IT COULD HAVE only been days. It could have been weeks.
I hear a grating noise from upstairs and I feel the earth shake violently under me. The dust from the basement roof sifts down onto me in a thick white cloud and covers everything in an ashen colour.
I hear screaming and growling in the house above me and then I hear someone fumble with the latch outside my door. Moments later, to my astonishment, I see Andrew fall through the doorway and into the room.
Unbelieving, I ask aggravated, “How?” “Why?” Loudly, I realise; “Are you part of this?”
He chokes in the dust, which is hanging heavy in the room and shakes his head, no, while gagging, gasping for air.
“Then what are you doing here?” I would rather stay here in this basement forever; perhaps convince Juan to bring me some books to read than have Andrew here. In a while, he will realise who I am. He will then be one hundred percent convinced I am the monster he sees flashes of after the accident. I suddenly remember; “Why aren’t you still in the hospital?”
He struggles to breathe while he pulls at my arm. “You have been here a long time, but now we have to get out of here. This whole place is going to collapse.”
I pull back determinedly.
“Jeez, Susie! Just come with me. It’s okay, I know who you are.”
I pull my arm out of his grip, shocked. I hear Amanda calling from upstairs and I look at him confused.
The look on his face convinces me, so I follow him up the stairs, running as fast as he is ahead of me to the sound of Amanda’s voice.
I am halfway up the stairs when I feel the heat. It is unimaginable hot. I feel my skin blister. I step backwards down the stairs again and I shake my head in denial.
Andrew turns around and looks back at me pleadingly. “Susie!”
“I can’t go out there!”
“Why not?” He yells over the noise of the creaking house above us.
I shake my head from side to side. “No! I cannot go up there.”
He comes down the stairs again and I see his eyes, pleading into mine.
“You said you know! Well, I cannot go out in the sun. Do you know or do you not know the truth?”
Realisation dawns in his eyes and sadly, I grasp he does know the awful certainty of me.
Just then, the house above us collapse. Splinters and bricks fall down around us and without thinking I pull Andrew down the stairs behind me. We run as fast as his legs can carry him. I want to physically pick him up, but even here I feel as if maybe he does not really know the entire truth. If I picked him up now, as if he was a mere feather, he would never be able to love me. Forever I would wonder how it could have been and forever is a very long, long time.
We run back into the basement and automatically I pull the open door from its hinges. I briefly notice the shock in Andrew’s eyes. I push him roughly into the corner and then while we are both crouching down I hold the heavy metal door up and over our heads. We hear the house above us collapse piece by piece and then suddenly with a loud, ear-piercing crash it all comes down at once. I growl softly as the full impact hits me on the back and I have to strain my arms to keep the door above our heads.
We sit like this for a while, as small pebbles, gravel and sand continue to fall down onto us. I move my arm painfully and notice one of the boulders of cement had wedged itself in under the door. The other side of the door was balanced against the wall of the basement and on top of this large irregular lump of bricks and mortar. I let my hands go tentatively, one after the other. I am ready to wedge it back up if it does not hold. I sigh with relieve when it holds and I sit down on the ground. My haunches feel lame and I want to rest my arms for a moment. Awkwardly I sit close to Andrew and then he slides his legs out from under him. He manages to slide his legs around me and in some bizarre act of fate, I am sitting here with Andrew, so close I can hear his heartbeat.
He smiles slowly. “How long do you think it will take for Amanda to get us out of here?”
“Your first question is that? You don’t want to know why I cannot go up into the sun, or how I managed to hold an entire house on my back.”
He is still smiling amused. “I already know. Before Amanda told me, I had my suspicions anyway.”
I laugh derisively. “Suspicions! Obviously, you read too much fiction.”
“She needed my help and when she realised I thought I knew, she enlightened me completely.”
“What do you mean, you thought you knew. How could you?”
“That day at the café, I realised nobody has reflexes like that, besides I have never noticed you being clumsy ever, so your excuse was feeble. Then while I was in the hospital, it all came back to me slowly. Initially, I only had flashes of you helping me out of the car, pulling my door off its frame and then also the cherry on top … lifting the car up single-handedly. I dismissed it, but then when I left the hospital and Duncan completed his community service, we got talking. The rare meat, your pale skin, your extremely fast reflexes and then you must remember Carmine and Duncan was completely awake. I suppose Carmine knew better of what was happening around her than Duncan. So, although at the time Duncan thought it was a drunken hallucination, it became clear when we spoke of it.”
“Yes, but these are only speculation, a wild guess. To be honest, I think it could have been only wishful thinking that you would know a … somebody like me. It is all explainable anyway, adrenaline, reflexes, fears of skin cancer, preference in eating habits – Lionel also ate his meat near-rare.” I grab desperately at excuses.
He laughs softly. “Then Amanda phoned me a few days ago and asked to meet me. I wanted to see you and I thought you were avoiding me, locking yourself away in your house. I went and I have to admit I was nervous going into the lair of vampires, so I asked Duncan and Carmine to go with me. Duncan and I hid wooden stakes under our shirts—just in case.”
I inhale, insulted.
He puts his arms around my shoulders and then he shuffles closer to me. He holds my head against his chest and his heartbeat is thunderous. His heartbeat is so loud, so close up it feels as if it could have been my own heartbeat. It reverberates through my body and for a moment I remember the sensation of a living body, of being mortal, the feeling of being so small in this enormous universe. I close my eyes for a short moment. It feels blissfully good.
“Amanda told us you were kidnapped and you were being held for ransom. I insisted immediately we should phone the police, but Amanda was adamant we could not phone the police. We were going to leave, and then pleadingly she told us why we could not involve the police. I didn’t understand then that Amanda would really be as strong as they say until I saw her in action with my own two eyes before she ordered me to come and free you.”
“Aren’t you revolted?” I ask uncertainly.
“No, I actually think it’s cool. Unless, you’re feeling hungry.” He laughs. “Are you hungry?”
Offended I murmur, “No.”
“Don’t worry. Amanda explained everything. How you eat and how you are more civilised than the bedtime stories always describe you.” I feel him laugh and the sound escapes his mouth. “Although you hate garlic.”
I do not think it is funny. I am still in shock that I am sitting here cuddled into him, the boy I have a serious crush on. He knows who I am and he does not think of me as hideous, an aberration of nature.
I hear scraping above us and I say, “She is digging us out.”
“That is a pity; I would have liked to sit here with you for a while longer. Amanda did not explain how are you able to usually walk in sunlight, but just now when we were getting out, you hesitated?”
“We drink these big yellow pills and it builds up a resistance to the sun in us. The only thing is we have to drink it religiously every single day and I have not had any since I was brought here.” I ask panicked, “What if Ethan comes back. He will kill us.”
Softly he says, “Ethan cannot hurt you any more, he is dead.” He adds dismissively, “Amanda killed him.” Andrew kisses me softly on the top of my head. “I cannot believe how soft you feel, though, I always thought vampires were as hard as a rock.”
“I am a half-breed. My dad was a vampire and my mother was normal, so I suppose that is why I am more … flesh-like.”
He says jokingly, “I am not saying you are as pudgy as me. I can feel you are solid, but you still have a softness about you.”
My hand is resting on his chest and I say, “You are not pudgy at all.” When the words leave my mouth, I feel mortified.
I feel his lips rest on the crown of my head and he says softly, “Here in the pitch-black dark and with you unable to turn yourself around and look at me, I need to tell you something. When we are rescued, I might never have the courage to say it again.”
I do not tell him I can see in the dark. I can see every stone wedged around us, the muscles in his arm in front of my face and every tiny hair.
He says hesitantly, “Since that day in the café I have liked you. I never stop thinking about you and at first, it was more curiosity because you seemed so different from everyone else, so aloof and then the way you light up when you laugh, I couldn’t help liking you more and more.”
“You like me?” I ask sceptically.
I try to turn around to face him, but he holds me steady in his arms. “Sit still, Susie. You might dislodge something and bury us permanently.”
“But you always look at me so disapprovingly. Before the accident you hardly ever spoke to me and then at the hospital, I was unsure and I thought it was only because you banged your head so hard.”
He continues quietly, “I do not know what it is. You would think with people having so little time really, that we would try harder at being happy. We should be pulling those we love closer, yet inevitably, we always achieve the opposite.”
I want to tell him I have also liked him since the first time I saw him, but a torch light is shining down on me brightly. A gush of fresh air blows into the hole and I hear Andrew take a deep breath.
Moments later Amanda pulls me up out of the ground and I climb up over the cement rocks, bricks and wood toward the top of the hole in the ground.
The night air is refreshing. I feel free. I am so happy and I forget to be apprehensive when Carmine rushes to me. She stops in front of me for a second and then her hands are around my waist. She holds me close to her, saying repeatedly, “I am so glad you are okay.”
I notice Andrew as he climbs up over the edge, with Amanda closely behind him. I want to rush to him, but I feel inhibited and then when Duncan takes me in his arms, I sink into him.