Chapter Six

“Three point turn. Go. And don’t be lazy about it.”

I rolled my eyes and signaled right, pulling up to the far right. I switched the blinker to the left, glancing for traffic, and then turned the wheel and crossed left. Looking around again, I spun the wheels hard right and backed up to the opposite side of the street. Stopping again, I checked for traffic again with heavy exaggeration and then pulled forward and parked, lifting my hands in the air. “Ta da!”

“Lovely. The checking is important, even if it feels redundant. There could be other cars or people or animals at any moment. Things move constantly. Did you know that around twenty percent of all traffic fatalities are-”

“Pedestrians,” I interrupted. “Yeah, I know.”

He grinned. “So they always get right of way. If they’re in the street, even if they’re wrong, we try darned hard to stop. Bicyclists need extra care as well, and motorcyclists. They don’t have a vehicle structure to protect them and they’re harder to see.”

I cast him a bland smile.

He laughed. “Alright, alright. Let’s keep driving.”

I gratefully pulled out and onto a larger road, joining the flow of traffic.

“What’s the countdown?” he asked.

“Two more weeks.” I signaled and changed lanes to pass a slow driver.

“You excited?”

“It’ll be nice to actually be able to drive myself around without a babysitter all the time.”

He grimaced playfully. “Ouch. You wound me, my lady.” I laughed and he leaned against the window, looking out the passenger side as we passed a minivan full of children, at least two of which seemed to be howling. “You seem confident, at least.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Shouldn’t I be?”

“Yeah, you’ll be fine. I’m not even worried about it.”

I nodded curtly. “Good.” I flicked on the blinker and eased back out into the right lane.

He pointed through the windshield. “Follow that bus around for a while.”

I eased up behind the massive tour bus, careful to stay out of its numerous and large blind spots. An accident with a bus so much bigger would almost certainly kill me, but I wondered idly if Edmond would even get a scratch. And did vampires bleed? Or bruise? I glanced up at the bus, chock full of Japanese tourists eager to watch the auroras.

“Ah, they’re turning,” he warned, and I immediately dropped back well behind it, leaving it plenty of space to make a wide right turn without pinching me in the right lane.

“Still follow?”

“Nah, you’re fine. Let’s go park somewhere.”

I glanced over at him and then started off again as the bus pulled away. I found a little side lot outside of some tourist trap that didn’t look like it was even open in the winter. I pulled in, set the parking break, and batted my eyelashes at him. “Wanna make out?”

He laughed. “You’re terrible.”

“What else do naughty teenagers do when they park in abandoned lots?”

“Hold intelligent conversations.”

I sighed. “I had to try.”

“I expect nothing less.” He reached across the emergency break and took my hand, staring out into the night.

“It’ll be nice when you have your license.”

“Can I introduce you to my parents then?”

I looked over at me. “If you still think that’s a good idea.”

“Why wouldn’t I?” I asked, smiling softly. “You’re important to me, Edmond. I want you to know my parents.” I lifted his hand to my lips and gave it a little kiss.

He smiled over at me for a few moments and then whispered, “You’re so sweet.”

“Yeah?” I whispered, unbuckling my seat belt. I eased through the space between us, leaning over him against the far side of his seat. I looked up at him. “How sweet?”

He pressed back against the seat. “Too fast, Ella,” he breathed, his voice strained.

I sighed and sat back again, embarrassed and defeated once more. “I thought you liked speeding.”

He rolled his eyes. “I don’t like you speeding.”

I frowned. “Double. Standard.” I opened the car door and climbed out into the chill, slamming it after me. I folded my arms and walked a few steps away from the car as he clambered out his side.

He came around the vehicle and planted himself in front of me, folding his arms. “Alright, Ella. Say you’re driving along at twenty miles per hour, and then you double to forty. How much more force to you have now?”

I shrugged. “Double; so what?”

“Wrong,” he growled, leaning closer. “The impact is four times greater. Triple it to sixty and you have nine times the impact. Up to eighty and it’s sixteen times greater. And so your breaking time should be sixteen times greater as well.”

I folded my arms, too, imitating his stance. “Why take longer than you have to?” I asked. “Why not just get there as quickly as you can, and save everybody some time and misery?”

His frown deepened. “Because it’s not safe. I can survive that. Can you?”

I lifted my chin imperiously. “Maybe I don’t want to be safe. Maybe some things are more important than being safe all the time.” I unfolded my arms, planting my hands on my hips. “Can we stop talking in car speak? It’s creepy, it’s like the only language you know. This is about you. And you’re not that dangerous, Edmond.”

He stared at me for a second, calculating, and then his arms slipped apart, his head cocked to the side. He stepped closer, a small grin playing at the corners of his mouth. He was suddenly transformed from my Edmond to something else. Something sinister and sensual and utterly fatal. “No?” he whispered, circling me. “Do you really have no idea what I am? What I’m capable of?” He leaned in and breathed over my shoulder, “What I’ve done?”

I couldn’t help shuddering as his cool breath tickled my hair. I was frozen, immobile as a mouse before a hawk, and I knew he could have done anything to me and I couldn’t have stopped him if I’d wanted to. I felt strangely warm, my skin flushed, and deliciously vulnerable. I was his for the taking.

He stepped back around me, beautiful and powerful, and continued softly, “You say the word vampire, but do you know what that means? Am I a pet to you? Safe and cute and fun?” He gently lifted my hair back from my neck and leaned over it. “Don’t you realize what you are to me, my little morsel?”

I drew a wavering breath and insisted weakly, “I’m more to you than that.”

He laughed quietly. “You really think so?” He inhaled deeply, and started circling again, telling me, “You know better than that. Can’t you feel your own pulse? You know to be afraid. You know what I would do to you.”

He was right. My heart was hammering in my chest, my legs screaming to run, as if that would do me any good. But I stayed, riveted to the spot as he paused behind me.

I felt his hands at my shoulders, and then easing over the ridges and hollows of my collarbone. “For a delicacy like you, I’d take my time. Toy with you first. The blood tastes sweeter that way.”

My head was swimming. I thought I might faint into him, drunk with his nearness.

“I’m a lion,” he purred into my ear. “Don’t confuse me with a kitten. I’d tell you to follow me into the woods and, even knowing what it would mean, you would, without hesitation.”

I swallowed and admitted, “I would.”

“You’re intoxicating, little one, from your cloying scent to your pattering heartbeat. Just the tiniest taste of you and I would lose all control.” His cold hand slipped through my hair and onto my neck, his fingers at my pulse. I felt myself leaning back toward him, my head twisting, baring my neck submissively. He leaned over it, the tip of his nose tracing the lines of vein and sinew. “Don’t underestimate me, my sweet.”

Suddenly, I was released. I turned, trembling, and he was gone.

#

I drove his car to the grocery store and left it there, not sure what else to do with it. Our next session wasn’t for a couple more days and I quietly went through the motions of my day to day life before Edmond. It felt hollow and dry. My mother kept asking if I was feeling alright, but I knew everything would be better when I saw Edmond again.

His car was already in the parking lot when we pulled in to One Way. I hurriedly said goodbye to my mom and hopped out, heading for the Volvo. Uncertain, I approached the car slowly, my mittened hands folded against my sides in the cold. He was seated in the driver’s seat and I could hear cello music reverberating through the air. Bach, I think. I went to the passenger’s side and stared through the window at him. His eyes were closed, his head tilted back as he listened, and one hand moving in a strange jerking motion at his shoulder; I realized after a moment he was playing an air cello, his precise movements in perfect time with the music. Every inch of him was desirable, but slowly, slowly, he was teaching me to be afraid of him. I didn’t want it to be that way. I drew a deep breath and opened the car door.

He didn’t move as I sat and we silently listened to the music crescendo and die away. He reached over and turned the stereo off. Silence stretched out between us and then, staring at the steering wheel, his eyes wistful, he said, “I tried to convince myself not to come. To just quit and disappear out of your life.”

The words lingered on the air, forming a barrier between us. “Why didn’t you?”

He looked over at me. “I love you. As much as I knew I should leave, I couldn’t.” He turned the key in the ignition and asked, “Do you want to just go to the library? I don’t feel like driving today.”

“Alright.”

We went to the library again, checking out another of the little conference rooms. Within five minutes of our arrival, I found myself sighing down at the little blue cars at the bottom of the page, telling me how to park on a hill. Facing downhill, turn wheels to curb. Facing uphill, turn wheels from the curb. Facing uphill without a curb, turn wheels to right. I was getting better at answering Edmond’s questions, but that just meant he made them more and more obscure. He had kissed me in my hair and on my hands and nearly everywhere on my face, but he still scrupulously avoided my mouth. Perhaps if I really impressed him… I sighed again, glancing up at him as he quietly read the newspaper, and then looked back down at the page. ‘The chief responsibility for avoiding a collision lies with the driver who is leaving a parking space. Exercise extraordinary caution when backing up in residential areas. Children often play behind and between parked vehicles.’

I yawned deeply, stretching like a cat, and leaned back against Edmond. He glanced up from his newspaper at me and I asked, “What are you reading?”

“Police blotter.”

I laughed. “My dad loves that stuff. Some of it can be pretty hilarious.”

“Mostly, I’m reading about assault and drunk driving.”

I shrugged. “Okay, not all of it.”

He closed the paper. “You done already?”

“If you’ll let me be.”

“We just started. Here, read to me.”

“Bleh,” I groaned as he flipped to a random page and handed the book back. “Why don’t we ever just talk? About us?” He laid down on the floor beside me, resting his head on my knees, and didn’t answer, his eyes closed in feigned sleep. I opened the Driver’s Manual. “Crosswalk lines need not be painted at all intersections, nor do they need be in place to indicate where pedestrians have the right-of-way,” I read, feeling I was somehow being deeply abused by this. “Pedestrians have the right-of-way at marked crosswalks or at intersections. Do not drive so as to make a pedestrian yield to you; the motorist should always yield to the pedestrian. Also, do not pass to the right or left of an automobile which is stopped at a crosswalk to allow a pedestrian to cross the street in either direction.” Edmond sighed heavily and I paused, glancing down at him. He stared up with those dark eyes I loved so well, unreadable as ever. I looked back at the book. “If you find you are in the wrong lane to turn when entering an intersection, do not turn or impede traffic so you can turn. Continue on around-”

“Ella, don’t be mad.”

I paused again, and then resumed, a little more subdued, “Continue on around the block. Be alert for no ‘U’ turn signs.”

“Ella.”

I sighed, resting my hand and the booklet on his chest. “I could use a break.”

“Or a quiz,” he said, taking the booklet from my wearied hands. “Let’s talk about seat belts.”

I sighed. “Seat belts?”

“True or false: I will have a better chance of survival in a burning or submerged car if I am wearing my safety belt.”

I groaned, sliding my knees out from under his head. Retreating, I rolled over onto my belly and buried my face in my arms. When Edmond had suggested we come to the library, I had hoped to just chatter and snuggle, but the entire trip was turning out to be a sore disappointment. He sat up against the wall and I peeked up at him, still looking down at me with open expectation in his dark eyes. “True,” I relented.

“True. Collisions involving fire or submersion make up less than half of one percent of all traffic collisions. Your chances of survival in a burning or submerged vehicle are far greater if you are wearing your safety belt because you are most likely to remain conscious and, therefore, more able to escape the vehicle.”

“That’s great. Did you want to-”

“True or false: I don’t need a safety belt when I’m traveling at low speeds or going on a short trip.”

“False. That’s just dumb.”

“False. More than eighty percent of all collisions occur at speeds less than forty miles per hour, and three out of four collisions causing death occur within twenty-five miles of home. True or false: When I have my lap belt fastened, I don’t need to fasten my shoulder belt.”

“False,” I sighed.

“False. Although your lap belt helps, it will not prevent serious injury from striking your head and chest on the steering wheel, dashboard, and windshield. A lap and shoulder belt offer you the best possible protection in the event of a crash. True or false: The number one killer of children under five in American is automobile crashes.”

“I’m gonna guess true because otherwise they wouldn’t put it in there.”

A ghost of a smile flashed across his face. “True. Auto collisions are the number one killer and crippler of children under the age of five. True or-”

“Can’t we do something else?”

“Your parents are paying me to do this.”

“No, they’re not. They pay you to drive around with me at night and not let me get in a wreck.”

“I want to be sure you know this. I want you to be a safe driver.”

I plucked the booklet out of his hands and sat up beside him, glancing down at the page. “My turn. True or false: I might be saved if I’m thrown clear of the car in a crash.”

“False. The chances of being killed are almost twenty-five times greater if you’re thrown from the car.”

I smirked up at him. “Do you have this entire thing memorized?”

“Maybe. I’ve had a lot of time to think about it.”

“I figured you’d spend more time curing cancer. True or false: A child riding in a car is safest in its mother’s arms. Who writes these?”

“False. Holding your child in your arms will not protect your child. A fifteen pound infant will suddenly weigh 450 pounds because of the forces unleashed in just a thirty mile per hour collision. An unrestricted adult can crush a child held in the arms during a collision.”

“True or false: you watch over me, even when I don’t know you’re there.”

He blinked down at me in surprise, and then reached for the book. “Give me that.”

I held it out of reach, laughing. “Nope, it’s my turn. Answer the question.”

He sat back again and admitted quietly, “True. I worry about you.”

“True or false: You worry about me because you love me.”

“True.”

“True or false: We can always be together. We should be.”

“Ella,” he whispered, gazing over at me. “I wish it was true. I’m working as fast as I can on the aging thing, but realistically-”

“That’s not what I’m talking about.” I swallowed. “True or false: You can make me like you.”

His eyes were sad, more miserable than I’d ever seen a person. “Ella. I’m a monster. I couldn’t bear to do this to you.”

“I want it.”

“Don’t you know what I am? What I do to people? Don’t ask me to make you like this, too.”

I squared my shoulders. “I am asking, Edmond. And if you truly loved me, you’d want to be with me forever, no matter what.” He sighed, looking away, and I pressed, “If I’m such a terrible temptation for you, then make me so that I’m not. I’ve done everything you asked me to. I’ve played by your rules, I’ve-”

“You’re asking me to kill you.”

“You’re not dead; you’re just-”

“You’re asking me to make you a murderer by necessity.”

I shook my head, not knowing what to say.

“You’re asking me to necessitate you leaving your family one day, never to see them again. You’re asking me to keep you out of the sunlight forever. You’re asking me to-”

“Edmond,” I interrupted. I pressed a hand against his cheek, leaning closer. “None of that matters if I’m with you.”

He shook his head, pulling away from my touch. “It matters to me, Ella. I can’t do that to you.”

I frowned. “Well, maybe I’ll go talk to your old friend about it.” His eyes snapped back to mine and I continued, “Maybe he’d-”

“Stay away from him.”

“Why should-”

“I mean it, Ella,” he insisted harshly, gripping my wrist. “You stay away from him. He’s dangerous.”

I was silent, eyes locked on his, unimpressed. “You say that about yourself, too. Should I stay away from you?”

He glanced away, releasing my arm. “You should. We’re all dangerous, no matter how hard we may try.”

I was pained at the suggestion. “I want to be with you. Forever.”

“You can’t be,” he said flatly. “And I don’t want you to be.”

I shrank back like he’d hit me, staring and breathless.

He sighed. “Ella…”

I scrambled upright and stumbled out of the room, slamming the door after me. I hurried down the rows of books and it didn’t take long for him to come after me.

“Ella, wait.”

I was blinking back tears as I rushed past the circulation desk.

“Ella!”

I burst out the front doors and took off at a run. It was silly. I knew I could never outrun him, but it felt good anyway. I wasn’t even to the sidewalk before he caught up with me, pulling me to a stop, and I wasn’t fighting the tears anymore, either.

“I’ll die, Edmond,” I sobbed. “One way or the other.”

He shook his head, miserable. “Don’t say that.”

“It’s true! I’ll die in a hospital bed in eighty years, or I’ll step out into traffic tomorrow, and I’ll die. And you won’t do a thing to stop it!” I whacked my small fist uselessly against his ribs.

“I can’t do this to you!” he cried, distraught. “I wish I could die, but I can’t, Ella. You’d get to be that way, too, and you’d hate me for what I’d done to you. I couldn’t bear it.”

I shook my head, pushing him back from me. “I won’t change my mind on this, Edmond. Not ever.” I took another step back. “And if you won’t help me, then every claim you ever made to love me is a lie.”

“Ella, I refuse because I love you.”

I turned away from him, my heart shattered on the frozen pavement.

#

Devastation. It was like watching a car wreck in slow motion. I stopped going to driving lessons. I stopped going out with what few friends I still had. Then I stopped going to school, and then stopped eating, and eventually stopped leaving my room. I was wasting away to nothing more than a heartbroken shadow.

My parents were frantic, desperate to find out what was wrong with me. I couldn’t tell them. As much as Edmond had hurt me, I still loved him and I couldn’t share his secret with anyone. I dropped five pounds in as many days before my mother drove me to the emergency room. They put me on suicide watch and forced me to eat, and I hated them all for it. My teachers emailed me my homework. Old friends cropped up and came in for visits, embarrassed hello-how-are-you sessions as awkward as they were brief. My family came every day. My dad even had my little car fixed up for after I had my license. Slowly, I stabilized, and then they were ready to send me home.

The night before I went home, there was a sheepish knock at the door. “Come in,” called, glancing at the clock. I already had dinner and it was almost beyond visiting hours. The door opened and Edmond stepped in, looking every bit as devastatingly handsome as I remembered. I was instantly mortified for him to see me like this. I sat up a little straighter in bed, trying not to look like a complete invalid.

He swallowed, looking down, and I realized he had a rose. He held it awkwardly, like he was afraid he might be pricked by a thorn, and looked down at it like it might hold some secret for him, some way to make this better. He shuffled further into the room and sat on the bed beside me. “I hear you’re going home tomorrow.”

“Yes.”

“Good. I’m glad you’re doing better.”

“You never visited,” I accused quietly.

He bit his lower lip. “I didn’t think you wanted me to.”

Maybe I hadn’t. I wasn’t sure. “Nothing’s changed, Edmond,” I whispered.

“You don’t know what you’re asking for.”

“I know what I’m asking for,” I snapped. “Stop treating me like a child.”

“You don’t. I don’t want to see this misery inflicted on you.”

“No, of course not. You’d rather see me get old and decrepit and senile. You’d rather change my diapers and help me in and out of the shower and mash my peas for me. And do I look happy to you now?” I shook my head. “You say I don’t understand, but you’re the one who’s always being so cryptic all the time. ‘I don’t want to talk about it. Stop asking so many questions. You don’t understand.’ I want to understand. You just won’t let me.”

He set the rose across my knees and crawled up beside me, laying down at my side. He watched me, waiting for me to protest, but I never did and he settled in cozily. It felt right. “Fine,” he relented. “Ask me anything. I want you to know exactly what you’re daydreaming about.”

I knew what he was hoping to accomplish. He wanted to dissuade me, wanted me to change my mind and live out my days as his slowly decaying pet. Well it wasn’t happening. I curled up in the lee of his body and asked, “Will I be as beautiful as you when I’m a vampire?”

He grimaced. “You’re already beautiful, Ella.”

“Why are you so handsome?”

“It makes you easier prey,” he whispered, leaning close. “It’s easier to gain your trust, to get you alone. It’s not even really hunting when the victims are so willing.”

I swallowed. “Why don’t you ever go out in sunlight?”

He shifted, tentatively draping an arm around my waist. “It’s a little hard to describe. When I go in full sunlight, my skin sort of… glimmers. It’s impossible to hide what I am in direct daylight.”

“Really?” I asked dreamily.

He laughed. “No, that’s stupid. I’d burn up, leaving nothing more than a stump of ash. Painful way to die.”

“Oh.” It was good to hear him laugh, even if it was from a hospital bed. I tried to concentrate, dredging up other legends I’d read or heard about. “Is garlic really fatal?”

He laughed again. “No. I mean, I’d get a rash if I touched it, but it’s nothing like sunlight. It’s more an irritant than a fatality. Like poison ivy or something.”

“Silver.”

“Itchy at worst.”

“Crosses?”

“Not a problem.”

“What can kill you? Besides sunlight, I mean.”

“Decapitation,” he said, his voice low. “And fire.”

“Not a stake through the heart?”

He shook his head. “It would paralyze me while it was in there, and it would hurt like the devil, but I could recover from that in a few days.”

“How did you change into a vampire?”

He pursed his lips, and then leaned back into the pillow and sighed. “She certainly didn’t mean to change me. I was an easy meal to her, and not a thing more.” I edged closer and he reached up to twine a lock of hair around his fingers. “It was 1892, upstate New York. Lonnie Clayton had just won the Kentucky Derby, and at fifteen years old, and me and a bunch of my friends were celebrating. It was late and I was riding home, and this woman came out from between a couple of buildings. She called me over, asked if I could help her, and I was too drunk and gallant and stupid to keep moving. Men used to get robbed all the time in scams like that, but I figured I was different; I had no idea how right I was. My horse was smarter than I was. She didn’t want to be anywhere near that woman, but I dragged her over with me. The moment I was in reach, she sank her teeth into me and I was helpless to stop her. My horse, though, tore loose and knocked over a street lamp, brought it crashing down right on top of us. I don’t even think it was the woman’s skirts that caught so fast so much as her, like her skin was soaked in kerosene. She shrieked, tumbling backward, but it was over pretty quick. I was stumbling away, sick and dizzy and horrified, clutching at my throat, and by the time I looked back at her, there was hardly anything left. My horse was long gone so I stumbled back into town where my friends were and they got me patched up and took me home. But I just kept getting sicker. I couldn’t keep any food down, not even plain water after a few days, and my heart got weaker and weaker. My mother sat by me day and night, never left my side.” He looked away suddenly, his voice choked, and I realized I didn’t want to hear the end of the story. I reached out, taking his hand and he whispered, “You’ll do anything when you’re that hungry. To anyone.” He shook his head. “Of course, I left town once I realized what I’d done. Went out West and disappeared as completely as I could. I made it as far as California before I realized I had a shadow. Turns out the woman had a lover.”

“Your old friend?”

“Yeah. I never found out more about him than that his name was John, and that he killed off what was left of my family when he found I wasn’t there anymore. He shows up every now and then, but I’ve only actually seen him a few times. He’s a savage, worse than I am, but we all are to one degree or another. My life since I became a vampire has been nothing but misery and bloodshed, from the moment her teeth touched my skin.”

“But none of that was your fault. You didn’t mean-”

“That’s what you’re asking me to make you,” he accused me quietly. “All these silly questions about silver and crosses, and you’re avoiding the one question you most need to ask.”

I swallowed and rolled onto my back, meeting his eyes steadily. “What do you eat?”

“People, just like you. When I get hungry enough, I can’t help myself.”

“Can’t you just eat, like, dog blood or something?”

“What would happen to a tiger if you only fed it salad?”

I shrugged looking away. “I guess it’d starve.”

“It would, but only after attacking everything it possibly could.” He sighed, resting his head on my shoulder. “I’ve tried. I can get by on animal blood for a little while, but it’s different. It’s food, but it’s not filling, not nourishing. It’s like if you tried to live off cotton candy. Eventually, I always come back.” He looked down at me. “I’d show you what it’s like when I get hungry, show you how hideous it is, what an animal I become, but I wouldn’t be able to control myself, not even for you. I’d kill you and be glad.”

“How often?”

He pursed his lips. “It depends. Maybe once a month if I don’t exert myself. But if I ever have to work hard, I’m usually pretty hungry afterward.”

I stared up at him for a long moment. “That’s why you didn’t want to show off in the woods that day.”

“Yes.”

“Did you… I mean, after you stopped that van from hitting me, did you-”

“Yes.”

I felt sick suddenly, trembling on the bed beside him.

He swallowed. “I waited until you left, and then I went back to that man who nearly killed you. I drove his van down to the river. I drank my fill, every alcohol laden drop I could pull out of him, and then I shoved it all in the river like so much garbage. About a week later, they pulled him out and chalked it up to another drunk driving accident. I even attended the funeral. I sometimes do, to remind myself.” He stared down at his hands, hands that had killed and saved on the same night, and explained quietly, “I try to only take people that have done something terrible, or at least tried to. He would have killed you. That was reason enough for a monster like me.” He shook his head slowly. “I hunt them out, anyone who’s harmed an innocent person. The murderers, the rapists, and the occasional lesser criminal, if I get desperate enough. It’s easier to hide in bigger cities, but even then I have to move around pretty often.” He looked up at me again, his dark eyes that hid terrible secrets. “Ella, I’ve been a vampire for over a century. Can you imagine how many lives I’ve snuffed out?”

I stammered, not sure what to say, and then said quietly, “Those people were… were…”

“Monsters?” He laughed mirthlessly. “Not like me. Nothing like me.” His eyes grew hard and his mouth twisted with bitterness. “And you want to become like me.” I didn’t say anything and he pressed, “Ella, would you murder people?”

“There has to be another way.”

He shrugged, feigning nonchalance. “There’s always war, I suppose. Wars are nice. You can kill people and you’re a patriot instead of a murderer. I’ve fought in every major war since 1900, killed under the sanction of six different nations. I make a terrific soldier, the perfect killing machine.”

“There has to be another way,” I insisted, my voice verging on anger.

He propped his head up on his hand and looked down at me again, gently brushing the hair back off my forehead. “There isn’t, Ella. I wish there was. Human blood is the only thing that can sustain me. I’m the worst kind of parasite there is. Do you want to be that way?”

I couldn’t answer and I couldn’t think of anymore questions to divert him with. Turning, I took a fistful of his jacket and leaned in close to his still chest, burying my face. No pulse, no warmth, no rush of blood. Not even any breath unless he needed to sigh or talk. Was this really what I wanted? Curled up against his chest, I realized it was. I would do or say or be anything I had to be if it meant I could be with him forever. And that thought frightened me a little bit. Was I so selfish that I would murder again and again and again so that I could have more than my allotted eighty years in this world?

“I can’t stand to see you like this, Ella,” he whispered. “This last week has been torture.” He took me by the shoulders and drew me back from him. He met my eyes steadily and said in a low voice, “If you pass your driving test this week, I’ll let you choose. But I’m begging you, begging you: do not choose this undying life that I have.”

I swallowed hard, suddenly hyper-aware of my breathing, my pulse, my temperature. “You know what I choose. It’s what I’ve always chosen.”

He looked broken as I said it, but I couldn’t change my mind.

Five Seven

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