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Say Yes To Forever cnt.



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 TWELVE


The first snow of Winter falls sometime in the night between Wednesday and Thanksgiving. I wake to a bright light beyond my lids, blinking a few times only to see the white powder and frost across the windowpanes. Instantly beaming with joy, I drag my comforter while it’s wrapped around me and sit at my desk.

The tree outside my window that is between the driveway and the walk-up is covered in layers and layers of fluffy snow. The land is matching, with only a small path already shoveled by Mama (and I make a mental note to ask Cyrus to come to pick me up). The skies beyond are a brilliant blue, practically sparkling like the aquamarine necklace I have from my stepmother.

I’d been too tired the night before, falling asleep with a book on my chest, that I’d completely forgotten to set an alarm or pull my curtains. But it seems the universe had my back; I am now fully awake and excited to start my day. A day I’ve been looking forward to with gusto, I might add, ‘cause I finally feel ready to meet Cyrus’s family.

Maybe it’d been the fact I could finally open up to Nikki about the Vampire thing, much to her support, or maybe that when I did tell Mama I’d be with Cyrus on Thanksgiving her only response was “Okay”, and no other argument, or maybe it was the magik of the first snow… but something, really something, feels good, feels right.

Back on my bed I tug on my wool socks and throw over Cyrus’s sweatshirt that I’ve been cuddling with. I pull the sleeves to my palms and carefully make my way downstairs. The kitchen that much colder, I do a little dance as I wait for coffee. I get distracted quickly, though, by the snow yet again, and as I slide up against the bay window, shaking my head in wonder.

I’ve always loved and will probably always love the way that snow seems to coat the world so effortlessly. From the highest of trees to the deepest valleys, from the top of the church bell to the benches by the gazebo…. It doesn’t matter where: there is snow.

Snow that brings a quietness, too, a sort of soft silence. Another busy morning in town can sound as peaceful as a walk in the middle of the night. When I take my few hikes to get pictures of the frozen river, for just a moment, I feel alone in the best way possible. I realize now I love those moments ‘cause, one way or another, I do have a sensitivity to energy and that kind of energy is truly serene.

Back upstairs now, coffee in hand, it’s time to tear through my closet and find the perfect I’m-meeting-my-boyfriends-family, snow friendly, Thanksgiving outfit.

Though Thanksgiving usually calls for burnt oranges, mustard yellows, light browns, and soft creams… those colors have never gone well with my Fairest Of All complexion. A spitting image of my dad, I sometimes fancy that I look like Scarlet O’Hara from Gone With The Wind. Inspired by that now, I think of her red dresses, particularly the one with long sleeves.

In the back of the Winter side of my closet, I find exactly what I have in mind: a red velvet, maxi dress with a boat neck, low back, and long sleeves. It’s borderline semi-formal, something I’d worn Nikki’s mom’s third wedding rehearsal dinner.

Back at my vanity after my shower, I put warm curlers in my hair and start my makeup. Maybe something a little more noticeable than what Cyrus likes best, I still only use makeup to only emphasize my features. A darker, fuller brow with a soft, ombre lid plus long, black lashes, and… I pick up my burgundy lipstick. All together the look is very Rachel Green, and I am living for it.

Dress on, makeup set, loosely curled hair in a sort of half-up-do, I look to my watch to see I have about another five minutes before Cyrus is supposed to be here. He’d promised we could stop into town for Duke’s traditional Thanksgiving cinnamon coffee and cinnamon rolls breakfast combo and then I asked if we could stop by the market so I could pick up flowers for his mom.


Holding the bouquet stems delicately in one hand while gently rubbing my thumb over a yellow rose petal, I breathe in the floral aroma, “Oh, these are just perfect!”

Cyrus rubs his hand up and down my upper arm, “You didn’t have to get them anything.”

I shrug, “Never go anywhere empty-handed, especially if someone is feeding you.”

He chuckles and kisses my hair. “Well,” he lifts up the bursting grocery bag, “I think you’ve made up for it and then some.”

Nodding, I double-check with him, “Flowers for your mom, that bottle of wine for your dad, a pecan pie nobody else can stand for Willow, a weird spinach salad kit for Alex, and the trashy magazine that your mom hates for Tori.”

In the car, I pull something out of the bag at my feet, “And for you, a box of watermelon Gushers.”

This has Cyrus laughing now, looking at me with an expression of pure endearment. He reaches over, brushing his thumb across my cheek, “I love you,” he chuckles.

Heart, lungs, mind all come to an instantaneous halt.

But before I can even process or even think if I want to say it or anything back, Cyrus leans and kisses my forehead. “How about we get to my place, hm? Everyone’s going to be so happy to see you.”


The front door closed, Cyrus calls out, “Hey guys! I’m back and come bearing gifts!”

Cyrus helps me out of my coat and hangs in on the rack and I follow his lead and unzip my boots to leave them by the door. Adjusting my dress and fluffing out my hair, I then stand with my hands folded in front of my waist. From the left side of the house, where I can only assume is the kitchen, there’s soft music and commentary from the Macy’s Day Parade and talking and laughter. When that sort of bubble of noise comes towards us, I smile wide to be greeted by the family.

True, I’d seen Claude that night in the woods, but now in the bright light of day, I can honestly say he does not look forty-something. In fact, he reminds me of the last time I saw my dad (before he crossed the wall and he had been pushing thirty). Definitely giving off Luc Teyssier French Kiss vibes, his dark hair matches his dark eyes and the dark stubble. But, still, offering a feeling of welcoming and warmth, that I knew that if he hugged me, I’d feel safe. Instead, he offers a hand to shake. “Valarie, how wonderful to see you.”

“Thank you!” I then offer the Autumn bouquet to Caroline, “These are for you, Misses Laveroi.”

With a beaming smile, she takes them with one hand and then hugs me with another. Caroline reminds me so much of Nicolette Braschi, who was captivating in Life Is Beautiful, (a French film we had to watch while studying World War Two). Same petite frame, same huge smile, and there’s an undeniable motherly kindness in her eyes. “Thank you, Valarie! These are lovely.”

Then I bend quickly to get the bag at my feet. Holding the straps in one hand, I reach in with the other. “Oh, and this is for you, Mister Laveroi.” When he looks over the bottle, I quickly clarify, “Cyrus helped pick it out.”

He smiles, “I’m sure it’ll be lovely with dinner.”

Since I’ve met Tori before, even if it was just for a few minutes here and there, I hand her the magazine first. As I take her in properly, there’s something about her that makes me feel like she stepped off the set of Jane Austen movie. Maybe in her features or how she’s done her hair up… I can’t quite put my finger on it, but the young girl is utterly poised as she’s already flipping through the pages of celebrity gossip. “Awesome! Thanks!”

Willow and Alex stand together, and I’ve never seen fraternal twins look so identical… and look so close to their parents in age, (a positive to Claude and Caroline, not a negative to Willow and Alex). Both with red hair, I wonder if Willow dyes her hair so it’s a little less brown, like Alex’s, ‘cause she totally looks like Nicole Kidman in Practical Magic. I don’t know why, but she makes me feel the most nervous. So, as Cyrus tosses the salad bag to Alex, I carefully pull out the pecan pie, “Cyrus said that nobody else likes pecan pie, so you guys never have it. But I like it! So, we can totally share it!” I say with maybe a little too much enthusiasm.

This softens her a lot and she smiles, “Thank you. Why don’t we take it into the kitchen?”


Night had fallen when we were second servings deep into dessert, though I don’t think any of us really noticed nor cared ‘cause we were having such a good time. After introductions I slid right into helping in the kitchen, taking breaks here and there to join various conversations. To the point that by the time I sat down with them all, I’d completely forgotten what I’d been nervous about.

As the time at the dining table crawled to its end, Claude commented that it would be a beautiful night for a bonfire. The snow had stopped, it was in the high forties, and he had already shoveled the area just in case. Everyone was in agreement, including me, though I did have to ask Cyrus for an extra sweater.

While he’s inside grabbing it, Tori plops down next to me on the log bench. Looking exactly like Nikki when she’s had one too many, I think of how Tori has probably had the most drinks out of anyone. She leans into me, “Has anyone ever called you Val?”

The same way one might laugh at a kitten who’s fallen over, I brush some of Tori’s hair out of her face, and with a chuckled reply, “Just my dad.”

She wavers back a little, “Mmm, and that’s no good. Dad thoughts are no good.”

My brows come together, “Ah… maybe, I guess.”

Looking around, I try and see if anyone should be concerned about Tori, but Willow and Caroline are all the way on the other side, deep in conversation that has something to do with law, and Claude and Alex seem to have made good on their promise to run to the kitchen to get more soda and smores makings. Thinking of what I might do with Nikki, I offer Tori my bottle of water. “Here….”

As she drinks it, I lean in a little, “Is this your first time drinking this much? Do you need some help?” I ask, thinking maybe I could get her into bed.

She laughs. Laughs so hard she almost falls off the bench. “Well, if you must know, Val, I’ve been able to drink this much for almost two hundred years now. And man,” she snorts, “if you think I’m thin-blooded, you should see your boyfriend drinking on a stomach of AB negative.”

I am stunned into silence.

And before I can even react, Caroline has pulled Tori off the log. “What have you done!” she… well, she growls.

I stand quickly and try to get between them, “Wait, stop, it’s okay!”

Claude grabs his wife and brings her back and I feel Tori’s hands on my waist as she hides. It reminds me so vividly of the times Mama yelled at me and I hid behind Dad. I hold my hands up like he would have, “It’s okay.”

Caroline and Claude share and look and look to Cyrus who is now trying to pull Tori away from me.

“No! He didn’t say anything.”

Tori speaks up now, “S-she already knew.”

She must have read my mind. I still nod and look to Claude, “I did.”

Cyrus, with the most terrified look in his eyes, takes a half step forward. “And it’s… all right?”

The rest of the family gives us a little space and I close the gap between us. I take his hands in mine and look into his eyes that shine like peridots from the light of the fire. “It’s okay. It’s very much okay,” I smile, “I’ve known… for weeks.

“Cyrus,” I take a deep breath, “I love you.”

Before I know it, he’s lifted me off the ground, somehow twirling us around while we kiss. When my feet finally hit something solid, I laugh a little and reach up to caress his cheek. “I love you.”

He looks over my face as if it’s the most effervescent and precious thing in the world, “And I love you.”

Biting my lip, I peek over to see his family’s reactions. But they’re nowhere to be found. Bemused, I giggle, “You guys sure do move fast, huh?”

He guides us to one of the log benches, where a blanket and his extra sweater are draped. “They just wanted to give us some privacy.”

I tug the sweater over my head, “And talk to Tori?”

His head moves side to side, “Even if she could read your mind and knew that you knew for a fact, she still shouldn’t have done that. But,” he sighs as he wraps the blanket around us after we sit, “this time of year is hard on her.”

Not knowing if it is okay to ask why, I curl up around him. “So… do you feel better now?”


---


“Better?” I chuckle, “Try the best I have ever felt.”

Her little fingers go up and down my chest softly, “Good… good.”

I kiss her temple, “And you?”

“I’m actually kind of… excited. To be able to talk about everything. But,” she pushes up from me slightly so we are eye level, “I just want you to know that you can… like, be however you would be when you’re not trying to be Human,” she squints, “you know?”

I rub my face with my free hand, “You sure? It won’t… freak you out?”

“It’s got to be such a pain, right? Literally? Like a sinus headache?” She pecks my cheek, “I just want you to be comfortable.”

Feeling very awkward and apprehensive, I open my mouth slightly to let my fangs extend to the normal, resting position. I close my eyes for a moment, letting the relief wash over me. “Yes… that does feel better.”

Valarie’s little hand comes back to my face, her soft fingers resting on my jaw while her thumb brushes my lips… and my fangs. I open my eyes to see her expression of curiosity and care. “They’re quite long,” she comments softly. She quickly lowers her hand and wraps the blanket better around her, “That must hurt a lot.”

I bring her back to laying on my chest. “But I’m better now… all better.” The best, actually. Simply the best.


---


Having trouble sleeping in a foreign house, I stealthily make my way down to the kitchen. It was extremely generous for Claude and Caroline to let me stay. Though I loved falling asleep in Cyrus’s bed, in his arms, all that I’m not used to alarmed my brain to wake me up. Knowing that even the smallest of sounds could wake the sleeping Vampires, I try my best to be silent.

There’s a soft, golden glow coming in through the windows from the lamp by the mailbox as I look for something to drink in the fridge. Apple juice seems the most appealing and I place the bottle on the counter. Just when I turn to the cabinet for a cup, I notice Tori out the corner of my eye.

Heart pounding, my hand slams against my chest, “Shit!”

“Sorry!” She slips into the stool other the other side of the breakfast bar. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”

With the glass of apple juice ready to go, I move to be across from her. “It’s okay, I just didn’t hear you.”

Looking exhausted and amidst a vicious hangover, Tori rubs her temple, “Sorry. Usually, I’m better about being noisy.”

Without even thinking about how weird it might be, I get another glass from the cabinet and pull out a pitcher I assume to be blood. Though I hadn’t seen anything else that looks like it, I still double-check, “Do you want some of this?”

She looks at me the same way Nikki does when I offer her water and pain killers, “Please.”

I hand her the glass. “… you okay?”

Holding the glass in both hands, she leans forward. Squinting at me she whispers, “You’re something else, you know that?”

I tuck my hair behind my ear, “Cyrus seems to think so.”

She sighs, “I’m really sorry about earlier.”

Brows together, I frown a little, “It’s okay.”

But she shakes her head and looks down into her glass, gaze wavering. “I shouldn’t have been reading your mind and it doesn’t matter if you knew, I shouldn’t have said anything.”

“It’s over now… it’s no big deal.”

We drink in silence for a while and then Tori finally looks up at me. “This time of year is hard on me. Only Dad and Mom know, but a long time ago… all the way back, well, I was betrothed to my best friend. He was a copii buni – a born Vampire and became my Sire. Vampirically speaking, my two hundredth birthday was in July.”

Her voice is just over a whisper and her eyes are glassy, “We got married, we were blessed to both have întipărire – to be an împerecherea adevărată, and I was pregnant…. It was perfect. Everything was perfect. And then, that November, the Van Helsings came.”

She wipes away the tears with her thumb. “They killed William and left me for dead. I lost our baby. I was…,” but she takes a deep breath instead. “Claude and Caroline found me, helped me heal and get my strength back, gave me a place to belong.

“That’s how we all ended up here, I think…” her eyes drift to the window. “We all needed a place to belong, so we found each other.”

“You’re family,” I comment quietly.

She smiles softly and replies with a breathy laugh, “Yes… that’s exactly it.” Sliding off the stool she raises her glass to me. “Anyway, I should get back to bed. Sleep well, Val.”

“You, too…,” and she disappears up the stairs.


---


Heavy warmth washes over me like extremely subtle waves, as if I drift along on a lazy river, half in and half out. Half in the world of sleep and half out, I am only barely aware of my surroundings. Every single muscle is eased, floating, and yet sinking into the bedding. Heart pumping and lungs lifting only when absolutely needed, slow and shallow.

My senses take their sluggish time carrying me back to the walking world. Silky strands are twirled around my fingertips, the side of my hand is lifted up and down as it rests on something cozy and toasty. There’s a lingering scent of vanilla, (memories of fresh sugar cookies crossing my mind), that twists and twirl with the gently moving air. A chorus of sounds come together – the slowly turning fan, muted breathing, and wind chimes dancing in the distance – in some delightful way that triggers an autonomous sensory meridian response. And then, when my sight finally breaks free from the darkness, the bridge of Valarie’s nose is the first thing I see.

Last night I had thought there would be no topping this, from her accepting that I’m a Vampire to her saying she loved me to the intimate moments between the sheets, surely there could be nothing better. And yet, this morning as I wake, having Valarie sleeping peacefully in my arms is better in a whole different way. In the most vulnerable state a person can be in, she is here, with me, in my arms, safe and serene.

Something had happened last night as she sat on top of me and I cradled her back when we truly were making love, which I can only explain as a euphoric, transcendent connection between her soul and mine. I had cuplata – we had cuplata, (whatever the correct phrasing may be), and it awoke something deep and primal in me.

I look at her now and a voice in my head whispers “mine”. I look at her now and want to make her the happiest female in the world. I look at her now and know I will do everything in my power to make sure she wants for nothing. I look at her now and know I would sacrifice my life for hers.

I look at her now and know I am permanently, irreversibly, eternally in love.




CHAPTER THIRTEEN


Taking up the largest table at Duke’s, I have my textbooks, notebooks, pencils, erasers, and highlighters across every inch. The Monday after Thanksgiving was a cold, hard slap in the face, and now I only have six days and sixteen hours until final exams start. Though I’d much rather be doing this at the kitchen table or even on my bedroom floor, Mama’s there, and I just don’t want to deal with her.

She knew I hadn’t come back to the house Thursday night ‘cause she left a voicemail Friday morning “you weren’t there for me to tell you that I’m pulling double shifts this week.” To which I texted back ‘ok’. Nothing more, nothing less, no excused nor lies.

After Tori had left the kitchen, I’d curled up on the bench under the bay window. Not quite ready to sleep, but well on my way, I let myself daydream of things to come… of things I’d want to come: a life with Cyrus. Our lives completely intertwined where we couldn’t tell where one began and one ended. We’d get our own little house, we’d work towards our degrees and careers, his family’d be my family, and we’d travel wherever, whenever.

In those daydreams, one thing is clear, one thing that makes me pause studying and look down at my left hand. In those daydreams it’d been more than just us sharing our lives, it’d been us building our lives with the foundation of marriage. I guess the sentiment ‘if you know, you know’ is true ‘cause the idea of being his soție – his wife isn’t scary, in fact, it’s rather thrilling.

The skidding of metal against tile brings me back to reality. I look up to find Nikki in the seat to my right, a massive backpack shoved against her chest. “I’m not going to make it.”

I chuckle, “Oh, com’on… it’s only the first semester, and it’s over in two weeks.”

She lets her backpack fall to the floor with a thud. “Ughh,” She pushes some of my notes away so she can lay her face down on the cool tabletop, “that’s my point. Finals are already killing me.”

In all the years I’ve known Nikki, since the very first day of first grade, she’s never been one for tests of any kind. Maybe it’s the time limit, maybe it’s the amount of material, maybe it’s the pressure, but she absolutely hates any kind of test. Spelling quizzes, algebra tests, mid-terms in Art History, finals in Sub-human Anthropology, it doesn’t matter. Especially now when exams are so heavy-handed in the final grade, she’s all but ready to drop out.

I wave Louis over for a couple of fresh mugs of coffee. “Is there anything I can do to help?”

Slouching back against her chair, she holds the mug near her chest with two hands. “Nah. I’m pretty confident I’m going to pass everything so…” and she takes a long drink of coffee.

That’s something else about Nikki, that I accepted long ago, that she doesn’t particularly care about getting A’s, or even B’s, she just wants to pass. It’s a shame, really, ‘cause she’s rather smart. She reads most of the same books I do, enjoys foreign films with me, and even has helped me on occasion with my schoolwork.

“I can’t believe we’re in college,” I comment quietly.

After pulling a menu off another table, she nods thoughtfully, “Twelve whole years we’ve known each other now… fucking crazy.”

“Totally.”

She lays the menu down flat and looks at me, “I cannot wait until we’re done at the community college and can move out of Stars Hallow and get our own place and go to the university! All these years we’ve talked about it and it’s so close to happening!”

That had been the plan, I think. It had been. When I felt so utterly trapped living with Mama, when I felt under I microscope living in Stars Hallow, when my only confidant and friend was Nikki, sure that I had been the plan. But now? Now there are so many other things I wish to happen.


---


Cup holder with two Duke’s diner coffees in one hand, a bag of burgers and fries in the other, I knock with my knuckle. Final exam week is over, the semester is over, grades are posted, so Valarie and I finally have time to see each other. I cannot wait to see her, to hug her, to kiss her, and finally ask her to come on vacation with me and my family over the Winter break.

Usually, it takes Valarie a few moments to answer, coming all the way from her bedroom, so I am surprised when the door opens right away. Eyes wide, I stutter, “O-oh! Miss Smith…. H-hi.”

“Cyrus.”

Hoping Valarie will save me, I look around her.

“Valarie isn’t here.”

Confused, I frown. “I am sorry to bother you Miss Smith, but Valarie did text me to meet her here.” I dramatically look at her Honda Accord in the driveway. “May I come in?”

Unwelcome stare unrelenting, Miss Smith is a perfectly still guard dog. “No.”

Standing my ground, I offer a smile and a head tilt. “Well, that is all right, Miss Smith. I will just give her a quick phone call. Won’t you hold this?” and I push the cup holder and bag towards her.

This does exactly as anticipated, and she moves just enough to my left that I can squeeze through. “Thank you.”

Up the stairs, I call for Valarie. A door to the left opens and she pokes her head out, “Cyrus?”

I smile and raise both hands, “I bring sustenance.”

Miss Smith makes a commotion, surely to remind us of her presence, just as Valarie waves me into her bedroom. “I’m sorry I didn’t hear the door; I must have lost track of time.”

Valarie had once described it as “a mix between Sabrina’s bedroom and Monica’s apartment” which I hadn’t gotten at the time, but after asking Tori for help, I sort of knew what she mean. As I stand here now, she was exactly right. From the purple walls to the antique furniture to the eclectic art and the miss-match blankets and pillows, it is so perfectly her. I run my hands over the bright white iron bedframe as I make my way to her overflowing bookcases.

As Valarie closes the bedroom door and disappears into the closet, she is still apologizing for not meeting me downstairs and me having to deal with her mother. As she does this, I examine her book collection with great curiosity, it seems to rival my own (that I’ve now been collecting for over seventy years). One theme does become apparent, though, and I can’t help but chuckle.

My fingers brush over numerous spines, tipping them to read titles or back blurbs. Pre-teen romance, teen romance, college-age romance, adult romance…. Romance novels as far back as the written word to a whole row that came out this year…. Romance novels with Humans, with Humans and Vampires, Vampires and Vampires, Humans with Werewolves, Werewolves and Werewolves, Vampires and Werewolves, all combinations with Fae and Nymphs and Witches…, etcetera, etcetera.

And then, even more than the textbook needed for Sub-human Anthropology, she must have cleaned out the college bookstore. Vampires: Just Like Us looks well-loved and I slip it off the shelf. On her bed now, I leaf through it and smile at all the things she had highlighted or made notes by.

“So,” Valarie’s rambling comes to a close. I look up to see her putting a silver hoop through her earlobe, “How are you?”

Chuckling, I show her the book cover, “I have to ask… are you with me just for my fangs?” I tease.

Eyes wide, cheeks turning scarlet, “What? No!” then she rushes over to get the book out of my hands.

After she drops it on her desk, I grab her hand and tug her to me. I smirk, “With all my love I think I could look past it.”

She rolls her eyes and then I pull her down to lay on top of me. After a brief kiss, I brush the tip of my nose across hers. “So, whatever shall we do today?”




CHAPTER FOURTEEN


Rubbing her gloves together, Nikki stands with me on the snowy porch. “So… how old is she again?”

After re-tying my scarf, I lean in and whisper, “Two hundred.”

Nikki nods, “But she’s seventeen?”

I finish buttoning my peacoat. “Mhm.”

“Trippy.”

I squint, “I would say to remember to act like you don’t know but Tori is the best mind reader in the family, so she’ll know you know.”

She rubs her pink nose, “Right. Like she did with you.”

I nod. And speak of the devil, Tori pulls all the way up the driveway in her Jeep Wrangler. Relieved, knowing Tori will be just fine answering whatever questions Nikki may ask, I’m the first down the steps to the driveway. “Tori! Hey!”

Boots ankle-deep in the snow, she waves, “Hey Val! Ready to go shopping?”

“Yeah! Oh my God, I cannot wait to the cabin in Canada with you guys.” Jumping into the passenger seat, I look over to her, “For all of Winter break? Please!” Then I glance back as Nikki closes her door, “And, as you know, this is Nikki.”

Tori looks behind her after turning over the engine, “Hi again.”

She gives a little wave, “Hi back.”

Since the night of Thanksgiving, Tori and I have been texting just as much as I have with Cyrus. She’s quickly becoming the little sister I never had, (which makes her laugh ‘cause technically I would be the much, much littler little sister). Then the Fall semester finally ended, and Cyrus invited me on their family vacation and when I went to their house to celebrate, we had a really good conversation.

A conversation, in fact, where she taught me to be able to talk to her with my mind… where I kind of can get her attention, think normally, and then – much to my shock and awe ‘cause I’d never read about before – she’s able to project her thoughts into my mind in response. (Something she had learned to do with her late husband.) This way, I can look to her now and apologize and prepare her for the bombardment of questions from Nikki, insisting she does not have to answer them and to be careful… just for everyone’s safety.

… and the record stands at just over three minutes before Nikki is pushing against her seatbelt, sticking her head between us, and asking Tori all sorts of questions. Finally, the well seems to dry up about twenty minutes later and I can finally get a word in edgewise. “So, Tori, what’s on your shopping list?”

Still twenty minutes away from the nearest mall, she lifts a shoulder. “I thought we could look for some new snow boots, maybe some flannels, at least a few cashmere sweaters, and I think you might need a fleece jacket. Oh, and if you’re at all interested in skiing, we’ll have to get a snowsuit and goggles and all that good stuff.”

My eyebrows raise and all I can think about is how I have maybe a hundred dollars in my bank account. Not a thought I wanted to share, I might add, but Tori chuckles, “I’ve got Mom’s credit card. She wants to make sure we’re all prepared for our trip.”

“I’m so jealous you guys get to go to Montreal!” Nikki pipes in. “I suggested to Mom maybe we could do something similar, but she still insists that we have got to go on this Caribbean cruise.” She glances at Tori, “I guess those wouldn’t exactly be the best conditions for you guys, huh? With the Sun and all?”

Tori smiles, “Maybe not.”

Nikki shrugs and finally leans back in her seat. “I bet I won’t even be able to find a swimsuit this time a year.”

Four hours later and Tori has pretty much bought both of us an entirely new Winter wardrobe. We drop Nikki off first and as we’re driving through Stars Hallow, Tori starts laughing.

I smile, “What?”

After a left turn, she glances over at me. “Nikki is a hoot; I can tell you that much.”

Kind of proud, I nod. “She’s wonderful, I love her.”

“She makes some of the funniest comments and her thoughts? Oh, man! Like,” she is laughing so hard she snorts, “when she was thinking about how she didn’t realize you were such a gold-digger and wondered if all Vampires are wealthy and if Cyrus could set her up with one. Though!” she throws her had my direction, “‘not someone too old’ ‘cause I guess that would freak her out.”

As we pull into my driveway, I’ve shrunken back against the Jeep’s seat. Sure, Nikki and I have had our disagreements here and there, even two major fights, but it had always been about something stupid or inconsequential. But for me and Cyrus? Me being a gold digger?

Tori reaches over to my arm after we’ve parked. “Oh, gosh, I’m sorry. I’m sure she didn’t mean anything by it… just a Human nervous about being around a Sub – sort of afraid of the unknown, trying to piece together something coherent so they can accept it.”

But as we unload the shopping bags into the house, Tori follows me upstairs to my bedroom, my mind does wander back to when Nikki’s and my friendship had almost ended. It’d been about a boy that time, too. Not that we liked the same boy, or anything so stereotypical. No, it was literally just that I spent time with him.

It’d been tenth grade and instead of going back between her house and my house after school and every weekend like the year previous, I started dividing up my time between Nikki and Collin. Perfectly evenly, I might add, and even when he might be over or any time I was on my computer, we were instant messaging through AOL. Still… she didn’t like it. ‘Cause frankly, she didn’t like sharing me.

So, we got into a major fight. An absolutely awful fight, both of us screaming in the hallways of Stars Hallow High. And it was not so much how possessive she was that upset me, it was how she twisted my relationship with Collin to be this all-consuming thing where I totally abandoned her to be with him. (Plus, her totally fucking embarrassed me in front of everyone didn’t help.)

She called me a selfish bitch, I started crying and we didn’t talk for the rest of the year. It was one Summer’s night that she showed back up at my door, needing a place to escape ‘cause that’s when her mom decided to divorce husband number two. And I guess, thinking back on it now, I’ve always been a sort of safe haven for her.

She might be afraid, but not ‘cause of the Vampires…. No, she’s simply afraid of losing me.


---


I hold Valarie’s hand as she walks around the armchair and tuck her close to me when she sits on my lap. “Have I told you how much I love this outfit in particular? It’s maybe the best one yet.”

She blushes and tucks some hair behind her ear. “It’s all thanks to Tori.” She glances at her clothes and runs a palm down her stomach. “I haven’t had this many new clothes in such a long time, and I have to say, I love it.”

I tuck my finger between the hem of her light wash jeans and black cotton bodysuit, “And what are these called again?”

She giggles, “Paper bag pants.”

I run my thumb over the silver buckle of the black belt, without breaking eye contact, “Well, they look wonderful on you.”

And it is true. The high waist of the jeans flatters her subtle curves and the rippling of the ‘paper bag’ hem makes her look that much smaller. The black bodysuit is tight to her skinny torso, with a deep scoop-neck I am thankful for, and long sleeves that go all the way down to the back of her hand as she likes.

She kisses me softly, “Thank you. And,” she looks to the pile on her bed, “I think that knee-length black leather jacket Tori insisted I had to have would look really good with it.”

I rub her lower back, “Well, I think Tori is just happy to finally have another fashionista around.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that… I just know that if I look good, I feel good.”

“Well, then you must feel good all the time.”

She laughs and kisses me again. “So! Anyway! Now that you’ve helped me pick up clothes for the trip, I should get packing. Did you want to stay for dinner, or will I just see you tomorrow morning?”

“Isn’t your mother going to be back by dinner?”

She nibbles her lower lip. “Mhm.”

“So, that’s a ‘no’. And remind me again why you can’t stay over tonight? We’re leaving before dawn and you could sleep in at least an extra thirty minutes, if not an hour.”

She gets up and makes her way to her suitcase on the bed, suddenly tense. “I’m seeing Nikki tonight.”

Standing behind her now, I wrap my arms around her waist and rest my chin on her shoulder, “Because the last three days weren’t enough?”

She continues folding the yes pile, unwavering no matter how much I beg, “You get me for three whole weeks – including Christmas and New Year’s. I think you can manage another twelve hours.”

Kissing her neck, I whisper, “Nope… not another twelve hours, not even another twelve minutes.”

She slides her hand over mine, curling her fingers around mine, and I can smell her body welcoming the idea I’m implying and can hear her heartbeat quicken. But, simply unwavering, she squeezed my hand, “My mama’ll be arriving any minute, you should probably go… I should probably finish packing before Nikki gets here, anyway.”


---


In the same outfit from the night before, ‘cause I love it that much and it’s so comfortable, I curled up in the passenger seat of Cyrus’ car and fought to keep my eyes open. One of his sweaters, so oversized on me it’s like a blanket, it’s a lot more comfortable than the leather jacket but it’s making me so sleepy. I push myself to sit up properly and chug what’s left of my coffee. “Why…,” I groan.

He smiles, “I told you, you should have spent the night.”

I groan again. “But why so early? It’s still dark.”

“For about thirty more minutes….”

This ever so slightly piques my interest and I lean forward to look out of the windshield. “I do love sunrises….”

His palm comes to rest on my thigh. Rubbing his thumb across, he replies, “I know.”

I go to rub my eyes but then remember my makeup. Instead, yawn. Yawn and yawn and take Cyrus’s travel mug. He grabs it quickly, “You don’t