So this was ‘Chuck’. Mother would’ve hated his name. She would have insisted on calling him ‘Charles’. But he was not posh enough to be a ‘Charles’. He’d tripped over the doormat as he’d entered and then said ‘fiddlesticks’, which made me laugh. Melinda says some funny words when she’s trying not to swear, but what are fiddlesticks? Why would you fiddle with a stick? It was such a goofy, old man thing to say.
“You must be April,” Chuck said to me. I waited for him to finish his sentence …Sandy Moss’s daughter. I stayed silent, politely, so he could ask me about her. “I must admit I was quite surprised…” that Melinda knew Sandy Moss’s daughter, “that Melinda had a friend I didn’t know about. It’s lovely to meet you. I can’t wait to learn all about you.” …r mother.
I wasn’t really sure what was going on here. Was it a trap?
“I’m Sandy Moss’s daughter,” I blurted out.
He nodded. “I’m sure you’re more than that.”
Chuck turned his attention back to Melinda and I realised that I was just staring at him and I hadn’t even greeted him properly or anything.
“Hello Chuck! Do you need the bathroom? How was your journey? Would you like some soup?” I babbled. Oh my god. Again with the soup? What the hell? I thought vampires were supposed to be all dark and aloof and edgy. Why am I still this awkward thing? Admittedly, I never greeted guests at home; that was Broof’s job and I never paid attention.
Maybe he offered soup, too.
Chuck smiled at me and I could tell that he thought I was weird. “Hello. Just water is fine. Thank you, April.”
I headed to the kitchen area to fetch him a glass of water, cringing and listening to his conversation with Melinda. Within three sentences they’d both said ‘I love you’.
No one had ever said that to me. I’d said it to Caleb because he was my boyfriend, so it was right to, but even he hadn’t said it back yet. Literally all he’d done in the last couple of days was to take me up to his room and hold me for hours, while he talked about the future and I felt sick.
Was that love?
I stood and watched Melinda interacting with Chuck for a while. It looked so effortless and playful. It was so different to anything I’d ever experienced with my parents. It was almost like how Melinda and I talked.
Did that mean she loved me? Did I love her? Not romantically, obviously, because she was a girl, and girls can’t love girls. Thinking about it was making me sad, but I couldn’t stop watching them, because it also made me… happy?
Chuck looked nothing like I’d expected from Melinda’s and Faith’s descriptions. He looked very ordinary and nothing at all like Melinda, but I guessed that was because Melinda was adopted.
He was a soft-looking man, wrinkled with nice eyes. Friendly eyes. He looked like he’d be smiling even if he wasn’t really smiling. A bit like Mother used to, but not in a fake way; in a natural way, like his soul was happy. It was hard to explain, but I liked him very much.
He’d made Melinda smile for the first time in ages. Properly smile, not that sad little smile she does. I don’t know why I expected any differently, but physically, Melinda and her Father looked nothing alike. But I could tell they were bonded.
They stood alike, they smiled alike. When they talked, they even somehow sounded alike, even though Chuck’s voice was warm and boomy and Melinda’s could have probably been best described as ‘squeaky’. Sometimes, when she’d get super excited or angry, she’d get so squeaky that it was almost impossible to discern her words.
She was so funny.
Then again, no one ever said I looked like my parents, except that guy with the nice eyes back at that club who said I looked like Mother. Maybe I was adopted, too.
When I first found out Melinda was adopted, way back when, I didn’t even know that was a thing; that children could be taken from one family and put with another one. I sometimes wished that had happened to me, but maybe it did. I never felt like I belonged in that family.
I made myself a promise, then, that my baby would feel like she belonged. That I would tell her that I loved her and I would track her down if she ran off with a vampire because, looking at Melinda and Chuck, right at that moment, I understood that parents should do those things.
The two of them were having a little casual catch up after the whole ‘OMG you’re really a vampire!’ bomb had been dropped; standing apart just inside the doorway. Lilith had told Melinda not to touch her father, and he looked like he’d received the same instruction, but both were twitching in the direction of the other, like magnets fighting to connect. Like, not touching was weird, which knowing Melinda it probably was, as she always hugged everyone.
I felt so bad that she couldn’t hug him because of me. I really wished that she could. I really, really wanted her to just be able to hold him, just for a minute.
That was another thing I would do with my baby, then. I would hug her all the time and then she’d turn out as good as Melinda.
I was so preoccupied in this daydream about being a non-shit mother, that I only superficially registered that Melinda had her arms around her father. Oh no! Lilith explicitly told her not to touch him! Should I say something?
Lilith was thoughtfully looking at some wood carvings on the fireplace. Maybe I had missed some conversation, a clearance while I was daydreaming; that happened a lot. Maybe Lilith had decided that actually it was safe. Melinda was super controlled, after all. She was hardly going to bite him.
Chuck was rocking Melinda in his arms, cooing soft words to her about how special she was and how he’d missed her and joking that she was ‘popsicle cold’.
And then he went quiet.
It took a minute for me to register what was happening, and I only really knew because Chuck was gargling in that way that humans do when being drunk from, like they’re trying to tell us to go away, but can’t.
But Melinda couldn’t have been drinking from him. She wasn’t even in dark form, she’d never drunk from Danny’s neck and Lilith was standing just there.
Surely she’d be intervening if Melinda was attacking Chuck. Wouldn’t she? I must’ve been misunderstanding something, I must have.
“What’s happening?” I asked, but no one answered me. “Melinda? What are you doing?” I muttered, reaching for her arm.
Her skinny arm swung out, making contact with my torso. At least I think it did. It all happened so fast. The force that she struck me with and the speed at which she hit me sent me literally flying.
“Melinda!” I cried out, from shock, from horror, rubbing my ribs which hurt so badly I wondered if they were actually broken. She had hit me; she had actually hit me.
I tried to fight against the overwhelming sadness and my brain’s default to ‘stay down’ because something was super wrong here. Chuck was pale and looking at me with pleading eyes. What was Melinda doing? Why wasn’t she stopping? Why wasn’t Lilith doing anything?
Had she noticed?
“Lilith! Do something!”
Lilith snapped round as if waking from a dream, focusing on the scene before her with an expression of pure horror. Immediately, she ran over and tried to pry Melinda from Chuck, but to no avail.
Melinda blocked and thwarted her every attempt; slippery and super-fast as she was now. Lilith was swearing and trying to place her fingers on Melinda’s temple, for some reason, but one swift swing from Melinda and Lilith, too was sent crashing to the ground.
I tried to get up, tried to help, but my body was not cooperating with my commands to get off the floor. Stay down, stay down, stay down! My brain shouted at it. It’s safer! Another thing I would do with my baby. Or rather, not do! I would never, ever hit her.
Lilith was trying to get up with the aid of a chair. But the stuffing had clearly been knocked out of her; the guttural noise she was making was terrifying, like she was fighting her own demon.
So I did the only thing I could think to do, even though it never usually helped.
I screamed my bloody head off and prayed that someone would hear me.
I might have been screaming for seconds or hours, I have no idea. But as I watched Chuck wilting like a flower in front of me and Lilith make it to her feet, I heard heavy footfalls coming rapidly down the stairs behind me.
It sounds super stupid now, but seeing big, black boots arriving from a level that I thought was unoccupied, made me think of Father Winter. I imagined that he’d parked his sleigh and his reindeer on the roof and was coming to give Melinda a big lump of coal for not obeying Lilith’s instructions.
But it was not Father Winter. Obviously, because that would have been silly, it only being May.
Seth stopped abruptly in his tracks, looking as shocked as I felt, Faith clattering down the stairs behind him. Ever since the party, where he was super nasty to my friends, I have tried to avoid him when he’s visiting. But, oh my goodness, I’d never been so happy to see anyone as I was to see him right then.
With merely an aggressive-looking wave of his hand he had Melinda’s wrists pressed together behind her back, as if she were wearing invisible handcuffs, her head yanked back like someone had pulled her ponytail and then she dropped forward, and both she and Chuck sank heavily to the floor.
Close, but crucially, apart.
For a moment there was silence, punctuated by Chuck’s laboured breathing, Faith saying ‘fuck’ quietly, over and over and Melinda’s whimpers as she slowly seemed to lose consciousness. Then Seth’s voice roared out so loudly that the glasses on the wall shelf shook.
“Have you lost your damn mind?!”
I thought that he was shouting at me, or perhaps Melinda, but when I forced myself to glance up at his seething face, he was focused entirely on Lilith, who had finally managed to stand and looked to be in pain.
“Don’t shout at her; it was an accident,” I heard myself whimper, surprising myself at my audacity. If I’d spoken back to Mother like that, she’d have beaten me with the heel end of her shoe.
Seth shot me a look that stripped me of my newly found bravery. I folded into myself and fell quiet as he stormed to the door, dragging Chuck to his feet.
“You all right?” he asked. The edge was unmistakable in his voice but there was also almost a softness. Chuck nodded, clearly in shock, his eyes still locked on Melinda’s unmoving form.
“Is she all right?”
“She is, I’ve only immobilised her,” Seth assured him. “This is no place for you.” He motioned to the door, but Chuck didn’t move. Seth growled, pushing him outside, niceties gone, “Get out, Charles,” he muttered. “Before I tear out your trachea myself.”
“W-wait for me in the car, Chuck,” Lilith managed just before the door closed behind the human man, who couldn’t flee fast enough at Seth’s warning; she was clutching her side but remained stoic and upright as Seth shook his head, laughing at her.
“’Wait for me’?”
“I don’t know what happened,” Lilith hissed. “But I certainly could hazard a guess.” She glared at Seth, an accusation.
“You’d be wrong.” He sneered, looking first at Melinda, then straight at me. “What do you have to say for yourself?” he asked.
“I couldn’t stop her,” I whispered. “I tried.”
He stared at me a while longer, then turned his attention back to Lilith. “You bring him to death’s door and you’re surprised by the outcome?” Seth scoffed. “And, oho! You still expect him to wait for you. Will you ever change?”
“Will I change?” Lilith sputtered, aghast, gesturing at Faith. “Says you, with your new obsession. Faith, isn’t he just everything you dreamed of? Doesn’t he make you feel so damn good about yourself?”
Seth waved his hand dismissively. “Envy is not becoming, Lilith. Faith, I’ll be back for you at nightfall. I can’t stay in this house a moment longer with these goddamn hypocrites.”
Faith ran to him so fast that she stumbled and likely didn’t realise that she’d trodden on my fingers as she’d passed me.
Don’t leave me here with her. I don’t trust her.
Seth glanced both at myself and at Lilith as Faith spoke. “Faith—”
“Please,” she whispered. Take me with you. We don’t have to come back.
I tilted my head to my shoulder. Faith’s voice sounded different, but I couldn’t put my finger on why. I couldn’t see her mouth from my position on the floor, so I wasn’t sure if she was just mumbling or something.
“Don’t go, Faith,” Lilith said, it almost sounded like a plea but she was smirking. “Trust me, he’s not what he says he is. He only cares about himself, about becoming more powerful. He doesn’t even want you, he only wants what he can take from you. Ask him! He can’t lie. Ask him if he even cares.”
Faith hadn’t even looked at Lilith when she’d spoken; she was rude like that. She continued to stare at Seth as she asked her question, but not the one she was instructed to. “Should I trust Lilith?”
Seth inclined his head, holding her gaze and replied, “No.”
“Seth… what?” Lilith began, her mouth hung open.
“She’s hiding something from me. She’s buried part of me. She is lying to you, to everyone around you. It’s all she does,” he went on.
“I have to!” Lilith screeched.
He waved his hand in a see? kind of way. “And, pray, why is that?” he snarled. At Lilith’s silence he shook his head, and dramatically groaned.
“A century of this bullshit. Is it any wonder I’m fed up? It’s always to ‘protect’ me, to prevent ‘corrupting’ me with this imagined threat of hers. It’s a lie; everything is,” he hissed, motioning to me again. I blinked, confused.
What did he mean by that?
“Ask me,” he said to Faith. “Go ahead. Ask me if I care.”
Faith spoke, her voice small and wavering, uncharacteristically unsure. “Do you care about me?”
Lilith laughed. Proper guffawed. “This should be good! Which deflection tactic are you going to go for this time? Or are you actually about to out yourself for the heartless twat you are?”
“I do care about you,” Seth replied softly and without hesitation, offering his hands to Faith.
“W-what?” Lilith stammered. “No! He’s lying! He must be!”
“You just said he can’t lie,” I pointed out, causing Lilith to turn her death stare on me. I cowered. “Oh! I don’t know who to believe,” I groaned, rubbing my head.
“I do,” Faith murmured.
“If you meant that,” Seth said, quietly. “Know that if you leave me with now, we won’t come back.”
Faith swept her gaze over Melinda, who was still slumped on the floor, and briefly over me. She turned back to Seth, slipped her hands into his, chin defiantly up, and nodded.
“Look nowhere else, right?”
Before I could ask what this meant, before I could say anything, a dark mist had risen from the ground, enveloping the pair and dissipating to reveal the spot that they had occupied now empty, save for the faintest wisp of black.
After staring at an empty space for ages, like a moron, I finally managed to work some words together as I crawled towards Melinda who was regaining consciousness.
“Melinda? Are you OK?” I asked, scooting my hands over the dirty stone floor as I crawled, allowing the abrasive surface to slough off the skin on my palms. A brief reminder that something was tangible in this huge, complicated mess. “Why did you do it?”
Lilith sank to the floor beside us, fixing me with another wilting stare as she gently stroked Melinda’s arm, coaxing her back to life.
I don’t think she had a choice, April.