Katelina stared into the darkness and let her mind wander. She thought about the epic movies she’d seen. The final battle always ended in a smear of blood, then the hero swept up the girl and rode away into their happily ever after. For Katelina, it was the day after the happily ever after, and it wasn’t like the movies. All the troubles and tasks those simple words obscured were waiting for her. There were practical things for her to worry about: getting settled into her new home, taking out the trash, fixing the broken window, and trying to salvage some of the life she’d left behind. Instead of being over, her troubles were just beginning.
She thought of her abandoned apartment, her mother that she hadn’t called for two months, and her best friend Sarah. Watery guilt settled in her stomach. It was her fault that Sarah had been taken by Claudius and murdered. Though, she didn’t know what she could have done differently to save her. It was one of a thousand regrets that she’d never be free of.
She rolled over in bed, seeking comfort, and noted the empty place. Jorick was already out, no doubt feeding. Feeding was a word she still wasn’t used to. Vampire was another one. The discomfort did nothing to change her reality.
She closed her eyes and pictured Jorick: tall, dark, and immortal. His hair was as black as the night and his eyes were dark fire. It was no wonder she’d fallen for him. The mental image brought a smile to her face. She reveled in it for a moment, then forced herself to get out of bed. The basement bedroom was chilly, so she dressed quickly. Her eyes strayed to a tatty suitcase. Now that they were home, they needed to unpack. First, she might as well have something to eat.
She hurried through the basement and up the stairs. As she passed the bathroom she could hear the shower running and thought she heard Jorick singing in a disturbingly foreign language. Odd, to think that vampires sang in the shower.
The kitchen was drafty, and outside the wind blew a bucket into the foundation. It was as if winter knocked to remind them it was there. It needn’t have bothered. For once, she was aware of the date. It was already the fourth of December.
She switched the oven on and moved to the refrigerator. A folded piece of paper lay on the counter next to it with the words “Official Notice” printed on the front. As she picked it up, Jorick entered and stole her attention. His hair was wet and the scent of soap clung to him. He planted a kiss on the back of her neck and plucked the paper from her fingertips.
“Hey, I was looking at that.”
“The electric bill is late.” He crumpled it into a ball in his palm. “Loren wasn’t here to pay it while we were gone.”
“Oh.” A strange sense of relief swept through her. “You might think this is stupid, but I was afraid it was from The Guild or something.”
Jorick’s head snapped up and he stared at her. “The Guild? Why would they bother us?”
“Thomas said he was going to report us to The Guild, remember? Because he claimed you broke the deal you made with Oren’s stupid coven and ordered me to kill Kateesha and take her heart.” As the words left her mouth the memories made her wince. It had only been a few days ago when she’d been cleared at a make-shift trial; only a few days ago when she’d thought Jorick was dead and in a screaming rage had killed Kateesha with her own hands. Secretly, she was proud of that, but what followed - ripping out her heart and drinking from it - left her more than a little embarrassed.
Jorick interrupted her thoughts. “It won’t do Thomas any good. There’s enough evidence in Kateesha’s records to prove he broke his oaths by spying for her. They’d punish him, not you. Especially if they knew about Kateesha’s ridiculous plan to wage war on mortals.”
“Maybe.” Katelina suspected The Guild would exonerate Thomas and find a way to punish her just because she was human.
“It doesn’t matter.” Jorick brushed the conversation away. “I imagine it’s cold in here. I’ll start a fire.”
He disappeared to the living room and she turned back to the refrigerator. There was nothing in it that she wanted. Shopping was just another of those things they needed to do.
A knock on the front door made her jump. She heard Jorick answer it and then a familiar voice said, “Hey, wanted to let you know we’re heading out.”
She followed the sound into the living room. Just inside the door stood Loren, a teenage vampire. His short black hair curled around his face and his large, doe brown eyes looked deceptively innocent. He made Katelina think of a cherub, though the persona hardly fit. Next to him was a bald vampire who had a tribal tattoo down one side of his face and a goatee. It was Micah, and she’d have been perfectly happy never to see him again.
Jorick’s wary eyes expressed the same sentiments, though his words were polite. “Have a safe trip.”
Micah suddenly saw Katelina and broke into a fanged grin. “Hey Lunch. You forgot this.” He threw something at her. Instinctively, she shrieked and leapt away.
Jorick growled in wordless fury and grabbed Micah. He spun him around and slammed him face first into the nearest wall. “What do you think you’re doing?”
Despite his position, Micah was unfazed. “You wanna go? I could use a little exercise before the long ass trip.”
“Hey! Hey!” Loren caught Jorick’s arm and tried to pull him away. “It’s just her stocking hat, dude! You guys left it in the car!”
Katelina looked to the object on the floor. Sure enough, it was her hat. However, she couldn’t summon a thank you. Not for Micah.
“Shut up,” Micah ordered. “Don’t tell him that until I kick his ass!”
Jorick released him and stepped back, wiping his hands on his pants as though he’d been contaminated. “As if you could. You’d be dead before you turned around. Idiot.”
Micah tugged his tank top straight. “Look who’s talking? You’re the idiot who went ape shit over a fucking stocking hat. I thought Lunch could handle it since she’s a vampire slayer.” He broke off into laughter.
Katelina scooped the hat up and wadded it in her fist. He was next on her vampire slaying list. “Go bite yourself.”
“I could bite you,” Micah suggested. Jorick growled low in his throat and Micah added, “Ah, don’t take everything so personally. I promise I won’t enjoy it.”
Loren laughed, but stopped when he realized he was the only one. “Okay, we’ll see you guys later.” He pulled Micah towards the door, his eyes on Jorick. “Do you have a message for Oren?”
There was a moment of silence and Katelina cringed. Though Jorick swore they weren’t going to get involved, she was afraid he couldn’t stay away. She understood that Oren was his fledgling, but enough was enough, so she was relieved when Jorick answered, “Nothing comes to mind. I saw him only two days ago.”
Loren shrugged. “Just checking. Okay. Gotta get back and help set up the new war coven. Hopefully Oren’s got some more people coming or it’s gonna be a tiny war.”
“We don’t need anyone else.” Micah looked at Jorick and suddenly his words had a different meaning. “Come on, Loren. We’ll leave the losers to get all domestic.”
“Who are you calling losers?” Katelina shouted after them. Her only answer was the slamming door and Micah’s fading laughter. “Jackass!”
She and Jorick wandered back into the kitchen. She was still muttering insults to Micah as she prepared her frozen pizza. He’d hit too close to home. It was time for them to get domestic. It wasn’t that she was sad to be free of the wars and killing, or that she wanted to go with them. Far from it. She was sick of being the only human pet among the monsters, and she was tired of all the blood. But, she didn’t know how to start the necessary conversations. It was a relationship stage she’d never made it to.
Jorick opened the refrigerator and poked a glass decanter. The crimson liquid inside stirred in a thick, congealed way. “I think it’s time to throw that out.”
She fetched a plastic knife from the cupboard and decided that was the best opening she was likely to get. “I think it’s time to do a lot of things, like get some dishes.”
Jorick waved a dismissive hand towards the cupboard. “You have plastic utensils and cardboard plates.”
“Paper plates,” she corrected. “I meant real dishes. I’d like to be able to cook something besides the same convenience food every day.”
“I forget how spoiled you modern humans are.” Though he sounded serious, he fought a grin. “When I was your age we were happy to have any food at all.”
She tried to ignore the creepily grandfather-ish phrase he’d employed. “I can’t help if you were born in the savage wilds.”
“I’d hardly use the word savage! We simply had different priorities - more important priorities. Besides, I didn’t know you could cook.”
Some secret spark of female pride flared in her. “Of course I can cook! I used to cook all the time!” She waved the plastic knife, daring him to insult her again.
“Really? I’m sorry, but you don’t strike me as the homey type.”
“Well, maybe I am.” She tried to mentally calculate when she’d stopped cooking - or even when she’d started - and realized it had only been a couple of months after she’d first moved out on her own. It got boring quickly and, living alone, it hadn’t seemed important.
As if he plucked the information from her mind, Jorick laughed. Then, he pushed himself off the counter and closed the gap between them. He caught her head in his hands and turned her face to his. “If you want dishes we’ll get dishes, all right? Even if it is a waste of money,” he added teasingly and neatly dodged her attempt to hit him. “Any other unusually expensive requests?”
“Actually…” She hesitated. She needed to phrase this correctly, or he’d object right away. “I thought we could go see my mom.”
Jorick froze like a deer in headlights. The smile plastered across his motionless face looked painted and stretched. He held it for several seconds before it slowly melted into something that resembled a grimace. His voice sounded as enthusiastic as his new smile looked, “We?”
The reaction wasn’t as bad as she’d anticipated, so she plunged on. “Why not? I want my mother to meet you.”
His laughter was mirthless and sarcastic. “Oh yes, she’ll love it when you introduce your vampire lover! That’s not how things are done.”
“Says who?” She raised her chin a notch. “I’m not going to tell her you’re a vampire! Do you think I’m nuts?” She softened her voice and tried another tactic. “I want to see her, Jorick.”
He took a step backwards, as though trying to distance himself from the idea. “Why?”
”Because she’s my mother! Maybe you forgot, but she thinks I was kidnapped, and the police probably think you did it! Do you want them looking for you forever?”
“No, of course not! I’d much rather they arrest me outright! Do you have any idea how annoying it is to get out of jail? Not so much hard to do, as hard to explain!” He shook his fist almost comically. “And they start taking your fingerprints! What right does any human have to another person’s fingerprints?”
She tried to soothe him. “They won’t arrest you. We won’t stay long, just a night. Just long enough for her to see I’m all right.” She could feel that she was losing, so she tried another approach. “I want to make sure they didn’t hurt her. They got Sarah, after all.”
Jorick gritted his teeth. “Yes, but checking to see that she’s all right and introducing us are hardly the same thing!”
Katelina’s hands went to her hips. “What? Would you rather just sit at her window like a vulture and peer in on her?”
He nodded encouragingly, a brief light of hope in his eyes. “Actually, yes, that’s what springs to mind.” She glared at him and he snapped, “Katelina, I do not meet parents!”
“She isn’t parents, she’s one parent and besides, I’m sure she’ll love you.” She tried her best winning smile, but he refused to soften. She was running out of patience. The only alternative left was to shake him like a bobble headed action figure.
“I’ll call her first,” she added, as if that would make it better. “I’ll explain everything.”
“Will you really? I’d like to hear that!” His voice rose a notch as he imitated her, “‘Hello mother. No, I’m not kidnapped, only ran away with a vampire. Sorry I couldn’t call sooner, but there were a few coven wars going on and I was just so busy!’…” he trailed off, disgusted. “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard!”
“So now I’m stupid?” She crossed to him, prepared to use her last option.
He groaned and laid a hand to his head. “You know very well what I meant.”
She did, and as far as she was concerned the conversation was over. “I’m going, Jorick, and that’s that.”
“Fine!” He threw his hands in the air. “Be impractical, if that’s what you want! Meanwhile, I’m going to go find my dinner!”
“You do that.” She stubbornly turned her back to him. He made no reply and when she turned around, he was gone. She swore under her breath and kicked the kitchen cupboards, though she wasn’t sure who she was mad at. Was it Jorick, or herself?
She ate her lunch in the front room, surrounded by Jorick’s ridiculous stacks of books. They were in the wing-backed chairs, on the stand, and in piles all over the floor. The dining room was no better. The kitchen and bathroom were only book free because she’d moved them.
When she’d finished eating, Jorick still wasn’t back. She realized he wasn’t just feeding; he was pouting. She decided to let him. It was no skin off her nose. She wasn’t going to chase him down.
Then she heard something outside. She prepared a scathing comment, but the door didn’t open. She narrowed her eyes at it and willed him to appear. It did no good. Finally, she stood and crossed to the window. She peered out through the blackness. There was no one there.
A shiver passed down her spine and she moved back to the rug. It was silly to be so paranoid. Though, after the last couple of months she’d had, maybe it was reasonable. No. She needed to relax. There wasn’t a bloodthirsty vampire out there, waiting to kill them.
As minutes ticked past, she worried. Maybe something had happened to Jorick? Maybe she should go look for him? Maybe -
She heard his footsteps on the porch. In a flurry, she snatched up the nearest book and threw herself on the couch. She had no intention of letting him know she’d been concerned because he was pouting.
She flipped to the center of the book as Jorick walked in, and glanced up casually, as though she’d been engrossed in the story. “Back already?”
He came to stand next to the couch and gazed down at her with the same false carelessness. Melting snowflakes clung to his hair and black shirt. His eyes wandered to the book and a smirk formed at the corners of his mouth. “Haven’t you read that before?”
She tried not to scowl. “Yes, but it never hurts to read it again.” The twinkle in his eyes said that he knew what she was up to, so she rushed on, “Where were you?”
“Walking.” He studied her before he spoke again. “You really want to go see her?”
“Yes, I do, and I want to get my stuff too.” There, now she’d really done it.
Surprisingly, he didn’t argue, only sighed resignedly and massaged his forehead. “You know it’s a bad idea.”
She faltered and stared at the book in her lap. “Maybe, but so was going to meet you. Look how well that turned out.”
“Did it?” When she didn’t reply, he sighed again. “Fine, we’ll go. But,” he added before she could exclaim her triumph. “I did warn you. Remember that.”
She couldn’t suppress her victorious grin as she tossed the book aside and leapt to her feet. She threw her arms around his neck and he returned the embrace. “I won’t forget, but it’s going to be all right. Trust me.”
Though he laughed softly, there was no joy in it. “Why do those words not fill me with confidence?”
Katelina thought it best to call her mother right away, before Jorick had time to back out. The only problem was that he didn’t have a phone. She sensed his reluctance when he admitted that Loren had one. It was only a short walk to his house and, though Loren had already left, they could get inside.
She bundled up in a too-big black coat and pulled her stocking hat firmly over her head. With a resigned sigh, Jorick led her through the front door and out into the night. White snowflakes swirled and danced on the winter wind, but they failed to impress. In November, the first flakes had been something to stand and stare at. In early December they were a tiresome symbol of cold.
Jorick and Katelina trudged across the overgrown yard towards the beach and then through a stand of dark trees. She let him beat a path through the tall grass to the place she thought of as the edge of the world. It was where grassland and beach met in a sudden line. After that, the walking was easier, though the sand gave beneath her feet.
Silence hung between them, and she gazed out towards the water. Moonlight danced on the waves, and she longed to see the ocean in tones of blue, gray and green that only the sun could reveal.
“You can walk down here without me,” Jorick interrupted, earning a dirty look for the mental intrusion. “Just because I can’t be outside in the daylight doesn’t mean you can’t, yet.”
“Yet?” she asked cautiously. He acted as though he’d never said it, and she decided that was the best way to look at it. She had enough to worry about.
She imagined the coming conversation with her mother and worked on her answers. She had it nearly memorized when a small house came into view. It was more modern than Jorick’s, with large sliding glass doors and wide rectangular widows. A sidewalk surrounded by faded planters led from a wooden deck to the driveway where a lumpy tarp hinted at a motorcycle.
They walked past the deck and around the house to the front door. A collection of junk overflowed from what had once been a flowerbed, including empty pots, a shovel, and what might have been car parts. Apparently it wasn’t just Jorick’s house Loren refused to tidy.
“If they’ve already left, how are we going to get in? Can you do some vampire trick and unlock doors?”
Jorick winked at her and moved in front of a window that was full of air conditioner. He surveyed it, as if making mental calculations, and then reached underneath and removed something. “Yes I can, when I have an extra key.”
She rolled her eyes in disgust. “Very funny. And here I thought there was some cool ‘thing’.”
He walked back to the door and fit the key into the lock. “Sorry to disappoint you. Still, I think I’m rather impressive as is.”
He swung the door open and motioned her to go first. She walked inside and immediately tripped over something. A loud hissing shriek told her that it was a cat and, as the light flicked to life beneath Jorick’s fingers, she saw a streak of white fur disappear around the corner.
“He has a cat? Who’s taking care of it?”
“It takes care of itself.” Jorick motioned towards a kitchen door with a swinging doggy flap. “They’re independent animals.”
“I guess.” She turned her attention to the décor. The walls were hung with pictures of flowers and a blue couch was buried under a heap of clothes. Tangled video game controllers strung across the floor to a television and several game consoles. Stacks of CDs and DVDs leaned precariously against a recliner. A half wall, dotted with wilted plants, separated the kitchen from the front room. Though Loren didn’t need to eat, or cook, the counters were cluttered with dishes and appliances.
“This isn’t what I imagined Loren’s house would look like.”
Jorick shrugged. “His mother probably decorated it, before she died.”
“Um, yeah.” That would explain the pictures of the flowers and all the kitchen appliances. “What happened to his parents?”
“They died in a car wreck. He and his brother kept the house. And then of course -”
“His brother was killed by the rogue vampires who made him,” she finished as she picked up the nearest CD. Nirvana. Why was that not a surprise? “You and Loren have houses, cars, electricity, and tons of crap.” She nodded to the heap of CDs. “So where do you get all your money?”
“Various places. Some vampires have investments and stocks and bonds. Some have treasure hoarded from the old days, and others use the power of suggestion or steal from their…” he paused as if seeking a friendlier word. “Dinner?”
“Dinner” was no better than “victim”, but she couldn’t think of a better word either, so she ignored it. “Stocks and bonds? Don’t accountants notice their client never dies?”
“Not if The Guild’s accountants handle it. Of course you can do as you please. I prefer to keep mine away from them. The more you go to them, the more they know about what you’re doing.”
He hadn’t answered her real question, so she pressed, “Where did your money come from?”
“As an Executioner there were certain expenses I needed to meet, and Malick was very generous with funds. Of course, I’ve added to that over the years.”
“By stealing from your dinner?” She wished she hadn’t said it, but it was something that had been gnawing at her for some time.
Instead of getting angry, Jorick laughed. “They don’t need it anymore,” he teased. When she looked horrified, he laid a hand on her shoulder. “Have you ever seen me kill anyone for a meal, Katelina?”
“No,” she admitted slowly. “But you seem very casual about death.”
“Of course. It’s easy to be casual when it isn’t something you fear. Large-scale coven wars are rare. The death toll of the vampire is not normally very high among the ‘civilized’. Most vampires are killed in revenge for something, or simply get tired of living and kill themselves when immortality becomes a burden.”
She shifted her weight from one foot to the other, unsure what to say or even if she wanted to say anything. The conversation just served to remind her of the strangeness of her new reality.
As if to save her, Jorick changed the subject. “I thought you wanted to call your mother?”
He moved away and located the base of a cordless phone. The handset was missing, so he pressed the “locate” button and they split up and walked through the house, listening for the corresponding beeps.
The sound was loudest in a bedroom lined with posters of 90s bands; Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Marilyn Manson and Korn among others. In fact, the whole affair was something straight off a 1995 television set with heaps of dirty clothes, a pipe frame bed and a desk stacked in notebooks and broken CD cases. The garbage bags sloppily taped over the window ruined the illusion.
Katelina sifted through the mess until she found the handset. She bounced it in her palm and thought about what she was about to do. Her knees suddenly felt watery, so she dropped onto the bed.
Jorick appeared in the doorway, but stayed silent. She glanced up at him and wondered if he was right. Maybe it was a bad idea, after all. She quickly reprimanded herself. It was her idea and she was only calling her mother. How scary could her mother be?
She knew the answer and it made her stomach flip. Jorick nodded encouragingly, and she took a steadying breath then quickly punched in the familiar phone number. She counted each ring as she tried to remember the rehearsed conversation.
On the sixth ring, the answering machine picked up. The usual message was gone, replaced with tones of annoyance. “If you’re just calling to harass me then you can hang up now. If you actually want something, or if you have information on my daughter, leave a message.”
The loud beep jarred Katelina and left her speechless. The planned conversation disappeared from her mind like smoke, so she quickly pulled words from thin air. “Um. Hey Mom, it’s me. Guess you’re in bed -”
The machine squealed loudly, and then she heard her mother shout desperately, “Katelina? Is that you? Are you still there?”
Her heart flipped at the sound of her mother’s voice. She looked up and met Jorick’s warm eyes, finding strength in them. “Yeah, Mom. I’m here.”
The woman’s questions came high pitched and too fast to answer. “My god! Where are you? Where have you been? What’s going on? Are you all right? Did he hurt you?”
“Mom, slow down. I’m fine!”
“I’ve been worried sick about you! They say you were kidnapped!”
Katelina had expected this. “No, I wasn’t kidnapped. I left on my own.”
“Then why was your apartment destroyed? And they found your car vandalized on a dead end road! Why did you leave? Is this something to do with Patrick? Are you in some kind of trouble? Who was the man at the hospital with you?”
Katelina groaned. Of course the police would have reported the hospital visit. Damn. She needed to calm her mother down before her head exploded, so she forced herself to sound cheerful. “His name is Jorick. He’s the one I ran away with.” She realized the stupidity of that statement too late.
Her mother’s tone was shrill and angry. “You ran away with a man? Why? Is he married? Is Sarah with you?”
At the mention of her friend, Katelina caught her breath. Jorick saw the look on her face and quickly crossed the room and sat next to her. He wrapped his arm around her shoulders and pulled her close. She leaned against him and tried to hold back the stabbing pain that Sarah’s name brought to her chest. She was never going to tell her mother about Sarah. How could she?
“Katelina? Are you there? Is everything all right?”
“Yeah,” Katelina answered, her voice strained. She swallowed her unshed tears and tried to sound neutral and surprised. “No, Sarah’s not here. I haven’t seen her since I left. Why?”
“She’s missing,” her mother said bluntly, more than a note of suspicion in her voice. “She disappeared when you did. Aren’t you together?”
“No.” Jorick squeezed her tightly and she forced herself to go on, hoping to distract her. “It’s just me and Jorick.”
Her mother took the bait. “Who is Jorick? Why did you run away with him? Where did you meet him?”
“Mom,” Katelina interrupted quickly. “Look, this is long distance. I just called to tell you we were coming home for a day or two and -”
“When? Are you all right?”
“’I’m fine,” she repeated. “We’re coming in a couple of days. Don’t worry, we’ll stop by. I want you to meet him.”
“A couple of days is specific! And you damn well better ‘stop by’! My god, I’ve been worried sick about you! Do you know that? The police thought that Patrick’s murderer kidnapped you! There have been bulletins and news reports - That man you’re with, he’s wanted, you know? For questioning.”
She flinched. Jorick might be right about the police. Perhaps she’d been too simplistic about it. “Look Mom, do me a favor, okay? Just keep this to yourself for right now. I don’t want a swat team swooping in and trying to arrest Jorick. He hasn’t done anything wrong.”
“If he hasn’t done anything wrong then why are you hiding? Why haven’t you been home or called? Katelina, please, tell me what’s going on!”
“I needed a break from everything. Look, just don’t say anything to anyone, all right? We’ll get this cleared up later.”
“You’re damned right you will!” Anger replaced her mother’s concern. “And when I get my hands on you -”
“Right.” Katelina’s smile was genuine this time. She well remembered her mother’s empty threats. “I’ll see you in a few days. I love you.”
“In a couple of days,” she repeated and pressed the button to end the call. The phone landed in her lap and she sighed heavily and glanced at Jorick. “Well, that’s done.”
A thousand I-told-you-so’s glittered in his eyes, but he only pulled her close and asked, “How is she?”
“All right I guess.” A strange smile flickered over her lips. “I didn’t get a chance to ask. She was too busy yelling at me.”
He wrapped both arms around her and pressed his face into her stocking hat. “I can’t wait to meet her,” he murmured, sounding anything but enthusiastic.