“David. I can’t make a decision like that in two weeks. How can you possibly expect me to—”
“Because you have to, Ara!” He looked at me long enough to see the hurt infect my face. “The time is now. Like it or not. You have to choose. When the full moon rises in a fortnight, I will be boarding a train and leaving for Le Château de la Mort—with or without you beside me.”
“You can’t do this to me. Mike’s here for the next two weeks. How am I going to choose between life and immortality while he’s distracting me?” I wiped fat raindrops off my shoulder, moving out from under the giant leaf collecting them. “Can’t you reason with them? Can’t you do something?”
“Ara. You don’t understand the ways of the Set. I’ve been ordered to return by the head of the World Council—the king, for God’s sake. One does not refuse an order from the king.”
“Look.” He dropped his head with a dejected breath. “Two weeks to get my affairs in order was a generous courtesy. He needn’t have offered that at all.”
“Why? Are you in trouble?”
“In ways.” He looked up at the leaf above us and grabbed my hand, leading me to the shelter of a larger tree. “The man I entrusted to run things in my absence has proven less than reliable. I must return and pull things into line.”
“But you have a life here. What about school and—”
“The Set do not care! It’s a part of being on the Council. I knew this when I joined; I accepted that with all of its glory and all of its responsibility. I must leave. That is all there is to it.”
The pattering of rain filled the silence in around us while it all sunk in. “But, what will I do without you—how will I get through the days?”
“Something tells me you’ll be fine.” He smiled conceitedly, shaking his head once.
He stared at the ground. “I was listening last night. When you spoke to Emily and Alana—about Mike.”
Oh no. My lips parted for some kind of explanation, but only air came out.
“That’s what happened? Wasn’t it?” He looked back at me. “The reason you were crying the night you asked your mom to pick you up? The night she—”
“I’m so sorry, Ara.” He gripped the back of my head and pulled me into him, squishing my cheek against his warm, soggy cotton shirt. “He was a fool to turn you down.”
“No, he was probably smart.”
David leaned back a little and cupped my face delicately in his hands. “I guess that explains your over-analysing when I wouldn’t kiss you. I’m sorry. If I had known—”
“It’s not your fault. You did the right thing. Better to feel undesirable for a few days than to be dead, right?” I laughed a short release of tension.
“I—” My eyes drifted past David’s to nothing in particular.
“S’il te plait, mon amour, tell me the truth. It will hurt more if you lie.”
“I...” New tears came for a new kind of pain: betrayal, unrequited love, the loss of a friend. I hadn't cried for Mike yet, and I needed to so badly.
I closed my eyes, and a tight cramp twisted my heart. If Mike had loved me that night, I wouldn’t be here. But he didn’t, and now I had David—only to lose him, too.
“I love you more than I love him.”
David stiffened, straightening away from me. “But he’s better for you. You can live with him—die with him.”
“You lied to me,” he said coldly.
“I know.” My eyes closed involuntarily. “I’m sorry. I know I told you once that I don’t love him. It’s just that—I’m really confused.” I looked at him; he looked away. “When Mike rejected me, I locked all the feelings I have for him deep inside. I felt so damn stupid. I didn't even want to admit them to myself.” I touched a hand to my chest, my words a breathless whisper. “I was just trying to forget it happened.” I searched for compassion in David’s eyes, but only a hard man glared down at me, his jaw stiff. Everything around me felt cold; the air, my arms, my face, even my heart.
“Perhaps, with this information coming to light, we no longer need our last two weeks together.”
“David. No,” I said, grabbing his arm, but my words disappeared under a roll of thunder. “It doesn’t have to be this way. We—we can work it out—”
“There’s nothing to work out. You love Mike, and you don’t want immortality.”
“I never said that. Please, we can make our own future. I believe in magic still. I believe there’s hope for us—for our lives, tog—”
“Shh.” He placed a finger over my lips and brought his face down to align our eyes. “No, Ara, my love. It is all too clear to me now. I have to be the strong one, for both of us—” he dropped his finger, “—and you have to be the one that goes on. You must go on, have babies, beautiful babies, and be happy—live that dream.”
“Don’t you get it, David?” I shook my head, my eyes still, watering. “You’re the only dream I want to live.”
“Precisely. Live. You’ve been waiting for me to tell you I’ll stay, that all of this is some nightmare. But, my love—” His eyes softened, a hundred years of sadness flaming within them. “It’s not.”
I managed one syllable before the smoke of his words stung my eyes, forcing the volcanic eruption of blubbering.
“Don't cry, sweetheart. I love you, and you will always belong to me. But I can’t keep lying to myself, believing you’ll change your mind.”
He shook his head again. “Even then, it would only be to save me from eternal solitude. And for that reason, I just can’t take your dreams away. Your human life is your greatest gift and my greatest sacrifice.”
I sniffled, wiping my hand over my nose. “It doesn't have to be that way.”
“It does, my love. Look—” He pointed to a blue and black butterfly, dancing in the shelter of a silky leaf. “You see, you’re much like that butterfly.”
He wrapped both arms around my waist from behind, tucking his chin against my shoulder. “She started her life in the shadows, close to the ground. She lived and existed only as others saw her; a caterpillar, nothing more. Then, one day, she bloomed into a beautiful, brightly-winged creature—so free, so pure. Something she could never have been had someone taken her away.
“Her life is short in comparison to most. But she will live each moment, flying, spreading her beauty, her life through the tree tops, so that when her existence comes to an end, as the sun goes down on her final day, her spirit will go on, and there will always be a beautiful butterfly to carry on her name.” David kissed the top of my ear, smoothing his hands against the skin on my belly just under my top. “I love you, and your spirit will go on. As long as you have happiness, I have everything I will ever desire.”
“But what will you do without me?”
“I am the rain.” He looked up at the sky; I looked too. “I exist each clouded day whether the butterfly flies or falls. A human life is but only a blink in the eye of eternity. I will go on when you are gone, I will have no choice.”
His arms tightened around me. “I will never move on. The pain I will feel for eternity without you is a sacrifice I am willing to make to save you from forever longing, wishing you’d been given the chance to live. I owe that to you—” He nodded once. “For the love I feel—I owe that to you.”
“So that’s it? You’re making the decision for me?” I turned to face him.
“I have to, Ara. I’ve been watching, waiting, scanning your thoughts to find some hint of promise for us. But you don't, anywhere in your thoughts, want to be a vampire. And yet, you keep making me wait for your answer. And stupidly, I keep waiting.”
I had nothing to say. He was right. Life was just too important. I’d seen it in action; the beauty, the magic it had to offer. And I feared, if I gave that up for immortality, I’d never forgive myself, or worse, never forgive David. “Just give me two weeks more. For forever, please? Just let me have the last two weeks.”
“Two more weeks?” He stepped back. “While you spend those days with another man—one you happen to love?”
My head hung in shame. “Please don’t hate me for loving him, David. I loved him for such a long time before I ever even knew you existed.”
“I do know that.” He exhaled, stepping into me. “I just…I suspected it. I'm actually angrier at myself, Ara—for not listening to my own gut—again.”
“What would you have done if you’d asked me and I’d told you I loved him?” I rolled my face up to look at him. “Would you have left?”
“That’s the stupid thing about all of this.” He sighed, casting his gaze to the heavens.
“That, even if you had admitted your feelings for Mike—” he touched my cheek and smiled, “—there’s no way I’d have left you.”
“Then don’t leave yet.” Hope filled me. “Give me the nights—for two more weeks. Please?”
“You don’t even need to ask. You know I will. How can I not savour those last few nights?”
I melted against him again. “Thank you, David.”
After a moment, he turned my face so my blue eyes met his shimmering green windows. “I just need to hear you say it, though—from your own lips.”
“Please stop playing these games, Ara-Rose. Tell me the truth.”
“That is the truth, David. My mind makes up its mi—well, my mind makes decisions all the time, doesn’t mean I agree with them.”
“Stop it.” He drew back a little further. “Ara, just say it. Just tell me you’re not coming with me.”
“No. Because that’s not what I’ve decided on.” I folded my arms.
David turned away from me, extending his arm to grasp a tree branch. “You will eventually have to say it, Ara. Either way, a decision has to be made. Wholeheartedly or not.”
“Okay, then…ask me on the last day of our two weeks—that way I can be sure you’ll stick around.”
“Yeah. It’s perfect.” I carefully touched his elbow until he turned his face to me. “You can ask me on the last dance.”
“The last dance?” He dropped his hand from the branch, his brow staying up in an arch of mockery. “On the last stroke of midnight?”
He grabbed me gently by the arm and pulled until my chest fell against his. “I’m sorry I yelled at you.”
“No matter. I shouldn’t speak to you that way, despite how I feel.”
“I yell at you all the time.”
He laughed. “But you’re harmless. When you yell, it’s merely amusing.”
“Thanks. Glad to know you take me so seriously.”
“Only as serious as you take me.”
He laughed. “So, I guess that means you don’t take me very seriously.”
“Not really.” I smirked, then remembered the gift I had in my pocket.
“Stay out of my head, vampire!”
I ignored that and reached into my pocket, keeping my hand there, unsure if I should do this. “It’s a little corny, but—”
“I know.” I smiled warmly. “I figured the old guy in you might like it.”
David’s lips quirked up on one side, his eyes lighting with curiosity. “You’re getting good at keeping your mind clear when you want to hide something from me.”
“I know.” I grinned and pulled out a small white square of cloth. “You know in movies, how the fair maiden would sometimes give her knight a handkerchief?”
“Well—” David swept the beads of water through his hair, “—it wasn’t a custom that started in movies, but, yes?”
“Um…well, since you have this strong set of beliefs about staying with me at night, I figured you could at least take a part of me home with you.” I pressed the cloth into David’s palm. “It has my scent on it.”
He sniffed it. “So that’s why you were sleeping with this under your pillow the last few nights?”
“Yes. I thought you might have had a cold or were…crying.”
I pouted, reaching back into my pocket. “No, I’ve actually had this diabolical plan going all week.”
“I…it isn’t just my scent I want you to have.”