I tried not to be offended, but I actually really just wanted to slap him. “That’s not funny.”

“Sorry.” He looked down by his leg and brushed a few leaves away that fell from a tree. “So, you don’t want me to leave with my uncle?”

“You’ll give me until the end of the summer, then?”

“If that’s all we can have.”

One corner of his mouth turned up ever so slightly. “But, you won’t give me forever?”

“Forever,” I laughed the word out. “That used to have such a different meaning to me.” I smiled and looked away. “I can’t even comprehend eternity, David. It’s too much for my puny human brain to take.”

“Yes, you can. Try this—think of the longest day you’ve ever spent,” he said, sitting up.

I thought of Wednesday—the day before the funeral; a whole day not knowing if I’d ever see him again.

“Now, spend the rest of your life like that,” he said, his voice dropping.

“Is it really that miserable?”

“Not all of it.” He tried to smile, shifting his fingers from the tangled hold in his hair to the ground beside him. “There are good things. But you get tired sometimes, you know? And then, once in a while, if you’re lucky, you come across something that makes your life worth living.”

I held the smile on my lips, but it went stale in my soul. “And what about when I’m gone? Will you find another person to love, then?”

“See, you just don’t get it.” He shook his head, leaning back on his hands. “There was a time where I was just existing, and I never knew any better. But when I saw you, when I held you, you burrowed right into my soul, Ara. You reached a part of me that has never been touched before and I—” He looked away. “I’ll never be the same again. Wherever I go, whatever I do in this world, I will never find another reason to live as good as you.”

“If you love me that deeply, can’t you just stay with me then—be human?”

“I’m not human, Ara,” he said, poorly disguising the ache in his voice.

“I never will be human. I’m a vampire. Even if I could get approval to stay with you for the next eighty years, what then? I’d have one measly lifetime with you—pretending all the while to be human, watching you age just a little bit more each day, until every ounce of life withers away from your soul and I lose you for good.”

“But at least we would have lived—been a family, had a life together.”

“One life. One. When we could have an eternity.”

“So, that’s it; no negotiation? Your way or the highway?” I scoffed.

“It’s not my way, girl. Do you think I want this?” He pointed to his chest. “God, even if I was willing to stick around to watch you die, it’s not up to me.”

“No, why can’t we reason with them?”

“Because they do not negotiate the laws. Vampire’s in my position stick to their Sets—no matter what.”

“It’s what we call the communities we belong to—clubs, sort of.”

“I said sort of like clubs. They’re there to protect vampires from your society.”

“Yes. Do you know what could happen if vampires were discovered? It could start a war.”

“Would that not be a good thing? You guys would win—then you could live in peace.”

“That’s not the point, Ara. And we would never be in peace. Fear can turn good people into an angry mob. And then…what if we lost? We’d end up locked away or in a science lab being tested on so humans could wield or recreate our powers.”

“Yes, oh.” He smiled. “Without a Set, you are exposed, out in the open—no one to help cover up a bad kill, no one to assist with identity change. And I know better than anyone that vampires must be kept under a tight rein—if not, they can become unruly. The law applies to all. Not just those who feel special because they’re in love.”

“But, it would only be for eighty years, then you could go back.”

“It doesn’t work like that. They don’t grant leave to people in my political position.”

“Would you really ask me to give it up for you, Ara?” One of his eyes narrowed. “Because I could. I could leave, but I’d be hunted like a dog—face imprisonment.”

He nodded. “And why would I want to quit? I’ve worked hard—spent decades doing unspeakable things to obtain my position. I enjoy my job, Ara.”

“Well, can’t I just come with you—but stay human?” I asked carefully.

He shook his head softly. “No. It’s against the law.”

“Yes, either you become a vampire or I have to leave you behind at the end of the summer.”

“If I—say I decided to be like you, what then?”

“Well, it wouldn’t happen overnight. There are processes to go through. But we’d take our time, prepare you—get you used to the idea first. I wouldn’t rush you.”

“Yeah, I mean, is it random or do you choose them?”

“Well.” He grinned and picked an ant off the rug, then tossed it onto the grass. “I usually avoid eating comedians.”

“Okay. Sorry.” He shook his head, smiling, then painted his serious face on again. “Every vampire is different, and the hunt or the kill, it’s very intimate—asking a vampire how he kills is almost as personal as asking what colour underwear he’s wearing.”

“No, it’s fine. We’re in an intimate relationship, Ara, so it’s okay for you to ask.”

I liked that. I felt special. “So, how do you choose them?”

“It used to be random—usually women. Now, it’s men. I stalk them for a bit, see if they’re worthy of existing, if not—” He shrugged to finish.

My body shuddered involuntarily. “And you feel for them after?”

“Now, I do. But only as bad as you’d feel for knocking an old lady over in the street.”

For some reason, I pictured an old lady falling from her walking frame. “How often do you eat?”

“Every couple of days. I can go for as long as five days, but it gets very…uncomfortable.” He readjusted his position.

That wasn’t so bad. At least it wasn’t three square meals a day.

“No. I would never be that irresponsible again. To be here alone with you would be dangerous if I were deprived.”

Dangerous? “But you said…just before, in my backyard, that I never have to be afraid of you.”

“Only because I will never again take risks with you.”

“So, have you ever wanted to…feed from me?”

My breath caught in my throat, and an uneasy silence hovered around us. David’s lip twitched, one eye narrowing ever so slightly, making my heart warm as I read the uncertainty behind his gaze. Then, I burst out laughing. “You should see the look on your face.” I pointed at him. “You’re not sure if you should’ve said that, are you?”

The sweet, familiar smile tugged at the corner of his lip for a second, then, it broke into a broad, honest grin as he laughed along with me. “I just don’t want to frighten or repulse you. I’m never sure what to say.”

I let my bottom lip slip forward into a pout for a second. “I’m sorry. It must be hard for you.”

“Hard?” He breathed out, leaning forward a little more. “That doesn’t even begin to describe it.”

“So, do you find it hard keeping yourself a secret, you know, your abilities?”

“Ha! Yes. Especially in emotional situations.”

“Which is why you always take off?”

“Yes, like that day at school—” He smiled leadingly. “In the hallway.”

I looked up at him. “Do you mean when I—” I realised then that he would’ve seen everything I was thinking that day. I covered my cheeks. “Oh my God.”

He chuckled. “It was worse for me. I wasn’t sure what to do, you know. That hallway was full of people, and I just wanted to stand there and watch your thoughts unfold. Then, at the point I couldn’t take anymore, I wanted to—”

“No.” He looked up from the ground and smiled. “I was about to lift you in my arms and run, vampire-speed, to the storage room under the auditorium stage.”

“You would not,” I said, my tone ringing in question.

“Ara.” He raised one brow. “I’m a guy. Not a saint.”

“Well, what…” I crossed my legs under me, shifting nervously. “What would you have done with me in there?”

He left the long silence hanging, smiling down at the grass. “I would’ve demonstrated my affections for you.”

“And…” I played with the hem of my dress, “…how exactly would you have done that?”

David cleared his throat and sat back up from his lean, dusting the grass and soil off his hands. “This is getting off subject.”

“Right.” I bit my lip. “So, that was the reason you left school that day—not because of my strawberry shampoo?”

“But…why leave? Why not just take me to the auditorium closet?”

“Because—” He frowned, curiosity making his eyes smaller. “Would you have wanted me to?”

He laughed. “And what about now? Would you still want the same things?”

“What if I were to kiss your neck?”

He moved closer, taking my hand as he knelt before me. “Is this okay?”

I nodded, and he brought my hand up slowly, placing it on his chest.

“And, what if I did…this?” He tilted my chin up, exposing my neck, and slowly lowered his face to mine, stopping right in front of my eyes. “You still okay?”

“How ‘bout now?” His warm breath moved over my neck, slipping around to my spine as his lips gently made a line of kisses from my ear to my collar bones, his hair brushing my cheek, his shoulder right in front of my mouth, taking my hot, lustful breaths, and sending them back to me with the scent of David.

He rolled back up, keeping his hand against my face, and ran his thumb over my lashes. “Look at me.”

“You’re just the same.” I shook my head, unable to believe it. “And I love you just like before.”

A smile broke across his lips, showing his fangs. “You cannot fathom the relief I feel, Ara, to have you know what I am and still let me touch you that way.”

“You’re not that scary.” I smirked, rubbing the moisture from my neck.

“My human self might not be. But you haven’t met the vampire yet.”

“When do I get to meet him?”

“I’m not sure you will.”

“Because it might frighten you, Ara. And I. Never. Want you. To be afraid of me again.”

“But I’m okay, now. If you scared me, David, you could always talk me around.”

He shook his head. “No. After what happened in your room that day, I will never risk scaring you again.”

“Because I felt dead inside,” he snapped. “I couldn’t touch you; couldn’t be the one to comfort you. I…I felt so helpless, like you were screaming for me—standing behind a glass partition, and I couldn’t reach you.”

“I think you came across as rather in control.”

“God, no. Do you know what it feels like when you can’t touch someone? To be the one who placed fear in their eyes, and be powerless to take it away? I was terrified I’d lost you—” his voice dropped, “—and I just wanted to hold you; just make you see me again.”