I did call Haruto later that week. At first, I had been quiet, only speaking when I needed to. My nerves were all over the place, and I was suffering from faulty nutrition when we chatted through the phone. Somewhere along the line, he had suggested that we go to a hot pot place downtown, and I had said yes, ignoring the fact that I would have to eat in front of him and burn my throat with human food. I didn’t have an option. I wanted to see him, and it was a shame that meeting up with humans always meant eating one thing or the other.
We settled for Saturday evening. The weekdays went by quickly, and soon enough the day had come. We were going to meet at the restaurant since I would be going straight from work.
“Mate, what happened to your hand?” one of my coworkers had asked when I was changing in the locker room. I folded his gaze to my left hand that was covered in scratches and bandages.
It was a clear lie. You didn’t get fingernail marks from falling, but my co-worker just frowned at me before walking away, probably deciding that asking me to be truthful wasn’t worth it. I also didn’t want to talk about it.
Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t for the same reason as humans. As a glutton vampire not eating well enough leads to self-harm. We’re living containers of all the memories we’ve ever eaten, and it’s not rare for vampires to attempt to cannibalize themselves.
Yes, I clawed at my skin to unearth a fraction of the thousands of memories living inside me, but I was used to this. It would pass and I wasn’t in danger, the only part that bothered me was the wounds and how much they stung. Otherwise, I was okay as long as I found something more filling than animal abuse to feed on soon.
After I changed into casual clothes, I took the bus to the restaurant. Haruto was already there, and he had waved at me from the window. I had waved back, making my way inside before slipping into the seat across from him. The place was hot, and it smelled like heavy spice and raw meat. Thankfully the sound from all the on-hand cooking was making it hard to focus on the sound of Haruto’s slithering memories. Also, to be fair, they weren’t that noisy today. They remained dormant, looking like blotches of dried paint on his neck, shoulders, and face. He seemed calm and was probably not thinking too much. That must be why.
We ordered separately and are in silence for the most part.
“Wern,” Haruto said with a small voice as he picked a piece of meat from the hot pot. “I’ve always wanted to ask. Are you American?”
I wondered what that question was for, but I answered it anyway. “German,” I said, poking at the boiling shrimp in my hot pot. “Moved here by myself,” I explained, looking up to catch his eyes.
He hummed. “I guessed as much you don’t sound American.” I raised a brow. I guess he was referring to my accent.
“Yeah, I guess so,” I mumbled.
“Do you miss your parents?” Haruto asked me, and I blinked. I hadn’t been expecting that. A well-buried memory of her being staked was suddenly vivid and playing in my head. I felt my eyes blur with tears.
“Yes, but they’re dead,” I said in a firm tone, trying to sound distant, but there was an underlying wavering in my voice. Haruto picked it up.
“I’m sorry,” he said, mixing the piece of broiled salmon he had in the bowl of rice to his side. “I was just curious. I don’t remember my parents too well so it’s something I tend to ask,” he was giving me a smile now. It was small. Apologetic.
“I’m not sure how much you know about me...” he trailed, referencing our professional relationship at the food bank. “I’ve not had a very good experience with family,” he went on, and all I could do was stare at him through all the steam coming from the pots.
“Or partners,” Haruto added. “It hurts to love people, but I can’t help myself. I keep doing it.”
I’m not sure why Haruto was telling me this—I wasn’t even sure if he was talking to me at all. He didn’t say anything after that and just kept picking at his food. I felt uncomfortable, so there was a sudden urge to speak up and bridge the silence.
“You’ll find someone someday,” I said, making Haruto rise his head.
“Will I?” he asked, and I didn’t have an answer for that, so I remained quiet. “There’s a saying that you attract the people you deserve,” he said. “Maybe I deserve my bad experiences?”
“No.” I cut him off, a bit horrified at his words. His memories were hissing again, sizzling red and climbing up his neck. “You don’t,” I said in a softer voice, watching him lick his lips.
“I know,” he said. “Deep down, I know the God who created me wants me to be happy, and I live with that knowledge,” he added, making me look down at my hot pot. Why was he mentioning God?
“But sometimes it’s hard to keep believing in the things that you do.” He finished, making the table fall into silence.
“Hmm. I don’t believe in much,” I said, dipping a shrimp in the sauce beside my plate before eating it. My mouth burned, and I tried to hide myself wincing from Haruto. “I eat. I sleep. I work.” I said. “That’s all I believe in,” I mumbled thinking about my mum again. Being hopeful like her got you nowhere. I learned that the hard way.
“You’re pretty strange, Wern,” Haruto said, making me look up at him. “I think that’s what I liked about you. You seemed not to care too much. A lot of us suffer from thinking too much,” Haruto said, smiling at me. It was a warm smile. A sincere one.
I didn’t know how to reply to that, so I just shrugged my shoulders before reaching out for the cup of juice beside me and gulping it down. The sensation of the drink burning my throat clouded my thoughts, and when I dropped the cup, I avoided eye contact with Haruto. We returned to eating in silence.
After we were done eating Haruto and I left the restaurant together. We walked side by side—enough that we occasionally bumped shoulders. Haruto lived close by, so I had agreed to walk home with him. He was humming a hymn under his breath, and I wanted to ask what it was called because it sounded like a Catholic one my mother used to sing to me, but I resisted asking.
We walked the rest of the way in silence, and even though Haruto was putting on a calm exterior I could hear his heart beating, and I listened in on the memories that bubbled outwards. Many of them featured a young man that looked his age in them, and I would wince anytime Haruto got bent over and hit over the head.
I wondered if the man was his ex-boyfriend. Was that why Haruto was thinking about that? Because he was with me?
Even though my mouth was salivating, and I would sometimes look too intently at a bubble of his memories that looked so perfect—so perfectly ripe for eating, I felt sad. Sad for Haruto, and in awe that he had decided to stay alive and was able to still function like a normal person. Well, as far as I knew.
I couldn’t imagine Haruto sad or in distress. Every time I closed my eyes and thought of him, I could only picture him smiling. How someone who was so wounded by the circumstances of their life managed to be so happy was what had fascinated me. Haruto was the most fascinating thing in the world.
“Well, this is my stop,” Haruto muttered, stopping in his tracks. I stopped too. A bit surprised. I had been all focused on him that I hadn’t realized when we got to the apartment complex Haruto lived in.
Haruto stared at it before turning to face me. “Take care of yourself,” he said, catching me off guard by moving to hug me. I was stunned, and my blood boiled, and mouth watered with the injection of the smells and sounds of his memories. He pulled away, smiling at me one last time before turning and heading towards his building.
“Hey, Wern,” Haruto called out to me, stopping at the door of the apartment building before turning to me.
I narrowed my eyes at him, still hugging my shoulders as I wondered what he wanted to say to me. There were bits of his memories everywhere, some of them clinging to my clothes and others that had dropped to the ground and were now shining like pebbles under the streetlight. “Hmm?” my voice was low, but Haruto seemed to hear it because he smiled a little and his gaze fell to the floor. The night breeze picked at the strands of his hair that hadn’t made it to his low ponytail. They floated in the wind, framing his long face in a way that made him look younger.
“I enjoyed myself today,” he said, making me blink and stop staring at him. “Let’s do this again, okay?”
I sucked on my lower lip, feeling the bandage under the sleeve of my shirt with my good hand as I looked over at him. I did well today. I even managed to walk him home without doing anything out of order. The self-harm scars didn’t matter. My burning throat didn’t matter. I wanted to see him again.
“Okay,” I croaked, watching as his smile got wider.
“Thank you,” he said, waving at me before stepping into the apartment building and closing the door behind him. It made a small click sound, and I was left outside under the streetlamp with a tired smile on my face.
I was going to see Haruto again.