“Okay. I’m just moving into the spare room.” I walked into the hall, my toes balancing over the quiet spots in the floorboards that I’d memorised.
“Is that the room I’ll be staying in?”
“Yep.” I grinned and leaped through the dark, landing on his bed. “I’m sitting on your bed.”
“Maybe you can keep it warm ‘til I get there.”
“Yeah, sure, I’m gonna stay in bed for the next few days,” I said sarcastically.
He paused again, then, after a long breath through what sounded like his nose, asked, “So, how are things with the boyfriend?”
“Not so good.” I winced; how was the truth so automatic with Mike? “We’ve kind of decided to break up after the autumn ball.” I think.
“What? Oh, baby girl. I’m sorry. Why? I mean, why would you do that? I thought you guys were a sure thing?” Mike’s sympathetic tone brought my tears out from hiding.
“I don't want to, Mike. But he. He has a. Kind. Of. Problem.” I sniffled before the sobs came breaking through.
“What is it, baby? You can tell me.”
“I know, Mike, but—” I could feel Mike in the room with me, the way he’d normally hang up the phone, right about now, and no more than two minutes later be knocking on my window. But that wasn’t possible anymore, and after he left here and headed back home in two weeks, it’d never be possible again. “I—he has a secret and I have to keep it,” I said, sniffling. “I want to tell you. But I can’t.”
“Ara, baby, you know damn well if there’s a secret someone says you shouldn’t tell, you absolutely shou—”
“It’s not like that, Mike. Okay?” I took a moment to compose myself. “Anyway, none of it matters. He has to leave, and after the last leaf of autumn turns red and falls from the last tree, he’ll be gone.”
“What?” Mike scoffed. “What the hell is that? Some fairytale timeline, bull crap? Leaves turning red? Ara! Did he hurt you?”
“No, Mike. He didn’t hurt me. I mean, not physically. I’m hurting inside, like I always do, but it isn’t his fault. It’s my decision that caused it.”
“Wait. What? Your decision? Ara. If he hurt you, I swear to God, I’ll—”
“No, Mike, he never hurt me, okay? He asked me to come with him. To go away with him.”
“Far away. I’d never be able to come back.”
I actually felt a dense cloud wander into his breath, making everything silent before imminent explosion occurred.
“Don't worry, Mike. I told him no,” I added quickly before he could freak out, even though it was a lie.
The explosion came across the miles in a loud whoosh of air, the phone line interpreting it as static. “So, you—what, you’re breaking up when?”
“When winter comes—maybe before. He said I could count on him staying until at least the end of summer.”
“And how…” I heard him sniffle. “How are you coping with that?”
The sadness of the idea felt so final, so eternal now that I’d said it aloud. “Not sure.”
“Well, you still have me.”
I laughed out in one short burst of air. “I know. I’ve always had you.”
“It’s just not really a consolation, is it?”
“Don't be like that, Mike.”
“I'm sorry. I just…” He paused for a few ticks of the clock on the wall. “Do you hate me, Ar? Is that why you didn't take my calls?”
“Hate you? Why would I hate you?”
“Because of…because of what happened that night.”
For the first time since that night, I allowed myself to think about it all—to really think about it. Did I hate him? He turned me down—rejected me. But you can't be held responsible for the desires of your heart; it wasn’t his fault he didn't love me. “It would be easier—if I hated you.”
“Don’t say things like that,” he said softly.
“It hurts me to think of you wanting to hate me.”
“You know how I feel about you, Ar.”
“I don't think you do. I don't think you get it.”
“You can't…you can do no wrong, baby. All that stuff—everything—it doesn't change the fact that you will always be my best friend. You know that, right?”
“I know, Mike. I just...can we just forget it ever happened, please?”
I sighed and stood up from Mike’s soon-to-be bed, then looked out at the twinkling stars in the sky to the west; they reminded me of David—after our blissful night on the rooftop—and for the rest of my life, they always would. Which was funny, really, because, while thoughts of my dark knight remained with the midnight sky, thoughts of my Mike, my warmth, would always be the beaches and sand—the blue skies. Two separate parts that made my days whole—made my world.
“I’ll be there soon,” he said.
“I know, but you’ll be gone soon, too.”
Mike sighed. The sound strengthened the memory of his face; his prominent jaw, with a kind of arrogant set to it that was completely softened by his charming smile—the kind of smile that made you a part of his world when he offered it to you. I could see his shaggy, sandy-coloured hair, the blonde tones lighter in the summer, and his autumn-brown eyes, deep, like leaf-covered pools.
“Where are you, Ara? What world of thought have you slipped away to this time?” he asked in a soft, almost whisper.
“A world I don’t want to be in.”
“Just hold tight a few more days, kid. I’ll be there to pull you out soon.”
“I’ll be back before dark,” I called to Dad, closing the lid on Vicki’s sewing box.
“It’s going to rain—you’ll need a coat,” he yelled from upstairs.
I stuffed the pilfered pin into my pocket, taking a quick look at my bare arms, then tiptoed out the front door, pulling it quietly closed behind me.
“God!” I jumped back from the vampire. “You gotta stop popping up like that.”
“Oh, fine.” I went to obey, then stopped, folding my arms. “Actually, no. If you want me to bring one—you can go get it.”
His eyes slowly narrowed above his tight jaw, an invisible rope bringing his shoulders back, making them straight and hard. I swallowed, about to shift my hand and place it on the doorknob, when a breath of wind swept my hair back and David grabbed my hand, leading me to the car—with my jacket over his forearm.
“I love how you do that.”
“Hm,” is all he said.
We sat quietly on the first half of the drive out to the lake, not a peaceful silence either—a deliberate one. I had nothing good to say to him today after that whole dress incident last night.
“Vicki seems happy about your dress,” David chimed, a flash of pure white teeth gleaming through his dark pink lips.
“Oh, come on, Ara. You’re not really mad, are you? It’s a dress, let it go.”
“It’s not the dress I have a problem with—” And all of a sudden, we were arguing again. “It’s the fact that you went behind my back. You picked through mine or Vicki’s brain until you found what you wanted, then took it upon yourself to force me in a direction I didn’t want to go.”
Even though I refused to look at his charming smile, I could still feel its warmth. My arms dropped to my sides. “I do love the dress. But I’m just afraid it’ll always be like this, David. That you won’t respect my decisions.” Like the one to stay human.
“I never thought of it that way.” He looked down at the steering wheel. “I’m sorry, Ara. I must have misinterpreted your thoughts yesterday when we talked. I’ll…I’ll take the dress back.”
“No. Don’t do that.” I choked on my own words. “Just...in future, even if my thoughts indicate the opposite, listen to me when I say no.”
“David, of course I’ll wear the dress. I love the dress.”
“I know you know I do.” And all the irritation over the dress evaporated with one flash of his turned lip and irresistibly cute dimples, making the sun rise again in my world. “Thank you, by the way.”
“The other night, when you closed my window. It rained and I would’ve been very cold if you—” My words dissipated with a gasp of air; I projected forward, nearly striking the dash as the car screeched to a halt in the middle of the road. “David! What the hell!” I pried my fingers from their grip of fear on the seat, then slapped him hard—not hard enough, though. He didn’t even flinch.
“When was this, Ara? Which night are you talking about?”
“Friday. Why?” I rubbed at my now throbbing hand.
“Tell me exactly what you think I did.” He grabbed my face, turning it from one side to the other, then let out a breath.
“Umm, you closed my window.” I pushed his hand off my face. “Why the sudden freak-out?”
After a moment of stillness, he looked over his shoulder, then back at the dash. “Because, Ara, I never close your window.”
“I’m pretty sure my brother came to visit you.”
“What? How do you know my dad didn’t close it?”
David reluctantly turned his gaze to me. “The scent.”
“Yes. It’s nearly exactly the same as mine, only, I should’ve followed my gut when I realised it was on things I never touch—things I’ve never been near.”
“Are you saying there was some strange vampire in my room? While I was sleeping? Oh my God.” I shook my hands around, taking short breaths. “I think I’m hyperventilating.”
“It’s okay, Ara. Really. He would never hurt you—you have nothing to worry about.” He placed a calming hand to my shoulder.
“He’s like me, my love—in so many ways,” he said, rubbing my back. “He’s a good guy. He was just curious about you.”
“Then why did he sneak into my room? What is it with you Knight boys?”
“It’s my fault. I wouldn’t let him meet you.”
“Because my personal life is not his business.”
“How is it not? He’s your brother.”
He looked forward, almost pouting. “You’re starting to sound like my uncle.”
I reached across and touched his arm. “David?”
He looked at me again.
“I don’t see what the big deal is? Why didn’t you just let him meet me? It would’ve saved all this…” I motioned to us, stopped dead in the middle of the desolate road. “Drama.”
“He doesn’t fit into your world as well as I do—anymore.” David wrapped his fingers over his thumb, cracking it absentmindedly. “I was afraid he might scare you.”
“Yes.” He smiled into his lap, tossing a sideways glance at me after. “He can come across as a little...malevolent.”
“And you tell me not to worry that he was in my room? With me? Alone?”
“How do you know he didn't do anything…unsavoury? I mean, touch me, breathe on me—look at me?”
“I know my brother. He’s—for all his faults, violence and depravity are not among them. He wouldn’t do anything…dishonourable to you.”
“Then why did you study me like that?”
“Involuntary reaction.” He shrugged; he looked so human when he did that. “It was silly of me. If he’d bitten you, you’d already be a vampire.”
“Do you really think he’d have done that?”
He rubbed his chin. “I don't know. I guess I was just worried he might.”
“Why? Isn't it against the law?”
“Yes, but, I—” His gaze drifted into the world of nothing, coming back with a trace of alarm. “If you ever see me or speak to me and you feel something is slightly off, just—just ask me something only I’d know, and don't think about the answer.”
“Yes. And not just human minds, either.”
I held back the urge to laugh. “So, he’s more talented than you. I bet that sucks.”
He brushed my hair from my face and stared at me intently, a hint of a smile returning to one corner of his mouth. “What would suck is having your fourteen-year-old brother inherit the height in the family, while you were left…short.”