OUR HEROINE HAS GROWN BORED with the romance of bats and fangs, faces at the window, bad dreams. True, he is snappy dresser and never uses foul language—he has always been, if nothing else, a perfect gentleman—but endless midnight necking as the wolves howl satisfies for only so long, no matter how captivating his accent. It is nearly twelve and the moon hangs full of hunger in the raven sky; he will be appearing soon. She is unable to sit still; dressed in denim shorts and T-shirt and without a trace of makeup she pads from room to room, muttering half-words to herself, glancing from the clock to the window to the TV that flickers in bright rapid-fire silence. She pauses before the set and slips a spoonful of ice cream into her mouth. Close-up of an extraordinarily handsome man grinding his teeth, then spinning black tires and slick neon streets. A car chase. A cop show. She watches for a moment, then looks at the clock.
Too late for any thoughts of escape.
She moves to the stereo. The Bach Partitas that Vladimir insists she spin for his arrival sit ignored in their jewel cases; the stereo is pounding full tilt with The Red Hot Chili Peppers, music he can’t stand. She turns it up. Let him flip, she thinks, finishes her ice cream, throws the empty container at the wastebasket and misses. The container rolls on the kitchen floor, stops dead center. Her lips curl in defiance; she notes how effectively she’s trashed her apartment in the course of coming to her decision. Wet towels hang from doorknobs and issues of Cosmo cover the floor, a stack of dishes in the sink, overflowing ashtrays and empty Smartfood bags. And thrown in the corner, the puffed white Victorian gown she has come to despise. She touches her neck. The curl of her lips become a snarl.
She wonders how she ever brought herself to play his loony game night after night, wonders how she actually got into that ridiculous gown—taking care to slip one strap off her shoulder—then lay in bed and pretended to sleep and waited for him, every night, for the last four weeks. It’s all so… weird! So old-fashioned! Which is exactly what her friends said in the beginning, cooing with jealousy, Oh it’s so dark and mysterious and romantic, etc. She smiled and blushed, lapped up their attention the way Vladimir lapped at her throat and coyly shrugged at their endless questions: Does he really speak French? Isn’t he too old for you? Is he rich, do you do it in a coffin, does he bite DOWN THERE? Now she lives for their fucking phone calls, like postcards from a lost childhood. She finds herself missing the goofy, normal things: razor stubble, musk, hairy backs, beer breath. She longs for the electric din of a nightclub in the company of strangers, the feel of Bob’s fingers inside her, Jasmine’s weird trick of talking like a guy and kissing like a girl but all the while… Oh. Her tongue pushes against her teeth. Oh yeah, the good stuff, pleasures her black-clad suitor never dreamed of.
When exactly did his spell fade? When he introduced her to his friends, maybe? No, after that, she realizes, probably the night they fought, the night she suggested they order pizza and Vladimir recoiled, lips curling back over his fangs. “PeetZAAA? You seriously expect a child of secrets and shadows to dine on greasy rounded slabs splattered with noxious spices and crisped in hellish ovens until they bubble and pop and ooze slime blah blah BLAH!” He bitched for hours. So uncool. She could have had a better time with somebody’s great-grandfather. He left her that night without drawing blood, only to slither through the window the following night with murmured words of apology. He would try harder to understand her, he said, it was, after all, a strange new world. The moment she saw the pathetic bunch of flowers in his hand she knew it was finished, he had blown it. The mystery, the thrill, the passion… it had all turned to dust.
She despised him.
She notices a sudden chill in the air, a prickle at her neck, a certain musky smell. She turns. It’s midnight, exactly. A thick grey mist is churning outside her window. She sees the soft ripple of shadow bones unfolding, taking shape. The Chili Peppers are pleading If you see me getting mighty, if you see me getting high, knock me down! Our heroine draws a long, slow breath, then goes to the window and slides it up.
The vampire pours himself into the room, a swirl of smoke and claws that curls around her lovingly, brushing against her ankles, her legs, her stomach. She barely holds back the grimace. Then there is the crush of a phantom kiss against her cheek and she stiffens, turns away, and his psychic mutter of confusion is almost audible. The image of a crow flashes behind her eyes, then a wolf, then some unnamable creature with teeth like a broken picket fence. She shudders, forces back the image, and he tears away from her in a roar and a rush to materialize in the center of the room, black cloak flaring as if in a tempest, his blue eyes caught somewhere between lust and fury. She takes an instinctive step back, wondering, not for the first time, what kind of man he was when he was just that, a man. Then she realizes with a start he’s speaking to her, his lips moving in a rapid angry way but she can’t hear him, the music is so loud. She shakes her head.
“That noise!” he shouts, and it is like a knife in each ear: two windows shatter, a picture falls from the wall, the CD player spits sparks and the music, predictably, dies.
“Great,” she says, slowly lowering her hands from her ears. “That’s real good.”
He looks at the damage he’s caused. He licks his lips. His eyes narrow. Then he turns his gaze on her.
“You,” he begins, “are supposed to be in bed, pretending to be asleep.”
“Oh yeah?” she says. “Well, that’s the type of girl I am, full of surprises. Didn’t you once say you like surprises?”
“Surprises, sometimes. The timbre of your voice, no.”
“The what?” she snaps. “The timbre of my voice?” She rolls her eyes. “Listen, Vlad, we’ve got to talk.”
He draws closer but she steps out of his reach. He stops, one hand frozen before him.
“Come to me,” he says.
She shakes her head.
His fingers curl slowly into a fist. When he speaks his voice barely above a whisper. “You… dare… not!”
She laughs. “I’ll dare what I please, pal. I must have been blitzed out of my face the night I met you!”
“Do not say these things!”
She allows her mouth to become cruel. “I’m saying them. It’s been, ah, unreal, but look, it’s done. Come on, pack up those bat wings, let’s not make it any messier than it has to be.”
“I have spoken words to you that have not fallen from my lips in seven hundred years, shared secrets the manner of which undreamed of by paltry mortal minds, brought you to heights of rapture that would leave lesser women babbling and senseless!” She cuts him short by pretending to stifle a yawn. He seethes in silence for a moment, then says, “And you would throw it all away, for what?!”
She pretends to think about it. “A stiff dick?”
“Aarrgggh!” he screams, his features boiling. “I knew it!”
“Vlad,” she begins but stops; she’s laughing too hard.
“I thought you were a woman of sensitivity! Of substance!”
“Come on Vlad,” she manages to gasp around her laughter, “it’s just a joke,” but he isn’t listening, he’s a sudden blur of black and teeth and then she’s flying through the air, the wall smashes into her and she crumples to the floor.
“Is this what you want?” she hears him say through her pain-wracked skull. “This is what my lovers usually expect. It’s usually what they get. But you…!”
She manages to focus her vision in time to see him cross the room in a single pounce; he reaches down and yanks her up and holds her aloft. Her feet dangle above the floor.
“Is this what you want?” His once-blue eyes are burning desert yellow, his teeth jutting broken plates. “Tell me, dearest,” he says, his voice shaking. She panics. She twists against him, tries to kick him, punch him. A shudder passes through him. His mouth quivers. He slams her against the wall. Then he does it again. Then again.
Scream! Scream! Scream! Some part of her brain thinks, but his nails are digging into her throat, she can barely breathe, she can barely think, each crack of her head against the wall is a car crash, and she thinks stupidly of the handsome man in his car on TV, she thinks of the first she saw Vladimir, how tall and unbreakable and cruel he seemed, how he wiped the steaming blood on the back of his hand and let the husk of his victim drop at his feet and how he turned, slowly, to face her, how his eyes seemed to fill with the sight of her, the need of her, and how she felt the red flood rush though her, the deep warm red pushing the single word from her lips, Yes, until it became a pulse, an ache, and she moaned it, Yes, and he came to her, wrapped his arms around her and he kissed her.
He just kissed her.
She realizes he’s released her and she’s sitting on the floor, coughing.
Vlad is crouched halfway across the room, watching her. She sees that he’s a miserable heap of shakes and blood-red tears.
“Did it,” he sputters through his sobs, “did it ever occur to you that I could break your bones in twos and threes, that I could drain you to dust?” His shoulders tremble; he spits a curse in some ancient, foreign language. “I could have!” he says. “I can! But…” his voice cracks. He reaches toward her. “I can’t make you what I am,” he says. “I… love… you…”
Something turns inside her, like over-ripe food at a summer carnival. And even through the throb of her head and ache of her throat, she manages to say, “You know, I used to wonder what kind of man you used to be.”
His eyes lock on her.
“Now I know,” she says, and forces herself to swallow. “Get out.”
He doesn’t move.
She closes her eyes and draws a long, ragged breath. Then she staggers to her feet and looks down at him. “Get out,” she says. “Get out, you fucking faggot.” He stops shaking and stares at the floor but doesn’t move. She steps toward him. “Get out of my sight, you fucking dickless wimp.”
His jaw flexes, and she thinks for a moment he’s going to cry. She sees he’s searching for something, anything to say, and she feels a momentary twinge of pity.
“Just leave,” she says.
He turns, and is gone.
A sigh rattles out of her. She rubs her throat and stands at the window for a long time, looking out into the night.
Then our heroine is tearing through her apartment, wondering where she left her fucking cigarettes.