“You’re marrying him,” David’s voice quavered as he nodded toward the hall—to where Mike went to call my dad. “That’s as concluded as things get.”

“But you told me to. You wanted me to.”

David’s fingers tightened around my face. “I’m no saint, Ara. I want what’s best for you, but at the same time…” He let out a heavy breath. “I couldn’t care less if being with me meant the end of your future.”

“Then don’t let me go.” Hope filled my voice. “Stay with me. Run away with me, I’ll—”

“Ara? I can’t. You know I can’t. I have things I need to deal with—things I must return and take care of, and running away—” he looked down at my face, “—it’s not the answer, my love. Life is the answer, even if loneliness is the outcome.” I went to protest, but David shook his head and pressed his thumbs firmly into my cheekbones, gently pressuring me to silence. “You will have a good life with him. I know now that I’m leaving you in good hands.”

We both looked to the hall—to Mike, to my best friend and fiancé, practically bouncing around the corridor, smiling with more joy radiating from his heart than I had ever seen. When I looked back at David, he was already looking at me; his lips twitching as if words rested there—maybe words I wanted to hear him say.

“I don’t want to have a life anymore. I want to be with you.”

“I know,” he said sympathetically, like an adult telling a child her mother was dead.

“Don’t do that. Don’t speak to me with such finality.”

“Please. I had a lot of time to think in the darkness, David, and none of it matters to me now.” I sniffled, wiping the liquid from my nose. “Love. True love—that’s all that matters.”

David shook his head. “You can never be immortal, Ara. I sat here, by your side, all this time, and I watched you die. I was helpless, unable to save you—forced to let you fade away a little more every day,” his voice broke to a whisper. “You disappeared into nothing, until every trace of what made you mine, what made you real—was gone.”

“It doesn’t change things.” A tight crease pulled his brow at the centre. “Look, I know I said once that I will always hope you would one day change your mind, but that hope no longer exists. It’s been ripped away by reality, Ara. I will not stay with you as a mortal—I have to leave.”

“Why? Am I so repulsive that you can’t love me with a heartbeat?”

David stood back and looked down at his clenched fist. “You know it has nothing to do with lo—”

“Then what is it?” I almost screamed. I could feel my face burning with heat. “Why won’t you just love me enough to think I’m the only thing that matters? I know I messed up. I know I’m moody and spoiled and I’m sorry. I’m sorry I didn’t let you take me away, I’m sorry I went with Jason, and what you’re doing to me now, David, is making me goddamn well sorry I ever fell in lo—”

“Ara!” He held a finger up, tilting his head awkwardly away as if he were fighting a deep, instinctual urge within him—what it was, I couldn’t tell. “Don’t say what you’re about to say. If you say it, it’s been said, and you won’t be able to take it back.”

I held onto the urge to yell at him, to scream at him, but I could only hold it so long; it burst out in a singular cry. I folded my face into my hand. “I hate you. I hate you. I hate—”

“Ara, Ara, stop.” He gathered me in his arms. “Ara, please, please don’t do this, my love.”

“No. You stop it. Don’t you call me that. You can’t call me that and then leave me.” I grabbed his shirt and looked deep into his eyes, my tears stopping. “You don’t know what you’re doing. You can’t leave. I’ll die if you leave, David. I’ll never be able to co—”

“You have to cope, Ara.” He unfolded my fingers from his shirt. “You’ve got no goddamn choice.”

“No. I do. This is love. This is life. I’m alive.” I tapped my chest. “I’m alive. We get a second chance, David. Don’t waste that.”

“I won’t.” He looked into me, and I could almost feel him reaching out to stroke my face, but though his eyes said he wanted to, his hands stayed by his sides. “I’m leaving you so you can live. A life with me—running, hiding, like dogs, Ara, would be a waste. I will walk out that door—” he pointed across the room, “—and you have the choice to either say goodbye to me now, or never have the chance again.”

It hurt so much—in my heart. I rolled my head back, letting my face crumple with the pain of his impassively conclusive words. “David. Please. You can't. I won’t live without you. I won’t, and you can’t make me.”

But he took another step away from me. “I’m sorry, Ara.”

My mouth dropped with the disbelief my heart suffered for each inch of space between us. The fight in me turned to fear, and I tried to move my legs—to get up and run after him, but they felt like jelly; I could barely even move my toes.

He looked away from me, his eyes scrunching tightly in the corners as he closed them.

“David, I love you. If I could take it all back, I would. Just, please. Please stay with me—please don’t leave me again. I want to be with you.”

“But you can’t be with me, Ara.” He appeared beside me, stroking his thumb over the release of tears down my cheek. “I left you with scars from my involvement in your life, and it’s time to put it right again. I love you too much to let you get hurt like that.” His voice trembled; he steadied it with a breath. “And I can never watch you die again. I swear—” he clutched a fist over his heart, “—as long as I walk this Earth, as long as I continue to move, I will have to believe that you are alive—that you still exist, or I will not survive this human life.”

“No.” I reached for him, just managing to grasp his shirt before he could pull away. “David, please—you’re making a mistake.”

Behind David, the door flung open and Mike’s smile dropped when he saw my face. “What have you done to her?” he growled, bounding toward me.

The tense energy tore away from the space between us as Mike pushed David aside. My outstretched hand gripped tighter, but my fingers slipped, and David backed away, one painful step at a time.

“Ara? What happened?” Mike asked, tucking my abandoned reach into my lap.

“No—” I pushed up from Mike’s embrace and searched the room for David; he hesitated by the door, holding it ajar as his gaze quickly averted once it met mine.

“I know this will be hard for you, Ara. Believe me, I will regret this decision for the rest of eternity,” his silky voice trembled. “But I cannot love you the way you are. I will only bring you pain.”

“David,” I whimpered. I’ll die without you. Can’t you feel that?

“Non, ma cherie. The sun will rise again in your world, but for me, it never will.”

He shook his head. “We were just a dream of mine, Ara…but even dreams eventually die.”

My eyes closed as the words he spoke touched my soul and broke my heart; when I looked up from Mike’s embrace, my David, my knight—was gone.

Death, those of us who outrun it, can never escape it. It held me in its clutches long enough to steal my life, and though I could breathe and talk and was capable of human emotion on the outside, inside I was a cold, putrid corpse.

He left me—backed away, turned around and held his head high as he fled my life for eternity. No second chance, no discussion—just gone.

My body would heal, so they told me—it would take months of rigorous and painful physiotherapy, but it would, eventually, return to what it once was. But they were talking about my ability to walk to the bathroom by myself or breathe properly when sitting up. None of them knew what torments I suffered inside. Even the psychiatrist in Vicki couldn’t tell.

“Ara?” She broke my reverie, knocking on my already open door.

I looked up from pretending to read my book. “Hm?”

“Um—” She shuffled her feet. “Emily’s on the phone.”

“Vicki!” I slammed the book down. “I told you. No phone calls. I don’t want to talk to anyone.”

“But, Ara, honey, it’s been weeks—she just wants to see you’re all right.”

“Do I look all right? God, I can hardly even walk myself to the bathroom, I—”

“Yes, you can, you did it this morning, remember?” She grinned.

“Yes, but that doesn’t mean I want visitors.”

“Are you sure, honey? It’ll only be a few mi—”

“Okay. I’ll uh—I’ll tell her to call back another day.” Vicki nodded and closed the door.

I stared at the empty space for a moment, lip quivering, arms weighted with grief. I just couldn't do it. I just couldn’t let Em see me. I missed her so much. I missed school, missed normal life, but I was so goddamn ashamed. I didn’t even want to look at my own father, let alone my friends.

“Hey, ba—” I jumped, wiping hot tears from my cheeks, hurriedly grabbing my book as Mike swung my door open. “Ara? Baby, are you crying?”

“Nope.” I held the book to my chest as he sat beside me. “I’m good.”

“So, these are tears of hilarity?” He looked at the title.

Mike’s eyes narrowed, his head seeming to shake, though it held still. I knew he wasn’t born yesterday, but I also knew that with the prudence they all exercised with me lately, he wouldn’t push for the truth. The question was etching on his lips, though; he wanted to know why I cried if I didn’t remember much about the attack, and a part of him, I was sure, wondered if David had something to do with it.

He asked me once, if there was some reason David had become so upset when he saw the wound on my neck—more upset than anyone else. I simply told him it was because David loved me more than anyone else, and Mike accepted that answer, temporarily. But he’d eventually start piecing things together, I was sure of it.

“Ara?” Mike said, snapping his fingers in front of my face. “Quit fazing out.”

“Oh, sorry. What did you say?”

He sighed, eyes on my ring, then shook his head. “Nothing. It was nothing. I uh—” he stood up, “—I’ll be in my room if you need me.”

“Okay, Mike,” I said, and let him walk away. I couldn’t ask him what he’d just said—not when there was a strong chance it was about our engagement. We hadn’t mentioned it since I woke from the coma, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to yet.

I stared at the door again for a while after he closed it, trying not to embrace the past—not to look on it and remember the bad or the good. It was, and would remain, exactly as the dictionary described it—the past.

As another night rolled to a close, Sam sat at the base of my bed and sketched pictures in his journal. He was good company. It was enough for him to just sit and be silent; he didn’t need to probe or prod for details, attempting to assess my psychological state. It pretty clearly sat high at ‘completely messed-up’ since the attack—it didn’t take a genius to figure that out.

“What do you think?” He held up his book.

“Wow, Sam, that’s amazing.” Not just because the grey sketch of the girl looked exactly like me, but because she was smiling—something I’d not done since coming home.

He rested the book in his lap and kept his eyes on it. “Ara?”

“Do you remember much—about the attack?” He pretended to retrace the lines on his picture. “Does it keep you up at night?”

I stared at my thumbs, clicking them over each other. “Yes. It does. But I try not to think of it.”

“Me too.” I rolled over and covered my head with my blankets.

No one told Sam the finer details of the attack, but gossip had a way of spreading. He came home late from school the other day, kept back on detention after punching a kid who told him my dad lied—that the truth was, my attacker really had…violated me. But no one knew what actually happened; I’d take the truth to my grave—however far away that may be. And I didn’t plan to stay in New England, either. My story made the news and all the major papers; there’d be no escaping the stares if I went back to school. Conclusions based on odd facts were the worst kinds of infectious humiliation. I’d already planned to jump on a plane and go back home as soon as I was well. Whether that was as Mike’s fiancé or not, I didn’t care. I just needed to get away from here—away from it all.

David once said that it was kinder for a vampire to kill a human than to leave them alive, suffering in agony until they finally passed. He was right. Death would have been kinder. Perhaps that’s why Jason left me alive—so I’d walk the Earth for the rest of my days, not only ashamed and broken, reliving the consequences of his cruelty in every nightmare, but also that I’d suffer it alone—without David. He must have known David would leave me if I wasn’t capable of change. He set out to punish David, but I was the one made to suffer.