Melinda had asked to have brandy at Winterfest. Her parents had argued in that playful way they did whenever they differed in their approach to parenting. Her mum had told her dad that he was corrupting her; her dad had told her mum that Melinda needed something strong to wash away the taste of dinner. They had reached an agreement; Melinda had been allowed one small brandy. She didn’t really enjoy it, but she had felt fine. She didn’t understand what the big deal was.
She finally understood. Ugh! Could the sun be any brighter?
She got to her feet, unsteadily. There were two absinthe bottles on the table; looking at it, she could taste it again, remember Faith giggling and trying to stop her having another. She didn’t really remember much of anything else, really. Gosh, she was parched. A thirst water surely wouldn’t quench.
“You OK?” Melinda asked, meeting Faith in the kitchen.
Faith’s face showed a flash of her true emotion before she switched back to her typical resting one. “Are you OK, Mellybean? Sore head? You look like death.”
Melinda would have delved deeper into Faith’s psyche but no, she was not OK. “I’m thirsty.”
“Yeah, I figured we’d all be pretty dried up this morning. We’ve only got two plasma packs left, so one for you, one for Blondie. Here.”
“Where’s April?” Melinda asked, taking her glass. She wondered if a cup of blood was usually a good hangover cure.
“Caleb took her to bed,” Faith said. Was there anger in her voice? Melinda couldn’t quite tell.
“Did he? Really?” She hoped that sounded sort of interested. Oh dear Watcher, was she going to be sick?
“I don’t think they did anything. Lilith pissed on their bonfire.”
“Faith, do you have to be so loud?”
Faith lowered her voice to a whisper. “We need to talk, Mel. I think Lilith’s done much, much worse to him, that she’s been mistreating him for ages, that—“
A heavy cloud of static caused Faith to snap her mouth shut.
Lilith smiled, brightly. “How are you both?”
The girls looked at each other. “Fine,” they answered, together.
“Good to hear it. I’d love to hang around and discuss the evening’s events with you.” She glanced at Faith. “However, your position has been compromised, so you’ll all be moving in with me, for a while. Go and pack what you need,” Lilith instructed.
“Compromised?” Melinda asked, rubbing her temples.
“Yes. Those guys you drank from, from the bar? They remembered where you reside and plan to turn April in for the reward money. Imminently. Clearly, I won’t be allowing that. I didn’t save her to have her drag us all down into hell. You’ll be much safer at mine. Let them see an empty house; they’ll think you’ve moved on.”
“But it’s day time? How are we supposed to get to yours?” Faith asked.
“Caleb can take you. He’s fast enough to get you there without too much damage. Provided he’s sobered up enough.” Lilith looked to Melinda, a question on her lips. She paused, changed her mind, turned to Faith. “Faith, can you please go and wake him? Seeing my face first thing in the morning always puts him in a bad mood. He’s in the smaller bedroom. You might have to give him a really good shake.”
“Um, OK, I guess.” Faith said and headed towards the door.
Lilith grabbed her arm as she passed. Her voice was silky. “Do be gentle with him, though, won’t you? I wouldn’t want him to claim that he had been mistreated.”
Will awoke with a jolt when the cold water hit his face. “Fucking hell, you nutter! I’m soaked!”
“Beth finally chucked you out then?” Joe joked. “About time.”
Will did not see the funny side. He eyed the elderly barman with disdain. “You want to be careful, Joe. I’d hate for anything to happen to you.”
“I’m not afraid of you, Will. What are you gonna do? Get Daddy to lock me in The Tower?”
Will smirked. “The Tower is nice this time of year. No air-con and no windows. It’ll suffocate you slowly.”
“Threaten me all you like. Watching you break down Doctor Lil last night was the last straw…”
At the mention of Lilith, Will was reminded of his plan. He turned his attention away from the old half-wit who was still wittering on about some nonsense.
“…I’ve stood by long enough and watched you insult and intimidate my customers. You’re barred.”
“Sure I am.” Will stretched. “Keep my seat warm, you old fart, I’ll be back later. Got a bounty to hunt.” He patted Joe on the back and headed off down the path into the forest.
Melinda was helping April to fold up her excessive amount of clothing. Even being alone with April had no lustre today. She was never drinking again. “I’ll start loading up your trunk. Wait, where is your trunk?”
April looked up, took a minute to focus. “In a ravine.”
This probably made sense, but Melinda couldn’t really tell. “Why?”
“Paul’s inside it.”
Melinda set down the top she was holding. She wanted to scream, What the plum would you do that for? Are you insane? It has your monogram on! But that seemed like a lot of effort for something that was already done, so she just nodded. “I think there’s a suitcase under the bed in our room, it’s not very big though, you might have to leave some things behind.”
April didn’t even argue. Her brain must have been thumping as much as Melinda’s. She took a few folded items and chucked them carelessly under the bed. “Done.”
Melinda entered the smaller bedroom just in time to see Faith slap Caleb around the face.
“Um… I think your idea of gentle is somewhat skewed…”
“He won’t wake up, Mel!” Faith shouted, shaking him.
“Oh my gosh!” Melinda gasped. “Is he dead?”
At this, Caleb burst into laughter and propped himself up. “I prefer undead.”
“What are you playing at? You scared the shit out of Mel!” Faith hit him again. He fell back, laughing as she continued to thump him, eventually catching her fists mid-air.
“I couldn’t very well turn down a chance to wind you up.” He grinned, swinging his legs round and sitting up. It looked like it took a beat for his head to catch up, but then he looked much better than Melinda felt.
“There’s a difference between teasing someone and making them think that you’ve died,” Faith said. “You’ve really hurt my feelings.”
Caleb studied her face for a while, until his mirrored hers. “Oh. I… I misunderstood… I’m sorry…”
Now it was Faith’s turn to laugh. “Too easy! Chin up, Wild Boy.”
“You were winding me up, again? I thought I had you!”
“Get up before Lilith comes and drags you downstairs.”
Caleb groaned, “Is she still mad at me?”
“I don’t think so,” Melinda said. “Why would she be?”
“For getting you drunk, firstly. That was irresponsible of me. Then she caught me with April—“
At this, Faith checked that the landing was clear before closing the door. She turned back to Caleb, her tone unusually serious. “It’s none of her business what you do with April.”
Melinda nodded her agreement. “And we are adults, we can drink if we want. Not that I think I ever will again. Caleb,” she asked gently, “Are you OK?”
“Yes. I can drink a lot before I—“
“No, I mean… everything else that happened last night. Are you… and your sister? Um… I know she’s a bit of a control-freak…”
“Does Lilith always treat you like shit?” Faith asked, impatiently.
Caleb looked between the two girls. “She… I’m fine.”
Melinda studied him carefully before she spoke. Watched as he knotted his hands in his lap, avoided her gaze and the question. “OK. Well, if you’re ever not fine, will you tell us?”
“Did you find the suitcase?” April asked, pushing the door open. She paused, looking around the space that seemed too small for so many bodies, noticing the sombre expressions on everyone’s faces. “What’s going on in here? Is everything OK?”
Caleb crossed the room and pulled April in for a kiss. “Everything is absolutely fine.”
“So much for our cool vampire lair and independence,” Faith said looking around the room one last time. Lilith had already left and Caleb had dashed off in a black blur with April. “Can’t we two stay here? They aren’t looking for us. Let Blondie go move in with Fringey and the Fun Vacuum.”
“She’s a bit serious but she’s not that bad, Faith. Why the sudden hatred of her?”
“I’ll tell you later when you can actually focus on me properly. What’s the Vatore house like?”
“Kind of boring,” Melinda said. And even more remote than this, if that’s possible.”
“Is there anything to do there?”
“They have a chess table. They also have an organ. There’s a crypt in the garden.”
Melinda looked at Faith, puzzled. “You know I never actually asked. It says ‘Vatore’ on it. Maybe their parents?”
“Creepy. Do they have a big TV?”
“Every good crypt has a TV,” Melinda laughed. “No I don’t think they have a TV at all.”
“We don’t,” Caleb said making them both jump.
“Shit! Are you trying to do me in, Fringey? How did you get so fast?”
Caleb shrugged, “I’ve always been fast. I don’t run that often any more though. It isn’t really like I’m short on time to fill, might as well walk.”
“Aw man! Lilith’s got her mind-reading, you can become a blur, Blondie’s got her green trance wiggles. Are we ever going to be able to do anything?” Faith asked Melinda.
“April can mesmerise already?” Caleb asked. “Wow. You know that’s a pre-cursor to mind control, right? Isn’t she amazing?” He looked proud. “And Melinda’s reflexes are even better than mine.”
“Are they?” Faith and Melinda asked together.
“Sure! I can always tell when someone’s about to touch me, even Lilith, but you slipped past my awareness completely the other night. I’d bet that if you wanted to run at superspeed, you could probably learn. We should race each other through the forest, later.”
“So it’s just me that can’t do anything?” Faith pouted.
“You’ll have something. It might just take a while to manifest,” Caleb said, confidently. “And if it does, it’ll be something really good. Like shapeshifting! Clearly I’ve given you three some powerful stuff.”
“Don’t get cocky,” Melinda said. “Come on, we’d better get going.”
Caleb nodded and swept her into his arms before vanishing.
Faith lingered at the window. Her mind wandering…
We’ll figure something out.
She must have lost herself for a while wondering what that something might entail because once again, Caleb had materialised behind her.
“Fucking hell, Fringey! I’m gonna get you a bell. Yeah, I think that’s everything. Oh, wait, take the TV.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Caleb said.
“Why not? Will we not get any signal or something?” Faith looked suspiciously at Caleb. “It’s got something to do with Lilith hasn’t it?” When he didn’t answer, she threw her hands up, exasperated. “She won’t even let us have a TV? I’m not living under her thumb, Fringey. We’re definitely taking the fucking thing.”
“I guess we can hide it in my room.”
“Oh, so you at least have your own room? She allows that? Will she let Blondie share your bed?”
“No.” He sighed. “I’m making her sound bad. I shouldn’t. She helps me a lot.”
“By controlling everything about you? Sit with me a minute.”
“She has her reasons.” He sat beside Faith, looked at the floor. “I make a lot of mistakes. I cause problems. Like last night, with April—“
“Making out with your girlfriend is not a mistake. What problem would that have caused?”
“I could have lost control.”
“And done what? Screwed her? Oh, she’d have been just gutted.”
He carried on looking at the floor, silently.
“Look, we all do things we shouldn’t, we all make mistakes,” Faith said.
“She bloody does! Caleb,” Faith said, he looked up as she used his real name. “You can tell me. Do you need help?”
“You’re not fine, though. You’re terrified of her. It’s not normal.”
“It’s for the best. I’m not normal. When I don’t listen, things go wrong, I make mistakes, I mess up…”
“And when you do listen? Same outcome, correct?”
She watched as he folded into himself.
Was he… crying? It wasn’t the first time she’d reduced a grown man to tears, but it was the first time it hadn’t involved any violence. Faith bit her lip, changed tactics. “OK. We’ll leave it.”
Caleb sighed his relief, took a moment to compose himself. “So, ready?” he said, his voice empty.
Faith nodded, but she wasn’t done yet. She sighed, sadly. “Drain Me Gently is showing on the horror channel tonight; it’s a vampire flick, a bit sappy but it’s Blondie’s favourite film.”
“Yeah. Even though she spends half the movie with her face buried in the chest of the nearest person because the vampire scares her, bless. She really wanted to watch it with you.”
“Sure,” I’m going to hell, “She’ll cry her heart out when she finds out that Lilith robbed you of that moment.”
“Let’s take the TV.”
You can run but you can’t hide…