“I’m sorry. I know you’re upset, but, if you need to, like, talk or anything—” she pulled one shoulder up and touched her cheek to it.
“Thanks, Em. But I’m okay, really.” I could hold in hurt just fine. I didn’t need to talk about it.
As we walked to class, Emily babbled mindlessly about the benefit concert and our difficult mythology paper—which hadn’t sounded so difficult when Dad assigned it—while I slipped into the safety of my proverbial eggshell-carrycase, wandering around wearing my fake smile, even though, inside, my guts felt like fricassee. David’s pendulum behaviour had finally sent me nuts; my every thought centred on reasons he might be leaving—and I kept coming back to believing it was because of me. In my world, it didn’t matter what was wrong or what you had to do, you’d give it all up, give up everything for love. I’d do that for David. But then, my dad always did say I spent too much time living in fantasyland—expecting the fairy-tale endings I’d read about in books.
At lunch, we set the date for the benefit concert and finished making ticket signs—with the help of the Art students. Then, Emily went as far as to ask that the performers meet after school for further rehearsals. And we actually agreed.
Everything for the concert was falling in to place, while for me, everything was falling apart. Even watching Alana and Ryan cheerfully walk everywhere together, and whenever a teacher wasn’t looking, hold hands or kiss, I actually felt the hollow pit of jealousy; something I’d never felt before. They were so normal, and I was beginning to think, to my dismay, that David was not.
“Em?” I said, lowering my voice so Dad wouldn’t growl at me for talking in class again.
“Mm?” She kept her eyes on him.
I smiled. “If you loved someone, more than anything, what would be the only thing that could make you leave them?”
“Hm.” She watched the projection screen as Dad changed the image, and I caught one or two words of his lecture about some religious topic—something to do with vampire myth. “Death, I suppose. I’d only leave if they could either die or get really hurt by my being with them.”
I nodded to myself. “What if you were a criminal and you didn’t want them to know?”
She shook her head, leaning on her hand. “Nah, I’d tell them; if they loved me, they wouldn’t care.”
“What if your horrible truth was that you went from place to place, making people love you, then leaving them—for the fun of it.”
“Then it wouldn’t be real love, so it wouldn’t count.”
My heart wriggled down into my diaphragm.
“Can I ask you a hypothetical question?” Emily said, lowering her voice when Dad gave us a warning glare.
“Sure.” I tried not to switch off; too many times she’d said things and I had to pretend I’d been paying attention. But I just felt like crying—a feeling so deep I had to sit straight and take a few shallow breaths. I knew only too well that if David thought he would be hurting me by staying, then he would absolutely leave and not come back. And I loved him for that as much as I hated him for it.
“Ara?” Emily elbowed me. “What do you think?”
“Ara and Emily!” Dad said, saving the day.
“Ask me again later,” I said, leaning closer.
She nodded and we tuned in to Dad’s lecture; “So,” he continued, “When God created Adam, he also created who?” He pointed his pen to the back of the room.
“In some versions of the story, yes, that’s true. But it’s also told that God first created a woman named Lilith. Now, she has many names in different cultures: Lilith, Kali, Satrina. She’s also known as The Snake, The Screeching Owl—” I fazed out when I smelled something very similar to David’s orange-chocolate cologne; I looked around, but he wasn’t in the room.
“So, unlike her sister Eve, Lilith was not created from a part of Adam. She was created as his equal. However, Adam would not treat her as such. He tried to force her to submit to him as he pleased, and in a stand for her own rights, Lilith left the Garden of Eden.”
“Sweet, world’s first feminist,” one of the football jocks snickered.
“I have to admit,” I whispered to Em, “this is getting kind of interesting.”
“Very sharp, Mr Grady.” Dad paced the floor, gesturing with his hands as he spoke. “So, at a loss now, God decided to create another woman for Adam. But this time, she would be bound to Adam by the flesh.” Dad stopped and looked around. “Who knows how he did that?”
“She was created from one of Adam’s ribs or something, right?” the paper cannon kid next to me said.
“That’s right. And because she was bound to him she couldn’t…?” Dad pointed around the room, stopping on Emily.
“Exactly. Lilith, on the other hand, believed Eve was made to be naïve—that God had not given her the knowledge of herself. Some say Lilith acted as the snake that conned Eve into tasting the Forbidden Fruit, also known as the—?”
“That’s right. Ten points to the students paying attention down the front here—” Dad grinned and scribbled only five lines on the top right corner of the board. “And deduct five, for my daughter, who hasn’t heard a word we’ve been saying.” The whole class erupted into a murmur of giggles; I sunk down in my seat—staring daggers at my father.
“Now, as the story continues, Lilith, who was created in God’s exact likeness, lived outside the Garden of Eden. If we jump forward in the story a little—” he looked at his watch, “—you’ll remember from our studies in religion last year that those in God’s likeness have the same power as the Almighty—which included immortality.
“You’ll find that, in many cases throughout history, Lilith was said to be the Goddess of Seduction and believed to have power over men. In fact,” Dad said, raising his index finger, “in many cases, when men were unfaithful, they proclaimed it to have been an act of seduction by the Goddess, and not an act of sin. Sounds like the easy way out if you ask me.” He melodramatically loosened his tie.
The class laughed—but not me; I was still mad at him for singling me out.
“Wasn’t she also said to be a demon, which ate small children?” a student asked.
“Yes, Grace.” Dad raised a brow. “That’s exactly right. There are many different myths surrounding Lilith. If anyone here knows the story of Cain and Abel, you’ll know that Cain murdered his own brother and was punished by God—banished and cursed for eternity with a thirst for blood. Then, he fell in love with the Goddess, Lilith.” Dad smiled at the class. “Can anyone see where I’m going with this?” He looked around; no one answered.
I shrugged when he looked at me. How would I know?
“Okay, well, it’s told that Lilith and Cain had a child—an immortal, who inherited his father’s thirst for blood. The world’s first myth about…?” He waited, his brow arched, cheeks high.
“Vampires,” said a voice from the doorway.
Quiet murmurs spread over the class as everyone turned to look at the boy leaning on the doorframe with his hands in his pockets.
“Very good, David, and you’re not even one of my students. And so—” Dad said as he walked over and took a note from David’s hand, “—you can see that even legends of the most vile of creatures may have some religious origin.”
David looked at me and smiled. It was not returned.
I sat up a little and stared at David, my mind filling with questions. “Yes?”
All eyes in the class fell on me; I stood up slowly, jammed my books and pens into my bag, then shrugged at Emily as I sauntered past, slipping out the classroom door with David behind me.
“What did you say to my dad?”
He started walking. “I told him I needed to rehearse with you—for the benefit concert.”
“And he bought it?” I asked, the surprise in my voice a little too obvious.
“Did you talk to your uncle?”
“And—” His shoulders dropped. “I still have to leave, but—”
“But he’s granted me, provisionally, the original amount of time I had left.”
His tongue moved between his lips for a second before he pressed them together. “I’m not sure. But, you can count on me being gone by winter.”
Dread made my arms heavy. “Then there’s no need for us to see each other anymore.”
“Oh, no you don’t.” He grabbed my wrist. “You’re coming with me, whether you like it or not.”
He maintained his tight grip. “If I have to leave in a few months, I won’t waste this time we have left; there are some things I want to do with you, Ara-Rose, and I won’t let the fear I might hurt you stop me from loving you the way I’ve needed to for so long.”
“Hurt me?” The bridge of my nose crinkled. “Why would you hurt me?”
“Just—” He pulled me along by the arm. “Come on. We need to go before we get caught ditching.”
“No, David.” I twisted my wrist around in his grip and yanked it out through the break in his thumb and forefinger, then stood fast—folding my arms like a spoiled child. “Not until you tell me where we’re going.”
“You stubborn little thing,” he said quickly, taking one long stride in my direction, then arched his body downward as he swept me off the floor, into his arms.
“Whoa.” I pinned my dress under my legs, nudging his chest with my elbow. “Put me down. This is kidnapping.”
“No, it’s not,” he stated with a smile, keeping his eyes on the path ahead. “It’s a rescue.”
“Rescue?” I scoffed. “I don’t need to be rescued.”
He stopped walking and looked down at me; I shrank into his arms a little. “The fair maiden who is locked in the darkest tower, guarded by the cruellest beast, never believes herself to be in danger; only suffering sorrows untold and a heart untouched.”
“You will be if you don’t come quietly.”
I huffed; he just looked forward and smiled to himself, then stuffed me in his car and drove away with me.
“Okay, Prince Charming.” I buckled my seatbelt. “Fess up. Where’re you taking me?”
“Because you need to learn to control your moods, Ara, without getting your own way first.”
My eyes narrowed and I tightened my crossed arms. “You’re not my dad. I don’t need you to teach me a lesson.”
I huffed, bit my teeth together and looked out the window.
When David took the final turn onto the long stretch of tree-covered road, my arms loosened, my lungs drawing the fresh pine scent of evergreens and the cinnamon flavour of the approaching autumn. That smell was kind of comforting to me now—like the feeling you get when you finally come home after a really bad day.
We pulled over in the usual spot, then walked in total silence until my temper became a physical sting in my chest. “Why are you walking so fast?”
He ignored me, continuing on his path, gliding effortlessly over the rocks and twigs—as if he were walking an inch above the forest floor, like a ghost. Meanwhile, I stumbled and slid on the bark-covered slopes, brushing the side of my leg off constantly, then standing back up—trying to look as graceful as David.
Infuriation burned every drop of blood in my body. “Why are you ignoring me?”
I pretty much walked with my teeth clenched the whole time after that. When we came to the rock where we usually sat, David shook his head and continued on a path we’d never walked down before.
“Now where are we going?” I whined, dropping my arms to my sides. “I’m tired and it’s hot. I don’t wanna walk anymore.”
He continued ahead—tall and sleek, never looking back.
Argh! I felt like throwing a rock at his head.
David spun around then, his eyes alight with a humoured glint. “Forget to have lunch, did we?”
“Actually, it is, because I’m the one that has to put up with your moods.”
“I’m not moody.” But I knew that was a lie, and as I looked away from the irritation in his stern eyes, my breath stopped around a dose of crushing anxiety; his words “put up with your moods” resonating with every belief I had that he would one day get sick of me.