I shook myself out of my daydream with a shiver.
I nodded, trying to keep my teeth from chattering. “Sorry, I didn’t want to say anything. I was having too much fun out here.”
“Well, let’s get you inside,” he said, putting his arm around me. “I think it’s for the best. I need to… get something to eat.”
“Not your typical date,” I tried to joke, as we headed back towards the school. But I didn’t want it to end, vampire or not.
“Nothing about us is typical,” Liam replied. “But would you really want it to be?”
I considered that, but shrugged. “I don’t know. I don’t really have anything to compare it to.”
“Well, I do,” he replied, planting a kiss on my head. “And I don’t want anybody but you, atypical or not.”
I smiled, feeling his love around me like a blanket.
“So, Mr. Phantom, shall we meet for breakfast?”
“We shall,” he promised, as he held open the door for me. “Sleep in as late as you want, and text me when you wake up. I’ll have a breakfast fit for a prima donna waiting.”
“Mmm.” My stomach rumbled already at the thought of that.
Liam leaned down and our lips met, and we shared a passionate but quick kiss. I had never kissed him as a vampire, and had to work around the fangs. He pulled back quickly, letting go of my hand.
“I’ll see you soon, my love,” he said, and then turned, and in a flash, was gone, vampire speed taking him off into the night.
I watched him disappear and then headed down the hallway, my head floating. I yawned, exhausted. It had been a long night and we had a long day tomorrow. As I walked down the hallway, still decorated with Christmas lights, I couldn’t help but feel like this was when my fate would be decided; this was when it would all come to a head; everything we had been working for. In a way it would, and yet, in another way, I wondered what adventure would come next.
“And if I catch anybody trying to eat the buffet on stage tonight, it’ll be the last thing you ever eat.”
“You’re just jealous because you can’t eat with the mask on,” Steve called.
I smiled. “Alright, everyone, that’s it. Head into costume and makeup and have a great closing night!”
The show had opened to glowing reviews and a standing ovation, and I couldn’t ask for more. There were always disasters that happened with every performance, of course, and that was to be expected. If a show went off without a hitch, then I would be worried about the things I didn’t know about. People slipped, props got broken, Sarah didn’t go off stage when she was supposed to, but all in all, it was pretty darn good.
I was so proud of the students and my cast and crew. I knew that they had accomplished something great, but it still all came down to tonight. If they couldn’t pull off the show in perfect rhythm, than nothing else mattered.
I was glad, now that I was on stage, playing the Phantom. Poor Charlie ended up needing throat surgery, and my heart broke for him. But being on stage gave me more power to control things, to save dropped lines and find lost props. As well as make sure Selene was within our grasp.
What bothered me the most was not knowing what her plan was. She wasn’t coming to just view our show and laugh like an evil villain. She knew how many vampires I had on stage, and so she was probably trying to attack someone, perhaps all of us. I knew that at the height of her power, Selene could bring us down, one by one. I was praying she didn’t notice the multitude of Shields I had working as ushers and stagehands, and if she did, then at the very least, she didn’t know I was bound to Sarah.
I wished that I had cast understudies, not just for the Phantom, but for Meg Giry. The closer we got to show time, the more my heart pounded at the thought of Amy in danger. I didn’t want her anywhere near this, and yet I knew there was no way to stop her.
The sunset was coming and I could feel the first effects of transformation. Bound to Sarah, who was growing stronger by the hour, I would transform on my own. Nothing supernatural, including other Shields, could affect me while she was close by. The others, however, were still getting used to the effects of thirty Shields in the room: all pretending to set up chairs and sort out programs, keeping the vampires reasonably human. When Selene’s ticket was scanned, they would scurry backstage, keeping their presence a secret until she was brought on stage.
“Liam.” Amy came up behind me, startling me.
I jumped a bit, covering it with a grin as I turned, ready to kiss her. Luckily, my peripheral vision caught her father standing right beside me. Of course, he knew we were together, but I didn’t think he would appreciate me sucking face with his daughter in front of him. So instead, I dropped my arm around her and reached to shake his hand.
“Good to see you, sir. What did you think of the show last night?”
“I thought it was great! I’m glad to see all our hard work pulled it off. The buffet looks particularly amazing.”
“It does,” I agreed, knowing that he helped coordinate it. “A little too good, because I catch actors eating it on stage.”
“That’s what it’s there for. I look forward to tonight’s show.”
“What?” This startled both Amy and I. He had tickets to opening night and last night, purposely, so that he steered clear of tonight.
“The sous chef called out sick, so I’ll be supervising the food props tonight.” He looked from Amy to me and then raised an eyebrow. “Is that alright?”
“Uh…” How many years had I trained in drama? And I still couldn’t come up with a legitimate answer. “Isn’t there someone else who could do this?”
He laughed. “You don’t think I could do a good job? It’ll be fine, Liam, I assure you.”
Except we are going to commit murder on stage and the ghost of your dead wife is lurking in the wings, and by the way, I’m a vampire.
I covered my thoughts with a smile and nodded. “Of course. Amy, can I speak to you for a second? And, sir, if you want to make sure that all food props stay on the right side of the stage, that’d be great.” I knew I was putting things in jeopardy by keeping him to one side, but if I kept his dead wife on the other side, maybe everything would be fine. Pulling Amy behind the curtain, I made sure we were alone before we spoke. And then I let out a string of swear words.
“What did you want me to do?” she asked, alarmed. “I couldn’t tell him everything.”
“Sometimes I feel like that would be easier.” I reached to hug her, pulling her close. “I wish that I knew you were safe at home tonight, Amy.”
“I’m safe by your side,” she replied. “Whatever Selene’s plan is, I know we will ruin it. This is it, Liam, this is everything we’ve been waiting for. Tomorrow is a new year, a new chance, a new life.”
“I know.” I kissed the top of her head. “Just promise me that you’ll be careful tonight.”
“Are you kidding me? Meg Giry is an adventurous creature.” She clung to me, and I felt strength from her warm human body. “Please, next year can we do Phantom 2?”
I laughed, rolling my eyes. “Next year you’ll be a full-time actress, Amy. School life doesn’t last forever.”
“Hard to imagine not being here,” she replied, pulling back. “I can’t imagine what it’s like for the kids who have been here since kindergarten.”
“Hopefully, after tonight, they’ll still have a school to come back to,” I said, looking down at my watch. “Go on, get dressed.”
As show time rapidly approached, and my transformation, alone in my dressing room was complete, a different mood struck me. I could smell the blood of the audience, of my actors, of the stage crew, all swirling around me, and despite three shots of whisky and a fresh blood bag, my cravings weren’t being silenced.
My phantom makeup was intact, so no one would be able to tell, but I forgot just how hard it was to keep everything in check. Never in my life had I longed so much for my basement dungeon, where I could scream and snarl to my heart’s content and do no one harm.
I grabbed the walkie-talkie that I had kept on the ledge and hit the talk button.
“Anyone got eyes on Sarah and Amy? Send them to my dressing room, stat!” It came out more of a bark than I intended it to, and I felt my ribcage literally shift, accommodating a stronger vampire form. I hadn’t taken into account how hard this would be. Last year, I had Porsche, who kept me human without even blinking, and I thought it would be fine. Somehow, like an idiot, I had forgotten the reason why I was locked in the basement every night.
The door opened, and they both stepped in, quizzical looks on their faces. As soon as Amy entered, the smell of her infected blood calmed my cravings, but I knew it wasn’t enough. I couldn’t spend the whole show as well as the wait up until show time like this.
“Amy, I need you to stay,” I said through clenched teeth. “And Sarah, I need you to go as far away as you can, without jeopardizing the show.”
“Get out!” I practically barked at her. “You and your binding spell are killing me in a theater full of people. Take the walkie and stay away until the lights dim, you understand?”
“Jesus, Liam, there’s no need to be rude about it.” She snatched the walkie from my hand, coming dangerously close and then slammed the door behind her.
If it was anyone else, I would be alarmed, but Sarah and her attitude were something I’d gotten used to. Once we were alone in the room, I closed my eyes, breathing in Amy’s scent. Suddenly, it got stronger.
I opened my eyes to find her peeling off a band aid and picking at an IV wound until it bled. My face softened immediately.
“It’s ok,” she replied, perching on the makeup ledge and putting her bleeding hand between us. “If it will help, it’s fine.”