WILLIAM AND I have eaten and I have washed the dishes. Everybody has already left the château, except Justin and us.
I turn to Justin. “What are you going to do today?”
He sulks. “I have to work in the cellar today.”
“Have fun. Wish me luck, though, I am going to look for Amanda and discuss a trip I have been contemplating.”
Justin looks at me questioningly. “A trip, this is unexpected.”
“Very impulsive for me, isn’t it?” I laugh nervously.
He says while he walks to the cellar, “Good luck, I doubt Amanda will let you go.”
I take William by the hand and we walk to the vineyard in search of Amanda. I know it will take some convincing because even though I am practically an adult now, after two hundred plus years, Amanda still treats me like a child. Even if I do not have to ask her permission, years and years of habits are hard to break.
She is talking to Callum and I hesitate for a moment before I walk to them.
William runs to Edward and then I hear him shriek loudly when Edward swings him high into the air.
Amanda and Callum stop talking when they see me and I say, “Amanda, can I speak with you.”
Callum looks over his shoulder at Edward and William, and then back at me thoughtfully.
I turn away from him and follow Amanda. I ask her, “What were you discussing? Callum looks more upset than usual.”
“It was nothing important,” she says dismissively.
I sense though that it involved me, so I insist, “Tell me, Amanda!”
She sighs exasperatedly. “I was trying to convince him not to do something he might regret.”
“He wanted to know what happened to you, how it happened and I explained it to him. Now he wants to go after them.”
I gasp shocked. “He is so upset I am human? Does it really bother him that much?” I feel sad. I want to go to him, run to him and implore he should not be foolish, but he hates me.
Amanda asks, “Why did you want to talk to me?”
I remember. “I want to take William on a trip. A trip around the world.”
She frowns. “When?”
“I want to leave next week.”
“But it is almost Christmas?”
“No, you cannot go next week. We always enjoy Christmas with William and I wanted to have a ball this year for New Year’s.” She pinches her lips together for a moment and then she says agreeable, “I could agree that you go on this trip, but…”
She continues unperturbed, “We will first have Christmas and New Year, and then afterwards you and William can go on your round the world trip.” She looks at me seriously. “You do not stay away for years, Amanda, I’ll miss William.” She looks at Edward who is chasing William playfully and she adds, “We will all miss William.”
Although I will not be leaving next week as I planned, she still agreed, so I laugh happily. “I won’t stay away because I’ll miss you too much, as well. Besides, William will need to start school soon enough.”
“Whose silly idea was this?”
“You have been around the world hundred times over.”
I smile. “Yes, but never as a human. The experience will be different.”
“It will still look the same, girl.”
“But it will feel different.”
She sighs sadly, even though she smiles. “I am serious, Susie, not for long.”
“I promise.” I smile and jump up and down gleefully. I lean into her and say, “Thank you. Thank you.”
When I let her go, she says, “Now run along, Callum needs help with those baskets. Maybe you can convince him not to be foolish.”
My heart sinks into my shoes and I sulk, “Must I?”
“Yes, you must.”
I walk away from her to Callum. With each step closer to him, my heart beats slower and I can hear the doof every time my foot touches the ground. I reach him and I say softly, “Amanda says I have to help you.”
He looks at me and then over my shoulder at Amanda reproachfully. He says, “It’s okay, I’ll manage.”
I am suddenly maddeningly angry. “Do I stink Callum, now that I am human? I just want to help you!” I turn hurriedly to walk away from him and he grasps me by the elbow.
He leans down to me and he hisses close to my face, “What do you expect? I leave and I complete a compulsory service for my community so we can continue living in your blissful ignorance. So the humans you love to integrate with do not find out the truth about you. When I get back, you are a human and you have a child. I feel like a fool now for suggesting we do not go all the way, for telling you I want to marry you.”
The insult feels like a slap in my face. The surprise is so devastating I can only glare at him defiantly. Thoughts are racing through my mind as I search for something to say in retaliation. I open my mouth to tell him to be quiet because I cannot think of anything witty to say. His lips cover mine unexpectedly and I feel my legs buckle under the emotional wave which washes through me. His arms fold around me and he buries his hand in my hair, pulling my head closer to his. I feel a warmth spread through my stomach. He lets me go abruptly and looking into my eyes, he grimaces. He turns from me and he walks away.
I stay standing there staring after him. The love I feel for him is indisputable, even to me. I turn and I run home. Storming into the house, I run up the stairs two at a time. I run into my room, sweeping the door closed behind me. I fall onto my bed and I stare up at the canopy over my four-poster bed. Soon William and I will leave and I will not come back as long as he is here.
AMANDA AND I start to decorate the house for Christmas. When William sees what we are doing, a feeling of excitement starts to ripple through the château. Since William’s second Christmas, everybody has a renewed interest in the festive season and I even notice Peter getting excited. Irritated I notice Callum spending more and more time with William, and at night when I lie in bed with him, William cannot stop talking about Callum. I decide to talk to Callum, to tell him to stay away from William. However, since that day in the vineyards, we have not spoken to each other at all. I do, however, notice when he stares at me absorbed whenever we are in the same room. I observe the way he smiles when I spend time with William and we share a joke.
At Christmas, William races through the stack of presents and I love watching his little face light up with each new present he opens. Although there are so many, he is truly happy about each one. The rest of the day, he spends playing with his new toys in the den and I curl up on the couch with a book. The fire is blazing brightly and I hear Amanda, Edward, Justin, Peter, Herman and Claude in the living room. They are arguing loudly, but jovial, about the new name for the vintage. It is our best vintage since we started wine production. Edward is happy because we can now rival Francois and he wants it to give homage to William, my father, and he wants the name to reflect this. The rest of them do not agree with him and they call his rivalry petty, which aggravates Edward even more.
I sense the moment Callum enters the den and I feel annoyed, but William jumps up from the carpet and runs excitedly to him. Frowning, I look up at Callum and I notice him smiling down at William. He ruffles William’s hair and then he picks him up. He lets William sit comfortably in the crook of his arm and then he says softly while looking at me, “I want to talk to your mum. Why don’t you run along and go see Amanda quickly?”
I want to stop William, but as soon as Callum puts him down, his little legs run him off to the living room. I stand up from the couch and I look at Callum reproachfully. “Why did you do that? I don’t like the way you are spending time with him.”
He walks closer to me and he says, ignoring what I said completely, “Amanda says you are taking William after New Year’s, and you are leaving?”
Turning away from him, I sit down on the couch again, pulling my legs up and I open my book.
He says harshly, “Susanna, I am talking to you.”
I look up angrily. “Don’t you Susanna me. It has nothing to do with you.”
A look of hurt flashes across his face, but I do not care.
He walks to me and then he sits down on the edge of the couch next to my pulled up legs. His body is turned to me and he takes the book from my hands.
I look up at him boldly.
He puts his hand on the other side of my waist, literally trapping me. Softly he says, “Tell me you are not leaving.”
I close my eyes and I take a deep breath. I take a few deep breaths because I can feel that irritating burning sensation behind my eyes. The only thing I hate about being human is that it is so difficult to hide my emotions.
Without opening my eyes, I say, “I have to leave.” I bring my hands up and I put the palms of my hands over my eyes, pushing hard, in an attempt to force back the tears.
“If you are leaving, because I am here, I would rather leave. Please don’t do this because of me.”
Unexpectedly, I feel his lips on mine. Instantaneously I have a deep yearning ache in the pit of my stomach. He moves his lips against mine and I feel a traitorous tear escape from under my eyelid. He moves his arms in under my shoulders and he lifts me up to him, effortlessly. My arms move around his neck by the power of their own will. When our tongues touch, he groans deeply. He holds me tighter to him and I am not sure if the feeling of breathlessness is because he is constricting my lungs or from his kiss. He kisses me with unrelenting determination and I am not sure when one kiss ends and the next one starts. While his one arm remains around my shoulders, I feel his other hand trail down my back and then this human body betrays me by sprouting goosebumps when his hand touches my bare skin. He brings his hand up my back, tracing his fingers over my skin softly. I feel his lips smile, even as he continues kissing me when his fingers move over the bumps erupting over my body. I feel the warmth spread through my body from my toes upwards, turning me into pliable clay in his hands, moaning when his hand rests between my shoulder blades and I feel his other hand move with purpose across my waist. He cups the swell of my breast softly and then his thumb rests against the golden heart Andrew gave me so long ago, which I still wore daily.
He pulls away from me slowly and he lets me lie back against the couch again. Looking into my eyes thoughtfully, I shiver when his fingers brush along my neck and he lifts the gold chain from my skin. Slowly, deliberately he pulls the chain out from under my shirt. I see the pain in his eyes when he sees the gold heart with my name engraved on it and turning it over, seeing Andrew’s name on the other side.
He scowls down at me and I dread his next words, I know they will be accusing and hurtful.
William comes running into the room. “Mommy, Mommy, come look. It’s snowing.”
William saves me from another humiliating attack and abruptly Callum stands up from the couch.
Callum smiles down at William and then he picks him up and carries him from the room, saying, “Come, Mommy, let’s go look.” I can hear the cynical tone in his voice, and it rips through me.
I stand a little behind them looking out at the snow slowly drifting down and I feel sad when I see the way William has latched himself onto Callum, and the way he worships him. Although William grew up with Edward, Justin, Peter, Herman, and Claude, he immediately took to Callum. It hurts me and I feel as if this is what Callum wants. He wants to hurt me emotionally. I really have no choice but to remove William and myself from this situation. I know it is my house, but I love Callum and I did not want to alienate him by asking him to leave.
That night I take the necklace from around my neck and I hold it in my hands for a moment. The talisman Andrew put around my neck so long ago did not prevent Callum from entering my heart.