Melinda wasn’t feeling quite as spirited as Caleb clearly was, as he bounded along like some sort of undead, overgrown puppy.
“Lilith will be pleased to see you. We can play some chess!” he enthused.
“I’ll be terrible at it,” Melinda said, wondering what on earth she’d said or done to perk him up so much. It was nice, but it was weird.
“That’s fine. It’ll be great to have someone new to play with.”
Wow. He and April are so alike. “Sure,” she said. “Why not?”
They climbed the steps to the Vatore house and Caleb held the door open for her. The air inside the house was thick with the coppery scent of blood.
“Ah,” he growled in delight as they entered. “She’s ‘cooking’.”
Lilith was in the kitchen. A muddle of fleshy components were neatly stored in bowls on the counter, alongside plasma bags and tools. Caleb dipped his finger into a bowl and took a sneaky bit. Melinda peered in to see what he was sampling, but couldn’t identify the contents. If she’d had to describe what she was seeing, she’d use the words ‘red’ and ‘squelchy’.
Melinda was taken aback to realise that, a week ago, the thought of this scene alone would’ve made her puke herself inside-out and now she was salivating.
Lilith was clearly concentrating very hard; she hadn’t noticed Melinda. “Pass me that spoon, will you, Caleb?” she asked, and he obliged. She sampled her concoction. “It needs something…” She scanned the counter and jumped. “Oh! Hi, Melinda! Wow, I didn’t even hear you.”
“Hi,” Melinda smiled, brightly. “Do you need a taste tester?”
“Sure, try this for me. Does it need anything?”
She held the spoon out to Melinda, but was focusing on Caleb, who was grinning like an idiot.
Something to share, dear brother?
She’s Rose’s daughter.
“It’s really good,” Melinda said, oblivious. “Metallic.”
“Thanks. Do you think it needs more bite?”
“No, it’s really great.” She looked at all the bits on the counter. “Although I wouldn’t really know what to add if it wasn’t,” she admitted; a strange, but not unpleasant, sensation crawling over her skin.
Lilith smiled. “That’s OK. I can tell you’re overwhelmed.” She filled up a glass and handed it to Melinda. “Here. As intriguing as your dark form is, I think I like you better the other way.”
“My dark form?”
“Your true form. The one you switch to when you experience some kind of emotional extreme, like you are now.”
“Am I? What do I look like?”
“Pale. Light eyes. I’d show you mine, but—“
“—It’s absolutely terrifying,” Caleb finished.
Lilith glared at him. “You head into the other room, Melinda. Calm down. I’ll just finish up here, I won’t be long.”
Melinda took her glass and headed towards the doorway. Caleb watched her leave.
“Her eyes…” he began.
“I know,” Lilith said, a flash of resentment flickered across her face. “Anyway, you figured out that she’s Rose’s daughter? Did you tell her what happened?”
“No. She said it didn’t matter.”
“Is that actually what she said?”
“Yes. She said, ‘if she’s dead, then what does it really matter, anyway?’”
“Oh dear. How come you brought her back here, alone?”
“I bumped into her in the forest. We’re going to play chess.”
“Are you now. What about ‘the most beautiful girl in the world’?”
“What about her?” He smiled, in that dopey way.
“Do you think she’s going to like you hanging out with Melinda?”
“Yes.” He took in Lilith’s expression. “No? Why wouldn’t she? We’re friends, they’re friends…”
“Right. I know that you know nothing about relationships, or women—“
“I know everything about relationships with women,” he smirked.
“No, you don’t. How can I make you understand this? OK, imagine that instead of you and Melinda, it’s April and some male friend of hers who were alone in the woods. How does that make you feel?”
When he didn’t reply she carried on. “Exactly. Multiply that by a hundred and you’re feeling about the same as April. Look, I don’t approve of your methods, but you’ve created us three new companions. We won’t have to watch them grow old and die, but we do have to try really hard to keep them all on side; to not to cause any rifts.” We don’t need any more rogues around here. Do you understand?
Lil, honestly. I’m not even attracted to Melinda. I really like April.
You still don’t get it, do you? It doesn’t matter if you’re into Melinda or not; April will think you are! For hell’s sake, Caleb! You’ve started enough fires, here. Please don’t go burning anything else down with your reckless ways.
“I won’t,” Caleb muttered.
“You’d better not,” Lilith threatened, whacking her spoon of doom on her palm.
Will had managed two beers this evening before his head started to spin. He turned to Dale who was also threatening to sway off his bar stool. “Dude, what the hell is going on with us?”
“I know. I swear Joe is spiking these beers, or something,” Dale said, gripping the bar.
“He’s probably trying to bugger us,” Will said, pushing his beer away and scowling at the bartender.
Dale nodded, but held on to his glass. “I haven’t felt right since we went back with those girls. Did they drug us or something?”
“Fuck knows. I wonder where Paul is?”
“He didn’t show up for work again today. His packed lunch had been rotting in his locker since Saturday; it stank in the canteen this morning.” Dale could see Fred leaning over, listening in. He carried on in hushed tones, “I went round to his apartment earlier; all his mail was piled up behind the door. I think he’s bailed on us. Maybe he ran off with the brunette chick.”
“Maybe. I bumped into Fanny and her blonde friend outside here last night and she wasn’t with them.”
“April is still around these parts?” Fred asked, showing no shame for eavesdropping. “Hey Joe! Put the news on!”
Joe flipped over to the news channel.
“That’s her, right?” Fred said, excited, “That’s the girl who was in here? The one you left with?”
“April Moss? Huge reward? What do you think she’s running from? Damn, Will. Do you think she’s OK? Shit, do you think I should tell the police? What if they think I’m involved?”
Will wasn’t listening. He was trying to formulate a plan in his alcohol-induced haze. Only one part of the conversation had even registered at all.
“So this horsey one can only move in an L-shape?”
“And if you can’t make a successful move… then that’s a checkmate?”
Caleb sighed. When Melinda said she would be terrible at chess, he’d at least thought that she would know how to play. Still, it amused him to watch her cute face figuring it all out and he hadn’t put her in check even though he’d had the chance.
“Checkmate,” Melinda said, triumphantly. Caleb barely glanced down, it really wasn’t.
“What the heck?” he said, realising that it really was.
“Did I win?” Melinda squealed, clapping her hands. Caleb swept all the remaining pieces off the board. “I guess that’s a yes?”
“I won’t be so easy on you next time.”
“Ominous. One second, it’s Faith,” she said, glancing at her phone. She opened the message and her smile disappeared. “She says April wants to go hitchhiking again.”
Caleb looked a strange mixture of irritated and concerned. Lilith had joined them from the kitchen, but she looked only irritated. “Did she give a reason?”
“Other than the taste?” Caleb quipped. Lilith made to smack him around the back of the head, but he dodged.
Melinda scanned the message and gingerly replied. “Not really. Just that she says April is being a huge, um, a-word.”
“They won’t go, surely.” Lilith took a seat at the organ and turned to Caleb. “What did you say to her when you went to see her? Did you explain why we don’t hunt?”
“He did,” Melinda interjected. “She didn’t believe him. Although she was keen enough to believe him when he promised her eternity. Took him straight upstairs,” she scoffed.
“Really.” Lilith looked at her brother. “Eternity. That’s quite something to say.”
I thought this was ‘different’? You fed her a line to get her into bed?
It is different. It wasn’t like that.
Melinda, realising she was missing some conversation, decided to speak up. “Can you please not do that telepathy thing while I’m sitting right here?”
Sorry! Bad habit. Lilith projected her thought directly into Melinda’s head.
Caleb nodded at the stunned expression on Melinda’s face. “Those are the intrusive ones. You can’t keep those out, even if you want to. Imagine an eternity of that.”
“Careful now, Caleb. Don’t make me sing you insane,” Lilith purred.
Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall, ninety-nine bottles of beer. Take one down, pass it around, ninety-eight bottles of beer on the wall…
“Only ninety-nine? Not starting at thirty thousand, this time?” he said. “And she wonders why I tune out.”
“I’m glad you tune out. I really don’t miss having to hear all of your deviant thoughts, you know.”
“Maybe I only wanted her to hear the deviant ones,” Caleb whispered to Melinda and started to reorder the game.