Chapter One: A Debate In Regard To An Unusual Anniversary
A sharp, cold breeze ambushed my room, rudely awakening me. Stunned, I sat up on my bed. The gaping entrance from the balcony welcomed the unwanted wind that swung the helpless double glass doors. Papers from my writing desk sailed through the air like frantic ghosts. I pushed myself off the bed to close the waving frames, but in my frenzied attempt to do so, I tripped over my foot and fell, landing on marble and rug with an “oof”. Groaning, I stood and charged the flailing curtains, taking control of the doors before closing and locking them. As I turned to watch my writing slowly drift to the floor, my bedroom door opened so that the Count peeked in.
“Are you alright, Julia?” he inquired.
The storm howled outside.
My hair, no doubt a disheveled mess, stuck to undesirable areas on my face, so I blew the strands away before I replied, “I’m okay.” I started collecting the papers.
The Count stepped inside and helped me. He gathered heaps of the thin, white material, not paying attention to the contents written on the surface, which I approved of. While I bent down to retrieve my belongings, he crouched gracefully, his long, strong legs supporting his great torso.
I grew to appreciate that massive body, meaty hands, long face, aquiline nose, and very profound brow. And those full, big lips delivered the gentlest kisses. His hair was growing out. There were no longer any remnants of a buzz cut at the sides of his head; it was all replaced by thick, soft, black curls combed out of his face.
His dark green eyes met mine as if he knew I was watching him.
He returned the grin while he asked, “Am I still hideous?”
“You’re the most beautiful man I’ve ever seen,” I responded, sincerely.
He chuckled, more like he thought my comment was playful rather than earnest, and placed the stack of papers on my bed. I put my pile on top of his before situating myself into a cross legged position on the mattress to arrange them back in order. I nearly groaned at the disorganized excerpts; it was going to take days to sort them out; I really needed to number my pages.
“You do write a lot,” the Count observed.
I nodded, bashful, though I didn’t know why.
“And from what I recall, you record your experiences,” he continued.
I looked at him, wondering where this conversation was going. His gaze held me before his eyes addressed the papers. “And you write about me.”
Carefully, I responded, “Yes.”
He started reaching for the mound, announcing, “May I read them?”
I slapped my hand on the stack. “No.”
He observed me, curiously, so I explained, “There are some things you don’t need to read.”
He pursed his lips. He said, “No doubt there are entries about me from when you despised me. Is that what you are referring to?”
I shared with him a look to confirm his assessment, and his expression dampened, pulling at the mature stress lines on his face. He sat beside me as he let out a soft moan. In a lower voice, he added, “Of course. You had every right to hate me-”
I interjected him. “Don’t lament. None of that matters now. This is the reason why I don’t want you to read it because I know this is what you will do. You’ll abhor yourself and moan about it all night then talk about it in your sleep.”
Distracted, he inquired, “I talk in my sleep?”
“Well, you do know you have nightmares. Sometimes you’ll have a conversation with yourself. Most of the time it isn’t a good discussion.”
“Ah,” he said with realization, stared at my feet, then grumbled, “I suppose I deserve to suffer such dialogue…”
I leaned against his big arm and sighed, “You’re lamenting…” I rested my chin on his shoulder so I could better see his face. Despite my reasoning with him, his ancient eyes slipped away from the present, fighting for residency in the past even though it kicked him out long ago. To ease him, I grabbed his hand, comfortingly, but he didn’t seem to notice.
“Tonight is the 10th,” he murmured, suddenly.
“That’s right,” I said.
His hand gently squeezed mine.
“You know the significance of the date then…” he went on.
“Yes,” I answered. “It’s the anniversary of the night we met.” I kissed him on the cheek, forcing him to face me with a slight dubiousness.
“You rejoice then,” he demanded. “May I remind you that when you first met me, you fainted with fright. I caught you, but then, I was repugnant to even have you so close to me, and from then on-”
“Stop,” I ordered, pressing my fingers to his lips. “What are you trying to do, Vladimir? Are you testing me? Why go through all that wooing only to try to push me away?”
His brow furrowed, solemnly. “I suppose I am waiting for the night when you realize you are too good for me.” While he spoke, he carefully swept my hair to one side to observe the scarred bite on my neck received from him in June. Nearly every time he was with me, he forced himself to gaze at the hideous half moon shaped mark near my jugular; it was as if he had to confirm to himself that he was a monster. Just as quickly, I swiped my hair back into place.
It hurt my heart when he naturally assumed I would leave him. Of course, I wasn’t helping the circumstance by taking my time to decide if I wanted an immortal life. Every night and day I contemplated the proposition the Count offered me back in August.
Did I want to live with him for eternity?
Of course. But was it worth it to go through all that trouble to find Charlestine? Not to mention that being a human was so normalized for me, and it was nice to have something familiar like that in my life. I also had to consider outliving my parents, my brother, and my friends.
I just wasn’t entirely certain yet. It was a big choice.
At least he was being very noble to give me time.
I curled my arms around his neck then was sure to hold his gaze. “You’re far from perfect, but I love you the same, and I know you love me, and you will never stop loving me. From what I gather, that’s exactly what every girl wants from a man.” I kissed him.
He succumbed to me, laying back on my bed while I sat on his abdomen. He groaned agreeably, resting his hands on my hips. I leaned in for more kisses, feeling up on his massive chest when my stomach growled, and I laughed sheepishly. He smiled at me and said, “Let’s go down stairs and get you something to eat.”
As we ambled the hallway, I held onto his hand again; I needed him to be sure that I was for him, and he seemed to understand because his thumb stoked the knuckles of my fingers. Towards the kitchen, Roland sat at the dining table, completely immersed in a newspaper.
“Look, I know you guys were born in an older century, but it’s okay to upgrade to the smartphone to read the news,” I chuckled.
Roland’s stressed gaze turned to me, and he answered, absentminded, “Ah...yes, Julia, of course.” He looked at the Count and stood, folding the newspaper before tucking it under his arm. “Count, can we have a moment alone?”
Fingers tugged down on my stomach to see Roland look so daunted, naturally pushing me to ask, “What’s going on?”
Roland addressed me, carefully. “Nothing. Just need a small chat, is all.”
I frowned, not convinced, but the Count agreed to Roland’s request. As they started away to a study, the Count called to me, “Go ahead and eat, Julia. I will be right back.”
I wanted to protest, but they left me just as my lips parted. The kitchen became unsettlingly quiet in exception to the gentle hum of the refrigerator, making room for all my noisy thoughts. I drifted to a cabinet where I pulled out a pan that I set on the stove.
Over a year now, no one kept information from me, especially since most of it dealt with my well being.
I turned on the stove before grabbing some cheese and butter from the fridge, my socked feet barely making a sound on the hardwood floor.
Besides, I had endured so much in the last two or so years that I could handle any daunting information. It wasn’t fair that they were being secretive all of a sudden.
As the grilled cheese sandwich cooked on the heated pan, I tapped my fingers on the counter top impatiently.
The Count must know that I was going to ask him what happened, and I would not stop asking until I was satiated, so this whole thing seemed pointless.
I heard the entrance door open and close. Lelagül stepped into the kitchen, both her hands filled with shopping bags. “Hello, Julia,” she greeted and rested the bags on the granite counter. She dusted off her hands, more like a habit rather than them being dirty, and she approached me, asking, “Where is the Count?”
I slid the sandwich onto a plate as I replied, “He and Roland are talking. No girls allowed, apparently.”
Lelagül noted my disgruntlement, so she changed the subject. “Well, I brought you new clothes for the winter. From what I’ve seen on the news, we are going to have a pretty dreadful one, so I figured it best to be prepared.”
“That’s nice of you, Lelagül; thank you,” I said, pulling myself away from the negativity. There was still a lot I was blessed with, so I had no reason to complain.
I sat at the dining table and nibbled on my food. The Count returned with Roland behind him. His eyes were downcast as he neared, his lips compressed as if he was deep in thought then he secured a seat next to me, and I was uneasy with how quiet he was. Not that he was naturally loquacious, but I felt tension from his silence.
“Is everything okay?” I asked.
The Count faced me and tried a reassuring look as he nodded, however stress strained his dark eyes, and I became uncomfortable again. Over time, I came to realize that not much scared the Count, apart from losing me, so distress ate at my chest just to see him worried.
“Is my family okay?” I pressed.
His sharp turn to me gave me assurance before he spoke. “Of course, Julia. I would tell you if they were not.”
“Then what can you not tell me all of a sudden?” I demanded.
“Julia…” the Count warned.
“Is it Eléston? The election will be held in a month, right? Is it that? Is Wikson up to something? Has Lucianus decided to mess with us again?”
“Julia,” he snapped, curtly.
I crossed my arms at him for becoming vexed, and he considered my behavior so he added, “Forgive me, Julia. You know I do not mean to raise my voice at you. Once I know more, I will explain everything; I promise.”
I softened. “Are you in trouble?”
His look begged me to wait for more solid answers, reminding me that he was under just as much perturbation. Likely even more. After all, there was only one month left until the Eléston election, and we were about to face a new ruler who would very likely not be as sympathetic as Drago. Just when we finished one war, another was preparing its battlements against us. Even though I had recognized the severeness of our predicament, it didn’t really strike me as much as it did right then.
Wikson could very well be the next Vampiric president.