“Try to think fast thoughts,” Caleb instructed, unhelpfully.
Melinda shrugged. “Such as what? Cheetahs? Bullet trains?”
“No, not of fast things. Just of speediness, generally.”
It didn’t make any sense. They’d been out here for ages and they were getting literally nowhere. Melinda tried to think of speediness and ran forward a few paces at a disappointingly normal speed. She heard Caleb laugh.
“This is pointless,” she sighed.
“You can do it,” he said and disappeared, materialising along the path a second later.
Such a show-off. He was thoroughly enjoying being better than her, and she didn’t really care that he was, but she was getting annoyed at this purposeless game. She wasn’t getting it, so why didn’t he just let her give up?
“I don’t think I can do it, Caleb,” Melinda shouted up to him, hoping she still sounded friendly. “Shall we head on up to the cliff now? We’ll miss the eclipse if we’re not quick.”
It was like talking to a rock. The black blur raced back towards her. “We have loads of time. I’ll get us there, don’t worry. Try again. Fast thoughts.”
Melinda tried not to get irritated. It was clearly very important to Caleb that she played along and she knew she wasn’t annoyed with him. She was thinking of Lilith, antagonising him and April. Thinking of Faith’s comment back in the kitchen and how Lilith had reacted.
If Lilith was always like that, then the way Caleb was, it made sense to Melinda now. He’d been whittled away, just like April. And like April, he needed support. He needed a friend.
Melinda had always thought she was a good judge of character, but she’d been reading Lilith wrong this whole time. She felt foolish, betrayed; she should have seen it sooner. Instead of guiding them to a safe option, she’d led the three of them into a trap. April had finally escaped Sandy and ended up right back under the thumb of another controlling woman.
Melinda tried to put it all out of her mind, be present. Her dad would tell her that anger didn’t solve anything; he would encourage her to be calm, to be rational, to look at the bigger picture until she saw the solution. What was the bigger picture? Were they going to be reliant on Lilith until she crushed them all? Would they end up out on their own, hunting? Hiding April forever?
Would Caleb come with them? What would happen to him if they left him behind?
The rage was swirling around like a mist, strangling her with its wisps. She could feel the shimmering sensation on her skin and tried to calm herself.
Be present. Calm. She looked up at Caleb’s expectant face.
“Can you be any more specific?”
“Not really.” He thought for a moment, then swung his fist towards her face. He’d barely lifted his arm however before she blocked him.
“Caleb?! What the heck?!”
“Holy hell! Those reflexes, Melinda! When you do that, how do you do it?”
“I don’t know! I just do it, I don’t think about it.”
“Hmm. Maybe thinking too much is the problem then. Try running and not thinking about it?”
She groaned. “This is a waste of time.”
“It’s not. I know you can do it,” he said, brightly. She took in his eager, smiling face. Bigger picture.
She remembered how he had looked the first time she’d seen him, in his living room. Pathetic.
The first time they’d sat together at the cliff. Like a puppy who’d been kicked.
He was like a different person now, a happy person. This might be pointless and weird to her, but to him?
She stretched and repositioned herself to try again. “OK, I’ll try not thinking.”
Easier said than done, but she tried to silence her overactive brain for a few moments and ran a few obligatory paces.
She stopped, sighed. “It’s no good.” She turned back to him. “I just can’t… wow.”
Caleb was whooping and cheering some distance along the path. In a blink he was beside her.
“I knew you could do it, Mellybean! You’re not as fast as me, but you’re still pretty good!”
“Did you just call me Mellybean?”
He looked perplexed as he studied her face. “Oh. Can I not do that? I thought it was alright, as we’re friends now. I’ve been presumptuous, haven’t I?”
Melinda couldn’t stop herself grinning. She threw her arms around him.
“No. You’re right, we’re friends. You can call me Mellybean.”
She felt him freeze in her embrace like no one had ever hugged him. Probably very few people did and with reactions like his, likely never unexpectedly.
“I’m sorry.” She tried to unwrap herself, but something was keeping her close against him.
“Thank you,” he said.
“Just being you. You’re amazing.”
It was such a lovely thing to say and yet, like a switch, she felt the anger coming back. Why would Lilith ever want to hurt him? Why would anyone? He was so sweet. So fragile.
So much like April.
Her lips had already grazed his before he realised and he hastily pushed her away.
“No, Melinda. I didn’t mean it like that.”
It took her a minute to register what had happened. “Oh my goodness. Of course you didn’t. I’m sorry; I don’t know what came over me.”
“I like you, but not romantically,” he explained. “You’re not hideous or anything—“
“Please stop talking. I know. I’m so sorry. I’m bang out of order.”
“It’s OK. We all make mistakes, right? We can forget it.” He nodded, assuredly. “Shall we go to the cliff now? I’ll race you.”
Caleb might have been able to just push this aside and carry on, but Melinda was mortified. She couldn’t be alone with him now. She couldn’t even look at him now.
“Sure! The cliff! Race me!” Her giggle was strained, her voice much more high-pitched than usual. “Eat my dust!” she screeched and zipped off.
“Wait! Melinda! The cliff is that way!” Caleb shouted after her, pointing in the opposite direction. She mustn’t have heard him. She had vanished into the night.
He pursued her along the path, but couldn’t see her at all. It was all eerily familiar, losing track of those eyes in the pervading blackness of the Forgotten Hollow forest. Darn it, she was faster than him after all. He followed Melinda’s trail in circles for a while before it dawned on him that she was trying to avoid him.
Could he do anything right? Lilith was always saying it, but clearly it was true. He was a walking disaster. All these years later, all this work and he was still, at his core, just a womanising rat. Except now he was targeting women he wasn’t attracted to and he wasn’t even aware that he was seducing them. How had he had gotten worse?
He followed the faint, floral scent of Melinda, the only thing he could detect of her, until the path opened up into the clearing outside Marjorie’s house. There were numerous paths from here that she could have taken, but his attention was captured by the light that was on in the house.
It didn’t make sense for Melinda to go in here, but then not a lot else was making sense right now. If he followed her into an empty house, into what appeared to be the bedroom, he was definitely sending the wrong message; their friendship would be completely ruined.
He should go home. Lilith would eventually forgive him for disobeying her and she’d help him figure this all out, help him to apologise to Melinda. Or she’d castrate him, as she’d often threatened. He would consider that an acceptable solution, right now.
He was still gazing up at the lighted window, catching a glimpse of someone moving around inside, a flash of blonde hair.
April could feel herself burning up as she absorbed the words on the page. She had never read a romance novel; she always thought they’d be a bit sappy, a bit floaty, all soft gazes and whispered words. She didn’t realise they were so juicy. She found herself skimming the actual story parts, her eyes hungry for the more lustful details.
Either Marjorie had a very wild imagination, or Caleb was an amazing lover. She chose to believe the latter, slowly blending herself into the story. She imagined him breaking into her room, pinning her to the bed, whispering into her ear…
“Not All Roses with the intruding vampire. I’ve never been one for breaking into homes,” he looked around, “other than what I’m doing right now…”
“Caleb!” April hastily stuffed the book under the pillow. “I was just… I’m not…”
He smiled at her. She smoothed her hair, fanned her face. Oh gosh, was she bright red? How did he know which bit she was reading? Was it obvious? Was she thinking out loud?
“We can take them with us, if you like,” he said, seemingly oblivious. She felt rather disappointed that he was making no effort to pin her to the bed; her embarrassment turning to frustration.
“Why aren’t you with Melinda?” She scowled at him. “Was it too cloudy to see the moon?”
“We didn’t watch it, but we did race. Turns out she’s good at it; I’ve got no idea where she’s gone. Come on; you shouldn’t be here.”
April narrowed her eyes at him. “Oh, so now you care about me?”
“What do you mean? When did I not care about you?”
“Only every time Melinda’s around,” she huffed. “If I didn’t know better, I’d think something was going on.”
He was silent. She could sense him looking carefully at her face. She turned her head away.
“Are you jealous?” he asked.
April could feel the inner brat crawling to the surface. She tried to beat it down; be mature, don’t get jealous, no tantrums. She failed. “Why would I be jealous of you choosing a moonlit walk with Melinda and her lack of bra over a night with me, your girlfriend?!”
He paused, repeated her question to himself, carefully. “Is the bra bit relevant? I don’t know. Why would you be?”
“Because you’re mine, Caleb! Mine!”
“Yes, I am,” he agreed, “and you’re mine.”
She whimpered, “Why don’t I believe you?”
He growled, exasperated. “How can I be messing everything up so badly that you don’t even know how much I care about you?” He took her hands. “I do, OK? I do care.”
April looked at him for a while; envy chewing away at her insides. What else was he messing up? “Are you… are you and Melinda… did something happen?”
“No! We’re not! It… didn’t.”
That was a strong protest. He’d answered just a little too quickly. That pause was a little too long. April couldn’t see him, or hear him, through the green mist that had descended, the images that flashed through her head.
“April?” he said softly, his face mirroring hers. “Talk to me. What are you hearing?”
“I can see you. You’re… you’re kissing her,” she whispered. “You’re out there, kissing her when you should be with me. Kissing me.”
He pulled her to him. He watched her eyes go wide before they fluttered shut, felt her smile, her soft lips caressing his.
“Please don’t ever think that I don’t want you. I really, really do.”
She nodded, but her mind was still racing. He didn’t deny kissing Melinda.
“You still don’t believe me.”
No, she didn’t. It felt like he was trying to make amends for something. She kept telling herself that she was irrational, she was getting jealous over nothing.
His voice was quiet, almost pleading. “How can I prove it to you, April? I’ll do anything.”
Anything? She opened her mouth then closed it. Then opened it again.
He wasn’t like this in the book or in her imagination; there he was confident, passionate, dominant. He’d want her so much, there would never be any doubt. He’d take her without any hesitation, make her his. Like last time.
That isn’t what happened last time.
You broke him once…
She sidled up to him, pressed her lips behind his ear, muffling herself so she could deny saying it if he laughed at her.
“I really don’t think sex will help things right now…”
“You said anything. Don’t you want to make me happy?” she asked.
“I do, but—“
“So what’s the problem?! Am I that disgusting?”
“No! Damn it April! Would you just listen? There’s something you should know—“
“I don’t want any more excuses, Caleb! I’m done with excuses!” April screeched. “If you’re not interested then just… just… piss off! You clearly don’t give a shit about me, about what I want. Enjoy the rest of your sad, lonely existence without me.”
April folded her arms and turned away, inviting him to leave. From the corner of her eye she could see him, locked in conflict with himself.
Don’t fight it.
All the light went from his eyes and the air went from the room, choking her on her own recklessness. She watched him fade into his dark form; the fine cracks appeared on his skin, his eyes lightened to that piercing blue. The change penetrated more than skin deep. He suddenly felt unfamiliar to her. Distant.
“Caleb? What’s happening? You’re scaring me.”