I lay flat on my belly, my legs kicked up in the air and my chin resting on my crossed arms. I was halfway through the Driver’s Manual and largely skimming. Most of the section could have been handled by a six year old. Green lights mean go. Yellow means clear the intersection. Red means wait your turn. The crosswalk signs were just as easy. I frowned a little at the lane control signals and muttered to myself, “Reversible lanes? Do we even have those in Alaska?” Still, it seemed straightforward enough. Reversible lanes were the center lane of a multi-lane, two-way roadway and were marked with lights. Green arrow means go; yellow X means clear the lane, it’s about to go red. Red X means you’re going to get in a head-on collision, idiot. I sighed.
I startled at a sudden thump at the window. I stared up at it, wondering if a bird or something had hit it. As I watched, a little snowball thudded against the glass, dissolving into powder. I scrambled to my feet and hurried to the window, peering down through the darkness.
Edmond. He stood knee deep in the snow of my back yard, peering up at me.
Confused, eager, I tore away the clear plastic insulation and tugged the window open, poking my head out into the cold. “Edmond? What are you doing here?”
“Can I come up?”
I glanced back at my door. My mom would definitely think it was weird if my driving instructor showed up at our house at night to visit me. My dad probably wouldn’t even let him in the house. I gasped and stumbled backward as he was suddenly crouched in the window sill.
“I’ll be good, I swear,” he promised.
I smiled warily, admiring him poised like a cat on the sill, cold mist pouring in after him from the dark night. Vampire, indeed. “Alright. But if my parents catch you in here-”
He stepped down onto the floor and assured me, “Don’t worry. They’ll never know.”
“Don’t you get cold?” I asked, brushing past him and tugging the window closed.
“Not really. Not like you do.” He stepped out into the room, glancing around, and then noticed the Driver’s Manual on the floor. He bent over and picked it up, holding the place with his thumb, and glanced back at me. “Were you studying?” he asked, his eyes wide with pretend shock.
I snatched the book out of his hands, scowling. “You don’t have to act so surprised.”
He grinned. “That’s my girl.”
I nearly melted on the spot. His girl. “Am I?” I asked timidly, feeling on the verge of dizziness. “Your girl, I mean?”
He took my hands and gently pulled me closer. “Only if you want to be. I thought-”
“I do,” I quickly assured him, the booklet fluttering to the floor like a fallen bird. “I do. I just didn’t think you’d…” I shrugged. “I don’t know, want me, I guess.”
He rested his forehead against mine, his voice a silken rumble as he whispered, “I want you.”
I reached my arms up around his neck, pulling him closer.
His arms wrapped around me, pressing me against him. “I want you,” he breathed again, his hands in my hair. “So badly.” He lifted my face to his. I looked up into scarlet eyes and smiled, my eyes sliding languidly closed. His lips brushed against mine, tentative, curious, and then pressed suddenly harder. I gasped, surprised, and sank into his hunger. I sighed and his cheek slid across mine. He nipped playfully at my ear and then I felt his mouth against my throat.
Sudden pain lanced through my neck and I thrashed, but his grip was like stone: impassive, cold, inflexible. I struggled against him, feeling lightheaded, as he calmly pulled the life from me. “Edmond!” I gasped, trying to push him back. He ignored me, his hand against my back squeezing me painfully closer. I felt my vertebrae cracking under his hand, my flesh withering. I slumped in his arms and he cradled me gently, twisted and broken in his embrace.
I heard him murmur, “Sweet, lovely Ella…”
I shrieked, throwing myself free of the blankets. Gasping, I gaped around the room with wild eyes, my hands clutching at my unmarred neck. It took me a few moments to calm down. The house was silent, the plastic wrap still untouched over the window. I looked over at the clock. Midnight. The witching hour. I fell back against the pillows with a long sigh and pressed a hand against my sweaty forehead.
“Just a dream,” I told myself. “It was just a dream.” I shuddered all the same and pulled the blankets up high, tucked tightly under my chin.
I was waiting just inside the door when the silver car came into view. I took a deep breath to steady myself, and then pushed the door open and hurried outside. He stepped out of the car and offered a hand. “Good evening, Ella.”
I hesitated a moment, and then took his hand. “Edmond.” He eased me down into the car and closed the door for me, crossing around the front. He had the heat turned up and I couldn’t help but believe it was for me. He climbed in the passenger’s side, buckled up, and then turned toward me. His eyes narrowed a little, his grin twisting crooked.
“Nothing,” I murmured. “Where are we going?”
“A bit out of town. Is that alright?”
I glanced at him sidelong and swallowed.
“What’s wrong?” he asked again.
I insisted, “Nothing.”
“Something’s wrong. I can hear your pulse from here.”
It didn’t surprise me as much as it would have a few days before, just as I took it more literally than I would have. Either way, I didn’t answer. I obeyed mutely as he directed me out of town, forcing me through one of maybe two roundabouts in the entire city on our way out. I found a gap between two cars and followed the flow of traffic in its sedate merry-go-round and back out again, watching with mounting nausea as the buildings grew further and further apart. He lectured me on right of way laws in intersections without any roadsigns, emphasizing with his hands the the driver on the left must yield to the driver on the right, but I was only half listening, if even that. We passed a small pull-out with a few cars, a pedestrian jogging down the side of the road, and then it was nothing but trees and a two-lane road winding through the rolling hills.
And then I realized it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter if I thought he was a vampire or a sociopath or Superman or anything else. I trusted him completely. I exhaled and eased my death grip on the steering wheel. Edmond glanced over at me, curious but unquestioning, and then pointed to the car ahead and said, “Pass this guy.”
The only thing that bothered me anymore was why he didn’t trust me. His refusal to answer my questions, let alone to just offer information of his own free will, stung a little bit. I would have told him anything about myself. Why couldn’t he offer me the same trust?
I stayed far enough back that I could still see around the car and then glanced for traffic behind me. A straight stretch of road opened out in front of us, clear of oncoming vehicles, and I signaled and pulled out over the center line, accelerating past the car.
He hooked a thumb over his shoulder. “You’re supposed to honk before you pull out.”
“Nobody does that,” I muttered. “Do you?”
The corner of his mouth twitched up in amusement. “Not ever. Just know it for the test.”
I signaled and pulled back over into the right lane. I glanced in the mirror again as we looped around the corner, easing out of sight of the other car. I pressed the gas pedal a little harder. “You don’t ever get nervous, do you?” I asked quietly.
He arched an eyebrow. “Sometimes. You’re speeding.”
I pressed harder, accelerating. “I don’t mean, like, socially nervous. I mean you’re never afraid.”
He shrugged, glancing over at the speedometer. It was well over seventy and still climbing. “If you get pulled over, it’s four points-”
“I know.” The pedal was against the floor, the engine roaring. Eighty.
He glanced coolly back out the windshield. “Are you getting at something?”
“You’re impervious, aren’t you?”
“But close enough. And impossibly strong and fast. I couldn’t hurt you if I tried.”
He looked back at me again, his eyes narrowing. The red speedometer needle registered over a hundred. “You’re up to six points now.”
“I could wreck right now and you’d just walk away.”
“You know what the points mean, right? And how many you’re allowed?” I didn’t answer and he shook his head briefly. “Pull over.” I ignored him and he commanded sharply, “Ella, pull over.”
I immediately released the gas and the car’s speed dropped off. I let it coast down for another half mile and then braked, watching the needle fall. Fifty. Forty. Thirty. Twenty. Heart racing, I steered over to the side of the road, not sure what to expect. I didn’t look at him as I put the car in park and folded my hands in my lap. The other car zipped past us, oblivious.
He turned in his seat, looking at me, and then unbuckled his seat belt. He leaned closer, looming over me. “Say it,” he commanded. “Out loud.”
I took a shuddering breath. “Convictions for moving traffic violations are assigned numeric point values ranging from two to ten points,” I whispered. “Twelve points in a year or eighteen points in two years means I lose my license.”
He smirked. “No, not that. What do you think I am?”
The word lingered in the air between us for a few moments. “Are you scared?”
I looked over at him, trust in my eyes. “No.”
“You should be.” He edged closer and growled, “You have no idea what a temptation you are.”
“You wouldn’t hurt me.”
“No?” His gaze dropped meaningfully down to my exposed neck. “What makes you so sure?”
“You wouldn’t,” I insisted. “I know it.”
“Here’s an experiment for you. Go without food for a week, and then try sitting in a car with a cheesecake for hours at a time. Let me know how it goes.”
I swallowed. “So you really are.”
He picked at the seam of the seat, scratching busily at the leather.
I looked down at my knees for a moment and then glanced back over at him and asked curiously, “What else can you do?”
He looked up at me.
“Can you, like, turn into a bat?”
His eyes narrowed as he considered whether or not I was mocking him. “I don’t want to talk about this.”
“May I call you Batman?”
“May I feed upon your entire family and make it look like an accident?”
That sobered me considerably. “So that’s a no, then.”
“You’re remarkably light-hearted about this, Ella.” He shook his head and looked away out the window. We were both quiet for a long time. “And I do get scared,” he said softly. “If you got in an accident driving like that, even I couldn’t save you.”
I stared, not sure what to say. I glanced away, and then unbuckled and opened the door. I climbed out and circled the car, pulling his door open as well. “Come on.”
“Why?” he asked, wary.
I sighed and leaned over him, reaching for his seat belt’s release. He grabbed my wrist suddenly, tugging me closer, and I gasped. I braced myself against his shoulder, my head jerking back.
He froze, both of us immobile and surprised. He released my wrist, leaning back into his seat. “Don’t-” he stammered. “Don’t get so close to me.”
He seemed embarrassed. “You just… your warmth, your color, your scent… You’re awfully tempting, Ella.”
“Then get used to,” I told him softly, boldly meeting his eyes. “Because I’m not going anywhere.” I pressed the release and leaned back out of the car. I pulled up the hood of my jacket and started out between the trees, calling back over my shoulder, “Come on.” After a few moments, I heard him tromping through the snow after me. I briefly rubbed my wrist, trying to massage away the marks of his fingers.
“What are we doing out here?”
“You were going to show off for me.”
“I was not.”
“Oh, come on. Run around really fast. Or tear a tree up by the roots. Something.”
He stopped and I turned. His arms were folded across his chest. “Ella, I just confessed to being a cannibalistic murderer and you’re treating it like an endearing quirk.”
“Is it really cannibalism? I mean, you’re not really human, are you?”
He frowned. “You’re not taking this seriously.”
I chewed my lip briefly, not sure what to say. “Edmond, you’re more than that. You saved me, when you had absolutely no reason to, and plenty of reasons not to. I trust you. Don’t ask me to explain why.” I went to the base of the largest tree I could find. It was a scraggly old evergreen, tipping haphazardly in the boggy soil, but I figured it was stable enough now that everything was frozen. I jumped up, reaching for a limp, and missed. “Come help me up.”
“You’re going to hurt yourself.”
“Not with you around, now am I?”
Grumbling, he walked up to me, put his hands on my hips, and effortlessly hoisted me upward. I laughed, startled, and reached for boughs, and clambered up into the tree.
“How strong are you?”
“Could you lift a car?”
He laughed. “Never tried. Probably not, though.”
“So you do have limits.”
The trunk was thinning out and the tree began to sway with my weight as I neared the top. “How fast are you? Have you ever timed yourself?”
“Do you get tired?”
“Mostly I get hungry,” he growled, and I knew he was done with that part of the conversation.
He shrugged, circling the base of the tree like a prowling wolf. “Mostly because people don’t ask so many questions.”
I grinned down at the top of his head. “You worry too much, Edmond.” I crouched and let go of the trunk, vaulting out into space. About half a second later, it occurred to me that maybe I should have let him know I was coming down. My arms pinwheeled as I plummeted backward through the cold air and I tasted an acrid moment of panic.
He leapt up to me and plucked me from my free fall, snatching me from death once more. He clutched me protectively against his chest and I buried my face in his jacket, smiling at the fate that had brought me there. “Gar, Ella!” he snapped, landing in a burst of snow. “Do you have a death wish?”
I burst into nervous laughter, half-hysterical.
“It’s not funny. Why would you do that?”
‘It got me in your arms,’ I thought. “Why do you keep saving me? Wouldn’t it simplify your life to just let me die?”
He dropped my legs and I stumbled to the ground. Cupping my face in both hands, he demanded, “You think I’d just let you die? For simplicity? Are you so stupid?” He hugged me tightly and I had to wonder if I was dreaming again. “Don’t do stuff like that,” he whispered into my hair. “Okay?”
“Edmond,” I sighed, nuzzling against his collarbone. “I don’t care what you think of yourself. You’re not a monster. Not to me.”
“What are you doing tomorrow?”
“Could I… Could I call on you?”