Nikoli checked his phone to make sure he had the right restaurant per Leila’s directions. Yes, he was in the right place. Antonio’s big neon sign illuminated in the darkness. The trim of the tan, brick building was white and the door was the same red shade as the sign. According to the lit up sign in the window, the place was open. He had never been to this restaurant before. Hell, he hadn’t gone to a restaurant to eat in a long time. It’s not as if vampires can’t eat, they just don’t have to. With it being Italian food, there would be a lot of garlic used in the cooking. Nikoli had disproven that theory long ago, the one that said garlic killed vampires. It didn’t kill them, it just made them regurgitate the blood they drank for the next 24 hours, like a stomach flu.
Unsure whether he was supposed to meet her inside or wait outside for her to arrive, he decided on the latter. When he tried to be on time, he usually ended up being pretty early. It was 8:30 pm and they had decided on 9:00 pm. He had been so antsy to get the date started, that he overestimated how much time it would take to get to the restaurant. He didn’t want to just go sit inside there and wait. Since Nikoli was so early, he looked around to see what he could do to kill the time without going too far from Antonio’s. Many of the stores weren’t open past 6:00 pm, but he was hoping something would be open until at least the time that Leila arrived.
A bookstore finally caught his eye. It’s open sign was lit up, along with a sign saying “psychic readings.” He scoffed. He wasn’t the sort to believe in the art of fortune telling. The scientist in him believed it was all a hoax to con people out of money. He had a large collection of books in a vast array of titles and genres. It depended on his mood as to what he read from day to day. He didn’t own a television and hadn’t owned a cell phone for too long. Computers didn’t really interest him much either aside from using it to keep up with modern scientific research, that is.
The old-fashioned bell rung as he opened the door to explore the bookstore. The first thing he smelled was an overpowering scent of patchouli incense. He didn’t so much mind the smell of incense, even if it were Patchouli. He just wasn’t a fan of the lingering after scent it left in it’s wake. Long after the main note of the perfume was gone, a musty-type smell was left behind to lurk. The second thing he smelled was the superb odor of book pages and ink. One of his favorite smells just so happened to be the “book” smell. It calmed him like nothing else had ever been able to. Even as a human child, he would read constantly. He was like a sponge, absorbing as much knowledge as he could, from as many genres as he was able to.
“Your kind is not welcome here,” came a husky, female voice from the corner of the room.
Nikol’s eyes flashed to focus on whomever was talking, somewhat taken aback. Since he hadn’t seen her sitting still as a statue at a table in a dimly lit corner, he was caught off guard momentarily. He hadn’t even smelled her or sensed her presence. He was off his game, distracted by Leila, like Jessa had said. He was no longer paying close attention to his even basic instincts.
He didn’t know how she knew what he was, but he tried to put her at ease, “I mean you no harm. I simply wish to browse through some books for a few moments. Then I will leave you be. You have my word.” He even went so far as to bow slightly, but took no steps towards her. He didn’t want to frighten her off.
Eyeing him speculatively, she nodded briefly, keeping her eyes trained on him intently. Taking a puff from her tobacco pipe, she addressed him boldly, “I am not unarmed. So, sir, do not underestimate me.”
He nodded with respect and continued to browse the shelves, looking for something that he could add to his collection, checking his watch again for the time. He mentally kicked himself for showing up so early. He still had about 10 minutes to kill before she would be here. He picked up a few books, leafing through the pages and finally deciding on ‘Idylls of the King’ by Lord Alfred Tennyson. It was the story of King Arthur, Lancelot, Guinevere and Merlin, among many others, written entirely in prose. It wasn’t a first edition, but he was happy with the find, even with the weathered cover and cracked binding. Flipping through the pages, he stopped on a page and read silently, getting lost in the prose.
“She must be something special for you to go against the Council.” It took a moment for Nikoli to register what she was talking about. Looking up from his book he narrowed his eyes at the old woman puffing away on her pipe, licking his lips before he spoke.
“I’m not sure I know what you’re talking about, madam.” He closed his book and crossed his arms, not impressed by her speculation.
The fortune teller opened her mouth in a wide grin before blowing out the smoke from her pipe.
“The girl. Don’t lie to me, I am not that gullible. So, don’t waste your time trying.” She pointed the mouthpiece of the wooden pipe at him for emphasis.
Nikoli frowned at her, his nostrils flaring momentarily in his barely disguised anger.
“Yes. She is special. I am drawn to her.”
“But you have not fed on her or told her what you are, am I right?” She cackled then, nodding her head, already knowing the answer.
Nikoli raised an eyebrow and stroked his chin, unsure why she was laughing. This woman appeared a little crazy.
“No. I have not and not to be rude, but why does this concern you? Do you always inject yourself into other people’s business like this?”
“You do not believe that I am legit, am I correct in that assumption?” She cocked her head to the side, eyebrows furrowed.
Nikoli put the book back on the shelf where he found it and walked towards her with the intention to talk, but she put her hand up at him, halting him.
“That is far enough, vampire. No sudden movements, please.”
Nikoli stopped, looking around to see if anyone was listening in.
“Are we alone?”
“Yes, we are, but I do not want to cause a scene. Please. Just stay over there.” The old woman pointed towards the wall, by the nearest window.
“You put on a good show thus far. You must rake in the dough.” Nikoli smirked at her.
“I don’t really care if you believe me. I do not live to impress your kind. I can see in your mind and I know that you are a kind being compared to the monster you used to be. Am I right?”
“Yes. I used to be pretty awful. Okay, so you can see inside my mind?” He showed his teeth in his wide smile at the absurdity of the conversation.
“Look. I am just trying to warn you. No need to be rude.” She leaned forward in her rocking chair, hey lips pressed together in a firm line.
“I apologize for my rudeness. What are your trying to warn me about?”
Sitting up a little straighter, she set her pipe down and took a sip of a foul smelling drink from a chipped mug. As the steam rise in the air and the advent wafted to him he coughed, plugging his nose.
“What is that? It reeks.” He waved his hand in front of him, gagging a little.
“Vervain, naturally. This is why you cannot compel me. It protects humans from your kind as long as it’s in our system is on our person. Any more questions? Or may I continue?” She placed her hands in her lap and raised her brows at him.
“Please.” He waved a hand at her, indicating for her to proceed.
“Thank you. Now, I don’t know why i feel the need to involve myself, but I want to warn you to please be careful. Trouble is coming.”
“Trouble? How do you mean?”
The old woman drummed her weathered fingers on the table impatiently.
“Do you really not know who she is?”
“Leila? Are you talking about Leila?” Nikoli huffed with annoyance, looking at his watch to see that it was 10 after the agreed upon time. Nikoli was quickly growing fidgety waiting for his date to arrive.
“Wow. For a vampire, you really are dense. You don’t recognize her at all?” She laughed at him, throwing her head back.
“I don’t know what you mean, old woman. Spit it out. I do not like being mocked!” He pointed at her forcefully, his anger radiating towards her, causing her to lean back against her chair.
“I did not mean to offend you. Think on it, though. It will come to you.” She waved her white napkin in the air in mock surrender.
“Why won’t you just tell me? I don’t understand why you speak in riddles.” He raised his hand in the air and smacked down on his leg causing her to jump slightly at the loud noise.
“It’s better if I don’t. Things need to play out a certain way. Ask I can do is warn you and try to guide you on the right path. The rest is up to you. If I interfere much further, it will have dire consequences for us both and I don’t know you well enough to put my life in your ill tempered hands.”
“Fine. I cannot make you talk and I wish you no harm. So, there’s not much I can do to make you talk now, is there?” Nikoli raked a hand through his hair in exasperation.
She just nodded at him and continued to puff away on her pipe. Nikoli snatched the book back off the shelf and stalked over to a table, with his back facing her. He tried to read, but ended up reading the same line over and over before slamming it shut and pinching the bridge of his nose. He pictured the way he remembered Leila from the bar, going over the way she laughed, the way she moved, her eyes, her lilting voice, the way her hair hung down her back. Gasping and standing up so suddenly that the chair fell backwards, he looked back at the fortune teller with wide eyes. He couldn’t believe he hadn’t seen it sooner.
“It can’t be…”