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Say Yes To Forever



Cover Photo: © Rosalie Thorne

Editor – Kathryn Maurer


Say Yes To Forever

By Rosalie Thorne


“Sometimes the Sun rises in the West

and sets in the East.”



CHAPTER ONE


Shadows and sunshine dance across the well-trimmed lawns of the town square, the canopy of leaves above bringing the most soothing rustling sound. The traffic making its way through the one-way streets is light this morning, seeing as it’s so beautiful out. People watching from my bench, legs crossed, and coffee in my lap, there is something overwhelmingly positive about seeing so many happy people walking around, smiling, talking, and laughing in these last days of Summer.

It’s a brilliant seventy-three degrees out, with a high of eighty, and I’m not exactly ready for the Vermont Autumn to arrive. Sure, Stars Hallow will have their Back-to-school Fair, the Pumpkin Festival, Halloween, Thanksgiving, the Winter Carnival, etcetera, etcetera, but the cold….

At the same time, as I sip my coffee, I can’t deny that I do love Autumn – the foliage, the clothes, the holidays – and Winter for that matter – the snow, the decorations, and reading books by the fire – but there’s just something so… depressing and lonely about the cold and darkness.

The church bells chime on the hour, making me jump a little. Looking at my watch, it’s now eleven. Thankfully this means the morning rush at Duke’s is subsiding and I can finally get some breakfast. Coffee in one hand, slinging my purse over my chest with the other, I almost forget my book on the bench. Now double checking I have everything; I notice there’s something I can’t quite explain that’s making me feel a little… off.

Last night I had had an intense but confusing dream. Deep in the forest beyond the town, just by my house, snow up to my ankles, there was a stunning night sky full of stars, and yet I stood in one of my favorite Summer dresses (the dress I’m actually wearing today). I stood, unaffected by the Winter, by the cold and dark, feeling more alive and aware than I’ve ever felt. There was something about the blood in my veins that elevated me in this dreamscape… and then, just before I woke, I heard someone call my name.

It’s something in the way he called my name that brought this weird feeling upon me. It tugged at my heart, at my soul, in a way that made me feel connected to everything. To the trees, to the wind, to the sky, to the universe itself! I could feel a change in the energy in my dream and now as I walk through town. But I could never bring this up to anyone, not now nor ever, least they think I’m a Witch.

As the bell tinkles to signal my entrance into the diner, I weirdly love the wall of chatter and smell of breakfast foods I run into. Miss Kathy’s standing at the counter, chatting loudly for anyone to hear, (as per usual). Everyone seems to be interested in what she has to say though, so I slowly walk to a free table and try to jump in.

“That’s what I said!” she pats Misses Hathaway on the arm. “In the middle of the night! They just moved into the old Galloway house in the dead of night. It’s only because of them turning on the house lights that the Andersons even saw it happen.”

“Did they introduce themselves to the Andersons this morning?”

“No, and,” she looks around dramatically, “they have yet to come into town at all.” But, still, in the ways of the town gossip, Miss Kathy continues with all the details. “They’re the Laveroi family and I guess the father, Claude, was a professor in Montreal. He’ll be starting at university in September.

“Him and his wife, Caroline, have four children. Four children, can you imagine? Their eldest are twins, Willow and Alexzander, and they are going to the university – trying to get their Ph.D.’s, I think. Then there’s Cyrus, who has a job as a teaching assistant at the community college. And then their youngest, Victoria, is going to be a Senior at Stars Hallow High.”

So enthralled in what Miss Kathy has to say, Louis clears his throat to get my attention to order. I get my usual order of a veggie omelet without giving it a second thought, then get back to the conversation.

Misses Hathaway’s shaking her head and then after a sip of coffee says, “We haven’t had anyone move here in three years! And now, in the dead of night, this family comes out of nowhere?”

Mister Phillips, the town relator, chimes in from across the counter, “And, they never even came to Stars Hallow. They did the whole transaction over the phone.”

This causes some of the other diner-goers to raise eyebrows, shake their heads, and show signs of concern. Which, in a way I understand… it all is rather odd. They never saw the house, they arrived suddenly, and still haven’t been to town? And such a big family, moving in at night, surely the worst of us are scared they’re Sub-humans of some sort.

Right on cue, Mayor Morrison’s booming voice makes its way through the room from the table by the door, “Vampires,” he shakes his head. “I bet they’re Vampires.”

“No!” Misses Hathaway brings a hand to her chest. “We’ve been Sub-human free for… what, thirty years now?”

“Since 1965,” Mayor Morrison confirms.

Misses Kathy, who is the town gossip, sure, is also one of the most peace-seeking and optimistic peoples, tosses her hand around, “Oh com’on. Vampires? Beyond the Wall? We’re in Basic territory.”

As my omelet arrives, I let myself drift away from the conversation and focus on my food. But just ‘cause I’m not listening; doesn’t mean I’m not thinking about it. Sub-humans? Vampires? I lean on the table as I chew and look around the window.

As a part of the next generation, the idea of Sub-humans isn’t scary. In fact, and though I wouldn’t bring this up to Mama or her friends (or maybe anyone in the town except kids my age), it’s kind of exciting. My generation is the ones pushing for the Rochester Wall to come down, for the country to move forward past the racism and discrimination, and for some sort of co-existence and peace to be reached.

Smiling to myself, I sip on my coffee and look at the puffy white clouds drifting through the brilliant blue sky. Vampires, I think, Vampires….




CHAPTER TWO


My gaze lazily looks through the bay windows of the kitchen trying to take it all in. From the bustling city of Montreal to the straight wilderness of Vermont… everything here seems almost unfiltered, untouched. The sky a stark azure, the forest a magnificent emerald, even the panels of our new house a bold slate. The wildlife is unafraid of us, a family of deer walking across our driveway now.

When we had arrived last night, there was practically no light pollution and I spent at least an hour just staring above us. I haven’t seen the Milky Way in decades, and for a moment I was reminded of some of the nights we spent in France some sixty years ago.

So much has changed since then. Since The Great War, since my tranziție, since being adoptat by Claude and his wife Caroline. So much has changed even within the last twenty-four hours, when we finally arrived in Stars Hallow and started our new lives.

And yet… as I draw myself back into the kitchen, some things stay the same. Willow and Alex are debating something political across the kitchen table, Tori is helping Mom make breakfast at the stove, and Dad is in his office.

“Cyrus,” Mom calls to get my attention.

I look up quickly, “Yes, ma’am?”

She wipes her hands on a towel, “Will you go get your father, please?”

Standing, I nod, “Of course.”

Making my way through the massive house, I find Dad on the complete opposite end to the kitchen. Unpacking books to the built-ins by the window, I knock softly to get his attention.

“Hey, kiddo” he smiles. He puts the book he is holding on the shelf and then turns with his hands on his hips. “Breakfast is ready, I presume?”

“Seems like it.”

“Good, good, we all need to talk, anyway.”

He follows me back and as I slide into my chair; I notice him give Mom and kiss on the cheek. Then he claps his hands together, getting everyone’s attention. “Now! I know we’ve covered this before, but let’s cover it again, shall we?”

Tori rolls her eyes but quiets down with everyone else. Dad pulls his chair out and leans back with his arms across his chest. “We’re in Basic-human territory and we have to do our utmost to hide anything Sub-human about us. Luckily, we’ve come to a small town that has, well, shall we say, a skewed view of Subs and Vampires in particular.

“From what I gather, they think we can’t go out in the Sun and have to drink blood straight from a Human. So, we should maybe try and not show our strength,” he looks pointedly at Alex, “and just be as… mundane as possible.”

“It really shouldn’t be too hard,” Mom says as she places one plate of bacon and another plate of scrambled eggs down on the table. “We just go about our lives, don’t drink blood in public, don’t use any of our metamorphic abilities in front of people, and do not bring up anything that is older than you are,” she makes a face at Tori.

She rolls her eyes, “Technically I’m two hundred years old.”

Mom sighs, “No. Technically, you are seventeen.”

Tori reaches forward for a roll and breaks it apart, muttering, “Whatever,” under her breath.

“Caroline’s right,” Dad says in his important voice. “I’m Claude Francis Laveroi, forty-eight, professor of European economics, your mother is Caroline Ella Laveroi, forty-five, and a lawyer. Now, try not to bring up the fact she’s a lawyer for Subs, and just push the fact that she’s back to school to be able to practice in the United States.”

He points to Willow and Alex, “You are Willow Julia Laveroi, twenty-five, working on getting your Ph.D., you are Alexzander Jacques Laveroi, twenty-five, also working on your Ph.D.”

Then he turns towards me and Tori. “You are Cyrus Johnathan Laveroi, twenty-three, getting your Master’s with your teaching assistant job at the community college. And you, young lady,” he smiles, “are Victoria Emma Laveroi, seventeen years old and a Senior at Stars Hallow High.”

Everyone is nodding, continuing to make it through breakfast. It’s not too long of a lull though before Mom starts up again. “I think we should finish unpacking and then head into town. The realtor left a map of Stars Hallow and it looks like an adorable little place.” She slices through her second sausage, “Oh, and Cyrus, I did check, they do have a bookstore, so you don’t have to drive all the way to the city.”


Making it to Stars Hallow town square was fine enough. We did walk the whole way, just to get to know the area, but most of the time it probably would be easier to drive. One thing we all noticed as soon as we reached town limits, though, was soon as people saw us, our presence was put under a microscope. Dad had warned us this might happen, but I had not expected it to be so intense.

And their lack of fear or social anxiety? Multiple people – dozens actually, from Mayor Morrison to the bookstore owner Miss Kathy, came straight up to introduce themselves and get a close look at us. We focused and worked to read their minds just to make sure we were safe. Thankfully, we all learned that whatever rumors or worries that we are Subs, are Vampires, were quickly dismissed. ‘Oh, they’re out in the Sun’, ‘look, they’re drinking water’, and ‘huh, I can’t see any fangs…’.

Once we felt more comfortable, Mom took Tori to meet with the dance teacher, Alex said he was going to go see what the town mechanic was like, Dad and Willow wanted to check out the local diner, and I thought, with it being such a beautiful day, it might be nice to find some shade and just… figure out my place in this new chapter.

I wandered around the square just to check out all the shops, then crossed the street into the commons. The whole area is under a canopy from various trees and there is a cute little gazebo in the middle with a band. Watching them for a moment, I enjoy the classical music they’re playing. Then, looking around, I notice a perfectly good bench to sit and gather my surroundings.

Easing down into the bench, my thoughts linger on how everything smells different here. The air, the trees, the buildings, the people… God, the people smell different. Maybe it is because they are American, their heritage – their genetics, or maybe it is because of what they eat. It’s not bad, by any means, but it is so new that I cannot help but smell their skin, their sweat, and their blood.

As per usual, most people are O, with plenty of A and B positive. But then, after another deep breath, an AB-negative - my favorite - catches my attention. Trying to not seem too squirely, I slowly look around, pushing my hair back with my hand.

And there she is.

Leaving the corner with Duke’s diner, she looks both ways before crossing the street. Her obsidian hair shines in the sunlight, the layers flittering in the breeze like feathers. Her peaches and cream complexion contrasts greatly, making her look like a celebrity from the forties. With a cup of coffee in one hand and the other holding a book against the short skirt of her Summer dress, she heaves a breath when she gets into the commons. I cannot think how perfect she seems… perfect down to her blood type.

“Who’s perfect?” Tori asks loudly as she sits next to me.

Startled, I stutter, “W-what? No one.” Then I frown and whisper, “Don’t read my mind.”

She shrugs. “I didn’t. Your mind fucking screamed it.”

I roll my eyes but know that’s a real possibility. “Whatever. How was the dance teacher?” And as Tori replied, I tried looking for the girl again, but she was already gone.




CHAPTER THREE


On my back, hands folded over my flat stomach, I listen to the silent house in contrast to the birds chirping outside my bedroom window. The last morning before school…. The last morning before school and I awoke from another intense and weird dream.

Same forest, a similar night, but no snow. I was by a river this time, mesmerized but the flow. The flow of water, the flow of wind, the flow of energy, the flow of time. And then, just like before, it ended with my name called.

Looking over at my alarm clock, Mama should be in her shower by now. I reach over and push play on my boombox, my Barenaked Ladies CD starting right up. “It’s been one week since you looked at me….”

Feet on the cool wood floors, I roll my shoulders and stretch my neck. I need to just shake it off and get through the day as anticipated. Mama and I are going to Duke’s for breakfast, going to double-check I have everything ready for school tomorrow, then have a movie night just like every year before, though the debate is between Sleepless In Seattle or Clueless or Titanic.

Pulling my bodysuit up, I forgo a bra and slip the short sleeves over my shoulders. Then I tug one of my spaghetti-strap dresses off the hanger. Pulling my hair out from under my choker, I bend at the waist and pull back to fluff it out. Looking a little bit more like Courtney Cox as Monica Geller today than Sandra Bullock in While You Were Sleeping. One of my favorite outfits, I feel most like myself, and I can finally get past the weirdness and get excited.


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As Tori sits down next to me on the couch, I notice she’s rubbing her face gently. “Are you all right?”

She grunts, “The whole retracting the fangs thing… I’m just sore. I don’t know that I’ll ever get used to the pressure on my sinuses.”

I nod. “At least we don’t have to do it all the time.”

She sighs. “Would just be easier if we didn’t have to do it at all.” Turning to me, I can see the distress on her face. “Like in Montreal! Sure, they might not have been entirely Sub friendly, but they at least tolerated us… I still don’t understand why we had to move here. Here, Basic-human territory; here, this tiny town; here, where they would persecute us for being Vampires.”

Closing my book on my lap, I try to be optimistic. “It won’t always be like this. You remember what it was like before the Revolution… and you know as well as I do that America is moving towards taking the Wall down.”

She offers a small smile. “You’re so young.”

I shrug. “Sure. But think about it. The Revolution, The Great War, World War Two, the Moon landing, the Wall going up because Subs were getting rights… I may only be seventy-eight years old but so much has changed in those seventy-eight years.

“And technology!” I point out excitedly. “Cars, planes, space crafts, personal computers, cell phones, and DVDs. The World Wide Web and finding anything on Google! Com’on… things are kind of exciting now, don’t you think?”




CHAPTER FOUR


Pulling into a free space, of course, I am perfectly fifteen minutes early. I listen to another Backstreet Boys song on the radio and triple-check I have everything I need for my first day of class. Luckily, I’d walked the full campus at orientation and took the time to find my classes when I’d picked up my textbooks last week.

With a high of seventy-three today and the campus surely going to have the AC blowing, I reach to the back seat to grab my favorite denim jacket. Door closed, car locked, I sling my messenger bag over my chest and drop my sunglasses back down. The Autumn chill is noticeable as I walk across the parking lot but my anxiety about college isn’t letting me enjoy the morning.

Just before entering the linguistics building for Sub-human Anthropology, I take a long drink of my coffee. You can do this, Valarie… I remind myself, and I totally can! I had A’s and B’s in high school, I love reading, and all the core classes for Freshman year seem easy enough. And Sub-human Anthropology being a part of it? Not only do I find the subject fascinating but made me optimistic for my generation.

Down the hall, I double-check the classroom number on the door and then peek inside. The professor’s already here, setting up what he needs at the front desk. There’re already a couple of girls seated and deep in conversation in the front, and to the side there’s a guy leaning up against the wall with his eyes closed. I strategically pick the middle seat in that back row, able to see the whole room.

Coffee down, bag on a spare chair, I take out my textbook, notebook, pencil, and highlighter. I try not to seem too eager by getting comfortable in my chair and nonchalantly watching as the rest of the class files in. Maybe ‘cause of how early it is or maybe the subject itself, but there’s maybe twenty of us total by the time the professor closes the door and gathers our attention.

“Hello everyone! This is Sub-human Anthropology, a required class for incoming Freshman. I’m Professor Anthony Ramsey and I’m excited to have you all this semester.”

Suddenly, the door opens, and we all look over. A young man enters and apologies to Ramsey. But instead of slipping into the closest open seat, he passes the front of the class and puts his bag down on the front table.

His dirty-blond bangs fall across his forehead as he searches for something in his bag. After lifting out a stack of papers he shrugs off his black leather jacket and pushes up the sleeves of his forest green sweater. With a nod to the professor, he moves back across the room.

“This is my TA, Cyrus Laveroi,” Professor Ramsey clarifies, “and he’ll be here to help you guys as much as I am. This subject is extremely important, especially in the recent social climate, and we,” he gestures between them, “are here to make sure you thoroughly understand everything we’ll cover… and please! Don’t be afraid to ask questions.”

Cyrus – the Cyrus Laveroi – hands out the papers at the end of each row as Professor Ramsey moves to get the projector ready. When I have my copy of the syllabus, I start skimming it. In the background, I hear names being called and people replying “Here”.

“Valarie Ward?”

My head snaps up. Cyrus looks around the classroom. As I stare into his handsome face, I lose my train of thought. The way he called my name… it – I blink a few times; it’s exactly like my dreams. The deep tone, the hint of an accent, it had been so unique then and now a perfect match.

Only when he says “Valarie?” again do I raise my hand, “Here!” His intense expression softens, and he smiles at me before moving on to the next name.


---


Blinds closed, lights off, Anthony is going over the syllabus point by point via the projector as I lean against the far wall. Most students are reading along, some are taking notes… I don’t really have any work to do today except answer questions at the end. So, seeing as I apparently cannot help myself, my eyes keep drifting to Valarie, hoping to catch her gaze.

Just as captivated as I had been on the bench, I have watched her directly and indirectly over the past twenty minutes. I feel a connection that I have only felt once before… seventy-eight years ago when I tranziție. A deep, unexplainable, astral-based connection that I had as a Newling with my Sire. The connection that I lost when my Sire died.

This connection drove me to want to get to know her, to protect her, to take care of her… to… to love her. Just then, Valarie catches my eye and smiles. Heart racing, breathing unsteady, I must exit the room. Running to the empty classroom across the way, I close the door and lock it. Leaning against it, I slide down and extend my fangs.

Feeling a rush of relief, I close my eyes and moan. I need to calm down, but all my senses are on overdrive. The same way they would after fighting or drinking from a Human… my heart is racing, my mind can’t focus, I can hear every little thing, and still smell Valarie from this far away. Not just her blood, but her perfume, her shampoo, and her coffee.

This seems to finally soothe me, the more I focus on it. The scent of her vanilla and honey perfume; a subtle, warm sweetness, reminding me of one of my favorite macarons. I could imagine the scent all over me, just as my scent would be all over her. That way people would know I am hers and that she is mine.


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Biting my lower lip anxiously, I watch as the classroom empties, holding my notebook with the syllabus on top against my chest. Professor Ramsey already left, needing to get to a meeting, so I wait for my turn to talk to Cyrus. Finally, when the last girl leaves through the doorway, I take a step closer to where he stands putting things in his bag.

With a deep breath and a hard swallow, I force myself not to focus on how he’s even more attractive up close. “Cyrus?”

He looks up, double-takes then smiles. “Valarie… hi.”

Our eyes lock, the color of his irises reminding me of the fresh green of Spring. There’s a sort of electricity between us as I look up at him, and without my permission or control, my body over-reacts. Heart racing, breathing shallow, cheeks warming, I have to draw my gaze away.

I point to the syllabus. “So… I noticed there isn’t anything about required attendance or how many allowed absences there are. Of course, I wouldn’t want to miss class,” I backtrack, “But if I have a doctor’s appointment or something… should I still let you guys know?”

“If you’d like. Some professors are stricter than Ramsey, but as long as you’re here when you can be and do all your work, I’m sure it won’t be a problem.”

I nod, my head sort of bouncing as I look around. “Cool.”

When I finally look at him again, there’s something in his expression that causes butterflies. I clear my throat and pull out the paper I’d stuck behind the syllabus. “So, um, I know you’re new to Stars Hallow,” I hand the paper over, “so, if you, like, want a tour guide or something… here’s my number. Um, you can text message me any time or call after six when my minutes are free.”

I start backing up, overwhelmed with butterflies and nerves and the inability to get a deep breath. “So, yeah! Um, see you Wednesday!” and I bolt out the door.




CHAPTER FIVE


The first day of class over, Nikki and I are lounging on my queen bed, a bowl of Lays and Cheetos and a bag of Tootsie Rolls between us. Pushing play on my boombox, I make sure it’s just loud enough that Mama wouldn’t be able to overhear my conversation with my best friend. Her level of curiosity matches my level of excitement when it comes to Cyrus and his family.

Unwrapping another Tootsie Roll, Nikki continues, “So, I heard from Miss Kathy that Victoria is going to be taking ballet with Miss Mathews and the twin, um, Alex? Got a job at Casey’s garage.”

“It’s pretty cool that they’re not hesitant to jump into Stars Hallow.”

She smirks and nudges me, “Speaking of jumping in… I still cannot believe you gave Cyrus your number! Tell. Me. Everything!”

I recounted the whole event, unable to stop myself from gushing at how handsome he is. Nikki, who had already seen him in town, comments through a mouth full of Cheetos, “He totally looks like Leonardo DiCaprio in Romeo And Juliet.”

My gaze drifts, “There’s something else though… there’s a sort of strength to him. And his gaze is so intense, his green eyes so… focused.”

When I come back to Nikki she’s smirking, giving me a teasing look, “You’re just about ready to jump his bones.”

I stare and then hit her with my pillow. “Shut up!”

She laughs and hits me back. “You like him!”

… and I do. More intensely than any of my crushes before. Maybe ‘cause of my past flings, maybe ‘cause of my age… but there’s a sense of maturity in my liking, an idea that even though I’ve only just met him and am instantly infatuated, that I would like to pursue this and have it mean something. Pursue this and have it be a relationship, not just dating… my first serious, long-term relationship.


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Leg bouncing feverishly, I stare at the clock above my desk: five fifty-eight, just two more minutes…. I had programed Valarie’s number into my phone the moment she left the classroom and have been waiting all day to call her. I am absolutely going to take her up on her offer to spend time with her and can only hope that if we hang out once I can ask her out on a date without seeming too forward.

It had crossed my mind to stay away, given that she’s Human. It had crossed my mind to talk to Dad about what to do – or Mom for that matter, given her understanding of the law. But when Valarie had come to me after class… standing just inches from me, I knew there was no denying it, denying this, denying her.

Six o’clock is finally here. It rings… it rings, then she answers, laughing, “H-hello?”

“Valarie? It’s Cyrus.”

“Hi!”

I ease back, “Hi.”

There is some sort of commotion on her end, another female voice saying something, and then Valarie replies with, “Shh!”

“Is… is this a bad time?”

“What? No! Sorry,” then there’s a sound like a door shutting. “That’s just Nikki. So… what’s up?”

“How are you? How are you liking college?”

I can hear the smile in her voice, “I’m great, thanks, and college is pretty cool so far. What about you? How are you?”

“Ah, great… really great, thank you.”

Before I can ask about getting a tour of the town whenever she is free next, Valarie blurts out, “Hey Cyrus?”

“… yes?”

“Do you want to go on a date? Dinner, maybe? Friday night? Six-ish?”

Beaming, I nod even though she can’t see me. “Yes, that would be wonderful. I can pick you up?”

“Yeah! Perfect. I will text you my address.”




CHAPTER SIX


Shower taken, hair blown dry, makeup on, I give myself a once over in the full-length mirror on the back of my closet door. After torturing myself all week on what to wear, I landed on a black t-shirt maxi dress, with a high neck and long sleeves. Luckily, I had gotten a new bra that’s actually my size, 32B from Victoria’s Secret, with a matching seamless panty. I need my black, heeled Oxford booties ‘cause the skirt is a little too long, but dinner really doesn’t suggest too much walking around. Finished off with a black choker and my favorite perfume, my nerves are starting to settle.

Across my room, I check my phone for any messages and find a new text from Cyrus saying that he’d left and will be here about six-fifteen. Double-checking my purse in a rush, I have my wallet, cell phone, keys, comb, and lip gloss. Glancing over the stack of new books on my nightstand, I pick The Subtle Knife and slide it into my purse, which has just enough room.

Thankfully, Mama is still out grocery shopping when I make it downstairs. To be fair, I had told her I had plans tonight but didn’t correct her when she assumed they are with Nikki. She’s been over-protective ever since Dad left us for a coastal Nymph… always wanting to know the who, what, when, where, and why. The poor boys I dated in high school went through a thorough screening process to which Mama was in contact with their parents more than I was. The only saving grace of all that was she’d known those boys as long as I had, most of them being born and raised in Stars Hallow.

But this whole thing with Cyrus…? I can only imagine her negativity. ‘Oh, they just moved to town. Oh, we don’t know anything about them. Oh, we’re still not sure they aren’t Subs. Oh, he’s older than you. Oh, he’s your teacher…’ so on and so forth.

Saved by the doorbell, there’s a tall shadow through the frosted glass. Really, truly excited, with the warmest, softest kind of butterflies, I open the door to find Cyrus looking as handsome as ever. Looking like a model in his black turtleneck and straight-legged jeans. The honey tone of his skin is even warmer under the porch lamp, his hair looking more gold than sandy. And then his eyes… how his eyes make me swoon. It’s hard to pull away from them as I step outside and lock the door.

I brush my bangs off my temple and cannot help but smile up at him. “Hi.”

“Hey,” he gives me another once over then throws his thumb over his shoulder. “My car’s just down the way.”

I follow him down our long driveway and don’t blame him for staying near the street. The evening sky is still bright, still a ceiling of blue contrasting greatly to the newly orange and crimson forests. The chilled breeze is soft, the rustling of leaves comforting, with the only other sound being our steps along the gravel. We’re walking closely now, close enough I’ve accidentally bumped into him twice. I’m tempted to reach out and take his hand but decide it’s too soon for that.

“So, how are you liking Vermont?”

This causes him to slow and look around. “It’s gorgeous.”

“It is, isn’t it? I can’t imagine living in a city.”

He nods thoughtfully, “A city is very, very different. Sure, there is a lot to do… museums, shows, restaurants, shopping, where you’re able to do or get anything you could want or need.”

He gestures out, “But this…? At first, I didn’t like it – maybe just culture shock, but now I love it. It’s so… peaceful. Don’t you think?”

“Yeah, totally! I’ve always thought that.”

We’re at his car now, and though I may not know a lot about cars I can tell this shiny, black, town car’s expensive and fancy. He opens the passenger door and I lower into the leather seat. Inside, it definitely is so, so much nicer than my old, beat-up, with a broken AC, Honda Accord.

Car on, AC going… something happens, though, with Cyrus, that’s extremely noticeable. He’s careful to sit practically against the door, his hands firmly on ten and two. As we get on the road and he drives, he doesn’t even so much as glance at me, his jaw tight. I try to ignore it… maybe he’s a nervous driver? But when I lean on the center console, there’s a noticeable twitch that ripples through his muscles.

I try looking out the window, trying to figure out where we might be going to distract myself. But every turn of the car, every time I shift in my seat, I notice how tense and downright uncomfortable Cyrus is. Finally, at the restaurant, La Campagne, we park and he’s fast to get out.

As he holds the door open for me, I adjust my bag and say, “Thank you,” to break the silence.

“Of course,” yet his voice is neither cold nor friendly.

Double-checking my makeup in my compact and running my fingers through my hair, I feel so utter self-conscious. In through the double doors, guided by the hostess to a little booth in the corner, finally – finally, Cyrus seems to relax, having the table between us a relief. Trying not to frown, I hold my menu up… does he even want to be here? I wonder.


---


Standing out on the patio of La Campagne with Valarie, we lean against the railing and look across the stunning countryside of Vermont during twilight. Things had started off bumpy, with the ride here being extremely tough on me… in such a close, confined space with her and the AC blowing her scent all over me. The pressure from my fangs had all but brought a migraine and the way her vanilla perfume mixed with her blood was intoxicating. (Legitimately intoxicating, as if I was driving drunk.)

Then! After a rather flirty moment in the booth where she touched my arm across the table, I was so overwhelmed I had to excuse myself to the bathroom. Where I actually went to my car to extend my fangs and drink from my emergency blood stash. It’d been just enough to take the edge off and let me feel more man than Vampire back at the table.

Now, with making it through the meal, and this serene moment where I can stand far enough to the side and the wind carries her scent away from me, well, things feel back on track. We had chatted more about Vermont, some about Montreal, about movies, and literature. I tried not to bombard her with questions, as much as I wanted to know everything about her. I did my best, as well, to word things about myself to not lie but not tell the exact truth.

Feeling stable enough, I gently place my hand on Valarie’s lower back. She tenses at first, then takes a step closer to me. Her rosy smile is coy, and she tucks some hair behind her ear. “So, I’ve been meaning to ask, how old are you, anyway?”

Dad’s words ring through my mind, “Twenty-three. Is… is that all right?”

“I turned nineteen in July.” She smirks, “Is that okay?”

Two hundred, seventy-eight, twenty-three, nineteen… none of it mattered to me. I rub my hand up and down the soft material slowly, “Of course.” This pleases her and she turns back to the sunset.


---

I excused myself to the bathroom just before we leave to pull out my cell phone to text Nikki. ‘Throwin myself @ him, stil no kis, WTF?’

Sighing, I look in the mirror. I fluff out my hair and check that I’m not too bloated. My mascara still looks good, I dab a little powder on my chin, swipe a new coat of lip gloss. If I ever was trying my hardest to make something happen, this was it.

A new text pings. ‘Mayb hes waitin 2 drop u of? Kis u @ the door?’

I close my eyes; I hadn’t even thought of that. He’s such a gentleman… that’s probably it. It would be perfectly romantic, too. And, as Mama had texted me earlier, she’s out since I’m out and not to expect her till late, so we’d be all alone.

Meeting Cyrus just outside the front door, we walk down the lantern-lit path to the parking lot. I take a chance and hold out my right hand for him to grab and am relieved when he does. My little fingers weave between his and fit without awkwardness or discomfort.

The wind picks up when we’re free from the trees and I take a step closer to him. The scent of his cologne carries on the wind and all I can imagine is curling up in one of his sweatshirts. To be surrounded by his dark and heavy sent of oak, amber, and spice. I hope it rubs off on me as we walk closely now, and maybe, even more, when we hug and kiss goodnight.


---


Somehow the car ride back is ten times worse than the car ride there. Maybe because I am full of blood and food, maybe because we had flirted and held hands, maybe because I still am not used to her beauty and intelligence. But here I am, shoved against the door, having to keep the AC low, and my body as still as possible. I have been so careful not to read Valarie’s mind out of respect the whole night, but I can still tell by her body language and sighs that she is confused and possibly upset but my reaction.

Quick to open her door, but slow to walk her back, I take her hand. She smiles up at me for this and just before the house, leads us off the side of the path to a swinging bench. We sit, somewhat in the middle, but not exactly touching. Leaning forward on her knees it is clear that there is something she wants to say but doesn’t know how. Thinking I must have screwed everything up, I swallow hard.

Instead, she looks over with the kindest of eyes and sweetest of smiles with an air of nervousness. “You can kiss me, you know.”

An explosion of warmth spreads through my chest and I must readjust my position, crossing one leg with an ankle over my knee and stretching my arm across the wood backing. “All right.”

She tucks some hair behind her ear, “I mean… if you want.”

“I do,” I reply without hesitance.

She straightens and leans back, her shoulders resting against my arm. I drop my elbow slightly to start playing with her hair. Silky against my skin, I twirl it softly. “I just want to do this right,” I confess.

Her expression is of bemusement when she peeks over at me, “Right…?”

I stare into her icy blue eyes, “Yes.”

After a long moment, she turns back to the night and leans against my torso. I do not know how long we stay like this… slowly rocking on the swinging bench. The weight of her on my chest produces an overwhelming sense of comfort. Any anxiety, twitches, jitters – it all dissipates under the pressure. Weirdly, I finally feel like I can breathe, full and deep breaths, and that I can focus, my thoughts completely coherent.

Truth be told, I do not know that I have ever felt this sense of calm. In my childhood things had been hard, then I was shipped off to fight in The Great War. Before being able to go home, I tranziție, and then, well, I couldn’t go home – not like this. Left to wander France after my Sire died, sure Claude and Caroline saved me, but even then, learning to be a Vampire, having to always hide, to stay on the move, stay in the shadows?

Maybe I had come close to it in Montreal, but so many of the Vampires there are old. Old like Tori, old like Willow and Alex, old like Dad and Mom. I always felt out of place, like an imposter. Imposter as a man, imposter as a Vampire, stuck between two worlds.