Winter's Nights: Eternity

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Night Four

Merry finished the book she was reading and flipped it closed. On the back cover there was a picture of a beautiful garden that reminded Merry of the garden behind her parents’ mansion. She had so many fond memories of that garden. She smiled as she thought of the games she and her brothers and sisters would play there when they were children, and sitting in the shade of the trees while her nanny read her stories from the big, old, worn, red leather storybook that had been her mother’s when she was a girl.

One of Merry’s favorite memories of the garden was swinging on the old wooden swing that hung from a large oak tree. She loved the freedom of the swing, the way it felt like she was flying, and her oldest brother, Adrian, had even painted her swinging on that swing one time. The painting was fantastic – shockingly realistic – and it had hung in the family dining room for everyone to see since the paint had dried. Years after she became a vampire, Merry had returned to her old home to find that it was now in the possession of Adrian’s great-great-grandson, Clark. The painting still hung on the wall in the dining room, but Clark never had any children, so when he died, the painting, along with many of the other artifacts in the house, went to the British Museum.

Merry had gone there twice to see the painting. It had been labeled “Merry on the Swing, by Adrian de Winter, 1680”, which made Merry smile. The art “experts” thought that the title that Adrian had written on the back meant “happy on the swing”, not “Meredith on the swing”. When the painting was sold to the Washington Museum, Merry had again risked the sunlight to see it, and one of the curators of the museum had noticed how much Merry resembled the painting.

“You look a lot like her,” the curator said.

Merry smiled and replied, “Actually, she looks a lot like me. Though Adrian always said that he never got my eyes right.”

The surprised curator didn’t know how to reply. Merry turned to her and offered her hand to shake.

“I’m Merry,” she said. “It’s short for Meredith, that’s why it’s spelt that way. Adrian was my oldest brother.”

The curator shook Merry’s hand uncertainly, then smiled and laughed.

“That’s clever,” the curator replied, assuming that Merry had to be joking. “That would make you how old?”

“Over three centuries,” Merry replied.

The curator laughed again.

“You’re good.”

Merry continued to smile, knowing full well that the woman didn’t believe her.

“How would I go about getting my painting back?” Merry asked. “It really did belong to my family. My name is Merry, the Lady de Winter.”

The curator hesitated.

“I can pay the museum what it’s worth,” she added. “1.4 million the last time it was appraised if I recall correctly.”

The curator’s eyes went wide.

“It’s important to me.”

“Uh… I’d have to talk to the board about it and make a few arrangements. Are you certain you can afford it?” the curator finally replied.

“Would you like to talk to my bank?” Merry offered. “I can leave you my phone number and the number for my bank and you can make all the arrangements and get back to me.”

“Sure,” the curator replied. “Come into my office and I’ll get that all from you.”

Merry followed the woman into her office and wrote down all the information she needed. When she was done, Merry put her gloves and sunglasses back on and pulled up her hood as she headed for the exit. She bolted outside and across the street into the safe shadows of the alley. She dropped down into a manhole and used her intricate knowledge of the sewers to get back to her apartment building. She climbed out of the sewers behind the building and slipped in the back door. It was only when she was back inside her apartment that she finally relaxed.

Merry wondered if the curator had made all the necessary arrangements yet. She really wanted that painting, and the British Museum had refused all of her offers to buy it. It was only after they sold it to the Washington Museum that Merry thought she had a chance to get it back without stealing it, which she didn’t want to do. She wanted to get it legitimately, so that it really felt like it was hers again. Where’s my cell phone? Merry wondered.

She stood up and walked over to the camera in the corner.

“Amy!” she called. “Where’s my phone? I’ve been expecting a call.”

“From who?” Hunt asked.

“Bring my phone here and we’ll discuss it,” Merry replied.

Hunt hesitated before replying, “Okay. I’ll be right down.”

Merry stayed standing until Hunt arrived. Hunt was cautious as she handed over the phone to the vampire. Merry took it and immediately noticed that the battery was getting low.

“You’ve been playing with this,” Merry accused. “Trying to get into my private life. Good thing I put a password on it. Not that I keep any numbers stored on it, but still.”

Hunt didn’t reply, but Merry knew the truth. She typed in the password then dialed the number for the museum, hoping that there would still be someone there at this time of day. She recognized the voice that answered the phone as belonging to the curator that she had been dealing with.

“Hello,” Merry said. “It’s the Lady de Winter. I was just wondering about my painting.”

Merry listened to the woman’s reply.

“Oh what a coincidence: I’ve just saved you a phone call. Excellent.”

“No, I’m afraid I can’t come down and sign the papers right now, but perhaps you could have someone bring them by and I could sign them and send them back.”

“Wonderful. Just let me get the address here,” Merry replied. She pulled the phone back from her mouth and covered it with her hand as she looked at Hunt.

Hunt hesitated, then rattled off the address. Merry repeated it into the phone.

“Excellent. I’ll call the bank and make all the necessary arrangements with them and I’ll be awaiting your messenger.”

“Yes, I’ll arrange to pick up the painting. Sometime next week probably.”

“Yes, I’ll come in person. I don’t trust anyone else with it.”

Hunt coughed and Merry gave her a look that told her that she shouldn’t be surprised if Merry did pick up the painting in person.

“Wonderful.”

“You too.”

Merry hung up then dialed the bank manager at home. She knew that it was evening, but she was a very important customer, so he had no trouble talking about transferring the funds to the museum at home. Hunt was disappointed that Merry didn’t have to give her account number because the manager recognized her name. The manager also agreed to send someone over with the papers that Merry needed to sign, and with everything settled, Merry hung up. She turned off her phone and Hunt held out her hand for it. Merry relented and handed it over. She had no more need for it.

“What was all that about, Lady de Winter?” Hunt asked, emphasizing Merry's title.

“A painting that I’ve been waiting to buy from the Washington Museum,” Merry replied, ignoring the fact that Hunt had used her title. “When the couriers show up just tell them to wait and bring me the papers to sign please. This painting is important to me.”

Hunt could see that Merry was being sincere.

“Sure,” Hunt said with a nod. “So why’s it so important to you? Who did it? What’s the subject?”

“My brother painted it, of me, when I was a teenager,” Merry finally replied.

“Really?!” Hunt was surprised and intrigued.

Merry nodded.

“I guess I’ll go back up to the control room and wait for your papers,” Hunt said.

“Thanks,” Merry replied.

Hunt nodded and left. Merry returned to the bed and started reading another book. Both couriers arrived within the hour and as Hunt had promised she brought Merry the papers to sign and returned them to the couriers.

Hunt was very curious about Merry’s painting and was disappointed that she hadn’t found out about it before it had come into Merry’s possession. It was actual proof of Merry’s age and who she really was. There was some information on it on the museum’s website, and Hunt was surprised at how much the painting looked like Merry.

Hunt was also curious about Merry’s title, Lady de Winter. She looked it up on the Internet and found a small history of Merry’s family. There was no mention of Merry’s disappearance, but apparently only Lord Adrian de Winter, the famous painter, had children, and his great-great-grandson Clark had been the last of the de Winters – with the exception of Merry, of course.

Hunt went back down to Merry’s room to ask her more questions about the painting and her family, but the vampire wasn’t very cooperative.

“I found a photo of your painting on the Internet,” Hunt said. “The likeness is amazing.”

“Adrian was very talented. He always said that he didn’t get my eyes quite right, but I think it’s pretty good.”

“The computer said that it was done in 1680, is that right?”

“Why are you so interested in this?” Merry asked.

“Because it’s about you.”

“Because you’re a snoopy scientist,” Merry retorted harshly.

Hunt didn’t answer. She was surprised by Merry’s tone and was slightly afraid that Merry might kick her out of the room, or worse. Merry sighed.

“I have no idea when it was done. It was a few years before I was turned, but I don’t know what year that was either. That’s a long time ago, it’s not important.”

“It’s important to you,” Hunt replied.

“It’s all I have left of my family. Our house, our garden, it was all destroyed half a century ago. But that’s none of your business. I told you before, this isn’t about my family, this is about me. You want to understand a vampire; my past, my family, and other vampires aren’t part of that, so leave them alone.”

“Okay, okay,” Hunt said. She didn’t want to make Merry angry. Merry could probably kill her before either she or Athens could react with garlic. “I was just curious. I didn’t know that you were of noble blood or that your brother was a famous artist and I just found it interesting.”

“Fine, it’s interesting, but drop it now. I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Okay, I won’t ask again.”

“Good.”

Hunt left, afraid that her curiosity had ruined her relationship with Merry.

After a little while Merry put the book she was reading down on the table. She couldn’t put it off any longer. She could feel Hunt’s emotions through their link and she knew that she had hurt her feelings. She took off the sunglasses, stood up and walked over to the video camera and beckoned to Hunt.

“I’m sorry, Amy,” Merry said. “I shouldn’t have been like that.”

Merry didn’t know what else to say. She looked down, waiting for a reply, but none came. Merry sighed, put the sunglasses back on and returned to the bed. Hunt knocked on the door a few minutes later and entered the room.

“You didn’t have to apologize,” Hunt said. “I’m the one that should apologize. You told me not to ask about your past and I did anyway.”

“I guess we’re even then,” Merry replied.

Hunt nodded. She pulled a bottle of blood out of her jacket pocket.

“Brought you a snack,” Hunt offered.

Merry held up her hand and Hunt tossed her the bottle. Merry caught it, then surprised Hunt by screwing off the top and drinking out of the top of the bottle like it wasn’t blood at all. She hadn’t even extended her fangs. Merry grinned at Hunt’s expression.

Hunt smiled back and shook her head. “You’re driving me nuts,” Hunt said. “Every time I think I have you figured out you do something else to confuse me.”

Merry grinned wider.

“That’s my job,” Merry replied as she set the half full bottle down on the table.

Hunt shook her head again, then took hold of the back of the chair and sat down. She liked Merry, no matter how confusing she was, and she was glad that Merry liked her. This reminded her that Merry always addressed her by her first name and she had been meaning to ask why.

“I’m used to being called ‘Hunt’,” she said. “But you always call me ‘Amy’. Why?”

“Vampires only go by their first names. Last names can date you, but first names are eternal.”

“What about your title?” Hunt asked, then realizing that that was prying she added, “Never mind.”

“I only used it to get the painting,” Merry replied. “I haven’t spoken that name in years. When I was young, everyone knew who the de Winters were. Not anymore. It’s safe again to use it, but I only do if I need to.”

Hunt nodded. As much as she wanted to know about Merry’s past, she didn’t want to upset the vampire again.

“So you address me as a vampire?”

“I address you as I wish to be addressed,” Merry clarified. “I don’t want to be called ‘Lady de Winter’, so I don’t call you ‘Hunt’.”

“I see.” Hunt hesitated. “I know I’m not supposed to ask about other vampires,” Hunt said cautiously, “but I’m curious… about ‘ranks’.”

“What do you know about them?” Merry asked.

“The files say they’re the ‘distance’ from the First. Sort of ‘generations’.”

“And what do you know of the First?”

“He’s the oldest vampire on Earth.”

Merry smiled. She would indulge Hunt’s curiosity.

“The First is not only the oldest, but he is the vampire to whom all living vampires can trace their lineage. He was not truly the first vampire, but we pretend he was. He is incredibly strong and fast and wise. He is so old that he is only three feet tall and his hair is white as snow.” Merry paused and smiled in remembrance. “It glows against his coal black skin. To be in his presence is... incredible… I digress. He is the First. Those he sired are Seconds. Those they sire are Thirds, and so on. Prestige comes with higher ranks because the First was always very selective of who he sired and it is expected that all others are to be as careful as he was when choosing who to turn.”

“I thought vampires never aged, no matter how young or old they were when they were sired,” Hunt replied. “How did his hair get white?”

“He claims it was stress,” Merry answered. “He certainly looks as young as the day he was bitten except for his hair.”

“What’s ‘of the Highest’?” Hunt asked. “The vampire that mentioned ranks claimed he was ‘almost of the Highest’.”

“It means to be within five links of the First,” Merry explained. “And he lied, he was a Ninth. That is not close.”

“And your rank… Sorry.” Hunt shook her head. “Not supposed to ask.”

“I am of the Highest,” Merry replied. After a moment she added, “I’m a Third. My sire was sired by the First himself.”

“Wow,” Hunt replied. She stared at Merry, her eyes slightly wider than normal.

“That impresses you?”

“Shouldn’t it?”

“You’re not a vampire,” Merry replied. “Ranks mean nothing to humans.”

“You just told me that prestige comes with higher ranks. You’re a Third. You’re like… vampire royalty or something.”

Merry smiled. “Or something, yes.”

Hunt smiled back. “Thank you… for answering. I wasn’t sure if I should ask, and I wasn’t sure if you would reply, but I hoped you would. You’re so interesting. I want to know everything about you.”

“There’s only one way you can know everything about me, Amy,” Merry replied. “And we’ve already discussed it.”

Hunt leaned back automatically and eyed Merry. She hoped that Merry didn’t ask her again whether she would choose being a vampire over dying. She still hadn’t come up with an answer and if she didn’t answer the conversation would be over.

“I won’t ask again,” Merry promised, giving Hunt the slightest impression that the vampire had read her mind. “When you come up with an answer, you will tell me, but I will not ask you again. Put it out of your mind if it bothers you. It’s no matter to me.”

Hunt forced a grateful smile. A thought occurred to Merry.

“No new books for me tonight?” the vampire asked.

“Oh!” Hunt replied. “Yes, they’re upstairs. And I got you a notebook too.”

“Wonderful!”

“Alix?” Hunt said, turning to the camera. “Could you bring that bag down please?”

Athens sighed, then nodded to himself.

“I’ll be right down,” he said into the speaker.

“Thank you,” Hunt replied.

Athens picked up the bag of books for the vampire and headed out of the control room.

Merry opened the bag like it was a Christmas present, making Hunt smile. First the vampire retrieved the pen, which she held between her teeth as she began pulling novels out and reading the backs of them. Last she removed the red and black coil notebook, holding it like it was made of gold as she set the plastic bag aside.

The vampire ran her hand down the front cover gently, then brought the book up close to her face and smelled it. She removed the pen from her mouth.

“It smells like you,” she said.

“It was one I had at home,” Hunt replied, hoping that was okay with the vampire.

“You like vanilla scent,” the vampire commented. “So do I.”

Hunt smiled. Merry twirled the pen between her fingers. Hunts eyes tried to follow it, but it was moving too fast. Merry smiled and slowed the pen down so that Hunt could analyze the movement. Finally Hunt took the pen and clumsily tried to twirl it. Merry coached her and eventually Hunt started to get the hang of it.

“A bit of practice and you’ll have it down pat,” the vampire smiled.

Hunt smiled back and returned the pen. The vampire flipped open her new notebook and began sketching out a phrase: Carpe noctem. Hunt watched.

“Seize the night, right?” Hunt asked.

Merry smiled and nodded.

Carpe diem – seize the day – just doesn’t work as well when you’re nocturnal,” she said.

“I suppose not,” Hunt agreed.

Under the ornate Latin words the vampire wrote their English translation in smaller letters.

“You have beautiful writing?” Hunt commented.

“Thank you,” Merry replied. “I've had a few years to perfect it.” She smiled at Hunt.

Hunt smiled back.

“My writing is terrible,” Hunt admitted. “In university, speed was more important than style, and I've never really...”

Hunt trailed off. She was staring at the paper where Merry had continued to write in her flawless script at high speed without taking her eyes off Hunt.

“You've never really what?” Merry asked.

“I, uh... Yeah. I've never really taken the time to slow my writing down and tidy it up,” Hunt answered.

Her eyes were watching the pen again. Merry stopped.

“I'm distracting you,” Merry said. She closed the book and set the pen down.

“It's alright,” Hunt insisted. “It's just amazing to watch you.”

“Well, thank you,” the vampire replied, “but I feel like I get watched enough around here. With you, I'd rather be talking.”

Hunt nodded.

“Where is your ring?” Hunt asked.

Merry looked surprised. She looked down and saw that she was touching her left ring finger. She pulled her hands apart. She didn't wear the ring all the time, but since she had been wearing it recently, she missed the feeling of it on her finger.

“It wasn't in the things the police took from you,” Hunt added, trying to provoke an answer.

Merry didn't bite. She didn't even acknowledge that Hunt had spoken.

“Are you engaged? Married?” Hunt asked.

Merry licked her lip. She still wasn't even looking at Hunt. Hunt decided to press her luck.

“Look,” Hunt said, “this is obviously something you don't want to talk about, but I want to know. You've touched your ring finger a hundred times since you've been here, so you're clearly missing the ring that belongs there. If the police took it and didn't give it to us, I'll get it back for you.”

“My sire has it,” Merry finally replied. “He gave it to me before...” Merry paused. “I don't wear it all the time. I don't want to lose it.”

Merry still wasn't looking at Hunt. She looked cross. Suddenly she seized Hunt's left wrist and held her hand up between them. Hunt was terrified. She tried to pull away, but to no avail.

“You probably can't even see it with your human eyes,” Merry snarled, “but you have a tan line on your ring finger. I can guess who would have given you a special ring at one time, and I'll bet you don't want to talk about that either.”

Merry released Hunt's wrist. Hunt stared warily at Merry. The vampire disappeared from her sight. Hunt whirled to see her sitting cross-legged on the floor in the opposite corner of the room. She was spinning Hunt's garlic spray like a top on the floor. Hunt checked her pocket in disbelief, only to confirm that Merry had managed to strip her of her only weapon.

Hunt slowly rose from the chair and walked towards Merry. She sat down on the floor in front of her. Merry didn't look up. Hunt cautiously reached out and caught the spinning garlic spray. Merry let her pick it up and return it to her pocket.

“Alix and I dated for a few years. He gave me a promise ring and I wore it on that finger. I gave it back to him when I found out he cheated on me. We got back together and I wore it again until I caught him cheating again. I don't even know where it is now.”

Athens winced as he heard Hunt's words. He hated himself for hurting her, and more and more he wanted her back. He also hated having Merry know; she already hated him enough.

The ring, a sterling silver twisted band adorned with a blue sapphire, was in Athens' sock drawer, along with everything else he had from his relationship with Hunt: photos, gifts to and from her, ticket stubs, CDs... He wondered what she'd say if she knew that he'd saved everything.

Merry finally looked at Hunt. She didn't look angry anymore. She spoke quietly, so that Athens couldn't hear.

“My sire's name is Davide. It was love at first sight. We dated for a few weeks and then he slipped a ring on my finger just before he bit me. Like I said, I don't wear it all the time because I'm afraid to lose it.”

Hunt nodded. She looked down at her own ring finger. Merry was right, she couldn't see the tan line.

“Have you thought about giving Alix another chance?”

Athens nearly fell off his chair. He stared at the monitor, unable to believe his ears. He hadn't been able to hear the vampire's explanation about her ring, but he had heard her last words loud and clear.

Where the heck did that come from? Athens wondered. She hates me. Why on earth would she want me and Amy to get back together?

“I... no... I haven't... thought about it,” Hunt stammered, just as surprised as Athens was. “Why?”

“I've seen how he looks at you, Amy. And I've seen how you look at him. He's hurt you. He's made you angry. But you still care about him. And he still cares about you.”

“Well... we're still friends,” Hunt replied. “I mean... we work together still so we have to be civil, and we've known each other for quite a while, so of course we care about each other.”

“How did you meet?”

“Here, actually,” Hunt answered. “Right out of university. We both came here for job interviews and ended up sitting side-by-side in the waiting room. Alix asked me what my major was and I told him and we just ended up talking the whole time we waited until it was just the two of us in the room and Alix got called in for his interview. It seemed to take forever, but finally he reappeared. He wished me luck as they called me in. When it was over I didn't expect him to be still in the waiting room. He asked me out for supper and I agreed. We were in the middle of the meal when both our phones rang that we had both got the jobs. We celebrated with a bottle of champagne and a late night movie.”

Merry was smiling. Hunt realized that she was too. She coughed, pretending to clear her throat, to wipe the smile off her face.

“What about you and Davide?”

Merry's smile failed. She thought for a moment before nodding to herself. Her smile returned.

“The spring festival. There were performers and musicians and colors everywhere, and there he was, just standing there, staring at me. As he walked towards me it was like everything else became dark and he was the only light. He asked me to dance, right in front of my brothers, and I couldn't say 'no'. We danced and talked and then he took me behind the tents for some privacy. When he kissed me... I'll never forget that kiss... I knew then that I wanted to be with him forever.”

“I guess you got your wish,” Hunt replied.

Merry nodded.

“Did you kiss Alix on your first date?”

Hunt nodded.

“After we got the phone calls that we'd got the jobs we were so excited. We jumped up from the table and hugged and then the kiss just sort of followed.”

“When I was, well, human, it was very taboo to kiss on the first date, or any date for that matter. You didn't kiss until after many formalities and parental approvals. Not that I was ever one for following rules,” Merry said.

“Me either,” Hunt replied.

They smiled at each other.

“Can we go sit somewhere more comfortable?” Hunt asked.

“Sure,” Merry said as she rose from the floor. “Why don't you sit on the bed and I'll sit in the chair?”

“Okay,” Hunt replied as she stood up.

Hunt felt weird sitting on Merry's bed. Merry lounged in Hunt's chair, looking perfectly comfortable. Hunt suspected that Merry was trying to throw her off balance, but she couldn't think why.

“This isn't a bad chair,” Merry commented.

Hunt nodded in agreement.

“When was your second date?” Merry asked.

Hunt had half hoped that the change of seating arrangements would have ended that particular conversation, but she answered Merry nonetheless.

“Breakfast the next morning,” she replied, blushing slightly.

Merry's eyebrows raised ever so slightly in surprise.

“His place or yours?” she asked.

“Mine was closer to the restaurant,” Hunt replied. She looked sheepish.

“I'm not judging you, Amy,” Merry insisted. “You two are good together. I just... didn't really expect that answer.”

“When was your second date?” Hunt asked, going shot-for-shot with the vampire.

“The next evening. I had told Davide where I lived so he came to the garden behind my parents' place and climbed over the wall. I had been swinging on the swing. I was surprised to see him, but glad. We played hide-and-seek in the orchard until he caught me. I would have slept with him then, but he insisted on protecting my honor. And it would have been dangerous. In the heat of the moment it's hard not to... bite or... get rough.”

“Did you sleep with him?” Hunt asked.

Merry looked over her sunglasses at the human, one eyebrow raised. She cleared her throat and pushed the sunglasses back up.

“Not before he bit me,” Merry replied. “After that we didn't have to worry about me getting hurt.”

Merry put her elbow on the table and leaned her chin on her hand.

“When was your third date?” she asked.

“We're supposed to be talking about you,” Hunt answered.

“And we aren't supposed to be talking about other vampires,” Merry replied.

Merry scratched her fingernail down her fang a few times. It looked absentminded, like a person might chew their fingernails, but it was very intimidating.

“For our third date we got take out and rented some movies and went to Alix's place. I honestly couldn't tell you which movies or what they were about. Yours?”

“The next evening. I was out with some friends and after I left their place he came up behind me and wrapped his arms around me. It startled me for a moment, but then I knew without seeing him exactly who it was. We walked and talked until it was late and I had to go home. Fourth?”

“Are we going to do this all night?” Hunt asked.

“If need be,” Merry replied.

“Why?”

“Why not?”

“It's not scientific,” Hunt replied. “It doesn't pertain to the research.”

“No?” Merry asked. “You haven't been able to discern that I was absolutely lonely before Davide, despite having a large family and two best friends? Can't you see that I don't like to talk about my family because I never said 'good-bye' to them? I left one night and never came back. My poor mother, living every day not knowing whether I was dead or alive. And my friends... they helped me keep Davide a secret from my parents, only to find out that he attacked me in the garden and now I was missing and so was he. How guilty do you think I feel leaving them with that pain? I will live forever yet I never took the time to write them a letter saying that I was okay. I never came up with some story about becoming a nun out of shame for letting myself be so vulnerable. I will live 'happily ever after' with that regret. Forgive me for wanting to know how it could have been different.”

Hunt was silent for a moment, taking in Merry's words. She decided that Merry's honesty deserved the same in response.

“On our fourth date I met Alix's parents,” Hunt replied. “We met them at a restaurant for supper. The conversation was awkward. I've only seen them a couple times since. They didn't like that Alix was a scientist. They wanted him to be a priest.”

Merry snickered. Hunt was glad to see the vampire smile.

“Amy!” Athens barked into the speaker. He had been completely bored by the conversation, but he certainly didn't need it to turn into an explanation of his poor relationship with his parents.

“Oh come on, Alix,” Merry replied between giggles. “Lighten up! That's just... hilarious.”

Merry continued to laugh for a few moments, and even slapped her hand on her knee. Hunt had to smile. The thought of Athens as a priest was funny, but the vampire's reaction was funnier. Merry finally got herself under control, although she continued to smile.

“The fourth night Davide climbed up the lattice on the side of the house to my balcony. We sat and watched the sky all night. I don't remember falling asleep, but I woke up the next morning in my bed.”

“Our fifth date we went cycling,” Hunt said without being prompted. “We stopped and put flowers on my grandparents' graves. I had tried not to cry but... We walked the bikes back a ways until I felt I could ride the rest of the way.”

“The fifth night I snuck out of the garden and we walked down to the stream in the forest beyond the field. It was a long way – no one would have heard me scream – but it never occurred to me that it was dangerous. We sat there under the stars until it was very dark out. When I got home my father was still up. I told him I fell asleep in the garden. Luckily he believed me.”

“Did you see him every night?” Hunt asked.

“Yes,” Merry replied, nodding. “He would never have stayed in such a small place for so long if not for me. It's too risky. People start to notice that you don't go out during the day and that you never eat anything. Plus, there's not a lot of food. But he had to stay. He couldn't leave without me. But he needed to know that I loved him first. He wanted to be sure that I felt for him what he felt for me.”

“Which obviously you did, but couldn't he have affected that? I mean... he could have hypnotized you and made you love him, right?”

“The hypnosis would have failed after I was turned,” Merry replied. “It only works on humans and werewolves.”

“Hold that thought,” Hunt said. “So then, couldn't he have read your mind to learn your feelings?”

“I suppose,” Merry answered. “I guess he wanted to do it 'properly'. If he had been human, we wouldn't have been sneaking around. He would have asked my father's permission to court me and followed all the formalities and niceties. But since he was a vampire, this was as close as he could come.”

Hunt nodded, then diverted the conversation to the side.

“You can hypnotize werewolves?”

“Only the first vampire to enter a werewolf's mind can ever enter that werewolf's mind. We can make them remember the things that their wolf half has done and influence their actions. For instance, if we tell them that they must lock themselves up during the full moon, then they have no choice but to obey. The only thing we can't do is make them not kill. Unfortunately, killing is as much a part of their nature as it is ours.”

“So, they're like: your pets?”

“Sometimes. Not me personally, but it happens. More so in the past than now. When I find a new werewolf I make a point of entering their mind simply so that no other vampire could take advantage of them. I always try to help them to help themselves and to protect others from what they might do when they aren't themselves.”

“And you're all 'driven to kill'?”

“We're predators, the same as humans and wolves. We kill to survive. Vampires are able to avoid killing, as you've seen. I can drink just enough of your blood to survive and then stop, but werewolves... Once they see their prey, they can't stop. And I'm not saying that vampires always do stop either, just that we can.”

“Is it harder to stop with some people's blood than with others?” Hunt asked. “For example, when Davide bit you – was it harder for him to stop because he loved you?”

“The hardest part for Davide was waiting to bite me. He had trouble not biting me in the middle of the crowd at the festival. Before he kissed me the first time he pulled my hair down over my neck so that he wasn't so tempted,” Merry explained. “Most of the time, it's not that hard to stop. People's bloods do taste different though – after all, you are what you eat – so it's good practice to decide ahead of time how much you're going to take. For me, it's easier to stop with vegetarians because they taste terrible.”

Merry smiled. Hunt smiled back.

“You can drink animal blood also, correct?”

Merry nodded.

“Do different animals taste different?”

“Of course,” Merry replied. “In general, predators taste better than prey animals and wild game tastes better than domestic.”

“What about me?” Hunt asked. “Is it hard for you to stop with me?”

Merry paused, wishing she could tell Hunt the truth.

“No,” Merry answered slowly. “I made you a promise and that makes it easier.”

“But you like the taste.”

“Very much so.”

“So it is hard then.”

“Yes,” Merry answered carefully. “That's why I had to bite my hand after the first time I bit you. It gets easier each time though, so don't worry. I would never take too much.”

Hunt nodded. She was slightly disturbed by the direction the conversation had taken, even though she had been the one who started it. Of the conversations she had had with the vampire, this one was by far the strangest.

“Have I upset you?” Merry asked.

“No,” Hunt insisted. “I asked the question. I wanted to know. It's just... a little odd to think of myself as food.”

“You're not food, Amy,” Merry assured her. “We just have a rather unusual friendship.”

Hunt laughed and Merry smiled. Merry leaned on the table again and ran her fingernail down her fang absentmindedly.

“Since we're breaking all my carefully laid out rules,” Merry said, “I will answer something else for you.”

Hunt waited patiently for her to continue, her mind searching for what answer Merry might suddenly be willing to share.

“The bottle caps were for my friend Lea. She's a singer. She uses bottle caps to make artwork. Like you, she lets me bite her. And like you, I very much enjoy the taste of her blood.”

“Do you see her very often?” Hunt asked.

“Unfortunately, no,” Merry replied. “She's usually on tour or in the studio, and I don't stay in one place very long either. I do try to catch a show every once and a while though. And I actually recorded background vocals on one track on her latest album, so we got to spend a little time together then.”

“Seriously?” Hunt exclaimed. “What album? What's her band's name?”

“I'm not listed in the liner notes, don't worry,” Merry replied. “I don't get any writing credits for any of my songs either.”

“Could you sing one of your songs for me?” Hunt requested.

“Nice try,” Merry answered. “But I'm not going to sing you one of Lea's songs just so you can figure out who she is.”

“That wasn't... It didn't have to be one of her songs, I just... You have such a nice voice.”

Hunt looked sad, like she'd missed some prime opportunity. Merry softened. Hunt had just wanted to hear her sing – the song didn't matter. The vampire ran her thumb across the tip of her fang.

“Can you turn the speaker off... so Alix can't hear us?” Merry asked softly.

Hunt shook her head.

“The system is designed to be completely tamper-proof. Everything has fail-safes and back-ups,” Hunt replied, keeping her voice low.

Athens leaned closer to the monitor. He couldn't hear what the women were saying. He touched the speaker.

“Amy, can you speak up please?”

Merry's eyes brightened. She looked over her sunglasses at Hunt and shook her head slightly.

“This is private, Alix,” Hunt replied. “Just give us a minute.”

“That's not safe, Amy,” Athens answered. “If I can't hear you then I can't know if she's manipulating you.”

“She's not going to manipulate me, Alix,” Hunt said sharply. “Now shut up for a minute.”

Athens glared at the speaker. He rolled his chair back from the computer and leaned back.

Fine, he thought to himself, just don't be mad at me when she gets inside your head.

Merry leaned towards Hunt and motioned her closer. Hunt leaned in so that Merry was close to her ear.

“Alix was right,” Merry whispered. “You shouldn't let me do this.”

Hunt was startled. She was about to pull away when Merry started singing, freezing her in place. The vampire's voice and words were captivating.

“It's ten p.m.

And I'm watching a James Dean movie

Wishing he didn't smile the way you do

I know that I should try

And at least pretend I'm gonna sleep

But every time I close my eyes

Your face is all that I see

I don't want to lie there

Thinking about you

So I'm gonna sit here

Thinking about James Dean

It's twelve a.m.

And I'm watching an Elvis Presley movie

Wishing your eyes weren't that same blue

I know I should turn it off

And try to go to bed alone

But your voice is in my thoughts

And our pillows smell like your cologne

I don't want to lie there

Thinking about you

So I'm gonna sit here

Thinking about Elvis

It's two a.m.

And I'm watching a River Phoenix movie

Wishing he wasn't adventurous like you

I know that I should go

And lay down my weary head

But I don't want to know

What it's like without you in our bed

I don't want to lie there

Thinking about you

So I'm gonna sit here

Thinking about River

It's four a.m.

And I'm watching a Heath Ledger movie

Wishing you didn't die tragically too.”

When Merry finished singing she leaned away from Hunt. Hunt remained frozen in place, her eyes on Merry.

“It always leaves you wanting more,” Merry said.

Hunt nodded slowly and finally leaned back.

“I guess we're even now,” Merry added, “since that's what your blood does to me.”

“That was beautiful,” Hunt said, finally finding her voice.

“Thank you,” Merry answered. “I'm not sure why, but even 'before' I could charm anyone with a song. The song I sang with Lea was a number one hit.”

“I believe it,” Hunt replied. “I'd buy it.”

“Maybe you have,” Merry suggested.

The vampire smiled but still wouldn't give up the name of the band or the song. Hunt didn't bother to ask again; Merry had already told her so many things that she had previously refused to comment on.

“How did you meet Lea?” Hunt asked.

Merry smiled, remembering.

“It was similar to the way I met you, Amy, except that Lea was the girl I was saving in the dark alley. And there were three deadbeats.”

“Do you save a lot of people?” Hunt asked.

“I try to,” Merry replied.

The vampire seemed sad for a moment.

“What's wrong?” Hunt asked.

“Sometimes I wonder if the best way to save people is to kill myself,” Merry answered.

Hunt was surprised.

“I thought you had accepted who you were and what you needed to do to survive?” Hunt replied.

“I have. I would never actually end my own life,” Merry clarified, “but I think about it. I'm not a good person. I kill unnecessarily sometimes. With Lea... I didn't have to kill those men. I could have simply changed their minds and changed their lives. And when her manager dropped her from his agency, I didn't have to kill him either. It was just business. He was just trying to make a living. I didn't tell Lea, but she found out when his estate issued her last cheque.”

“How did she take it?” Hunt wondered.

“She beat the hell out of me,” Merry replied.

Hunt stared at her.

“Well, I let her, but still...”

Merry smiled. Hunt smiled back, imagining this powerful creature allowing some lowly human to beat her up. Merry's smile slowly faded as she returned to the subject.

“When I kill unnecessarily, without thinking everything through, that's when I get upset at myself and think about ending it,” Merry explained.

Hunt nodded. She could see Merry's point.

“Why do you keep Lea human?” Hunt asked.

“Because I like her the way she is,” Merry replied. “She has a life, a career... She isn't sick or dying. She has bodyguards to protect her...”

“Do you intend to turn her?”

Merry remained silent for a moment, thinking.

“I am always very selective about who I sire,” Merry said cautiously. “I don't like to rush into it. I check their minds to see what sort of people they are. I find out who is important to them to see who will miss them and who they will miss. Once it's done, there's no turning back. All ties are severed. Everyone you love will think you're dead.”

“So you haven't decided,” Hunt guessed.

“No,” Merry lied. She didn't want to tell Hunt what she had long ago decided to do with Lea.

“What made you decide to... keep Lea around? To be her friend?” Hunt asked.

“I read her mind and saw that she was a good person. And then she saw me kill three people, so I either had to explain things to her or kill her, so...”

“Couldn't you hypnotize her and make her forget?”

“Some things you can't make people forget,” Merry replied. “Some things eat away at peoples' minds, even if they can't consciously remember them. What she saw... well... she would have had nightmares. It could have driven her insane if I'd tried to erase it from her mind. Besides, she smelled so tasty...”

Merry smiled. Hunt forced a smile back.

“Do I smell 'tasty'?” she asked cautiously.

Merry nodded.

“Everyone smells different, of course,” the vampire explained, “but some people smell particularly appetizing. And some people – perhaps they're sick or don't eat well – don't smell so good. And we can smell things like hormones, so we'd know whether a man would be easy to lure into a dark room or whether a woman is... low on blood.”

Hunt understood.

“Are you attracted to blood in the way that a shark is?” Hunt asked. “If someone is injured or menstruating, for example.”

“It certainly makes them more noticeable,” Merry replied. She smiled. “But unlike some creatures, we are strong enough to resist such temptations.”

“Just how good is your sense of smell?” Hunt wondered.

“I can tell you your brand of shampoo, soap, detergent, dish soap, milk, cereal, jeans.... And I could do the same for all 27 people in the building.”

Hunt's face turned from amazed to startled.

“How do you know how many people are here?”

“Didn't I just explain that I can smell them?” Merry asked, confused.

“Oh. Yeah. I just... I thought... Well... Never mind.”

“What?”

“I guess it's a bit like you not wanting to talk about other vampires. I'm not comfortable talking about the other employees here.”

“Fair enough,” Merry replied, nodding. “And let's not talk about blood anymore either. It makes you uncomfortable and it's making me hungry.” The vampire smiled.

“Sorry,” Hunt answered. “Did you want a bottle of blood?”

Merry shook her head.

“I'm alright,” the vampire assured her.

Merry didn't mention how much she dislike the lab blood. Instead she yawned, causing Hunt to rise.

“I’ll let you get some rest. See you tomorrow night,” Hunt said.

Merry nodded and Hunt left the room. Alone again, Merry reached over and picked up her new notebook and pen. She jotted some things down on a page then set the book down and rose from the chair and disappeared into the bathroom. She re-emerged brushing her teeth and made another entry in the notebook. Back in the control room, Hunt smiled to herself as she imagined the entry being about the importance of good dental hygiene for vampires.

Merry returned her toothbrush to the bathroom and sat back down at the table. Merry twirled her pen in her hand and leaned over her notebook.

When Hunt was getting ready to leave she asked Merry through the speaker whether she wanted the lights on or off. Merry asked for them off so that she didn't need the sunglasses. Hunt obliged her.

In the near darkness Merry removed the sunglasses and folded them on the table, then continued to fill the pages of the notebook. Her script was elegant and angular. Each letter was perfectly formed. She used her right hand, although she could write almost as well with her left. As she started to draw the Eiffel Tower she wished that she had two pens so that she could use both hands for the drawing.

“There is something satisfying about the sound of a pen on paper,” Merry said softly to herself.

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