“Aunty? What can I do?” The boy’s voice trembled with helplessness. “Tell me what to do, and I’ll do it.”

“Save him! Save my baby!” She rolled away, covering her stomach in a tight, protective embrace.

The memory faded out to white dots around the edges of the film, and the birds in the tree above us sang a melody I had no mind for a moment ago, but was completely aware of.

I lifted my eyelids, blinking against the grey day, and turned my head to look at David—the grown up David. “You found her?”

I covered my mouth. “But you were just a child. How did you do that?”

He swallowed a hard lump. “I was simply there to hold her as she was born. I did little else, and there was nothing I could do to help my aunt.” His fists clenched. “No one came to the sound of her screaming. No one called for a doctor. She was a woman scorned for her sins, and they let her die like a dog.” His lip stiffened and anger flooded his voice, a kind of anger I’d never, ever seen in him. “I wrapped the child in my jacket and laid in my aunt’s arms until nightfall.

“By the time I heard footsteps on the porch outside, I was numb—completely numb. I simply stood, held the baby out to my uncle as he burst through the door, and told him, “I lost her.”

“Arthur took the child from my arms and, though I knew nothing of the world, I saw a piece of his soul die then; he closed her eyelids and covered her face delicately with my jacket.

“I will never truly understand what my uncle lost that night and, at the time, I thought nothing of the fact that he fell to the floor beside Arietta, with his child crushed against his chest, and laid there until the dawn. Only now do I see it for the madness it stirred within him.”

“Can someone recover from that?” David asked rhetorically. “He went on with normal life, like any wise vampire on the World Council would, but he never spoke of her. Even now, the mention of children sends his eyes soulless.” David reached over and wiped a warm tear from my cheek, then smiled softly. “The police came; they took Victor and charged him with aggravated assault. He was jailed for a month, then released with a warning, since the evidence was inconclusive.”

“That’s it? He killed her and he got a month?” I almost rocketed forward in protest.

David nodded and clapped his hands together, letting his elbows fall loosely over his knees. “And life went on. Uncle Arthur left town for a while, promising to return when he had made arrangements for Jason and I.” He brushed his palm across the headstone behind him and nodded toward it. “We buried her on a warm spring day, with her baby in her arms, where she will lay evermore.”

“David, that’s so sad,” I whispered, feeling the rise of little bumps over my cold skin.

“Hers has been a loss I have never moved past.” He inclined his head to his position on her grave. “And this is where I’ll sit one day, feeling the grief for another—with no hope of ever holding her again. Only…the name will read a different story; it will be one of true love, lost tragically to eternal sadness.” He looked down at the ground. “For me, Ara, your death will be only but a breath away; a second in time and you will be gone. You have your whole life ahead of you, but for a vampire...it’s nothing but a heartbeat.”

“I’m sorry, David. I wish with all of my heart it were different.”

“I know. But you will never feel the pain of it as I will.” He sniffed once, nodded, then looked at me. “When you die, I will never see you again. Can you comprehend what that feels like for me?”

His words were almost enough to make me change my mind in that breath—to save him from this horrible reality. It all just seemed so hopeless.

“Come on.” He stood in front of me, his hand outstretched. “I heard the ogre complaining about ten minutes ago. Let’s get some food.”

“Okay.” Gravity bequeathed me with excess weight as I rose to my feet and followed David, stealing a glance back to the hill where Arietta would stay. Once, she had been promised immortality and now, she was in the ground—never to know her child’s name. I could see myself sitting up there beside her; my feet led me away, but my heart remained where, one day, my body would return to meet it. And that idea scared me to the point of shaking—the idea of death. It never used to, but seeing those graves painted the truth on a canvas of reality—textured in rough strokes of dark grey, blue, and black.

It was real. Death was real, and it was coming for me—a little closer every day.

But it was normal—the way things were supposed to be.

Sitting by those graves made me see how deep David’s pain would go. He would lose me one day, and I wasn’t sure I could live with the fact that he’d mourn me forever. It felt wrong, like I was being selfish. But I couldn’t lose the hope of seeing Mum and Harry again, or just switch off the desire to have a child, and I wouldn’t give away the magic of life for an eternity of blood—even if that same fate meant saving David from eternal agony.

Emily cursed, fumbling with the tray, nearly dropping the whole thing as she placed it on the counter in front of our designated lane at the bowl. She straightened the cups, then held up the list of orders. “Okay, fries and shake?”

Like a game of popping weasels, hands shot up, claiming various orders down the line of teens. David took his nachos and smiled at Emily, but the smile faded quickly to the seclusion of thoughts distracting him like a theatre show in his head.

Ryan and Alana slid into the seats next to me and pointed out some of the other kids from school, already playing on lanes further down the alley. It seemed this was the thing to do in this town on a Sunday night; in fact, I was pretty sure the student body of Evergreen High made up most of the customers here tonight.

“Well, that’s one way to eat fries.” David grimaced at my French fry, dripping in chocolate shake over my cup.

I shoved the chip into my mouth and muttered, “It’s yummy.”

“Yeah, don’t knock it ‘til you try it,” Ryan interjected, grabbing one of my fries and helping himself to a dip in my shake.

David smiled inquisitively, reaching over to help himself as well.

He frowned at first, then his face lit up. “It’s good—salt and sugar.” He nodded, then looked away quickly.

He leaned closer, keeping his eyes forward. “I feel like I just want to force you to come with me.”

“I’m sorry.” He looked down at his plate. “It’s just…being at my aunt’s grave today really put things into perspective for me; I don’t want to miss you like that, Ara.”

Warm blood flooded my heart, a wave of sympathy almost forcing me to splutter out the words, Let’s go now. Take me to the bathroom and turn me—but I stopped myself. “David. I’m sorry, but look, I’ll see you for the last dance at the ball, and who knows what I might decide in that time?”

“You can’t come with me if he loves you, Ara.” David sat up straight. “Mike can give you a life—he’s better for you. You know that.”

“He doesn’t love me. So it won’t be an issue.” I rolled my eyes.

“We’ll see.” David pushed his nachos away and walked over to our lane, slipping into the human role as I sat back, watching him. He blended himself among Em, Spence, Ryan, and Alana rather well, laughing and talking, but his soul was dark beyond those eyes, and no one but me seemed to notice. Even Emily, who paid attention to pretty much everything he did, was blinded by the foggy spectacles of her new romance.

David looked at me then and jerked his head quickly, reaching out as he did.

I let my lip pout for a second.

I’m okay, he mouthed, a smile proving it.

So I hopped down off the stool, strolled over, and took his hand.

“You know, bowling shoes make your feet look big,” he said, looking down at them.

My toes curled. “Arrogant comments make your mouth look big. Besides—” I nodded down at his shoes, “—you look like you just stepped out of a circus.”

“I think bowling shoes are a good look.” Emily popped up beside us and tapped her toe in the circle of our conversation. We looked down at her feet, and my blood boiled. How could her feet look perfectly dainty in those shoes? She wore the same size as me!

David dropped my hand and walked away, laughing.

“I hate you,” I said affectionately and headed over to the lane.

She laughed behind me.

Bowling had never been my forte, and even though David rolled a perfect strike every time, with the exception of one, because I shot him an inappropriate thought which put him off his game, we still lost. Ryan and Alana took home the win; a giant, stuffed bowling pin—purchased by all the losers.

“I’ll see you guys at school.” Emily waved as we headed out the door.

“Don’t stay out too late, kids,” Ryan joked from behind the stupid, stuffed pin.

“We won’t,” I said. “But I’m not sure if I’ll be at school tomorrow, anyway.”

“I have to go away,” David jumped in. “My uncle is taking me on holiday, so tomorrow is my last day.”

“Oh no—Ara’s going to be so lost,” Emily said.

My cheeks went hot; David grinned when I turned my face away. “Well, I hope so,” he beamed, “then I can be sure she won’t give her heart away to someone else while I’m gone.”

“Not a chance of that, David. I think you might be stuck with this one.” Emily winked at me.

Cool, strong arms wrapped my waist and pulled me close to a firm, tight chest. “I hope so.”

“What about the concert and the ball?” Alana stepped around the giant toy and her wide, jet-black eyes reflected the neon lights behind me.

“I can come back for the concert, but as for the ball—well, I may make the last dance.” He snuggled his cheek against mine.

“Well, good luck, David. I hope you make it home safe,” Emily said, her tone holding way too much gravity.

David tightened his grip around me.

“O…kay. See ya, guys.” I waved again and dragged David toward the car.

He opened the door and grabbed my wrist as I bent to climb in. “What is it, Ara? What are you thinking?”

“Not clearly. You had about four different thoughts at once.”

“Oh, um…well, I was wondering why you didn’t tell them you’re never coming back.”

David smiled. “We never do that. That’s why telling you about leaving in the first place was such a big deal.”

“Really? So you just disappear?”

“Yes. Mostly. We send letters to people in positions of authority, like schools or employers, once we’re safely away, but if there had been any suspicions surrounding our stay, announcing plans to leave could create unrest.”

“Oh.” I traced the rubber seal along the base of the window. “But, there’s no suspicion this time, so why not just tell them?”

“There’s no way of knowing that. People mostly keep their suspicions to themselves, and besides—” he pulled my finger away as I peeled the rubber back, “—it’s the way we do things. We’re consistent in our behaviours.”

“But you told me you were leaving.” I smiled sheepishly, forcing down a rising yawn.

“Which is rare, mon amour, like I said. Now, come on—” he offered the seat in the car, “—let’s get you home before you fall asleep where you stand.”

I sat down and the door closed behind me, giving my head support as I drifted away, feeling my seatbelt clip around me a second later, followed by a cool kiss on my hand, then nothing more until the quiet thud of door woke my mind a little.

“Shh,” David whispered into my brow, lifting me from the car.

Quietly conscious of his embrace, I rolled my head into the hollow of his shoulder and fixated on the gentle, soapy smell of his shirt, seeping into my nose with each restful breath.

“Oh, she’s exhausted,” Dad’s voice hummed as a pale ring of light broke the darkness under my eyelids.

“Shall I carry her upstairs?” David asked, holding me a little closer.

“Uh, yeah, sure. No need to disturb her further.”

The front door closed behind us. I stayed in the blissful elation of dream world, in David’s arms, until the cold touch of my pillow fell along my cheek and I sunk into the softness of my mattress. My shoes came off and a still silence filled the room; it sounded like no one was there, but I could feel David’s presence. “Goodnight, my love.” He pressed a cold kiss to my brow.

I lifted my mind out of sleep just long enough to whisper, “David?”

“I planned to,” he whispered, and the bedroom door closed, leaving me in darkness.

Outside, the sound of Dad’s voice farewelled David as his car pulled away from our house. And the only other sound, after Dad’s footsteps trailed away behind his bedroom door, was the quiet, rhythmic tick of the clock on the wall by the front door, timing my dreams while I slipped away.