Despite her last memory being of the inside of a taxi, the second Lilith awoke, she knew exactly where she was.
Band posters and portrait sketches on the wall, the light scent of candied violets on the pillow and almost everything she could see was orange. This was Melinda’s room which meant that she was in Chuck’s house.
As she made her way downstairs, following the sound of voices – carefully because her head was thumping – she was met with yet more orange, a scent of oats and was that… curry powder?
“Good morning, Dr. Vatore!” a woman, who Lilith presumed to be Chuck’s wife, called cheerfully from the kitchen. “Take a seat, breakfast is almost done.”
“Oh, good morning…” Babs? Can I call her Babs? “Thanks, but I can’t stay long,” Lilith said. “I have surgery in an hour.”
“People book in for surgery at 7am?” Chuck asked, from his seat at the dining table as Lilith slid into the seat opposite.
“Emergency,” Lilith lied.
“Are you trying to get out of breakfast?” Chuck asked in a whisper. “It’s curried porridge this morning; one of the better dishes and contains no meat. I remember you saying that you were vegetarian, which has spared us both the leftover banana sausage surprise.”
Lilith glanced up. She’d told him she was vegetarian when he’d tried to feed her human kidney back at her house. But he shouldn’t remember that… unless she’d said it again last night. She really hoped it was the latter and that he didn’t remember her feeding.
“Here we are!” Babs called, interrupting Lilith’s thoughts by placing three plates of unappetising yellow-green gloop in front of them.
Lilith looked at her plate. It had been three centuries since she’d eaten porridge, but she was sure it wasn’t supposed to look like that. She wondered what to do. Unlike liquids, which were absorbed, her body would expel anything solid that she tried to force into it.
“I really appreciate you taking the effort and for allowing me to stay last night, but I’m not sure I can stomach any solid food this morning,” she said. It was mostly truthful. “Can I box it up and take it with me? I really must be going.”
Lilith could hear Babs thinking that she was rude but there was no way she was hanging around. Truth be told, this was the first time she’d been in a human’s house for decades, she was as dry as the desert and she was desperate to get out before she made a meal of Chuck or his wife, who were exchanging a meaningful look.
“Will you come back for dinner tonight?” Babs asked. “I really would like a chance to get to know the woman who saved my husband.”
Ah, the fun part of mind-reading; Lilith could tell that this was bullshit. Babs would have been perfectly happy to never set eyes on her again, but she’d never say that. Babs was too polite, didn’t want to be the ‘bad guy’.
It was a role Lilith was getting used to. “No, thanks. Too busy.”
“Oh,” Babs said, pretending to be disappointed. “Never m—“
“How about tomorrow night; are you free then?” Chuck asked, against the silent protests of Babs.
Lilith turned to him to shoot him down and tell him that she thought it best they never see each other again; that she didn’t need his pity or the distraction of forced friendship. But one look at his lovely face was all it took for logic and reason to fail her.
Without an ounce of trepidation and with a giddiness she’d long forgotten, she replied, “Yes. I’m free.”
There had been many days in the past week where Broof wasn’t sure if he’d ever see the light of day again, so he took his time walking through the streets of Windenburg Square to Sage’s flower shop, savouring the sunlight on his face.
It had been months since he’d been here. As a live-in butler, he was expected to be available around the clock for both Sandy and April and on his rare days off, he was ashamedly more likely to spend his time visiting his deceased family in Glimmerbrook than his living friends.
The shop was exactly as he remembered it. A colourful explosion of flowering arrangements and handicrafts covered every wall and surface and in the midst of it all was the earthly smile of Wyatt’s mother, Sage, who dropped everything she was doing the second she saw him.
“Broof!” She exclaimed. “Oh, my darling boy. It is so good to see you. See? I told Wyatt that there was no need for meddling! I knew that justice would prevail! Tea?”
Broof declined. He was still somewhat under the influence of Wyatt’s tea, not that he’d admit this to Sage, whose offering was definitely not along the same lines as her son’s.
“Wyatt’s down in the cellar,” Sage explained. “But if you could not distract him too much until he’s done; the last batch of plant feed was definitely not up to his usual standard. Although I still sold it all, oddly. Mrs. Davison bought five vials and she doesn’t even have a garden.”
Broof gave her what he hoped was a winning smile. “I was hoping to have a quick chat with you,” he said.
“With me? Is this more bother about the flower arrangements for Sandy’s funeral? Because, like I told her agents, I will not—“
“Oh, no. Nothing like that. I was wondering if I might ask you about vampires.”
Sage clicked her tongue. “Now, why under the sun would you be asking me such things?” she asked, her hand on her hip.
“Um… I’m curious,” Broof muttered. he knew that wasn’t enough so he tried to think of a plausible excuse. “With all the recent media interest in Forgotten Hollow, more people going missing there, there are rumours—“
“Exactly. Rumours, my darling. There aren’t any vampires left in Forgotten Hollow. Or anywhere,” Sage said coolly.
“But there’s no harm in learning about them!” she said, trying to smile. “A number of our coven’s old grimoires mention vampires. They are in the cellar, feel free to take them, but just a note of warning; some of the content is rather graphic!” Sage laughed, but it sounded fraught; she immediately occupied her hands with a selection of blooms on the counter. “Run along now, dear.”
Broof lingered. He hated lying to Sage but he understood why vampires were a touchy subject; her having lost both her parents to them. Still, he always felt that she knew more than she let on.
“Broof, are your feet glued to the floor?” Sage joked. “Or is there something else you wanted to say?”
Broof sighed. He should come clean. Sage would be angry but she was a powerful witch with a vendetta; she’d certainly stop at nothing to help him hunt down the vampires. And therein lay the problem. Would she distinguish between them? Would she see April as a parasitic monster to be vanquished or an innocent victim worth saving?
Could April even be saved?
He couldn’t tell Sage. Not yet. Not until he knew for sure if there was a cure.
He realised that he’d been quiet for too long when Sage laughed. “Keep your secret, Broof. Say; while you’re here and it’s quiet, shall I undo your advanced aging?”
Broof nodded, grateful for the distraction and Sage stepped towards him. She rubbed her thumb in a circular motion on his forehead, dragged it lightly down his nose then tapped him on the chin. She stepped back to check her work, then advanced on him again, repeating the motion twice more. Broof was dying to scratch his nose, but he daren’t move.
The third time she stepped back with finality. “There you are!” Sage announced. “Undone. Oh, you always were such a handsome boy, Broof.”
Broof ran his fingers down his face, felt the tightness and youthful flush of his skin. It hadn’t felt like this for years; he’d forgotten just how fast regular folk aged.
“Thank you,” he offered, but Sage was already continuing with her floral display and waved him off behind the counter in a way that told him he was excused.
“Mr. Gore? Right this way.”
Caleb took a seat at the polished desk opposite the man with the goatee who had summoned him. He was glad to have something to occupy his mind with other than what in hell Faith, Melinda and April were doing with that pregnancy testing kit he’d just dropped back at the cottage.
“Good afternoon, I’m Jacob. How can I help you today?”
Caleb thought this question was somewhat unnecessary; surely there was only one reason why someone would visit a job centre? He hadn’t even known job centres were a thing until Faith had told him. Gone were days of applying for one of the three random jobs in the newspaper and simply getting it, it seemed.
“I’m looking for work.”
“Well, you’re in the right place.” Jacob smiled. “A few questions to start.” He turned towards his computer and Caleb watched as the screen came to life. He’d always been fascinated with computers – probably because Lilith never let him near one unless she was hovering at his shoulder. He’d stopped being curious as to why this was a long time ago, though.
Jacob hummed to himself, tapping away, entering the details that Caleb had already supplied.
“Right, Thor. I’ve created you a profile, I’m just missing your date of birth.”
“Eighth of August, um…” Caleb made a face, trying to remember the rest. He couldn’t exactly say ‘1709’. Every year, on his birthday, Lilith would tell him what his new date of birth was, should anyone ever ask. However, no one had ever asked and Jacob was waiting for an answer. So, in his fluster, he gave April’s birth year instead, “1999.”
Jacob stopped what he was doing. “1999? So you’re only seventeen?”
Damn. He’d forgotten that it was only May. Still, he couldn’t change it now, it would look suspicious. “Yes.”
“All right. I thought you were a year or two older, but no problem. That will limit your options somewhat, but I’m sure we can find something for you. Do you have any previous experience?”
“I’ve worked in a bakery, in administration and in a bar.”
“A bar? At seventeen?”
“It was, um, my mother’s place. I helped out.”
“I see. Well, there won’t be any paid bar work for you until you come of age in August, Mr. Gore,” Jacob said, scanning his listings. “There’s a vacancy for an administrator at a clinic over in Del Sol Valley. Oh, the post specifies three years administration experience, I doubt you’d have that at your delicate age. The bakery isn’t hiring. Oh, but if food is your area of interest, we do have some postings that might be suitable. How does a job at SacFondles sound to you?”
That sounded fun. “What is that?”
“Fast food chain. They’re looking for a drive-thru attendant. Do you think you could— oh no, wait. They require applicants to be over eighteen now they’ve started selling beer with their burgers. Never mind.” He scrolled down the list. “Fancy a job at the abattoir? How are you with blood and terrified creatures?”
Jacob shuddered. “No. I wouldn’t want that one, either. Let’s have a look at retail. Ah! Here we go. There’s a vacancy for a shop floor assistant at Harper Flowers, a small florist and handicraft store in the town square. Fourteen simoleons per hour, that’s pretty good! Duties include working the register, cleaning. No prior experience or knowledge of flowers required. Applicant must be well-presented – check – and discreet. Hm, not sure what they mean by that. How does that sound?”
It hardly sounded thrilling, but work was work and what was that April had said when they’d arrived at the cottage? “We can get some cushions and some flowers, make it super nice.”
He could picture her beautiful face; how it would light up when he arrived home from work with a bouquet of blooms for her.
“Sounds good,” he said.
“Marvellous! Right, let’s see… you’ll need to attend a quick interview. There’s a free slot tomorrow at noon. Can you make that?”
“Wonderful, I’ve booked you in. When you get there, ask to see Sage Harper.” Jacob paused, scanning the list. “And as it’s always best to have a back-up plan, let’s see what else I can offer you. There’s a vacancy at Dress Dark, the alternative fashion store. Pay is a little lower, but look at you, you’d be perfect for that!”
Caleb nodded, still hung up on the previous job.
Sage Harper. He knew that name. Why did he know that name?