I saw Andrew. Why would that be? I know you are going to say it is a harmless crush and it will go away, but I do not think it will, though. You told him about us, and he said he accepted it.”
Softly Amanda says, “Come inside.”
“No, I don’t want to. I want to stay out here for a while.” I know she is going to try to convince me not to love Andrew. She is going to tell me if I am looking for hope and love, I will not find it in Andrew. I did not want to hear the truth. I just want to imagine for a little while there could be a chance.
Silently she turns around slowly, away from me, and then she walks back into the house.
I sit down on the lawn and I let the first rays of sun dance over my skin. Looking up at the sky, my eyes follow a pair of birds swooping through the air.
Much later, I walk into the house and I find her sitting in the lounge, paging through a magazine.
“Where is Shayne?” I ask casually as I sit down in a chair opposite hers. “I haven’t seen him in ages.”
She closes her eyes for a moment and then I see the deep sadness in her eyes when she looks up at me again. She clears her throat and she says barely above a whisper, “Shayne went to fetch you a few days after Ethan took you. Ethan phoned and said Shayne must come alone and bring the money he wanted. I told Shayne not to go alone, but he insisted and told me we have known Ethan so long and he would be able to talk to him reasonably. Shayne thought he could convince him that what he was doing was wrong. Ethan killed Shayne that day and then the day I rescued you, I killed Ethan.”
I have been so selfish, wrapped in myself, I did not notice the pain and sadness in Amanda’s eyes when I saw her each morning and during the night when I was allowed out of the basement. I never even noticed Shayne was not around. Always assuming he was upstairs in his room or at the University.
I stand up from my chair and I sink down next to her. I fold my arms around her and pull her into me. She holds onto me desperately for hours. Now and again, she will say something, reminiscing. How she met him, the first time she saw him, how silly he could be at times, how much she loved him and I sit next to her silently, letting her talk. I could not possibly tell her I know how it feels because I cannot imagine her pain, I can only guess.
We sit like this until it is dark and neither one of us have the inclination or a need to switch on the lights.
I say, feeling responsible for her loss, “I am so sorry. You have been together for so long, and now because of me, you have lost him.”
She replies despondently, “No, Susie. It was never your fault. We lived too perfectly, integrated with those around us so flawlessly. We imagined ourselves as normal and we never realised there was a prize to pay for all of this.” Hesitantly, she continues, “I want to ask you something.”
I reply without a second thought, “Anything.” I felt so sorry for her and I would genuinely do anything she asked for right now.
“I want to go and live at your château in France. If that is okay with you? I want to surround myself with old-world charm and magic. I cannot stay here because everywhere I look I am reminded of Shayne.”
“Of course, we could go there. You do not even have to ask. It must be falling apart, though. We have not been there for decades.”
“No, I did not mean we should go. Earlier I thought I would convince you to go with me. However, when you told me how much you care for Andrew, I decided to go on my own.”
I feel remorse rush through me, wanting to stay with Andrew, obviously, but I could not let Amanda go by herself either. I say adamantly, “Where you go, I go.”
“You can really stay here if you wanted to. We can employ a housekeeper and then people will not get suspicious when they see you are living on your own.”
I admit to myself I am so in love with Andrew, it is scary. It would be better to go to France before I fall in love with him completely. Honestly, it could only lead to disaster.
I smile, trying to lighten the mood. “I am going with you, besides what is the use of staying here? How long will it be before Andrew has outgrown me?” I laugh sadly. “If Andrew and I ever did get married I would never have to worry he would leave me for a younger woman because I would always be the younger woman.”
She laughs softly at my frivolous silliness and I am glad to hear the sound. I am only acting ridiculous to make her feel better about me going with. It will be heart-breaking, but I convince myself it would be better for Andrew in the future. Amanda will probably mourn Shayne for a long time to come. She has that same hopelessness about her humans have when someone close to them dies.
I DO NOT go back to school. What would the point be anyway? Amanda and I are going to live at the château and restore it to its former glory. My stepfather, Francois, often told me how beautiful it used to be and I wanted to do it for him. He never managed to restore it completely before his death. I will not go to school again for a while and I will live as a woman of leisure for the next few years. I will miss the young people I have loved to surround myself with over the last decades, but I can always do it again later, once Amanda has learned to adjust to life without Shayne, which could be a while.
I AM BUSY packing our belongings into boxes. We sold the house with the furniture, but we have little things we have collected over the years, sentimental things.
I hear a knock at the door and pulling my back straight, my hand resting on the small of my back I walk to the door.
I cannot help feeling miserable when I see Andrew standing on our doorstep and he says desperately, “You cannot leave.” I have not seen him for a while because Mr. van Heerden grounded him for falling asleep at school and Carmine must have told him we are moving.
Explaining urgently, “I have to do this because Amanda needs me.”
He has a pained expression on his face. “Carmine says I must forget you and move on, but I cannot. I know you can feel it too, this feeling we should be together.” He looks at me searchingly. “Don’t say you cannot feel it!”
I turn away from him and walk into the lounge. I pick up a glass vase Shayne bought at the turn of the century and I start to wrap it carefully in bubble wrap.
Andrew leans past me and he takes the delicate glass container out of my hands. Bending down, he puts it on the coffee table gently and then he turns back to me.
He reaches for me and he asks inquiringly, “Can you not feel it, the feeling this was meant to be? I know it with such certainty and I know you know it as well. I have never felt this way about anything. I have always had the feeling I belonged nowhere, until that day I held you in my arms and I unexpectedly had this sense of belonging, a feeling of promise for tomorrow. Susie, I love you.”
I smirk, “Love? You say you love me, but do you even know what you are saying? It would never work between you and me because I live forever and you will eventually die.”
“We all eventually die, even you. Look at what happened to Shayne. I bet nobody ever expected that. Besides, I have been thinking, you could turn me.”
I gasp. “Never! It is not allowed and if I did, we would be hunted forever by my community until they find us and dispose of us in ways you could not even imagine.”
He takes me in his arms and I hear the doof-doof of his heart again. That sound will stay with me in the years from now, in the imagined dreams I would weave around what could have been.
Pulling away from him, I add, “My world is a completely different world from that which you are used to. Only recently…” I laugh sarcastically. “Before you were even born, we could never come out in the day. Is that not just too far away from anything you could ever imagine? You would never adapt in my world, even if I was able to turn you.” I have to hurt him so he will forget this entire episode, so I say, smirking, “You would not survive the turning, you are too weak.”
He pulls me abruptly to him and then I see him bring his face closer to mine. I see his full lips and then I feel them on mine. He moves his lips against mine firmly and I open them under his. His hand moves around my waist and he holds me close to him, pulling me tightly into him. I know what he is saying is true, I also felt it when I first saw him and I started contemplating mortality. I know I am supposed to be with him, to love him unconditionally and completely, but I cannot allow him to think about me, cannot allow him to come after me. When I leave, it will have to be over between us.
Amanda clears her throat as she walks into the room and he pulls away from me. Amanda suggests, “Perhaps you two would like to talk outside on the veranda.”
Embarrassed, I turn away from Andrew.
Silently he takes my hand and we walk out onto the veranda. The moon is full and he leans against the railing looking up at the sky. “It would not be so bad to only live at night.”
“Everybody always wants the whole package; nobody is ever happy with just a part of the deal.”
He reaches for me and then he pulls me against his chest again. “I understand Amanda needs you now that Shayne is gone. I cannot even imagine loving someone for that long and then they are just stolen away in the blink of an eye. If it was me, I would have been devastated, knowing what I feel for you now. Next year, I will leave here and I will find you.”
“No, Andrew. You must not come looking for me and you must find someone else. Please!”
He laughs dismissively. “From that day at the café, there were so many things I wanted to say for so long but the words always seemed to get lost before I could say them. I never thought I would be able to say any of this to your face, to actually come to you and hold you in my arms.”
I sigh. “You are not listening. You don’t understand the full complexity of the situation.”
He brings his head down to mine and near my ear, he whispers, “You have not yet noticed my obstinate streak. I am determined and anything is possible.”
In a halo of moonlight shining down through the tightly packed clouds, where every cloud has a silver lining, I give him my heart entirely. There is the possibility he would meet another and stubbornly I hope he does.
A WEEK LATER when Amanda and I leave on an aeroplane to France, Andrew and Carmine come to the airport to say goodbye.
After we have checked in and our bags disappear on a conveyor belt, Amanda says we had better start going up to the boarding gates.
I notice Andrew looking at Amanda nervously and then I see Amanda smile at him reassuringly. Andrew takes my hand and he leads me away from Amanda and Carmine. In a quiet corner away from everything and everybody he stops.
Softly he cups my elbows and he turns me to him.
I look up at him sadly while he pulls a little red velvet box from his pocket and then smiling tentatively, he holds it out to me. “I bought you a going away present.”
“You shouldn’t have; I didn’t get you anything.”
“It is just something small.” He hands it to me anxiously.
I take it from him, feeling guilty.
He watches me worriedly as I lift the lid off the little jewellery box. Inside, there is a gold chain with a golden heart and I immediately notice my name engraved onto the heart.
I lift it from the box and then look up at him again. “It’s beautiful. Thank you.”
He takes it from me. “Let me help you put it on.” He turns it over and smiling he shows me the flip-side. I see his name engraved on the back of the heart.
I turn away from him and I lift my hair. He drapes the necklace around my neck and then I feel his breath on my skin as he fastens the clasp. He softly kisses the back of my neck and I feel the same delicious warmth as always spread itself through my body.
I turn to him again. I rest my hands on his shoulders, standing close to him, while he looks down into my eyes, smiling demurely.
He holds the chain softly between his fingers and then he lets his fingers trail down the chain. Softly his fingers brush against the rise of my chest until the heart-shaped pendant is nestled between my breasts, safely resting against my skin.
He leans closer to me and whispers close to my lips, “Now when you meet someone else, they would have to get through me first before they can get to your heart.”
I want to remind him I do not have a beating heart, but I did not want to spoil the moment.
He says, “I need you to know I will never let you go. I love you, Susie.”
I lean into him and I rest my cheek against his chest, hearing the booming of his heartbeat as if it is my own.