WILLIAM COMES RUNNING to me, his white, blonde hair bouncing around his tanned face. His light blue eyes sparkle with excitement. He is helping me pick grapes in my section and he eats more than he picks.
We celebrated his sixth birthday the week before and still, it astounds me how much I love him.
I celebrated my twenty-third birthday seven months ago and never have I contemplated how great it would be to grow into my body until I felt comfortable in my own skin. For two hundred and a few odd years, I was sixteen and although I felt old at times, it was a different kind of old. It was a tired, bored feeling, where now I enjoyed being me. I loved the way my body filled out. My bronze skin looked beautiful, my red hair was sun-kissed and I felt the sun on my shoulders while I worked. No longer was it just a warm, pinprick sensation, but it was as if I could feel the warmth sink into me. I realised I did not have to perform death-defying acts to feel alive any more, all I needed to do was to appreciate everything. I lived in the moment, every day.
William screams excited, he is always loud and exuberant, and he rules our little family with a small firm fist. “Mommy, Mommy, look quickly.”
I am not alarmed because the tone of his voice is inquisitive so I look up at him smiling and see him chase a white butterfly through the vines. I smile and then the smile fades from my face.
Without thinking, I pull the bright scarf tied around my hair off my head and I hold it in my hands nervously. I see a dark silhouette in the low sun walking toward me and my breath catches in my throat. I feel fear in my legs and I want to start running, want to scoop William up and run away as fast as I can and never stop—never.
The shadow walks closer to me and then I look up into his dark blue eyes. He is so memorable. It is as if I only saw him the day before. It feels as if my world stops. He smiles widely and tears burn inexplicably behind my eyes. I stand frozen in place, unable to move.
His eyes laugh when he says, “You look different. I have kept you in my memory so protectively, yet somehow you have grown more beautiful.”
I notice everybody walk closer to us. Everybody is laughing and happy to see him, but I look up at him bewildered.
Before everyone reaches us, he asks uncertainly, “Aren’t you glad to see me?”
I find my voice and I say softly, accusingly, reluctant to let anybody hear me, “You said you would not be gone long!”
He laughs and the sound punches the wind out of my lungs. “Relatively, it wasn’t long. If you consider my lifespan,”
William notices everybody converging around me and he runs to me hurriedly. He grabs onto my leg and then he looks up at Callum curiously.
I notice Callum look at me intrigued when he sees William clutch onto my leg.
Amanda, Edward, Herman, Claude, Justin and Peter greet Callum exuberantly.
While I let my hand drop down onto William’s head and I ruffle his hair reassuringly, I see Edward grab Callum around the waist and lift him. They laugh boisterously.
I bent down and I pick William up off the ground. Lately, I do not pick him up any more because he is too heavy for me to carry, but now I have apprehension propelling me away from Callum.
I hear Amanda call, “Susie, wait for me.” I do not wait and I hear her coming after me.
When she reaches me, she grabs onto my arm gently. “What’s wrong, Susie?”
I say adamantly, “Nothing. Please, Amanda, I just want to be alone for a while.”
She lets me go and I feel sorry for leaving her without any explanation, but if I stayed and I explained, I would start crying. These days I cry for nothing and Justin says its hormones.
It is almost time for William’s afternoon nap anyway, so when I get up to my room and after closing the door behind me, I lay down on the bed with him. Stroking his back softly, I tell him a story from my history. I leave out the blood and violence, but I share with him my first-hand experience of a romantic era long gone.
When I hear his soft gentle breathing and I feel him relax in my arms, I bury my face in the pillow and I feel the sobs shudder through my body.
I fall asleep emotionally exhausted. The years or Andrew did not change the way I felt about Callum.
Later William and I go to the kitchen to have dinner. I notice thankfully there is a new moon and I realise relieved they have all gone out early. I have stopped long ago to follow the cycles of the moon.
After dinner, William and I play a game of snakes and ladders and then we watch an animated movie together.
It is late when I eventually get to bed and although I had an afternoon nap, I fall asleep quickly, most probably because I force all and any thoughts from my mind.
William sleeps in his own room adjacent to mine, but I always leave the connecting door open.
I wake up with a start and I sit up against the headboard of my four-poster bed. All the lights are off and I am unable to see in the dark – those days are long gone.
I feel my bed sink as someone sits down on the edge of my bed and then I hear his voice. He sounds irritated. “There is a weird noise in this room. It resonates against the walls.”
I remain silent, pretending if I cannot see him, he cannot see me.
“I am sorry I was gone so long; I have a good reason.”
I cannot help myself and I say adamantly, “I don’t care.”
He places his hand on my arm. “But I care. I care that you are upset.”
I pull my arm away from his hand. The tears run silently down my cheeks again and I feel the bed move when he stands up. He is leaving and it is okay good riddance.
I breathe in deeply when he lies down on the bed next to me and abruptly I move away from him, while I hiss annoyed, “What do you think you are doing?”
He laughs softly while he pushes his arm in under my head. He pulls me closer to him. “My red-haired girl, how I have missed you.”
I feel him suddenly pull away from me. I feel his hand press against my chest softly and I move away swiftly.
He says shocked, “It’s you. It’s your heart.” He shifts away from me and he asks, “How did this happen?”
“This is what happens when you leave and think everything will still be here waiting for you!”
“Is this why that boy was hanging onto you?”
I laugh sarcastically. “What is it to you?”
He says loudly, in an angry tone, “It has everything to do with me!”
“No. When you stayed away year after year, it became less and less your business.”
He explains hesitantly, “Just after I left here, I was approached by the Four Judges and they made me a proposition.” His tone becomes scornful, when he adds, “A proposition, I could not refuse.”
I knew a proposition by the Four Judges could not be refused—that was one of the laws of our society.
Callum continues, “All this time I had to do their dirty work for them.” He laughs bitter. “I have had a quick education into the so-called civilised world of vampires today.” He stands up from the bed and then I hear the door open and close behind him.
The persistent, irritating, importune tears run down my cheeks. I feel desperately sad; words cannot explain the total despair I feel.
The next morning, I am too afraid to go down to breakfast. I did not want him to look at me accusingly while I scooped soft-boiled eggs and toast into my mouth. When William wakes up, he runs into my room and for a moment, I forget my sorrow.
Soon after, Amanda comes into my room and I sigh exasperatedly when I look up from the picture I am drawing with William. I ask annoyed, “Is there absolutely no privacy in this house? Everybody thinks they can walk in and out of my room as they please.”
Amanda looks at me apologetically. “I am sorry. I thought I would let you know Callum left with Peter. Peter is eager to show him the vineyards.”
“I don’t care.”
She sits down next to me. “I know you do.”
I look at her forlornly. “Amanda, what am I going to do?”
She smiles. “Just keep breathing, Susie. Keep breathing and believing.”
“Believe in what?”
“Believe in love, my dear.”
She smiles and pulls me up by the hand. “Come on, it is a lovely day and you cannot stay here all day. Besides William needs his breakfast.” She leans over to William and tickles him in the sides of his waist. She laughs loudly when he squeals with delight.
I sigh exaggeratedly. “And then how do I explain William? I told Callum when he left I would wait for him, I even agreed to marry him.”
“He actually asked you to marry him?”
“Yes. He was gone so long. Ten years, and so much has happened to me. I am so different from the girl he left behind.”
“Just carry on every day as if Callum is not here.”
“He was so shocked when he learned I was human,” I complain.
“Just like the rest of us, he will get used to the idea.”
“I cannot go out there. It is too complicated.”
She insists, “Nonsense, you are going with me now. She picks William up from the ground easily, then she pulls me gently by the arm and reluctantly I follow her out of the room.
When we reach the kitchen, she puts William in his chair and leaning down to him, she asks, “What do you feel like eating today?”
While he decides, Amanda tells me, “Today I will finish your section.”
I stand looking in the fridge, trying to find something easy to make and I say, “I cannot let you do that. Besides, I think I should just face it head-on, there is no use in avoiding the inevitable.”
She smiles encouragingly. “That’s my girl.”
I laugh, without wanting to. “You are only three years older than me now, so you can stop mothering me, you know.”
“I know, but how do you stop an entrenched habit. I think even if you grew to be fifty years older than me, I would still feel the urge to protect you.”
I say distracted, “Actually, I feel like steak. We have only had pasta the last few nights and I feel carnivores.”
Jumping with fright, I hear Edward laugh when he walks into the kitchen. “We just can’t get the vampire out of you.”
I look back over my shoulder at him, straight into Callum’s eyes. Quickly I glance at Amanda accusingly and then I take a pot of yoghurt from the fridge.
Sitting down next to William, I ask him, “Have you decided what you want yet, William?”
He looks up at Amanda. “Manda is making me waffles.”
I smile down at him. “Lucky boy. We could get used to this, can’t we?”
He smiles sweetly while he waits patiently.
From the corner of my eye, I see Callum lean against the wall across from me. Sadly, I think he is trying to avoid being too close to me. Self-consciously I put the spoon ladled with yoghurt into my mouth. I feel Callum’s gaze burn into me. Herman says something to Callum and Herman has to repeat himself, before Callum turns to him and says, “Sorry, were you talking to me?”
I eat in silence. Callum is making me feel uncomfortable and it feels as if the yoghurt lodges itself in my throat.
I wait for William to finish his waffles and we leave the house together. We get onto the wagon and then while Claude drives the wagon, William and I sit on the back, our legs hanging over the edge of the cart.
The day passes as any other day. I work my section while William runs circles around me. He chases butterflies and eats grapes. Whenever I look up, I see Callum looking at either William or me pensively where he is picking grapes in the next row.
That evening I get the steaks from the freezer. I defrost them in the microwave and then I fry them. These days I cannot stand the rich iron taste which lingers in my mouth when I eat my meat half raw. I have tried medium-rare but have settled for well done.
When the char-grilled steak is ready, I put them on two plates and then I quickly toss a green salad. I drink glass after glass of wine to swallow the meat down. The wine does make me feel warm and woozy, so I laugh at everything everybody has to say. I see Herman look at me troubled.
When William and I are finished eating, everybody leaves the kitchen, as always. Amanda takes William with her while I stay behind to wash the dishes. When Callum walks out of the room, it feels as if my stomach unclenches and it is the first time since we started eating I feel as if I can breathe.
I take my time washing the dishes.
When I walk into the lounge, the fire is blazing in the hearth.
Callum is sitting with William on the floor and they are playing a game of checkers.
Hurriedly I walk over to them and I lift William up off the ground, while I say quickly, “Come, William, bath time.”
William grumbles unhappily.
Callum looks at me annoyed and then he says softly, “Let him finish the game.” He laughs a sarcastic sound. “I won’t eat him.”
I gasp and with a protesting William wriggling in my arms, I leave the living room.
Amanda says angrily, “That was not funny, Callum.”
To placate William, I promise him we would watch his animated movies late into the night and we could even sleep in the lounge. He always enjoys doing this, because it feels like camping.
After I dry William and dress him in his pyjamas, I organise the den. I throw a blanket on the floor and I bring bowls of popcorn, crisps and chewy sweets from the kitchen.
We lie down on the blanket on the carpeting on our stomachs. I put my chin in my palms while I stare into the fire and the warmth is immediate. Soon William is immersed in his movie.
He falls asleep the same time as every other night.
Turning onto my side, I stare into his angelic face while I brush the hair from his brow. I lay like this until I fall asleep.
I half wake up and I feel cold. Automatically I move into William and instinctively he puts his little arm over me. I snuggle into the warmth of him and then I notice a shadow in the room. Immediately I open my eyes fully and I see Callum looking at me intently. When he sees me looking up at him, he stands up quietly from the chair and he silently leaves the room.