Warning: toxic, painful
The room fell silent as Caleb stormed in, but if he realised this, he didn’t show it. He disappeared into the bathroom and slammed the door without so much as a glance in their direction, let alone a greeting.
The three girls looked at each other before Melinda stood up, quickly followed by April and Faith.
“Where are you going?” April asked.
“To talk to him,” Melinda said. “We need to sort this out.”
“No,” April pleaded. “He’s my boyfriend, I should do it.”
“Do you think that’s a good idea? When he’s angry? After what we were just discussing?” Faith asked.
“He’s not going to lose it,” April replied. “Not while you two are right here. Let me try.”
Melinda looked to Faith before she nodded. “Fine, go ahead. But if he upsets you again—“
“I’ll kick his sexist fucking ass,” Faith muttered.
April rapped her knuckles lightly on the bathroom door. “Caleb? Are you OK?”
Caleb was leaning against the sink, his dark memories still fluttering, unsettled, in his mind. For years, goddamn centuries he’d been trying to experience genuine remorse for his actions and now finally he was here, absolutely drowning in it.
He’d never felt any less OK.
There was a pause. Hushed, angry whispers on the other side of the door before she spoke again. “Can I come in?”
He didn’t want her to come in. He didn’t want to see her, but he couldn’t hide in here forever. She slipped inside the dark room and hesitated before closing the door behind her.
“Ew!” April grimaced. “It’s even more gross in here than out there!”
He knew that it was an off-hand comment, but Caleb sighed. It was just another thing he hadn’t done right.
April took her time, looking at all the dirty fixtures. He could hear her wondering how she went from marble floors and gold taps to this so quickly before she remembered why she was there.
“What happened?” she asked gently. “Did they not let you buy alcohol?”
Damn it. He’d been so preoccupied that he’d left his shopping in the car park.
He didn’t know what to tell her. He didn’t want to talk about Seth and his ‘coffee date’ and he didn’t want to admit to April that she was bound to a monster for eternity. He didn’t want her to be disappointed in him or worse, afraid of him. The desire to keep her, to protect her was so strong, overwhelming; was that all part of the binding too?
Was he feeling anything real at all?
“Nothing,” he managed, his voice sounding hollow. “It’s nothing. I’m just feeling a bit down. Everything that’s happened this week… it’s a lot to process.”
April brightened. “I know! To think that a month ago I didn’t even know you, this time last week I thought you’d abandoned me forever and now we’re on the run together! Madness!”
“Madness,” he repeated, scanning her face. She looked content, but was she? “April, tell me. Are you happy?”
April’s smile disappeared and he heard her thoughts abruptly change course. It dawned on him that he’d just given her a instruction.
It was that easy to control her. It was terrifying.
Oh hell. He wanted to take that back, but that meant giving her another instruction. It was a bloody minefield. He could hear her forming a hundred answers in her mind and none of them were the straight-forward one he was hoping for.
“Like you said, it’s been a lot. If I’m honest, you’re not really what I was expecting. Most of the time you’re nice but your dark form scares me. A bit.” Her voice was so quiet that even he struggled to hear her. “Not so much how you look but more how you act.”
He thought of Lilith and her blind fury. “I can understand that.”
April carried on, barely above a whisper. “It’s almost like… like you’re two people? Sweet, kind Caleb and… and…”
Slipping form was a sure sign that he was on the verge of losing all control. It was only triggered by rage and his most primal urges and thanks to Lilith’s contactless food source and Caleb’s general isolation, he had successfully managed it.
Until now. Now he could sink his fangs into anyone he wished. Now he was constantly around this gorgeous, tempting creature.
Now, all he had left at his disposal was willpower.
She was remembering him shouting at her on the waterfront, but it was his other loss of control that haunted her more. Damn; he really wanted to forget that, he wanted her to forget that.
Could he instruct her to forget? And if he could, should he?
“April the other night, at Marjorie’s. When we—“
“It’s OK,” she said immediately, turning away, staring at the wall. He could hear her gathering some interesting thoughts, so he waited for her to speak again. “Well, no actually. No it’s not OK at all, is it? It shouldn’t be like that, should it?”
That’s what Melinda just told me, anyway.
“How the heck would she know?!”
He’d been caught completely by surprise; he hadn’t intended that to sound angry. But as he felt the cold flash over his eyes, his skin, he watched her pretty face freeze, panic; her words spluttered as choked whispers.
“Did I say that out loud? I’m really sorry! I didn’t mean to tell them! I didn’t want to! I tried to downplay it!”
Rooted to the spot, her mind had gone somewhere else entirely; Caleb could hear the echoes of Sandy’s voice and April’s only remaining independent thought. Please don’t hit me.
Holy hell. He was way out of his depth. “We should join the others—“
She couldn’t appear to hear him. She mumbled on, “Mel notices everything; she’s, like, a genius. She always noticed when mother gave me new… new marks and she saw the teeth ones you gave me. She asked how our date went, if you were unrestrained like you’d feared and I said… I said you’d shouted at me. I know I shouldn’t have! She said that you told them that ‘the curse’ takes over you? That the other night you were bragging that you now had ownership of me? And Mel was being so kind to me and Faith was so very cross and I was so sad and it just all came rushing out. Please, Caleb. Please, please don’t be mad at me.”
“I… I’m not.”
“It was almost funny, you know? Trying to describe everything; I thought I was going to die of embarrassment.” April laughed in a delirious way. “Faith told me what everything was called, so at least I know that now. Unless she made some up to tease me, which she might have done, but she wasn’t smiling. I said that it was all my idea, but they said that didn’t mean I had to do those things. That I was still allowed to tell you ‘no’ even though I started the whole thing. Faith was super cross about that and Mel called you a ‘flipping poo-head’.”
“I’m really, really sorry. I know I shouldn’t have said anything. It was very wrong of me. I should know better. Stupid girl!” April fumbled with a button on her skirt, her eyes cast down. When she spoke again, she sounded just like her mother. “This is a private matter, April; no-one else needs to know.”
“No, April. You’re wrong. I mean, you’re not wrong, your mother was wrong. And I was definitely in the wrong,” Caleb said. “Your friends are right, about the lot of it. Always tell them everything. Tell everyone everything.” He stopped, listening to her thoughts abruptly changing track, going haywire in her effort to fit these demands in with her existing, warped logic.
Seth’s voice echoed through Caleb’s head. She’ll attempt to do anything you ask of her, even to her own detriment.
“All right, forget I said that. No, don’t forget it entirely, I mean… holy hell, this is a disaster. I really don’t know what I’m doing. I am so sorry, April.”
“I forgive you,” April said, automatically. She brightened. “Aren’t we the pitiful pair? I came in here to cheer you up and just ended up making us both feel more sad. I should have let Mel come in; she’s still a bit upset but she’s always calm. Not like Faith; she says she’s going to kick your ass.”
He frowned. “That’s fine.”
“She probably won’t,” April said. “She can be quite nasty though. But they know that I love you so they’ll forgive you—“
“You think you love me?”
Her train of thought abruptly ended again. “I think so? You saved me.”
This was surely it. He’d reached the very bottom of the pit of shame, he could go no lower. “I didn’t save you! I’ve burned your whole world down!”
April suddenly looked deadly serious. She leaned in towards Caleb and started making small sweeping motions around them both using her finger. “Shoo! Shoo! Be gone!”
Damn me to hell! Now I’ve completely broken her brain.
In the softest voice he could manage, he asked, “April, sweetheart… what are you doing?”
“…Sweeping away the demons,” April replied, in a small voice.
Caleb blinked at her. “Demons?”
“The things that make you sad. It’s something Broof used to do with me, when I was a little girl. His grandmother in Glimmerbrook used to do it when he was a boy. Broof’s demon was called Claudia; he said that she haunted him all the time. Mine was called BonBonSindyBelle but she would only appear when mother was cross with me.” She looked up, sheepishly. “I know it’s silly, but when Broof used to sweep me with his clothes brush and say ‘Shoo, BonBonSindyBelle!’ it always stopped me crying and made me laugh.”
When Caleb didn’t respond, April swept her finger at him, giggling. “Shoo! Be gone, Boris!”
“My demon is called Boris?” He had no idea how to react to this. “And you can simply brush him away?”
“You must be able to because you’re smiling now.”
Indeed he was. “You’re so weird, April.”
Sadness flashed across her features again. She sighed. “I know. ‘There’s Weird April, always got her head in the clouds, blurting out her random shit.’ Forget I said it.” She turned to leave, but he appeared in front of her, blocking her way.
“Don’t go. I meant weird in a good way. It was probably the wrong word to use.” He tilted her face until she looked at him. “I really like your strange little quirks, April.”
“I like everything about you.”
As he brushed his nose against hers, she gently pulled away.
“Caleb, is it OK if I don’t kiss you? Not never, but just not right now? Not just because we’re standing in a gross bathroom next to a disgusting toilet, but I just think, maybe, we should slow everything right down.” April cast her eyes down. “I know that’s what you wanted to do in the first place and I really don’t understand why I was so keen to rush everything. It’s very unlike me to be so aggressive.”
“That’s funny, because it’s quite unlike me to be so tame—” Caleb began, as Seth piped up again. I see you’ve already started trading.
It took a while for Caleb to find his remaining words. “But yes. Yes of course it’s fine to slow things down. I understand.”
“I haven’t been feeling like myself, lately,” she admitted, quietly. “Is that something to do with the vampirism?”
He needed to tell her. Could he tell her? Should he? He tried to imagine how she would react if she knew that instead of being saved, she’d been taken prisoner for eternity by a complete imbecile. That he was robbing her of her innocence, her sweetness, herself and replacing it with… him.
You wouldn’t want her becoming disillusioned, like so many before her. You might both lose your heads.
“It’s just teething problems, right? Everything will sort itself out eventually, won’t it? I hope it does.” She laughed, it was strained. “Before I go totally insane.”
“Yes,” he agreed. “I hope so, too.”