“You know, if this was the early nineteen-hundreds, you’d already be screaming.”

“Oh, and you speak from personal experience, do you?”

Without even a smile at my joke, he placed the thornless rose in my hand and pulled me along. “Come. Sit down.”

I plonked onto my feather quilt and dug my toes into the carpet. David stood before me, then looked over his shoulder—in the direction of my wardrobe. “You ready for this?”

He flashed a cheeky, lopsided grin, and vanished into thin air, appearing a second later by my wardrobe door.

“Do you believe me now?” He sprung up right in front of my face.

A quick, half-breath reached my lungs as I launched for my bedroom door, but his strong hand covered my mouth before my cry for help ever reached the ears of its intended. I convulsed violently, wriggling to break free from the intensifying hold.

Let me go! Get off me!

I tried to stomp on his toes but he moved his foot, and my heel struck the ground with knee-jolting force—sending instant tears into my eyes. I cried out under his iron grip.

“Ara! Look at me!” He shook me once, pinning the back of my skull to his chest, his forearm firmly caging my collarbones. “Just stop struggling. Look at me!”

Heaving lungfuls of air came through my nose, dragging strands of my hair with it, but with each passing breath, I managed to calm myself enough to stop struggling, but not enough to stop shaking. David’s hold relaxed a little, but stayed firm.

“If I let go, will you promise not to scream?”

I shook my head. He was a monster. A killer. Oh, my God. How did I not see this?

“Ara, please?” His deep, milky voice set my heart on fire with the hurt beneath his calm tone. I turned my head and forced my gaze upward, meeting the painfully detached ache behind the emerald eyes I loved so much.

He released me instantly and air entered my lungs in a grateful gasp. I folded over slightly, rubbing my chin.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

“I’m not hurt, I—” I bolted for the door again, reaching the handle as he pressed his palm flat to it, stopping it from opening. “No!”

“Let me go.” I tugged the handle, bucking him with my hip.

“I need you to calm down first.”

He just smiled, shaking his head. “You’re not calm.”

“Er!” I growled, shoving his chest; this time, unlike our fight on the field, he didn’t shift—not even a little bit. “Get away from me.”

“Make me.” He laughed, pinning my wrists against my chest.

My eyes darted over every inch of his face; his dark pink lips, his emerald eyes, so kind, so loving, and his dimple—the moon shape one above his lip. It was all David, but none of it was the boy I went to school with; he was never real. He never even existed.

“No.” I shook my head, dropping my hands to my knees.

“What’s to talk about?” I stood up, pressing my spine to the door. “You—you’re a…you have fangs, and I can think of only one thing they would do.”

He touched his thumb to his tooth. “Yes.”

“Oh, God!” I folded over again, hiding my brow in my hands. “Why?”

“Uh, Ara, I don’t have a choice but to kill.”

“Not in this instance, sweetheart.” He wandered over and sat on my bed; I wanted to tell him not to call me sweetheart, but didn’t have the guts to say that to a vampire.

He smiled—his secret smile. “Do you really hate it when I call you sweetheart?”

My mouth hung open. “Did I say that out loud?”

“No.” He grinned, rubbing the tops of his knees. “I can read minds, Ara.”

I slid down the door and sat on the floor with my head in my palms. “How is that…possible?”

I looked up quickly to his hand on my shoulder. “Get away from me.”

He evaporated, appearing by my window. I dusted my arm off, scraping away any vampire germs that might’ve been left behind, then looked over at him; he looked so conflicted yet so comfortable as he considered the world below. The muscles in his arms, with the way he folded them across his chest, looked bigger, more defined. And I had once wanted them on me, wanted to feel him against me. Now, I only felt anger at myself for that—for ever loving him when he was such a vile, disgusting monster.

He took a breath and spoke to the world outside, “Despite what you may believe, my girl, I am still human inside. And everything you’re thinking right now does hurt.”

I blinked, trying to make my mind go blank, but it wouldn’t; I just kept seeing the faces of people as they screamed, begged for their lives, while David towered over them and took it. “Have you always been able to read my mind?”

He nodded, not looking at me. I wanted to be mad, but the heat that rushed through me was boiling mortification, more than anger. I buried my face in my hand and groaned. Oh, so many thoughts I wouldn’t have wanted him to hear.

David chuckled. “That’s pretty much what everyone says.”

“I’m sorry, my love. I know it’s awful but, if it’s any consolation, I’m not usually listening. And I can only hear your immediate thoughts. For anything in the past, I actually have to go inside your head.”

I looked up at him. “But, you can get in there—you can find things?”

He became smaller. “Please don’t say things like that, Ara.”

“Well, what do you expect me to say?”

“Ah, it’s a vampire!” He waved his hands about like a girl.

“I kind of did say that.” I smiled. “But you muzzled me.”

He winced, letting a breath out. “I’m so sorry about that, Ara. I just couldn’t have you running down to tell your dad.”

I bit my lip, knowing full well that’s exactly what I was going to do. “So, I’m calm now. Am I free to go, or are you going to keep me hostage in here for the rest of my life?”

He turned back to face me. “Will you keep quiet?”

I felt better after a sigh of relief. Slowly, I got to my feet and opened my bedroom door. Dad’s voice lilted up the stairs, homely and warm; I listened for a second then looked back at David, who leaned on my desk, his arms folded. “Was that all—is this your only dark secret?”

I stepped back in my room and shut my door, resting my head on it for a second. “Do you like killing them?”

“Yes.” His voice came smoothly across the room, making my shoulders lift around my ears.

“I didn’t, no, not until I fell in love with you.”

I turned around then. “And what difference does that make?”

“Compassion. Vampires are nothing if not compassionate, but only for our own kind. When we fall for a human, that compassion, for some reason, extends out to their race as well.”

“Except, instead of loving thy neighbour, you eat him.”

“It isn’t like that. We don’t just walk around with a constant desire to munch on random humans. And never those in our local community. We eat only when we get hungry—like you do.”

“No, not like I do. I go to the shop—buy a packet of chips. Not walk into a dark alley and end the local milk man.”

“So, what about when you are hungry?” I threw my hands up. “Is it hard to live among us then? I mean, there’s no way I could live in a chocolate factory.”

“I just don’t let myself get that hungry.”

“Does…” I looked past him to the grey day. “So, how did you fall in love with me if I’d look better on your plate?”

“I didn’t choose to fall for you, Ara. It just happened.”

“How, I mean, what’s a vampire even doing at our school?”

“Yes. I work for two years in the vampire community, then take two years to be human.”

“Human? There is nothing human about what you are,” I said with a mouthful of spite.

“We fall in love,” he offered, stuffing his hands in his pockets. “We can eat, sleep, walk in the day, as if we were still human. But—”

“Actually, I was going to say but—” he tried to keep a light grin on his lips, but the hurt of my repulsion revealed itself within his eyes, “—everything is stronger; our bodies, our minds, all of our senses. We feel everything with an intensity I cannot describe; happiness, pain, heartache—” he cringed on the word, “—and love are so much stronger than you can possibly imagine.”

I softened a little—about five-percent. It was the way he said love. There was something so…vulnerable about it. “I don’t know.” I shrugged one shoulder. “I think I might be able to empathise with you on the feeling-things-more-strongly aspect.”

The sharp, crescent-moon dimple returned as he nodded. “You have a lot of heart, Ara. Perhaps that’s why I’m so drawn to you. You’re not like other humans.” His smile dropped away and he looked down at his shoes. “I am sorry that I’ve hurt you with my secrecy. More than you know.”

Apology not accepted…yet. I squared my shoulders. “Okay. So, you said you eat and sleep and everything else? Why be a vampire at all?”

“It’s not by choice,” he said calmly, like I was an infant. “You see, it’s like an alien, I guess. I thought about it once—how I could describe it to a human.” He pointed at me as he spoke, then touched his chin with thought. “It’s like an alien comes down and plants itself in you. You’re everything you were before, except that now, you have these incredible abilities, and your human side is driven by the desires of the alien’s first nature—blood.

“I’m still David, but I’m also this alien. I drink because I’m compelled to. If I don’t drink, I become weak and desperate, then I’d eventually turn into a monster.” He laughed lightly and added, “Much like you if you don’t have breakfast. Only, there’d be no stopping me. I would kill…uncontrollably.”

Great, so, I fell in love with an alien-operated vampire.

We stood in silence again for a minute.

“So, why humans? Why not squirrels? Or cats?” I subconsciously nodded toward my window, imagining Skittles on a plate.

David laughed. “It is vital to consume the blood of your own kind. I am human, in part. Without human blood, human energy, and human life force, I’m nothing. Animal blood, and I speak from experience, not only tastes like ash, but can’t satiate the thirst and it won’t nourish.”

“What if you just didn’t eat blood at all?”

“I’d end up back at square one—killing uncontrollably until my hunger was quenched; it’s much kinder to take a few lives than many.”

“Oh, God!” I nearly folded over and threw up. “How can there be any kindness in killing?”

I looked at him with a pang of excitement. “So, are you immortal?”

He shook his head again and stood taller. “No. We’re virtually indestructible.”

“We can’t die, but we can get hurt. Our bones are like cement—iron-coated cement. They do not break. Ever. And our flesh is extremely difficult to penetrate—not that it would do any good to cut a vampire, because we heal incredibly fast.”

“Well, so, like, there’re no stakes or holy water or silver or decapitation?”

“No. Immortal means immortal, Ara. There is no death. No peace. Only an endless eternity of mourning and solitude—watching everyone you love grow old and wither away—forever just a memory, leaving nothing but a fruitless hope of finding happiness again.”

“You have no idea,” he said through a breathy laugh as the tension in the room eased.

“I know you, David. I know you have a good heart, but, I mean, I’m struggling to understand how you can be so loving, yet so…dangerous. How…how do you live with the guilt? For killing people.”