Disclaimer: one screenshot that, in context only, is very disturbing.
Caleb looked between the two girls carefully before he replied, focusing entirely on April, his voice unusually cold, “Yes, I got a job. I start tomorrow at the flower shop. Perhaps not quite as interesting as a secret agent but it’ll certainly put food on the table of the food.”
He took April’s hand. This time, April recoiling from his touch was definitely not Melinda’s imagination.
Unperturbed, Caleb pulled April closer. “Can I tell you all about it? We could make plans?” he murmured, running his fingers lightly across April’s abdomen as he glared at Melinda. “Just us.”
“Later, I’m chatting to Mel—” April began.
“But I want you to myself,” he insisted, adding quickly, “Please.”
Fight it, Melinda thought. April glanced over, almost as if she’d heard.
Caleb looked like he was having some sort of internal battle before he finally gave his clear command through clenched teeth, “Come and talk with me. Upstairs.”
Melinda watched in horror as April’s shoulders fell and she started to follow the rotting potato to the staircase. Melinda wanted to say something, do something, but what? If she let on that she knew, what would Caleb do? Would he command April to do something else – something worse – out of spite?
How deep did this go? He could command her to act a certain way, could he command her to think a certain way?
Feel a certain way?
I’ll fix this, Melinda thought, willing April to hear her. I’ll get you out of this. Somehow.
She could have sworn that April replied.
Lilith lingered in the bathroom enjoying the silence and going over her responses to why she was vegetarian and why she lived in the forest. How she wished that she could be vegetarian and actually live in the forest.
The truth was, her bland, non-standard diet was born from absolute necessity and Forgotten Hollow was the only place she’d ever felt safe. Isolated and painfully bored, yes.
But that was the price of control.
Lilith had expected that, once the dust had settled, Caleb would bring the girls back. That he’d explain exactly why the siblings didn’t hunt and why they had both chosen to survive on the blood from sedate humans.
She hadn’t had chance to explain to the girls how even the most well-intentioned vampire could fall foul of the lure. The hormones that raced through their emotive prey; the heady rush of life itself. How it would capture them, slowly, subtly, eroding through their natural resistance and their morals. Building their dependence, their tolerance until no sacrifice was too great.
She would have to hunt again now. There was no other option.
No other viable option, anyway.
Lilith dried her hands and headed back downstairs to tell Babs that she was vegetarian because she just loved animals and that she had inherited the house from her grandmother. Sorted. This evening was going surprisingly well.
“Thank goodness, just in time!” Chuck gushed, running in as Lilith opened the door. “You’d think after thirty years, I’d be used to this cuisine, but Babs never fails to surprise me or my stomach.”
If anyone had told Faith a month ago that she’d be donning her most revealing dress and wondering if killer heels were suitable attire for going on a murder spree with a sexy vampire, she wouldn’t have believed them.
Back then it was just a dream, a morbid fantasy. Not the murder part, the sexy vampire part. The murder part was just… a bonus? No, that wasn’t the right word. It definitely wasn’t a bonus. A necessary evil? Not quite right, either.
She hiked the sides of the dress up; it had a habit of slipping down when she wore it without a bra. Hopefully she wouldn’t need to lift her arms above her head or she’d be flashing her tits to everyone.
Will there be anyone to flash? What even was the plan tonight? Faith probably should have asked for details, but that meant that she’d actually have answers when Melsquito starting buzzing in her ear with her hundred questions.
She yanked the dress up again. Maybe she should change; perhaps jeans and her regular boots would be a better option, especially if she needed to run. Would she need to run? Probably not, she couldn’t imagine Seth chasing down his prey like a wolf; he’d probably make them chase themselves with his epically hot mind magic.
She’d keep the heels, then. But jeans or no jeans? Well, that was easy. No jeans; they were only a barrier to getting laid.
Was she going to get laid? After last night, he probably wouldn’t want to. That hadn’t been her finest moment. She’d gotten completely carried away, practically dragged him into bed and ended up taking way more from him than she intended. No wonder he hadn’t blown his load and no wonder he’d lost his shit with her. Come to think of it, he’d actually been very patient. If it had been the other way round, she’d have dealt him some serious damage.
He was clearly a much better person, fundamentally, than she was.
Maybe she’d apologise to him, if he hadn’t changed his mind and decided not to bother with her at all. Maybe she’d wear something with a bit more coverage, appear a bit more serious. But then it was a date, right? So, the expectation was there. Dates always ended in sex; it was inevitable.
Did that rule apply even to murder dates, though? Fucking hell! Someone was about to die, and she was worrying about sex? What the hell was wrong with her?
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with you at all, Faith.
Maybe he was right. Melinda disagreed with Seth; the whole world did. In their world, everything was wrong with Faith. She wasn’t smart enough, good enough, she was broken and just not normal. In their world, it wasn’t acceptable to do anything other than to fit within a range, to conform.
But she didn’t have to be part of their world. Not now.
She could be part of his.
After dinner, and when most of the fishy porridge had been deposited – partially digested – into the toilet, the trio settled on to the sofa to continue their light-hearted conversation. Lilith was not well-versed in the modern etiquette of visiting others’ homes, so she wasn’t sure how long she should stay. But, for now, she didn’t seem to be outstaying her welcome.
“…and the little munchkin was hiding under my desk the whole time! The police saw the funny side, but I was horribly embarrassed.”
Lilith laughed and Babs smiled. Babs’s hostile thoughts had lessened over the course of the evening as she had gotten to know the ‘threat’, although Lilith couldn’t help but notice Babs’ positioning; always directly between her husband and Lilith. Lilith wondered if these were the seats they always occupied, if she was simply filling Melinda’s space, or if Babs was using herself as a physical shield.
“What were you like at school, Lilith?” Babs asked. “Ooh! Let me guess. Quiet and bookish. You were probably the girl who had all her homework done before she left the classroom, yes?”
Lilith hesitated. She’d never gone to school. Her mother had taught her to read and then she’d simply learned everything else from studying the wealth of manuscripts and tomes in her father’s library. She wasn’t even sure that she’d be the kind to do her homework straight away. After all, she was here, procrastinating, hanging out with humans when she should be at home, studying. But it sounded as good a description as any.
“Yes, that was me, class nerd. Is it that obvious?”
“There’s no shame in that, Lilith,” Babs smiled. “Look where it got you! Your own established surgery. Mellie was similar, always did her homework on the bus. Although she was more determined to be an artist rather than a doctor…”
At the first mention of their daughter, the pair fell silent, looking between each other with those subtle eyebrow raises and nods. Lilith didn’t have to interpret the facial expressions; she could clearly hear the unspoken question.
Shall we address the elephant in the room?
Their polite to-and-fro was painful to watch and Lilith couldn’t prevent her intrusion. They didn’t want to bring the mood down, but they both desperately wanted to share the grief that had swollen in the empty space their daughter had left behind, like an abscess, and continued to grow. It required a swift incision.
“Have you heard anything since that message she left?” Lilith asked. “What did the police make of it?”
Babs deleted it, Chuck thought with a tenseness Lilith hadn’t heard in him before.
“No,” Babs replied. “We haven’t heard anything and the police aren’t interested. She’s been missing for eleven days now. Eleven. And as much as we tell ourselves that she’s an adult, that she’s with friends, she’ll be fine…” her voice began to break. “Someone must know something. They must.”
“…we’ve re-mortgaged the house, you know, so we can offer a reward for information about our girls,” Babs continued. “Adina, that’s Faith’s mother, she recently lost her job and now her daughter as well…”
“…we just need to know,” Babs said. “What went wrong? What happened? Why did she leave? Why can’t they tell us?”
“Because you’re safer that way?” Lilith whispered, against the wall. “Perhaps they’re trying to protect you.”
“Protect us from what?” Chuck asked. “What could they possibly be involved in that meant they were safer away from home?”
“Organised crime,” Babs said. “Oh my god, that’s it. They must have witnessed Sandy’s murder and now they’re all in hiding. Or being sought by the mafia! Or dead in the forests of Forgotten Hollow never to be seen again!”
Lilith couldn’t take any more. She leapt to her feet. “I need to be off now. Thank you for hosting me; it’s been lovely.”
In a second, the pair were up alongside her. “I knew we shouldn’t have said anything,” Chuck groaned. “All I wanted to do was repay you some way for all your kindness, and here we are instead, burdening you with our woes and making you uncomfortable. I’m so sorry, Lilith. We won’t talk about Melinda. Please don’t feel like you have to leave.”
What was it about Chuck that made Lilith want to lay all her cards on the table, to bare her soul? They were so desperate for information and the guilt of with-holding it was chewing her up. She reminded herself that she couldn’t give them any more without outing herself and her kind.
Or could she?
“I met them,” Lilith admitted quietly. “In Forgotten Hollow. They appeared fine and said they were leaving the area.”
“You did?” Chuck asked. “When? Did they—“
“Can you prove it?” Babs asked. Chuck looked at his wife with confusion, but Babs shrugged it off. “Well, can you?”
Lilith sighed, considering making a run for the door. She wished she hadn’t said anything. Could she prove it? Should she? She tried to think of something significant enough to be proof, but too insignificant for them to ask about. What were the girls wearing? Lots of black. Would that prove it? No, probably not. There must be something they’d said or done, something that was unique to them that an ‘interested stranger’ might hear or see in this casual, fictional discussion they’d had.
Lilith cleared her throat and quietly began to sing a few bars of the song she now remembered as Melinda’s ringtone, rising and falling through the keys without control, in her choked cat way, “You’re a mess, tangled with your confidence, you think you haven’t sinned. Well, you’re unstoppable, your walls are impassable…” she faded out, feeling like an idiot, but those few lyrics were enough.
She knew from their thoughts that both Chuck and Babs had recognised this song and also that the shit was well and truly about to hit the fan.
“Get out,” Babs hissed.
“Barbara!” Chuck gasped. “She has information—“
“She doesn’t! She’s a con artist, Chuck! A bounty hunter! Can’t you see? She didn’t ‘know anything’ until she knew there was a reward on the table!”
“I knew that the story of your so-called mugging was too far-fetched to be true. You just happen to end up on the doorstep of a surgeon who just happens to have met your missing daughter? I’ll bet you told her about that song when you were half-dead in her house. Maybe she even planned for someone to attack you; maybe even attacked you herself! Using my husband’s good nature to ride your way to some easy money, were you? Thought you could swan in here and take advantage of the grieving parents?!”
“Get out of my house! Get away from my husband and stay away from my daughter, Dr. Vatore.”
“I’m not… Chuck, I didn’t—”
Chuck sighed heavily, but to Lilith’s surprise he didn’t argue. He sank into his chair. “I think you leaving might be for the best, Lilith.”