“Have you ever read anything by Anne Rice?”
“Yeah. I got swept up in the vampire craze. Basically, any books or movies about fangs, and I was there.” I nodded. “You?”
I laughed aloud. “Yeah, but, personally, I prefer animal-eating vamps. Killing people is just—” I rubbed pretend goose-bumps off my arms. “It just doesn’t appeal to me.”
“What if you met a vampire who was nice, like me, but killed people? Would you still like him?”
I shook my head. “I know there’re girls who would. But, I guess, after seeing death firsthand—how it affects people, I’m not sure now.”
He went ultimately quiet and still; I think he even stopped breathing.
I propped my head up again and his stunned stare at my face drew a smirk to my lips. “You okay?”
“Aspirations,” he said suddenly, the stare washing away to a smile. “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
I sighed, knowing full well that his liquid eyes were hiding some deeper thought, but he wouldn’t share it. “Um, I always wanted to be a teacher—like my dad. But now I think I kind of want to be a musician—write my own songs.”
“I think that would be perfect for you.”
“Yeah, me too.” I rolled onto my back and took his hand again. “I’d like to be famous one day—maybe as a pianist.”
“You’d need to get a piano first.”
“Oh God, trust me, I know. I’ve been begging Dad for one since I was four.”
“Why hasn’t he bought one for you?”
“He wants me to be a teacher. Better income.”
“Not if you were to make it famous.”
I shrugged. “Guess he’s seen Hollywood dreams go sour too many times.”
“But it’s not just big dreams with you, Ara. You’re very talented—” he laughed on those two words. “I don’t think you’d ever be happy teaching.”
I felt warm then. “It amazes me how well you know me.”
He frayed his fingers gently through mine. “You know, I wanted to be in a rock band once.”
He did that pause thing he was becoming famous for; I assumed he was weighing up all the different answers he could give against the ones he would give to keep me out of his world. “I’m not so sure about that now. Might say I’m at a crossroads.”
And that answer, believe it or not, let me into his world more than if he’d said Law or something like that. I smiled. “What direction do you want to take? I mean, what options are there?”
“And what would the question be?” I probed.
His fingers tightened on mine. “When I know the answer to that question, I’ll ask it.”
I chuckled. “Is it that you don’t want to tell me, or that you genuinely don’t know?”
“Because I have secrets.” His body became a firm board under me.
“I like secrets,” I said, and the board turned to sponge.
I really thought about that for a second—about the fear I had that he’d hate me when he learned my dark secrets. But I never imagined he’d have some—that there might be reasons I could hate him. “Then don’t tell me just yet.”
“What if I didn’t have much time—what if I had to tell you soon?”
That rubber mallet of destruction came at my soul again; I felt it getting closer. “What’s your favourite sport?”
The mallet missed completely, falling through the blankets under me. “I like dancing, but as for actual sports, I was never interested. It was a taboo subject in my house—much to Mike’s disgust.”
David cleared his throat, crossing his ankles over where they dangled off the end of my bed. “So he really did spend a lot of time there.”
“Yep. Every day. He was a permanent fixture—just another piece of furniture. His mom and my mom were really close.”
“Yeah. We were. I mean, we are, but we’re just so far apart right now.”
“Do you think things will be the same as before when he comes to see you?”
“I hope so. He’s always been a constant thing in my life. It’s been really hard without him.” I crossed my hands under my head, losing myself to thought for a second before a smile expanded my lips. “He’s kind of like a favourite pillow, you know, you can cry into it, it keeps you warm and comfy, and it’s always there.”
“But you don’t sleep with it?” He tried to make it sound like a joke, but I knew he was also really curious. Everyone was.
“No, David. It’s not that kind of pillow,” I said slowly, then added, “It’s a couch pillow. Mike’s just a couch pillow. But this one—” I rolled over and traced circles over his chest; he tensed, his hand ready, near mine, “—this is my new favourite pillow.”
He nodded, then took my hand, pressing his lips to it once. “I’m sorry. I wish the circumstances that brought you to me had been different. But I am very glad you came here.”
“And I’m sure, when you see Mike in a few weeks, you’ll fall back into step with each other right away.”
“Yeah, probably.” I shrugged, then curiosity itched. “So? What about your family? Do you have any brothers or sisters?”
“Really? Wow.” I sat up next to David’s hips, crossing my legs under me. This was way too interesting for a lie-down conversation. “Are you identical?”
“Yes. We look the same, but we’re very different.”
“Well, I gathered that. Why doesn’t he go to school with us?”
“He chose a different path—stayed with my uncle, in New York.”
“So, who do you live with, then? Are your parents still together?”
“My mother passed away when I was a baby, and my father followed not long after.”
“It was a long time ago.” He rested his arm behind his head.
“So, you grew up with your uncle?”
“Well, I was raised by my aunt, and when she passed away, my uncle took my brother and I into his care.”
“Wow, you weren’t kidding when you said you’d suffered a lot of grief. I feel bad, like I’m making a big deal out of my problems, but you—”
“Don’t say that.” He pushed himself up on his elbow and took my hand. “You have every right to ‘make a big deal,’ Ara. You just lost your mom. My grief, my loss, it all happened a very long time ago.”
“Can’t be that long ago. You’re only a teenager.” I frowned, half laughing at the way he brushed off his own grief—just like me.
He smiled and looked down at our hands, then took a deep breath. “I’m older than I look. The things I’ve been through in life have made me older—given me wisdom beyond my years.” He laid back and said through a breathy smile, “Sometimes I feel like I’m over a hundred years old.”
“So, do you see your uncle much, I mean, since you moved away?”
“Every other week or so. I’ll be seeing him tomorrow.”
“We’re members of a council. We have a few things to discuss.”
Hm. “Then, I must confess.” I showed him my arm. “I’ve never donated.”
He laughed out loud. “Something we shall have to remedy.”
“No way. No one sticks needles in me.”
“I could rent a vampire for the day—he could draw it from you.”
I rolled my eyes. “So, what about your brother? Do you see him much?”
“Jason?” David’s cheek flinched. “Not so much. We’ve kind of grown apart.”
“He uh—” He eyed Vicki as she passed my bedroom door, pretending not to look in on us, “—he and I had a falling out a while back. Things are…neutral, now.”
“Mm,” he muttered and sat up. “I’m just waiting for him to find out about you.”
“No,” he said in short. “I mean, I don’t think so.”
Vicki passed my room, again, and David pulled my hand, making me sit beside him. “How ‘bout we get out of here for the day, go to the lake?”
“Okay. Do you have a picnic basket?”
“Yeah, I think so,” I said, standing up beside him.
“Go get it.” He leaned in and pecked my cheek. “I’ll run to the store and get some supplies.”
Drawing a deep lungful of the woodsy leather smell, I smiled. Dad’s car smelled nothing like this, and though the upholstery of David’s car was sticky and uncomfortable under my legs in the summer heat, it seemed to retain the aged scent of experience—a bit like riding in the car with my grandpa, which made it emotionally comforting—kind of…safe.
Heavy weekend traffic made the trip out to the lake take longer. David, only half paying attention to the road, watched me sort through the CDs in his glove compartment. Most of the music would belong better in my dad’s collection, but a tickle of elation perked me up at the sight of familiar cover-art. “I’ve actually heard of these guys.” I held up the disk. “I know a few of their songs.”
David smiled. “I have that album on my phone. I’ll bring it with us when we get to the lake—play it to you.”
“Okay. Do…do you like them? I mean, I know you have a CD, but, like, what’s your favourite one of their songs?”
His chest puffed out with a deep breath as he looked at the CD. I held it up so he could see the back. “Off that album…Overcome.”
“Oh.” I considered the cover, then left it in my lap.
“We have more in common, musically, than just that one album, Ara,” he said, clearly having sensed my gloom.
“You’ll see. Don’t worry—it’s as important to me as it is to you.”
“Okay.” I looked out the window for a second. “What’s your favourite song at the moment?”
“Ooh—” He drew a tight breath through his teeth. “Hard to say. I go through phases. I uh—right now, I’m actually really enjoying Moonlight Sonata.”
“I like that one, too.” I smiled, sitting back. “Maybe you can play it for me—on the piano at school on Monday.”
“Ara.” He placed his hand firmly on my leg. “I would love to.”
“Great.” I loved watching him play; it was almost as if he never even had to think about where his fingers were going. I wasn’t sure I’d ever heard him hit a bum note, and just the thought of watching him play again filled me up with…well, happiness, I guess. “Hey, can I tell you something?”
“Sure.” He tore his eyes away from the road and they locked to mine for a breathless second.
“David!” I sprung upright in my seat, eyes wide. “Watch the road!”
“It’s okay, Ara. You are more than safe in the car with me.” He reached across and pried my fingers from their grip on the leather seat. “My uncle forced me to take one of those stunt-driving courses once. I know how to handle myself on the road.”
“That doesn’t mean you’re incapable of having an accident,” I scolded. “Besides, it’s not just your driving I’m worried about.”
“Would it make you feel better if I told you I’ve never had an accident?”
“Okay. I’ll keep that in mind. No more eye contact when driving. Deal?” he said with a breathy laugh, shaking his head.
“Now, what were you about to say, before?”
I wasn’t sure if I should say it, since the moment had passed.