“But I’m thirsty!” April whined, stomping her foot.
Faith was losing her temper. “I’m not going hunting, April. If you’re really that thirsty, have one of the pouches.”
“I’m not drinking that stuff!” April screeched.
Faith sank her head into her hands. Even Joy wasn’t this much of a brat and she was only seven.
“If you won’t come with me, I’ll go by myself,” April retorted, stomping towards the door.
“Fine.” Faith shrugged.
April slammed the door behind her and stood on the porch. She didn’t need Faith. She didn’t need anyone. She’d go up to the main road and she’d pull over ten cars, just because she could. She’d roll home, fat. She didn’t know if vampires could actually get fat, but damn it! She was going to find out.
Faith remained on the sofa. She’d started counting slowly from one. April was sheepishly sitting beside her before she’d reached twelve.
“Changed your mind?”
“Please, Faith,” April begged. “It’s really dark and scary.”
“Seriously? You are the scariest thing in these woods—“
“You don’t have to drink, just stop the cars. Please. Please. Just this last time. Please.”
April’s pleas, and the screams from the television, were interrupted with the jingle announcing breaking news. The girls turned to read the new headline.
“You definitely can’t go out now, April. What if one of the guys from the bar sees you? What if we bump into Will again?”
“We won’t. We’ll be super careful. Pleeeeeeeease,” April said, in her most irritating little girl voice.
“Nope. That may have worked with Daddy, it doesn’t work with me.”
April leaned in towards Faith’s face, lips pouted, but Faith shoved her back.
“What’s wrong with you?!”
“I’ll give you a hundred simoleons.”
“Fuck off, April.”
“Two hundred?” April was running out of tactics. “I won’t shut up until you come with me. Please, please, please,” she said over and over and carried on for a few minutes.
Faith felt like her head was going to explode. April was hardly going to run out of breath, or get tired.
“Please, please, pretty please, please with peas—“
“Fine!” Faith snapped. “If you want to be a complete fucking idiot, fine! But there’s something we need to do first and you are not gonna like it, Blondie.”
Caleb jolted back to the present to find Melinda staring at him and gently tugging at the sketchbook in his hands. He relaxed his grip and allowed her to take it.
“I don’t usually show people,” she admitted.
Somehow, he managed to smile. “You’re very talented.”
“Thank you,” she mumbled.
Caleb wondered how he would ever be able to look at Melinda, Jenny, again without thinking of Rose.
He could recall in perfect detail how he’d searched the forest for hours to find her. How little she’d weighed when he’d carried her home to Lilith. The look on Lilith’s face as she’d gently told him what he already knew; there was nothing they could do.
He should have compelled Rose to go with him. He should have chased her straight away when she ran off, instead of hesitating.
Should have, should have, should have…
He wondered how to tell Melinda what had happened.
“You were adopted?” he asked. His voice didn’t sound like his own.
“Yes,” she said. “I was about four when I was officially adopted but I was in care for a while, at first. Maybe they thought Rose might come back for me.” He didn’t miss the hope in her voice.
“Your life with your new parents, was it happy?”
“Yes,” Melinda said, sadly. “It really was. I never wished for anything. I know this is strange, having a book full of drawings of her. And I really love my parents, I do, and I know they love me… I just wonder. Did she love me? Did I ruin her life?”
“I’m sure she loved you,” he said. He didn’t know how to answer the other one.
“Maybe I’m better not knowing what happened. I’m sure my parents know and they just haven’t told me. It must be a horrible story that I just won’t want to hear,” she said. “And if she’s dead, then what does it really matter, anyway?” She was quiet for a while, looking at the image Caleb had been staring at. She stroked her finger down the page, closed the book and slipped it back into her bag.
Caleb wished that Lilith was in his head because he had no idea what was going on in there. Melinda could tell something was bothering him; she worried she’d touched a nerve. Wondered if he was reminded, perhaps, of his own parents. “Do you have any other family, Caleb?”
He shook his head.
Melinda thought for a while. Is this a stupid question? “Were you born or were you spawned somehow?”
“I was born,” he managed.
“But vampires are immortal, right? So what happened to your parents?”
“Vampire hunters,” he said, another grim thought adding itself to the swamp in his brain.
“So… vampires aren’t immortal?”
“I don’t think there’s any creature that can survive a beheading.”
Melinda’s eyes seemed to take up most of her face. “That’s awful. How did you survive?”
Caleb had often wondered this himself.
Melinda nodded at his silence, feeling the need to change the subject. “I don’t know much about vampires. I didn’t think they even existed until, like, a week ago. I certainly didn’t know they could have babies. How does that work?”
If he hadn’t been drowning in a hundred gruesome memories, he might have laughed. “You want me to tell you where babies come from?”
Melinda blushed so hot she felt her hair catch fire. “No, I know that, but I mean… do we have that, um, function?”
He gave her a strange look. “Are you trying to seduce me? Because I can’t say that I’m really in the mood.”
“No! Oh my gosh, no!”
Caleb couldn’t help but smile. She was so darn cute when she squirmed. “Vampires can’t have babies, we all start as humans.”
“You were adopted too?”
He chose his word carefully. “Liberated.”
Melinda scoffed, “Stolen, then.”
“That was just the way it was. Vampire families selected their offspring based on attributes; looks and… well mostly just looks.”
“How vain of you.” Melinda didn’t want to hear any more. She could imagine the poor village woman who’d had her baby stolen by vampires. They probably took a good drink from her too, just to really spoil her day. “So who turned you into a vampire?”
Caleb tilted his head, the bitterness evident in his voice. “My father.”
“It’s painful, isn’t it? Turning,” she said quietly. “Like being invaded by despair.”
“I don’t remember. It was a long time ago.”
Melinda nodded, lost in her own memories. “Do you ever think about your birth parents? About what life would’ve been like if you’d stayed with them?”
“No,” he said, bluntly.
She couldn’t hide her surprise. “Really? You’re not even curious? What they look like, who they were? What you could have been?”
His tone was short. “I would have been food.”
“Right. Food.” Melinda looked at her lap. “I’m sorry, Caleb. I’ll stop talking. I’ve clearly upset you.”
He sighed, his eyes darkened. “No. Please don’t be sorry. You have every right to ask. It’s only that… I’m not exactly proud of any of it.”
“I know. I can only imagine what you and Lilith have been through. But it’s OK; it’s all behind you now. You can’t change the past, Caleb, so you’ll need to forgive yourself at some point and move on. I guess, maybe, we both do.” Melinda reached out and held his hand.
Caleb froze at her unexpected touch. He hadn’t even sensed her moving. How had she managed to do that?
“Besides,” she went on, her voice playful, “there are some perks to being a vampire. I’ve barely slept in a week; I’ve had loads of time to draw and catch up on all the latest cat videos.” She idly stroked his knuckles with her thumb. “That’s not to say that I don’t miss the taste of food or feeling the sun on my face. Or being warm, of course.”
She’s still warm. “I don’t really remember anything about being mortal,” he admitted, eyes fixated on their hands. “It all seems quite laborious, though.”
Melinda blinked, confused. “How so?”
“All the different things they have to do to survive. Remembering to beat their hearts and breathe and then there’s getting old.”
She laughed. “You really don’t remember being human at all, do you? The breathing and heartbeats just happen naturally. And the ageing. I mean, you can get surgery and stuff for that, but you’re just delaying the inevitable. Why not just let it happen? Although, I suppose that’s easy for me to say, as I’m permanently baby-faced, now. Thanks to you. And I suppose if people weren’t getting cosmetic surgery then we’d be pretty screwed, wouldn’t we?”
“Yes,” he agreed, linking his fingers with hers, “we would.”
“Do I look ridiculous?” April asked, gazing into the empty mirror.
“It actually looks sort of cute on you,” Faith said, not wanting to mention that it looked a bit lopsided. To save money, Faith always cut her own hair, as well as her sister’s, but she didn’t have to use garden shears to do so. As well as being incredibly cumbersome, the blades were rusted and they’d seized shut twice, forcing Faith to take off more than she’d planned. Especially at the front.
April pouted. “Do you think Caleb will like it?”
Faith shrugged, “I don’t know what three hundred year old vampire men really look for in women. But his hair is stupid, so he can’t talk.”
“I like his hair.”
“I think you’re in the minority. Anyway, the point is, you look different. You look much less ‘Del Sol Valley’ and much more ‘Willow Creek’. So, mission accomplished.”
April looked back towards the mirror, a force of habit.
It felt kind of nice not to look ‘Del Sol Valley’ anymore. She liked that it was so short, that she wouldn’t have to keep brushing it off her shoulders. It felt so light, so messy. She felt so free.
“Hi,” she said into the mirror, in a strange accent, “I’m April Moss from Willow Creek. I would like a spirulina smoothie, please.”
“What are you doing?”
“Practising being common.”
“Nobody in Willow Creek would ask for a whatever-the-fuck-that-is smoothie. And don’t call yourself April bloody Moss.”
April tried again. “Hi, I’m Amy err… Algae and I’m from Willow Creek.”
Faith laughed, played along. “What drink would you like, Amy Algae?”
“I want peach kombucha.”
“Yeah… no. We’ll work on that. So, do you like it?”
April had no idea. But she had a fringe. That fact alone meant that Mother would’ve absolutely hated it.
“I love it,” she said.