Warning: Allusion to suicide.
It had taken longer than anticipated due to her path being blocked by a fallen tree, but Melinda finally arrived at the cliff top. It was a crisp, clear night and she had a clear view of the stars. The end of the path was lit by a few lanterns; their bulbs dimmed from years of exposure to the elements. It had surprised her to find anything here at all. She didn’t think anyone would have ever come out here. It was so remote it was almost silent, just the gentle sounds of nature for company.
This would be a perfect place to watch the sky, to empty her head, to plan. She had the money her dad had sent her which she could use to book a hotel. She wondered if Lilith had meant it when she’d asked her to come back soon.
She took a seat on the sole bench and gazed up at the sky. It wasn’t quite eleven.
Melinda pulled her sketchbook from her bag. The light from the lanterns would be just enough to draw by. She flipped though the pages watching the many faces of Rose flit by like a morose cartoon, until a blank leaf lay before her. As always, she started with her eyes and then let her imagination fill the rest of the page, her movements swift and precise. She was a skilled portrait artist, a talent she had hoped to turn, somehow, into a career.
She carefully formed the bow of Rose’s lips with her pencil, listening to the sound of the wind rustling the leaves of the trees, the river rushing through the canyon far below and the soft footsteps that were approaching along the path.
“Melinda?” He looked even more surprised than she felt.
“What are you doing here?” they asked, in unison.
“Stargazing,” they replied, in kind.
“Potato,” Melinda said.
“Just something to break the stand-off.”
Caleb looked at her for a moment with the shadow of a smile. “May I sit with you?”
Melinda closed her sketchbook and scooted across. He took a seat beside her, gazing up at the sky. “It’s clear tonight.”
“Yes,” she replied, curtly.
He felt a chill that had nothing to do with the wind.
“You’re mad at me.”
Melinda folded her arms.
“Did Lilith not tell you that I said I was sorry? Because I am. I’m sorry, Melinda.”
“Being sorry doesn’t really change anything right now.”
“I know you lied about what happened with April.”
“I didn’t think anyone else ever came up here,” he said to break the tension that was wedged between them.
She didn’t respond.
“I’ve been coming here for, well, centuries now. I like it. It’s a good place to think. Quiet.”
“It was quieter before you got here,” she snapped.
“Right,” he sighed, falling silent.
Melinda stole a look at him. There he was again, looking like a puppy who’d been kicked. She was surely her own worst enemy.
“What do you think about?” she offered, an olive branch.
“Everything, nothing. Mostly the latter.”
Melinda could suddenly see Lilith’s concerned face in her memory. “Does Lilith know where you are? Have you been home?”
He shook his head.
“Won’t she be worried?”
“She’s always worried.”
Melinda chose her words carefully, “Is that justified?”
He let the silence linger for so long that she thought he wouldn’t answer.
“I know what you’re asking. It’s not baseless,” he said finally, “but I’m still here.”
Melinda wasn’t sure if this was supposed to reassure her. “Is that because you don’t want to do it, or because you can’t?”
She stared at the sky, watching the stars twinkle. “If you haven’t been home, where have you been?”
He looked at her for a long while before answering. Getting the measure of her, she thought.
“First, I got blind drunk. Then I thought that wasn’t really helping anything, so I went to Del Sol Valley. I wanted to talk to April.”
“Why? Because you said you’d stay with her then you abandoned her?”
“Ah. She did tell you.”
“So, it’s true?” Melinda couldn’t explain why she suddenly felt like her world was falling apart. “Why inflict her? You had your drink. You could’ve swapped numbers and left to darken someone else’s doorway.”
He looked ashamed. “She was very persuasive; she wanted to stay with me for some unfathomable reason. The thought of having someone, who actually wanted to be around me, for eternity was beyond tempting. But still, I shouldn’t have done it. It was a moment of weakness that appears to be spiralling to chaos.”
“You could have told me this before. Why did you lie?”
“She’ll find out.”
He shook. “I know. I’ll have to tell her, at some point. I wanted to try and make this right with April, first. But The Pinnacles Estate was crawling with police, I couldn’t get anywhere near.”
“Sandy’s dead,” Melinda stated quietly. “April drained her.”
Caleb nodded, his face unreadable.
“She’s not there, anyway. We’re staying at the Old Davies’ House.”
“You’re at Marjorie’s? Mind if I join you when you go back? I really need to speak to April.”
Well, so much for my plan.
“Did you know Marjorie?” Caleb asked.
“No. She’s one of April’s relatives.”
“Interesting. She always maintained that she hadn’t any family. We had no idea who to call when she died.”
“Yes. Sad.” Caleb agreed, then he noticed that Melinda was gazing upwards where a hundred lights were streaming through the darkness.
“Look! It’s started!” she gushed.
“Meteor shower. I know you’ve probably seen hundreds of them but, oh, isn’t it an amazing sight?”
She pictured her father watching from his observatory. She wondered if they’d ever stargaze together again.
Caleb glanced at the sky and then at Melinda. “Yes,” he replied. His voice did not hold the same enthusiasm.
“You’re not even looking.”
He forced his face skywards again, but found himself preoccupied with why in that moment something about Melinda had looked so familiar.
April and Faith walked back along the road towards the bar in silence, leaving the car, and its sole occupant, behind them. Faith had been in a bad mood all evening. It was unusual for Faith to be so quiet for so long and April couldn’t bear it.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Faith said, holding up her hand. “I think I might actually be sick.”
“Fanny!” Called a familiar voice.
Ugh. Could this night get any worse?
Faith turned to see Will staggering up the street towards them. “Fanny, Fanny, Fanny.” He grinned, swaying in the breeze.
“Now I will definitely be sick,” Faith said.
“Ignore him,” April muttered, trying to tug Faith towards the path. April was not great at interpreting the emotions of others, but even she knew that when Faith was quiet, she was on the brink of blowing up. And when Faith blew up, she did stupid things.
Will was just the kind of stupid thing she would do.
Faith shrugged off April’s grasp. “Are you ever sober?”
“I dunno what happened.” He slurred, “I’ve only had one beer.” He held up three fingers then looked at them, confused. He shrugged. “But don’t you worry, I can still give you the ride of your life. Just this way, m’lady, into my truck. You can join in too, Whatever-your-name-was.”
“Piss off, Will,” Faith spat. April threw her head back, wishing Faith, for once, could just control herself.
He swaggered up to Faith, blocking her path, “You don’t want me to piss off. You know I’m the best you’ve ever had. Can’t fake those guttural moans.”
April waited for Faith’s retort, but it didn’t come.
Oh no. Think, April.
“Go away, dickhead,” April chimed in.
Will smirked at her, “Feisty. Just the way I like them.”
“Leave us alone,” Faith said, defeated.
“Fine. Your loss.”
He fumbled around trying to unlock his truck. “Hey, has your ugly friend finished with Paul? Or is she still trying to figure out which end to fuck?”
Faith moved towards Will, but like a shot, April had a hold of her. “He’s not worth it!” April hissed. “Please. Let’s just go.”
“You’ll be back, Fanny!” Will called after her as she stormed off down the path, “You can’t resist me forever!”
Contemplating the vastness of the universe together had dissipated the tension. It was almost three in the morning when Melinda suggested they head off. “We should go and see Lilith. She will want to know you’re OK.”
Caleb doubted this. “I want to see April, first.”
“Fine, but then I’m walking you back home.” To make sure you get there, she thought.
“You don’t trust me, either. I can understand that.”
Melinda felt violated. “You can hear my thoughts, too?!”
“No. Your face is very readable.”
“But you can hear Lilith’s?”
“Only the intrusive ones.”
“Intrusive ones? What do you mean?”
He looked a little guilty, like he’d said too much. “I’m sure you’ll find out.”
They walked on in silence for a while.
“How come you can’t hear mine, if Lilith can? Aren’t you the same sort of age?”
She thought about what Lilith had said: You’re too new. You have to lose a lot of your humanity to achieve that kind of void.
“Have you not been a vampire for very long? I guess three hundred odd years is not particularly long for a vampire. How old is Lilith, then? I thought she was about the same age?”
“Depends who’s asking her, but officially, she’s three hundred and twenty-one.” He shrugged, the corner of his mouth twitched. “I guess I’m just not as much of a… what did you call me now? A monster as she is.”
Melinda stopped in her tracks.
Maybe her friends were right; she was about to give everything up and she really didn’t know anything about Lilith.
He back-tracked swiftly when he saw her face. “Lilith’s harmless now that she has her surgery. She won’t hurt you, Melinda. But back in the beginning she was a ruthless hunter. The lives you destroy will break you, over time. Cause you to lose yourself.”
“She destroyed lives?”
“There wasn’t any other way. There had to be sacrifices.”
“Right, sacrifices,” Melinda said, her mind racing. Does that include you?