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Say Yes To Forever

Updated: Feb 18



©Rosalie Thorne


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.


---


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.


---


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.


---


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.

And here those worlds are fluid, or even better, non-existent. Here I sit and I can imagine a future with purpose, a future I want to plan, (instead of figuring it out as I go along). Here I sit with a beautiful, intelligent, funny woman that I want to love. Here I sit, seeking comfort in her affection and she seeks comfort in my arms. Not knowing if I’ll get the courage at her door, I squeeze her closer and kiss the top of her head. This is the first of many nights, I reason, and there is simply no need to rush.




CHAPTER SEVEN


“September has just gone by way too fast,” Nikki comments as we walk down Main Street to get to Duke’s.

The 27th is the first Saturday all month that we’ve actually been able to hang out properly, not just in passing. Between our first college semester, studying, our jobs, and family time, there’s not a lot of time left to relax. Plus, if I do have time, I’ve been wanting to spend it with Cyrus.

“I can’t believe October is less than a week away,” I agree.

As we cross the threshold into the diner, we’re lucky that the lunch rush is over. Finding a clear table in the back, we plop down into the chairs and shrug off our coats. I already know what I’m going to order – a BLT with a side of onion rings, something I’ve been craving all week. But, as always, Nikki has to look through the menu (even though she has it memorized, we come here so often).

Once Louis leaves without drink orders, Nikki puts down the menu and leans in. “So, how are you and Cyrus?”

I blush and get preoccupied with my coffee. “Good.”

She nudges my leg under the table, “And?”

Beaming, I indulge her, “It’s been really nice. We’ve been out to dinner a few times, have gone for a few hikes… he calls me every night, even if it’s just for a few minutes. So yeah,” I lift my shoulder, “We’re good.”

Louis shows up with our drinks, so we halt the conversation and give our orders. Then, once the coast is clear, she asks “So, are you guys like boyfriend and girlfriend now?”

“Well….”

She frowns. “Well?”

I make a face. “We haven’t, like, had ‘the talk’ or whatever.”

“But, like, these definitely are dates you’re going on right? And he’s kissed you and all that?”

“Oh! Yeah, no, definitely. He’ll come to the door, drive us, we hold hands… he’ll kiss me at the end. But – well, you know how my mama is. Or,” I drop my voice, “how the town is. We’re taking things slow and keeping things private.”

“Except with me,” she smirks.

I giggle, “Yeah, except with you.”

Miss Kathy arrives just when our food makes it to the table, so we drop all topics revolving around Cyrus. Instead, we discuss classes and our teachers, and the Pumpkin Festival coming up. It’s only when we’re free from Duke’s and sitting on a secluded bench in the town square, that Nikki just can’t help herself.

“So, when are you guys going to be official? Are you guys going to go to the Pumpkin Festival together? Will he get in trouble since he’s a teaching assistant in your Sub class? And what about your mom, what are you going to tell her?”

“Actually,” I draw out the word, “Cyrus said he has something special planned for tonight, so, maybe, he wants to make everything official.” I hope.

“And, yeah, we have talked about going to the Pumpkin Festival together, which might be why he wants to sort things out this weekend.

“As for the whole teaching assistant thing, I don’t think so? He said he’d look into it but never got back to me. Regardless, like, it’s not like we’re flirting or whatever in class and he makes sure Ramsey grades my work.

“As for Mama,” I sigh and rub my face, “I don’t know. I mean, she’s gonna know eventually. So, I need to be the one to tell her before Miss Kathy does. But, God, Nikki, she’s going to lose it. At least once a day she makes a negative comment about the Laveroi’s, so I can’t even imagine what she’ll have to say with me dating one of them.”

Nikki nods slowly, “You are an adult, now, though.”

I roll my eyes, “An adult still living in her house.”

She frowns. “Maybe… maybe if she got to know him? Like, if you guys have lunch or something?”

I slump down against the bench. “Maybe?”

Maybe I can draw it out a little bit longer, hide the seriousness of it all a little bit longer. Maybe I can fib and say we’re sort of dating, it’s kind of unclear. Sure, we maybe we hold hands in public, but avoid other PDA? Definitely avoid kissing. We could make plans while she’s actually around and then, yeah, maybe we have lunch one of these Sundays….

But, even then, I know it’s going to take a long, long time and a lot of conversations for her to accept Cyrus. If she ever accepts him. Which, in a way, I’ve been trying to convince myself I don’t need her approval.

He makes me happy, I feel good with him, what more is there? So far, he’s been the epitome of a gentleman and we’ve had so much to talk about. And, even when we’re not talking, it’s comfortable. The only negative I can possibly think of us is that we’re still not as… physical as I’d like to be.


---


“So,” Tori stands against my doorframe.

I look up from the stack of tests I’m grading. “So?”

She raises her eyebrows but says nothing.

“So…?” I try again.

She tilts her head, “You and Valarie, huh?”

I turn back to the tests, trying to be as indifferent as possible, “What about me and Valarie?”

Slipping into my room, she closes the door quietly. On the edge of my bed, “You haven’t told Mom and Dad yet.”

Still not turning around, I try to stay even, “There’s nothing to tell.”

Frate, you know you can’t lie to me,” I turn to see her expression is filled with concern, “I’m the most skilled in our family when it comes to reading minds. And no, I’m not actively trying to,” she lifts her hands, “your mind is just particularly loud when you come back from spending time with her.

“I just think it might be time you talk to them.”

After a very long silence, I push a hand through my hair. “Tomorrow. I’ll talk to them tomorrow.”

This appeases her and she stands. “Just be careful, frate… for all our sake.”


---


Tugging at the hem of my violet cable knit sweater, I turn side to side while looking in my full-length mirror. It has a nice v-neck that shows off my (small amount of) cleavage, and it isn’t too long over my jeans. All Cyrus has told me is we were going to be outside near a fire, so I want to dress warm, but still sexy.

I’d French-braided my hair after my shower this morning and it finally seems dry. I had tested different makeup styles on the various occasions I’d seen Cyrus and it seems it likes the less makeup the better, so my look’s very subtle. Right as I slide my tiny silver hoop earring in, there’s a knock on my bedroom door.

“Valarie?” Mama asks while opening the door.

“Yeah?”

In her scrubs, looking ready to go to work, she stands tall, with her hands on her hips. “We need to talk.”

I try to stay unconcerned and slide the second hoop in, “Yeah, Mama?”

“This bonfire you’re going to… it’s at Cyrus Laveroi’s house?”

Quickly, so is to hide my face (which might give me away), I get busy with packing my purse. “Yeah, Mama.”

“Valarie,” her tone is harsh, “you know how I feel about the Laveroi’s. They are outsiders who have barely done anything to become a part of Stars Hallow. They don’t come to town often, the parents don’t come to town meetings, they haven’t signed up for a booth for the Pumpkin Festival -”

I interject, “It’s a bunch of us from school, Mama. Remember I said that Cyrus is the TA? He’s just sort of hosting it, but everyone in my class is going,” I lie.

This doesn’t seem to help.

“We’re kind of doing a study group,” I continue down the rabbit hole. “Yeah, it’s at a bonfire, and there’s going to be junk food and pizza and soda. But we’re going to study and work on our group projects.”

She squints, “Group projects?”

Not a complete lie now, I nod, “After next week we all have to pair up and write a paper on one particular Sub-human race we’ve studied so far. So, we’re all getting together to partner up and pick, uh, which Sub we want to do.”

Maybe angrier now, though about a different subject than Cyrus, she starts her rant, “I cannot believe that stupid school is forcing you to learn about lesser species. Who are they to say that this is just as important as college-level reading and math? I swear, I’m going to march down to that headmaster’s office and give them a piece of my mind….”

She keeps ranting as I gather my things and head downstairs. I still have ten or so minutes before Cyrus arrives and I need her to leave for work. My plan is successful, and she’s out the door in a huff.


Pulling up the long driveway in front of the Laveroi’s house, I’d forgotten how large and beautiful it is. It’s Stars Hallow’s largest and most elaborate remaining example of rural Victorian Gothic architecture. It stands two stories tall, is very wide, with a large wrap-around porch. The paneling is a light gray, the shudders and trim an off-white, the shingles a deep black, and the Victorian gingerbread trim makes me think of a Christmas postcard.

There’re a few lights on in the house and I become nervous at the idea that in a few minutes I may be properly introduced to his family. Just as I’d avoided Mama meeting him, he’d been careful we avoided meeting his parents and siblings. Thankfully, Cyrus leads me by the hand down a path to the right of the house, to the backyard.

The black sky glitters with stars, the crescent Moon but a sliver above us. There is a threat of a Winter chill weaving through the trees, but all I can smell is the burning wood. As he brings me closer to the roaring fire, I notice a laid-out blanket and picnic basket.

“Oh, Cyrus!” I squeeze his hand.


---


I wrap my softest blanket around Valarie’s shoulders, tucking her close against my chest as we lean against the log bench. Full, warm, and happy, she curls up against me, her head on my shoulder, her knee on my thigh. Watching the flames flicker and dance, they are the only signal that time is moving at all.

In the three dinner dates we’ve had over the last three weeks, I picked up her favorite appetizer of calamari from the Italian restaurant, the half sandwich and salad entre combo from the café, and the macarons from La Campagne for dessert. Luckily, I was able to hide blood in my thermos of ‘apple cider’ and Tori was the only one around tonight. Which left us the privacy I needed for my plan.

Valarie’s heart is slowing, as is her breathing, and she is well on her way to becoming sleepy. I gently rub my hand up and down her arm, and murmur to her softly, “Valarie?”

“Mhm?”

“I like you.”

She giggles and rubs my chest. “I like you, too.”

I kiss the top of her head. “Would you be my girlfriend?”

Pushing off me, she looks up with a huge smile. “Of course!”

She reaches for my face, falling into me, and kisses me. And this kiss is not like any of the pecks goodnight I’d given before. Her full lips are soft, warm, and give perfect pressure. Her tiny hands lower from my jaw, her little fingers curling around the hair at the nape of my neck. She moves closer to me, higher on me, with a passion and hunger, but it’s more than just lustful. She wants me to know how much she likes me, wants me to know how serious she is… she wants me to know that she’s all in.

My fingers find the hem of her sweater, drifting underneath and up the smooth skin of her back. I know I’ll have to stop soon… but not too soon, right?

Pulling back, her breath is heavy on my lips. “Cyrus….”

I drag my nails across her skin, “Valarie…?”

Suddenly there’s a thwack against the log. We jump and turn to look at the source. Tori is standing above and smiles, “Hey lovebirds.”

Valarie is backing up now, quick to her feet. Her cheeks are a brilliant scarlet, her breathing sporadic. After throwing her purse strap over her chest, she tugs frantically at the hem of her top.

I am up now, too, trying to stand between her and Tori. With a raise of my eyebrows, I try to convey a ‘what the fuck?’ response.

Tori throws a thumb over her shoulder, “Mom and Dad are back,” she gives with a similarly serious expression.

Pushing back the wisps of hair around her face, Valarie swallows hard. “I should probably head out.”

I look to Tori and then focus on the movement in the house, Mom and Dad are just about to open the double doors to the backyard. By the time I look back, Valarie is already a few feet away. “Wait!”

She turns around but doesn’t stop moving. “I can walk, it’s okay.”

I catch up with her, “No, it’s not all right. It’s dark – I will drive you back."

She notices that Tori is occupying our parents on the porch and feels a small sense of relief. “Okay…” and rushes us to the car.




CHAPTER EIGHT


Je ne sais pas ce que vous voulez que je fasse!” Dad replies aggressively to Mom.

Quelque chose n'importe quoi! C'est une Humaine, Claude.”

He sighs, “J'en suis bien conscient, Caroline. Mais nous ne pouvons pas l'arrêter. Il est bien parti pour s'accoupler avec elle, il n'y a rien à faire.”

Through the door, it sounds like Mom falls into the nearest armchair, “Elle est Humaine....

There’s some movement and then Dad’s voice softens, “Donc? Tu l'étais aussi.”

C'est illégal.”

But I cannot bring myself to listen to it anymore. Tearing myself away from the door to Dad’s office, I stumble to the kitchen. I avoid Tori’s gaze but sit next to her at the breakfast bar. I don’t say anything, but I don’t have to.

“Better me than them,” she comments quietly.

For having seen us like that? Definitely. “I had it all planned… I was going to talk to them tonight.”

Her hand comes up to my shoulder as I’m hunched over the counter. “I know.”

“And I think Dad is right….”

“About?”

“Not just împerechere with her, but întipărire.”

I see her surprise out the corner of my eye. “… really?”

Willow and Alex are close to three hundred and fifty years old, Tori just turned two hundred, and none of them have ever talked about having been cuplata before. None of them have ever talked about feeling that once-in-a-lifetime experience of întipărire. If we didn’t have the proof of Mom and Dad, I might not have believed it was even a real thing, (until now). “Yes.”

“That’s….”

“Heavy.”

Tori gets up and heads to the fridge. Holding out a beer she agrees, “Yeah, heavy.”

I open the bottle and chug about half of it. Tori sits down and sips hers. There is a lull and then she asks, “Are you happy?”

Tori, who I’ve never known to want a relationship. Tori, who I’ve seen serial date over the past couple of decades. Tori, who will stay with a guy for maybe a month and often isn’t monogamous, looks to me with a saddened expression. “It must be nice.”

“Yes, Tori, it’s nice. It’s really, really nice.”


---


Cyrus hadn’t called me nor texted me at all on Saturday night. It’s Monday morning now and with him missing school this week, as he mentioned during our picnic, I don’t know when I’d get to see him again. I worry, though I can’t imagine why he would have gotten in trouble.

Sure, I’d rushed us out of there, but that was more out of embarrassment than being upset or not wanting to meet his family or… whatever. Maybe… maybe he was trying to give me space? Chewing on my lower lip, I send a quick text before the start of Sub-human Anthropology. ‘Hope evrythin is ok. Mayb we can meet 4 coffee? Go 2 the bookstore? Let me no, xoxo.’

After we finish the quiz on Fae, Ramsey turns off the lights. At the projector, he clears his throat. “This week we’re going over chapter five, the Sub-human in question: Vampires.”

Notebook open to a new page I write ‘9.29.1997 – Chapter 5 – Vampires’ at the top.

“Let’s start with the overview, shall we?” Ramsey continues. “As we have in the earlier chapters, we’ll start with the lore – what Basic-humans have understood to be Vampires before the Revolution of 1912. Then we’ll hop into their biology, what their metamorphic qualities are as we understand them to be today. And last we can look at how Vampires are in modern society and what we can hope to see in the future.”

With only one hour of class on Monday and one hour on Wednesday, we surprisingly get through a lot of content. From the myths, legends, and lore, including the famous Dracula – or Vlad Of Wallachia, to the how and why Vampires are immortal from a scientific standpoint to some of the more common characteristics of Vampires in daily life. Some of the more interesting facts that corrected a lot of misconceptions I had, that I cannot wait to talk to Nikki about, are Sun poisoning, how their fangs work, the fact that they can live off animal blood (and there are companies working to make synthetic blood), and what their more than Basic-human qualities are.

As I sit in the library before my last class on Thursday, finishing my notes on chapter five to be ready for the quiz Monday morning, some of the things start tickling my mind. Something triggers the memory of Miss Kathy talking about the Laveroi’s in Duke’s dinner… Mayor Morrison so confidently interjecting they were Vampires. Vampires…?

Flipping through chapter five again, I glance over my notes…

Sun poisoning: a slow but potentially lethal process where a Vampire’s blood is evaporated, some symptoms include thirst, dizziness, headaches, and fatigue. The longer Vampires are in the sun, the sicker they may become.

Fangs: fangs are one of the most noticeable metamorphic changes to the body, though they can be held at three lengths. 1. Extended – to feed or fight, 2. Low – which is the most comfortable. 3. Retracted – to hide their fangs, though this may cause mild discomfort or pressure against their sinuses.

Blood: blood is essential to the livelihood of Vampires, they need it for all physical functions, like Humans. However, their body cannot produce it or cycle it properly, so they must supplement it from a different source, such as Human, animal, or chemical. Recent intake of blood may cause Vampires to have a surge of energy, may fend off sun poisoning, and help their accelerated healing.

Metamorphic attributes: including but not limited to… superhuman senses, superhuman strength, superhuman speed, accelerated healing, the ability to manipulate energy, and having the ability to read emotions or thoughts.

… on extremely sunny days we’ve spent outside, Cyrus has commented on having dehydration-type symptoms by the end of our hike.

… regardless of how long we spend together or what the weather is like, Cyrus comments how rain must be coming to explain the sinus pressure he feels.

… when we’ve had travel mugs or other opaque containers, he always says I wouldn’t like his coffee or cider or whatever and stops me from drinking it.

… I’d always thought his obvious strength was ‘cause he was a guy, but even after hiking for hours over hills, or carrying armfuls of wood, he never seems the least bit tired.

Could Cyrus really be a Vampire?

… even if… does it really matter?




CHAPTER NINE


As much as I trust Nikki, this is one thing I need to keep to myself. I don’t have real proof that Cyrus and his family are Vampires, just circumstantial evidence, as they would say on Law And Order. And though she seems as like-minded as me or our generation, when faced with the real possibility that Sub-humans are in our town… there’s no knowing how she would react.

Plus, and maybe this is the paranoia talking, there’s no safe way to tell her. Even at my house in my room while Mama is gone seems too risky… what if Mama forgets something? What if she comes back early? What if Nikki’s Mom stops by for something? No… no… for the safety of Cyrus and his family, this one needs to stay close to my chest.

As I finish getting ready for the Pumpkin Festival I’m so glad my catalog order finally arrived. My new, ribbed, gray turtleneck is tucked into my new, navy, plaid tennis skirt, which shows off just enough of my new, ultra-sheer tights that are tucked into my calf-height, black leather boots. Looking like a college student that walks the historic halls of Oxford, I’m totally loving this whole academia trend this year.

I’ve yet to wear a short skirt or short dress in front of Cyrus so I’m excited to see his reaction. Maybe it’s a little vain of me, but whenever I’ve had a crush or boyfriend it’s fun for me to get them all flustered. With a surprising high of seventy degrees and most of the Festival being in the Sun, I’ll be comfortable enough without a coat.

I stop dead in my tracks on the stairs the moment I hear the doorbell ring. In all the commotion of Cyrus-and-his-family-might-be-Vampires and being so embarrassed on our last date, I’d totally forgotten to tell Mama we’re dating. I had been all prepared too! Memorized a little speech and everything. But she’d left to open her apple cider booth at the Festival hours ago and now I’m stuck with dropping the Cyrus-and-me bomb on her in person in public.

Staring hopelessly at the door, I’m immobilized by fear. How is it that I’m more afraid of my own mother, I think quickly, than the fact my boyfriend might be a Vampire?

On cue, Cyrus knocks softly.

With nowhere to go but forward, I open the door, “Hey! Sorry.”


---


We’ve been walking around Stars Hallow for over two hours now and the stares and whispers have yet to subside. At first, I had accepted them with grace, this is a small town after all. But now? Especially with Valarie’s elevated agitation, I wish it would stop.

I try to focus on the decorations… the wreaths on every door, the various stacks of pumpkins and jack-o-lanterns, candy corn colored flags draped from overhangs, bales of hay, antiquely dressed scarecrows, and then the various booths that are a part of the Pumpkin Festival. They have everything from bobbing for apples to a pie-eating contest to face painting.

We pass a few carnival games, where the hayrides start, and Valarie slows. “So… up there is where we can get apple cider.”

“Sounds good.”

She squeezes my hand and pulls me to the sidewalk. In a hushed tone she says, “That’s my mama’s booth. I’ve kind of been avoiding it all afternoon. But,” she looks down to her watch, “it’s almost three which is when we’re supposed to meet Nikki to head to the bonfire.”

She looks around, heaving a breath. “So, yeah… um, I’ll say hi, we can get some cider, and then I’ll tell her we’re meeting Nikki.”

In the past four weeks, Valarie hasn’t said anything about her mom except that she’s overprotective. Other than that, the only thing I know about her is how anti-Sub she is, given that she called Ramsey to complain. Not that those two things are related – that Valarie didn’t want her mom meeting me, a Vampire, because as far as I can tell, Valarie is still none the wiser.

I lean in and kiss her on the cheek. “Whatever you want.”

She nods and then leads me down the street. We must wait behind a row of people, and I move from holding Valarie’s hand to placing it on the small of her back, supportively. Her heartbeat quickens and she starts twisting her hands together. When we get to the booth’s edge, she stutters, “H-hey mama.”

Valarie’s mother is the exact opposite of what I pictured in my mind, the exact opposite of her daughter. Tall, round, with curly auburn hair, her skin has a golden tan, she has large hands with short nails ladling cider into cups, and she has quite a resting expression of displeasure. Reminding me of an angry English Bulldog, while Valarie is a joyous and carefree Siberian Husky, I’m taken off guard.

She stares me down as if I’m an annoying Chihuahua, “… Cyrus Laveroi.”

I jut my hand out. “Misses Ward.”

She purses her lips as she shakes my hand. “Miss Smith,” she corrects me.

Right, I think as I look to Valarie for help, the husband left….

Valarie notices my expression and clears her throat. “Well, Mama, I thought we could pick up some of your famous cider before meeting Nikki for the bonfire,” and she hands a cup to me.

Miss Smith does not take her eyes off me, even when her daughter says goodbye. I offer a pathetic wave before turning and rushing away with Valarie. There was no need to even try to read her mind, I shake my head a little, she hates me.

---


Drinking a concoction of Nikki’s creation, I throw it back hard and fast, staring into the bonfire without really seeing anything. “I’ve resigned myself to the fact my mother’s gonna kill me.”

Nikki laughs, “It couldn’t have been that bad.”

I laugh too, but a breathy, sarcastic laugh. I look back to her, “You should have seen her. When she shook Cyrus’s hand I all but thought she was going to rip his arm out of the socket.”

Nikki looks around, “Speaking of…,” but he’s not back yet from grabbing us pizza inside. “How did he take it? Meeting your mom… dealing with the crazy people in our town?”

I shrug. “Fine enough, I guess. He really hasn’t said anything except that he had fun today and that he really liked the caramel popcorn.”

She claps me on the shoulder, “At least it’s all over a done with. It’s out in the open, no more hiding… surely that’s a relief?”

I bob my head in a sort of nod, looking around to all the bonfire goers. Sure, our relationship is out in the open, but I still had my questions about the whole Vampire thing. I’d paid extra attention to him today… the sunglasses, the need to find shade, his saying biting into the caramel apple was a little much, and never letting me drink out of his thermos.

Speaking of… I peak down to our pile of stuff where we staked claim to a log bench.

I motion for Nikki to sit with me. But before I can put my cup down and pick up his thermos, the more than tipsy Nikki already has it open, sniffing it. “Oh man,” she laughs, “he must have dark beer Scott insists on bringing,” and pushes it under my nose, “smell it!”

Taking it quickly, I do smell it and force a laugh. “Totally, oh my God.” But I am ‘oh my God’ing for whole ‘nother reason ‘cause, there is no denying it: it smells like blood.




CHAPTER TEN


Monday, October 6th comes, and I cannot wait for the end of Sub-human Anthropology. While Cyrus goes to the bathroom before taking me out to lunch, I quickly gather my things, “Professor Ramsey?”

He stops just shy of the door, “Yes, Miss Ward?”

“You mentioned the extra credit today… doing a short paper on the Sub of our choice? I was wondering if you had any suggested readings, other than our textbooks, about… about Vampires?”

He thinks for a moment, then pulls out a pen and piece of scrap paper. “There’s a wonderful book by Samantha Everson, a teacher of Basic-human studies out in California…. Well, she’s about to move to California, finishing up her last year at Brown, where she teaches both Sub and Basic-human Anthropology classes.” He hands the paper to me, “You can find it at the campus bookstore, and it should help you with your extra credit essay.”

As I read over his note, Vampires: Just Like Us by Samantha Everson, then tuck it away in my notebook, “Thank you.”

Professor Ramsey smiles pleasantly, “It is wonderful how involved you’ve become in this class. Keep up the good work!”


Closing my bedroom door, I’m tempted to lock it but don’t want to alarm Mama. Instead, I prep my desk to look like I’m in the middle of literature homework and press play on my boombox. As ‘Barbie Girl’ by Aqua plays softly across the room, I open my new copy of Vampires: Just Like Us.

Reading through the table of contents, I’m trying to weed out what I already know from class and what I’d like to learn now. Newling/SireMatingFertilityTelepathic/Empathic Readings… now all of that is new. I write down a few key phrases and then jump to the dictionary in the back.

Newling: a newly turned Vampire, a Vampire fresh from their transition; a Vampire is considered a Newling for three years, though may always be called as such in relevance to their Sire.

Sire: the “father” or “mother” of a Newling, the Vampire who commits the transition of one Human into a Vampire. Sires are responsible for guiding Newlings through their lives as a Vampire, teaching and taking care of them.

Mating: for this there are two kinds. One is “pereche and împerechere and cuplata” - mate and mating and mated. Mating can happen more than once for Vampires, just like Humans, but these romantic feelings are far more powerful and slightly supernatural in comparison. It is very difficult to get between a Vampire and their mate. A Vampire can be in the process of mating at any point, but to have mated both the Vampire and the significant other must share in a one moment of true happiness. Two is “intipărire or imperecherea adevărată”- imprinting and true imprinting. Imprinting is still an extremely powerful connection between a Vampire and their significant other, and is one of Vampire’s metamorphic Sub-human abilities. Though there are physical traits associated with the imprinting of one Vampire to another individual, most Vampires describe the process as something other worldly, pure, and transcendent. It is similar too, but not exactly, the idea of soulmates. Imprinting is said to happen only once, though Vampires claim that if their mortal mate passes away, they will be reincarnated.

Fertility: like Human men, Vampire males are always fertile. Like Human women, some – but not all – Vampire females go through a menstrual cycle and are able to carry children. The Vampire females that are fertile go through a thirty-three-month cycle, usually ovulating around the sixteenth month.

Telepathic Readings: telepathy is the well-known idea of an individual ‘reading the mind’ of someone else. Though not all Sub-humans have the ability to do a telepathic reading, some Vampires can proceed to do both telepathic and empathic readings. This is not only the ‘reading’ of words, but also ideas, feelings, and bodily functions.

Empathic Readings: empathy is the well-known idea of an individual ‘reading the emotions’ of someone else. Though not all Sub-humans have the ability to do an empathic reading, some Vampires can proceed to do both empathic and telepathic readings. This is not only the ‘reading’ of feelings and auras, but bodily functions, ideas, and words.

Leaning back in my chair, I try to process everything. After minutes of just staring out the window, it might best to read this all cover to cover. Then, maybe, I’ll know how I really feel about the idea of Cyrus being a Vampire. Regardless of my feelings, though, if he is, I need to let him tell me on his terms.




CHAPTER ELEVEN


As the world turns, the Sun rises and sets, the night becomes longer with the changing season, the days – the weeks go by, and Valarie and I have fallen into a pleasant rhythm. I am certain now that I am not just in the process of împerechere with her, but have been întipărire, and soon enough, I will be irrevocably in love.

Maybe she is not the most intelligent in every subject, (though neither am I), but even still, sometimes I have a hard time following her thought processes that can jump from A to G in a matter of seconds. And when neither of us knows something, she is the first to look it up, either with the books she already owns, in the library, or using Google. There is such a spark in her eyes, a pure passion for learning. (I can only imagine what it might be like if she were to join me… all that she could learn when she has all the time in the world.)

Plus, there is something so contagiously bubbly about her. Whether we’re watching a movie, talking about literature, playing card games, or going for a hike. If I did not know any better, her being a Basic-human and all, I could have sworn she had magik about her. A sort of infectious aura that rubs off on you until you feel it too.

And God – every god and goddess and what have you, I don’t care – is she beautiful. A real Snow White – skin as pale as the oncoming snow, hair as dark as moonless nights, petite and soft, and as beautiful on the outside as she is on the inside. Though it may not be proper in the changing times, and I am far from a traditionalist, but she has a sense of pride in how she looks and how she takes care of me. If she agrees to be my soție, I can only imagine the warmest and supportive home.

A warm and supportive home, unlike the one I currently reside. Not that I have been completely ostracized, but the family has split in half… Dad, Tori, and I in favor, Mom, Willow, and Alex against. As I stand in the kitchen stirring sugar into my tea, Willow comes in, grabs a soda, and leaves without a word. It’s not until Tori pops downstairs and sits across the table from me that the silence is broken.

“You guys get off Thanksgiving week, right?”

“Sort of. Why?”

She reaches across the table to the fruit basket and pulls out an apple. After a huge bite she says, “So, I’ve kind of been… uhh, eavesdropping on the parents. With the whole you and Valarie thing,” she wiggles her hand, “and I guess Mom is finally coming around. Long story short she wants to throw an American Thanksgiving and for you to invite Valarie to meet everyone.”

I look up from my book, completely dumbfounded. “And Dad’s all right with this?”

She takes another bite of the apple. After some chewing, she continues, “You’re întipărire and are împerechere…?” her voice is inquisitive but then she shrugs, “point is, like, she’s it, right?”

“… right.”

“Well, then, she’s going to be a part of our family.”

“But….”

She jumps on my train of thought before I can even get it out. “Everyone’s agreed to be on our best, Humanest behavior. Sure, we can’t hide our Vampireness forever, but maybe just long enough to give you guys a chance.”

She stands and chucks her apple core into the bin. “But remember to act surprised with the parents suggest it, okay?” and she practically skips out of the room.


---

After screaming down the hall, I slam my bedroom door behind me and lock it. “Argh!” I let out some of my frustration by slamming my fist against it. Then blast whatever CD is in my boombox, which perfectly happens to be Skillet, the particularly loud song ‘I Can’.

I can’t hear when Mama tries to open my door and I turn my music up louder when she starts pounding. She screams at the top of her lungs, “Valarie!”

Pushed up against my headboard I squish my pillow against my chest and rest my head on my lifted knees, trying to focus on the music and not her. When another song goes by and I figure she’s left for work. I turn the music down and try to relax. I just don’t know how many more of these fights I can take.

Suddenly my door opens, Mama holding the master key. “Valarie, I swear to God. Turn that music down, now.”

Arms crossed; I just stare at her.

She comes into my room, yanks the plug out from the wall, and crosses her arms over her chest. I jump up and storm away from her. “You won’t even meet him! You won’t even have lunch with him! Or coffee! Just one cup of stupid coffee!”

“Because!” she follows me down the hall. “I do not trust him! Him or his family!”

I yell over my shoulder, practically falling down the stairs, “How could you even know that? You won’t get to know him.”

“I do not have to know him to know I don’t trust him.”

On the main floor, I glare at her, “That’s pretty fucking prejudice of you,” my tone poisonous.

Her smack across my face comes hard and fast. Instinctively, I call her a bitch.

Jaw locked, she’s ready to hit me again, “Valarie, I forbid you.”

Tugging on my boots now, I then grab my coat and my keys. Luckily my phone is in my jeans pocket. I slam the front door behind me. Not giving her a chance to catch up or corner me in the car I just start walking. Walking to…? Anywhere but here.


---


“Valarie!” Tori calls to the left.

“Valarie!” Dad calls to the right.

“Valarie!” I call ahead.

Her voice message had been static, in and out… she was crying. It took me three listens to even hear that she had gotten into another fight with her mom, and she’d left. Left to where, she didn’t say.

So… I called her, no answer. I texted Nikki, she wasn’t with her. I went by the diner, by the bookstore, across the town square, nothing. By the time I realized no one had seen her it was pitch-black out.

I dematerialized to her house and all the lights were off. I tried the door just in case and it was locked. I called Tori and Dad and they came as quickly as Vampirically possible and now we are searching the woods.

“We’ve walked the path before,” I guided them down the hill. “She’s got to be here somewhere!”

But we – Vampires, predators, hunters by nature – have been looking for fifteen minutes and there’s no sign of her. We regroup and I try to focus my thoughts, “Dad, why don’t you go back to cell service call her mom? Maybe… maybe she knows where she would have gone or maybe they’re together! Tori… Tori, go back to the house. There’s a spare key somewhere… under a rock or something, I think. Go get a sweater from her room, it might help us catch her scent.”

Alone now, I continue down what I think to be the path we had taken some weeks ago. The new Moon offers no light, forcing me to use my nocturnal vision, which leaves everything in greyscale. I try to focus my hearing, but it keeps jumping from the critters in the underbrush to the wind through the trees to the running water just down the way.

Stomach acid rising with my panic, I call out for her again, “Valarie!”

After a moment, there’s a whisper, “… Cyrus?”

Running towards the whisper I slow to Human speed just out of sight. But there she is, Valarie, standing near the river. “Valarie?”

She turns slowly, “Cyrus?”

I rush to pull her into a hug. Arms tight around her, I kiss the top of her head. “Valarie… God, Valarie….” I pull back to look into her eyes. “Valarie… I was terrified.”

Her puffy, watery eyes look up at me apologetically. She reaches up to wipe away some tears. “I’m sorry. I… I was just so angry, and I started walking….”

She looks behind her and I let her guide us to the river’s edge. Arms crossed tight around her torso; her little fingers flick forward. “I was walking and then I came here and… and I stopped. It was dark and I was alone and the river….” She sniffs. “I had a dream… before I met you. And then,” she looks back at me, “you called my name.”

Unable to make sense of her hysterics I just kiss her. I kiss her and hold her close. “I’m here… it’s all right, I’m here.”

Dad and Tori call from just up the hill, making Valarie jump. I keep her close to me and rub her arm while we walk towards them. When we meet up, Valarie starts crying again, “I’m s-so sorry I worried you guys. I can’t believe you c-came out here.”

Dad, in all his dad glory, squishes her between us. “Of course, Valarie…, of course we came.”

Tori jumps to hug her next. “Com’on, why don’t we get you back to the house?”

She nods slowly and I do the heavy lifting when it comes to guiding her back. Dad, Tori, and I share a wordless conversation and it ends in agreement. Dad and Tori wait by the swinging bench while I make sure to get Valarie safely inside. As she sits on the bottom step of the stairs to get her boots off, I crouch, “Are you sure you’re all right now?”

She bites her lower lip and nods. “I’m sorry I worried you so much.”

Looking in her eyes, she does seem back to herself, but just in case, “I can stay if you want.”

She tucks some hair behind her ear. “No, that’s okay…. We’re still on for tomorrow, though?”

Hands-on her knees I lean forward and kiss her cheek, “Of course. And…,” I smile softly.

“And?”

“Well, you said your mom is working for Thanksgiving, right?” She nods. “Well, my mom wants to give this whole American Thanksgiving a go and it would mean so much to me – to all of us, if you could come.”


---


Another Monday afternoon rolls around again and between school, spending time with Cyrus, and taking extra shifts at the bookstore, Mama and I have yet to even be ships in the night, completely on opposite schedules. The past two weeks of quiet have been nice, a relief, and I don’t even care to inform her I’m spending Thanksgiving at the Laveroi’s. Maybe it was getting lost in the forest or maybe it was reliving my dream, but some sort of switch flicked in my brain that night, and I really, really need to not care what my mama has to say.

Just as I’m walking from the kitchen to the stairs to head back up to my room, ready to dive into a new novel, I jump so hard I spill my apple cider when there’s a pounding on the front door.

Book and cup down on the entryway table, I’m surprised to find Nikki on the porch, “Hi?”

She pushes past me and shuts the door. “Oh. My. God,” she mimics Janice from Friends.

I raise my eyebrows.

She rushes left towards the kitchen, then right towards the living room, then grabs my arm, “Is your mom around?”

I shake my head.

She nods, her eyes a little crazy, then starts dragging me towards the stairs. I tug against her to pick up my book and cup but follow her just the same. In my room, she closes the door and closes the windows. On the edge of my bed, she waves her hands, “I think I just figured out something major! Absolutely major!”

Giving her a concerned look, I just offer, “Okay…?”

She nods, “So you know how I have Sub Anthro this semester, too, right? But with Professor Gilmore? Well, she’s been kind of jumping through the textbook all chaotic, right?”

“Right.”

“So! Today you will not believe what we started studying.”

“… what?”

She slams her hand down on the bed, “Vampires!

“You’ve read chapter five, haven’t you? Vampires? Well,” and she turns to get her textbook out from her backpack that she’d ditched on the floor. With it opened to a bookmarked page I recognize from weeks ago; she starts reading all these highlighted parts. When she looks up at me, she gives me an expression of, ‘don’t you get it?’

But when I purposefully stare blankly, she slams the textbook shut. “The Laverois! Cyrus! Vampires!”

Mind rapidly trying to figure out lies to dismiss her claims, to guide her down another path, to… to… to fix this, I don’t say anything. Nikki’s stare won’t let up though and when I’ve bluffed long enough, she hits me with a pillow. “You knew? You knew and you didn’t tell me?” She laughs and hops on the edge of the bed.

“Okay… we need junk food, we need sodas, we need music! What CD do you think? Something Gothic? I. Need. To. Know. Everything!”

And at this moment, I’m so thankful to have a friend like her.




TO BE CONTINUED in the novel. (Available in hardcover, paperback, and ebook.)

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