He looked up from his feet, smiling, with a hint of mischief behind his eyes. “Do you?”

“Yes. I’m not afraid of that, right now. I—you know how I feel about you. And knowing what I know about you should change that, but it hasn’t.” I touched my chest. “And until it does, even a little bit, I won’t trust myself to touch you.”

“Because it’s ludicrous, David. You kill people—with your teeth. I should hate you.”

“And yet you want to accept me.”

“Or maybe you’re just in love.”

I shook my head, reinforcing my warding hand when he took another step closer.

He sighed, letting his arms fall loosely to his sides. “If I could perform a memory charm on you—make you forget, would you want me to?”

“I—” I didn’t know; happiness was a part of my life when I was in love with David, the boy. All of this reality was just too unusual. I felt insecure, like I was walking on a glass cliff top—sure I might fall through at any minute. But, would I want to love him if I didn’t know he was a killer? “Yes,” I said very quietly, looking down.

“Then why can’t you accept me, now?”

“Ara, look at me,” he said. “Love is complicated, but you can’t deny this is love.”

His eyes, green and intense, searched mine. “You refuse my affections, you will watch me walk away, give up our love, for what? To make a stand against a natural predator? That’s all I am, sweetheart.” He slowly came closer, laughing softly. “Would you give up your firstborn to protest against lions killing a zebra?”

“That’s the problem, David. I will be giving up my firstborn. I’ll be giving up everything.” I pushed away from him and darted across to my desk. “I can never have a family, a life, not even a death if I choose you. I’ve been over it—there’s no right way to do this.”

“That may be so, but you still have a choice to make.” His voice shook on the word choice.

My lip quivered and fresh tears stung the edges of my dry eyes. “Why did you have to make me fall in love with you?”

“I know.” I folded my arms and rolled my chin to my chest. “But I do love you, and now I have to choose between love or life and, David, I want a family—like Mum had; I want a little Harry. I want to be a soccer mom and do carpooling and argue with my daughter about the boys I think aren’t good enough for her. And then, one day, when I’ve had a good life, with the man I love, I want to know what it’s like to be old—and die.” I looked up, my eyes narrowed. “Can you understand any of this?”

“More than you know.” Misery swallowed his voice, then he evaporated. A breathless second passed before he appeared on the edge of my bed, his face in his hands.

For the first time since his confession this afternoon, I really let myself look at him—see him for what he was. I pictured the vampire, the monster, and under it, with his shoulders stiff, his grey shirt hugging the knuckles of his curved spine, was the boy—the one with a heart, which was probably very broken right now. “Damn you for being so cute.” I slumped beside him on the bed. “Why did your uncle want you to leave with him the other day?”

He laughed into his hands then sat up straight, wiping them over his jeans. “I called him—told him I was in love—that I couldn’t leave you when the time came. And he told me that was exactly why I had to leave.”

“Because you were in love?”

“No. Because I love you enough to wish I could give up everything.”

That made me feel heavy and a little numb. If David had just gone, I would be so broken right now, but it would be normal. “Maybe your uncle was right.”

“Oh, Ara, please don’t say things like that.” The anguish in his eyes forced me to close mine. “Have you even considered coming with me?”

I couldn’t answer him, because I couldn’t give him the answer he wanted.

“Ara, please. For the sake of a few drops of blood?” His voice edged beyond desperate. “You would throw away everything? You would turn your back on love?”

“No, David,” I said. “I won’t turn my back on love. But I won’t be a part of murder, of death, of fear. It’s more than a few drops of blood. They’re people. Does that mean nothing to you?”

“It does have meaning to me, but not in the way it does to you.” He lowered his head, maybe ashamed of himself. He should be.

“David, I will always love you—to the very depths of my soul, but I won’t live out eternity as an immoral killer,” I said. “I’m sorry.”

“Immoral?” With a slow breath, he floated up to stand and towered over me, casting a dark shadow across my face. “You think me—immoral?”

“I’m sorry, David, but…I do.” I kept my head down, my eyes on David’s clenched fist.

“If you could only see what you are doing—what it will do to me to be without you.” The energy—the kind of force surrounding him that was normally warm and soft—turned cold, chilling the air with a tearing sensation. “I am not immoral, and I do have a heart—feelings to be exact.”

When our gaze met, my stomach tightened into my throat at the sight of the liquid agony in his very human eyes. “David—”

“No. Can’t you see? Ara, you have no idea what you’re giving up.”

“If you knew my heart, you’d know those words are untrue,” I whispered, looking away from the broken pieces of the boy I loved.

“If I knew your heart, Ara, I would’ve known I should never have shared myself with you.” He cut the air with his hand.

“You’re right,” I said irresolutely. “You should never’ve told me. I didn’t want to know. I didn’t need to know. Now, I have to lose you still, but it’s worse, because I know you’re out there, every day, taking life. And I kissed you. I let myself love you. And I wish I hadn’t.”

“So that’s it, then.” He nearly choked on his words. “You want nothing to do with me, now?”

“You should’ve given me more time. I wasn’t ready for you to come back yet.”

He took two slow steps away from me, touching his chest as the distance became greater. “Well, have no fear, my love. I shall not make that mistake again.”

He sounded a hundred years old to me, then. The weight of his existence tore down my walls as I watched him walk away, and somewhere inside me, a little voice screamed out, echoing from the depths of my soul—warning me that if I let him leave now, I would never see him again. “Wait!” I called in a breath of desperation, reaching for him as I jumped to my feet. “David, wait.”

He stopped, crouched on the ledge of my window, keeping his eyes on the night below.

“Please, give me more time. I’m not ready to let go, yet, I just—maybe we could have until the end of the summer, at least. But, I just need time to think about it.”

David turned his head and looked into my eyes. Tears streamed down my cheeks, and when the vampire jumped back into my room and stood right before me, I didn’t even flinch. Not one uneven breath escaped me. He leaned down and pressed his cold fingertips to my face, rolling it firmly upward to meet his. “Follow your heart, mon amour,” he said. “When nothing in this world makes sense anymore, just follow your heart.”

I drew a shaky breath and closed my eyes as an intense exchange of hope and fear consumed our souls and, in a flash, as I opened them again—he was gone. Gravity made me stumble forward a step in his wake, his absence leaving my heart burning.

The night below my window, cool and quiet, regarded none of the tension in my soul. A lonely cricket hummed his perfect song, and I closed my eyes as the last day that life was everything I expected came to an end.

Squinting in the bright morning sun as my sneakers clapped over the pavement, I started down the street—in the opposite direction of the school. I wanted to be as far away from that building as I could get.

I drew deep, throat-grazing breath of the near-autumn chill, blowing it out in a slow, controlled breath. I’d almost forgotten how to breathe while running. I’d let myself get so unfit that, instead of feeling free and fast now, I felt like I was trying to jump under water. But the tight stitch, the inability to breathe, and the sweat beading on my brow was all normal. And none of it was fair. I should be ignorant to all of it—sunshine, birds singing, hearing my dad talking in the kitchen, or a car taking off down the street. No one my age should appreciate little things like that. When I wake up, my only dilemma should be which dress I want to wear. It sucked that I’d felt grief so deep I could value the little things. And it sucked that I had to either lose the boy I loved, or become immortal—and the fact that David killed people really sucked. No pun intended. The only trouble was, when I concluded not to love him, it hurt inside—a physical ache in my gut, like the one that made me throw up on the first day of school.

I stopped dead and turned around. “Hey, Emily. Do you live around here?”

She shook her head and motioned behind her. “Spencer lives here. I stayed over last night.”

“Yeah.” She nodded. “Oh, I mean, not like that—I was just babysitting his little sister.”

“Oh, okay.” I folded over a little, trying to catch my breath. “Didn’t you go to the wake, at Betty’s?”

“Yeah, but Spencer’s mom’s a nurse. She got called in on nightshift after.”

Emily scoffed, obviously humoured. “He’s just not that kind of guy.”

“Oh.” I wandered over and leaned next to her on the brown picket fence. “Give his mom my number then. I love babysitting.”

“Okay, I will. So—” she looked down at my running shorts, then my sweat-covered forehead, “—I’m gonna go out on a limb here and guess you were—going to a ball?”

“Uh, yeah.” I looked down at my shoes. “I thought I better start getting fit.”

“Hm.” She folded her arms. “Fit. Is everything okay?”

“Of course it is,” my tone rose upward.

“A little.” I sighed and sat down on the curb.

“Let me guess—” she sat beside me, “—he’s got you all confused?”

“It’s a talent of his, isn’t it?” I said.

“Yeah. So, what is it? What’s he done?”

He’s a vampire and he kills people. “He said he loves me.”

Her mouth fell open a little, but nothing came out.

“Hm, well, he’s never done that before, either. Are you happy?”

I nodded and sort of shook my head too.

“Have you said you love him?”

She laughed. “Why would it be bad?”

“I just…I don’t know. I’m not really too good at this boyfriend thing. Normally, when I have this kind of crisis, I ring Mike, but—” But I couldn’t tell him about this one.

“Maybe. He never really takes that stuff seriously, you know. I don’t think he’d get it.”

“You could always talk to me,” she suggested.

“Thanks, Em. But I think I just need some time to sort my head out.”

“And running helps with that?” She tried not to laugh.

“Uh, well, it used to.” I sat back, leaning on my hands. “I used to run with Mike every day. It was like, even running with him, even talking while we did, I always came back feeling like I’d left my problems behind.”

“How’s that working out on this run?”

“Not so good.” I laughed, then stopped. I knew Emily was trying to get me to open up. She was using the exact same tactics as Vicki, without even realising it. “We had this band of seagulls on the corner of my street,” I said to divert the conversation. “Whenever we’d run that course, the damn things’d barely scatter a few feet in the air to get out of the way. It was really annoying. I always promised myself I was gonna put my foot right up their butts if they didn’t move.” I rested my elbows on my knees, my chin on my palm. “Mike called them gullsters…instead of gangsters.”

“You didn’t, though? Did you? Kick them?” Emily looked horrified.

Leaning back quickly, I said, “No! No way. Mike would, though.” I stared ahead then. “He never had any problems kicking butt. I guess that’s why he’s so suited to the Force.”