It had been a fun – but long – morning in her new job as pot decorator at Harper Flowers and Melinda was taking her well-earned break. Her vampiric superspeed enabled her to paint even faster than she previously could and she had completed six pots, much to Sage’s delight.
She had chosen to paint the most over-the-top, intricate designs she could think of, the kind that required complete focus. Anything to keep her mind off the things that were eating her. And it had worked, for the most part. Melinda had had barely a thought run through her overworked brain all morning.
Sage had offered Melinda free roam of the apartment – house? Melinda wasn’t really sure what it was. She was positive it was underground one minute, then found herself in a room with natural daylight the next. Perhaps the whole place was enchanted.
Or perhaps she was losing her bearings as well as all her sense of self.
She had found a dark, quiet room at the end of a corridor. It contained multiple bookshelves and a large television so she settled down to watch a show. This windowless room was much darker than her parents’ house, but there was a warm familiarity about it that cocooned her. It felt safe. It felt secluded…
“Ah, there you are.”
Melinda sighed. Her sanctuary breached by the worst possible person. “What do you want?”
Caleb lingered in the doorway like a bad smell. As if he hadn’t expected that question. He finally found his brain and settled two glasses of red fluid on to the coffee table. “I brought you something.”
Melinda glanced at the glasses, then back at the television without so much as a flicker of acknowledgement towards him.
“I’m not thirsty. Please leave me alone.”
He ignored her, because of course he did, and he sat beside her, on the closest cushion, sighing in a way that made her bristle. Like he was the one dealing with someone who just didn’t listen.
Before she could offer him any kind of retort though, he’d spoken.
“Please, Melinda,” he said softly, sliding a glass over the table towards her. “I just want to talk.”
“I have nothing to say to you.”
He stared at her face for a while. “I don’t think that’s true,” he mumbled. “Aren’t you going to drink?”
“I drank this morning. Why are you so keen for me to drink that stuff, anyway? Have you poisoned it? Are you trying to get me completely out of the picture?”
“No,” he replied. “I couldn’t do that.”
“If anything happened to you, April would be devastated. And should April be devastated I…” he clenched the cushion in his fist, his jaw tense. “I think I would find that difficult to handle. So, therefore, I can’t hurt you now, can I?”
Now. Hurt her now. So he’d considered it, possibly tried before. She knew it! She knew he’d sent her the long way to the cottage on purpose. Given her fake directions, on purpose. Probably chose her a young prey on purpose too, so that she’d struggle to drink from him.
“You’re a monster,” she muttered.
“That’s not news to me, Melinda.”
He said that without emotion, but that’s not how Melinda heard it. She coloured it in her own bias, her own experience and she hated it. She hated feeling bad for a guy who probably didn’t even genuinely feel bad for himself. She wanted to hurl a barrage of insults him, to call him out on everything, but she simply couldn’t.
“What do you really want, Caleb?” Melinda mumbled again, wearily.
Caleb stared at her a moment longer before shrugging and reaching for the glasses, holding one tantalisingly close to Melinda’s face and swirling it, gently. The sweet, metallic fragrance weaved its way into her nostrils, assaulting her senses.
Transfixed, but fighting not to show it, Melinda turned away. “I don’t want it. I already told you, not that you ever bother to listen; I drank this morning.”
“I know that, I do listen, especially to you,” he said. “I’m not offering it to you because I thought you might need it, more that I don’t have anything else to offer to you.” He paused, looking at the glass and Melinda, intrigued about where this was going, followed his gaze.
“Is this a consolation prize?” she snorted. It was ridiculous. He looked crestfallen, tugging at her heartstrings once again. “Oh my goodness. It’s an olive branch, isn’t it? You’re trying to apologise.”
“Yes. I knew ‘sorry’ wasn’t going to cut it,” he scratched the back of his neck. “And apparently women appreciate gifts when they’ve been wronged? I’m not sure how reliable that information is; it came from a man who lived in a bar.”
Of course he hadn’t come to this conclusion alone. Melinda looked away. “I don’t need it. Blood is a precious resource, Caleb. We shouldn’t waste it.”
“Nothing’s wasted; this is from my ration.”
“Your ration?” she asked, her eyes wide. “You mean this is—”
“Yes,” he smiled. “It’s Wyatt’s.” He dropped his voice to a tantalising whisper. “It’s heavenly, Melinda. Almost exactly like April’s was, you know? Before—”
“Before you killed her and made her your woohoo doll?”
“Yes.” Caleb blinked, his shoulders dropping. “Still hung up on that I see–”
“Still? It was three weeks ago! You’re unbelievable.” She rose to her feet to leave, dodging his attempt to grab her arm. Caleb licked his fangs, his eyes flashing icy blue just for a second.
“For what?” she cried. “You’ve got April, you’ve got the best blood on tap, you’ve got me pushed to the fringes – what else do you bloody want, Caleb? Do you even appreciate anything you have?”
Melinda was seething. “You’re such a selfish jerk. You have the whole darn world and you don’t even realise.”
“That,” he said, quietly.
“That’s what I want. I want that.”
Melinda rubbed her arm, eyeing him suspiciously. “You want me to yell at you?” she asked, incredulously.
The corner of his lips lifted into a smile. “If that’s what it will take,” he looked up at her as she scratched her head. “I want to learn to appreciate what I have, the way you do. I want to learn to see the world the way you do, the way I was starting to, before.”
“You want me to draw you,” she sighed.
“Well, you can, if you wish. But mainly, I’d like to see what the world looks like through your eyes.”
“I’m not the person to help you, Caleb. I can barely even look at you.”
“Exactly. You are pretty much the only woman I know who isn’t interested in me, Melinda. In fact, you’re actively disgusted by me, by the things I do, and you don’t hide it. Your face doesn’t hide it. You make me see it in myself. I want that.”
Melinda pouted. “We don’t always get what we want,” she huffed, her resolve weakening as she folded back to the sofa. Darn, weak resolve!
“Melinda, before this all went so awry – before I sent it awry,” he corrected in response to her glare. “You were the closest thing I’ve ever had to a friend—“
Melinda scoffed, to cover the huge, traitorous lump that had appeared in her throat. “I don’t want to be friends with you. I don’t want to look at you. I don’t want to even pretend that you exist. You don’t get that, do you?”
He stared at her a while longer. “Evidently not. But I think if anyone can help me to understand it—”
Melinda laughed drolly. “Help you? You’ve screwed up my whole life, screwed up April’s life, you’re a blight on the lives of everyone around you and you think I want to help you?”
“Yes,” he said quietly. “I think you’re the only one who does.”
Melinda growled low in her throat. “Because I’m a soft touch, right? Bleeding heart Melinda!” She slid the glass back towards him, trying to channel her ‘inner Faith’. “You can stick that up your ah… bum, Caleb. Go away.”
“Did you learn nothing last night? I want you to go away. GO AWAY.”
His stare was so intense that she was convinced he could see through her. As she tried to match it, she felt the coolness wash over her skin, her eyes. He drank her in a moment longer before dragging her glass back across the table.
“Fine,” he snapped getting to his feet. “Damn it all to hell then.”
“Don’t try to make me feel guilty,” she hissed. “I’m not responsible for you. You made your bed, Caleb. You can rot in it.” Even as the words left her lips, she wanted to take them back. She slapped her hands to her mouth to prevent anymore bile leaking from it. Who was she? Who was she becoming?
He glared at her but she could see it in his eyes – she’d touched another nerve. “You’re right, like you always are.” He growled. “I did all this. And for the Devil’s sake Melinda, I’m trying to fix it. I am really bloody trying. I don’t blame you for hating me. I don’t blame April for hating me. I don’t blame the whole damn world for hating me. I hate me.”
“April doesn’t hate you,” Melinda whispered, annoyed with herself for offering him any balm for his burns.
“She should,” he muttered. “We can’t undo this; we can’t undo the binding. We are stuck together. Maybe forever.” He groaned. “I made a huge mistake and, no matter how much I want to, I can’t undo it. The only thing I can do now is learn to be better, I need to learn for everyone’s sakes and you – I think you might be the only person who can really help me. Please.”
Melinda closed her eyes; all the resentful feelings she had evaporating as once again she was back under the stars on the clifftop in Forgotten Hollow. It had only been a few weeks but it felt like a million years ago. His cold hand under hers. Her soul laid bare.
“You can’t change the past, Caleb, so you’ll need to forgive yourself at some point and move on. I guess, maybe, we both do.”
Melinda narrowed her eyes as the crack in her armour became a chasm. “Why me?” she whined. “You know how I feel about April. Why not just ask your sister to help you, or Sage, or Broof, or I dunno, Wyatt—”
“Lilith has been trying for centuries and barely made the progress you did in a few nights. Sage…” he sighed heavily. “Too much attraction. Both ways.”
“Really?” Melinda blinked a few times, torn somewhere between awe, amusement and disgust. “Am I literally the only woman in the world who’s not bed material?”
“It’s odd, isn’t it? Because you’re not exactly hideous and yet… nothing.”
Again with the not hideous. Melinda wanted to asked what was so wrong about her, then. But she also didn’t want to know. “Broof?”
“No,” Caleb said softly. “I think he’s afraid of me.”
Melinda nodded. She had noticed that Broof always made sure someone else was in the room with him, that he was never alone with a vampire, but blamed herself for that. “What about Wyatt?” she asked carefully. But she’d seen the way the witch looked at Caleb. She knew that wouldn’t end well. Caleb only shook his head.
“No. If I didn’t know better, I’d think that my allure worked on him. It has to be you, Melinda.”
“Right. And what about what I want?” she asked, parroting the previous night’s conversation. “Have you thought about that at all?”
“Yes, I have,” he said, surprising her. “And I think we want the same thing.”
“We do? And what’s that?” she scoffed, wondering what desire on earth Caleb thought he shared with her.
He cocked his head like the answer was obvious. “We both want April to be happy.”
“Am I wrong?” he asked, surprised. “Is that not what you want?”
“Of course I do!” Melinda snarled. “Is it actually want you want, though? Do you genuinely want April to be happy or for her to be happy with you?”
He seriously pondered this for a moment. “Right now, is there a difference?”
No. No I suppose there isn’t…
“I don’t like you,” she whispered.
“I know you don’t. I’m not asking you to like me. I’m asking you to help me. Help me to understand, please. How do you do it? How can I do it? How can I make her happy?”
“I make her happy?”
“You make everyone happy. I haven’t seen Lilith laugh as much as she has the last few weeks and devil knows, I have never smiled this much. You’re like… a clear night sky after a day of rain.”
“So cheesy,” Melinda tutted, but it worked. She slid a finger under the rips in her jeans, absently fraying a few loose threads as her fragmented little heart splintered even finer. “Do you understand what you’re asking me to do? How hard this whole thing is for me?”
“I’m trying to.” After a few moments of silence, of him staring at her, Caleb finally accepted defeat, reaching for her untouched drink. “I’m sorry, Melinda. I really, truly—”
Melinda had snatched the glass from him before he could finish his sentence. “First lesson; don’t give me polished poop, Vatore. If you apologise, mean it.”
“I’m going to help you,” she stated, feeling like a squirrel that had been run over by a bulldozer. “But only because I don’t want April to suffer, not because I give two hoots about you. Understand?”
“Of course,” he gasped.
“If you don’t listen to me, or if you hurt her at all—”
“I won’t. I mean, I will listen. Holy hell. You remind me of Lilith when you talk like that.”
And that’s why he doesn’t fancy me! Melinda smiled and brought her glass to her lips but the unusual appearance of it caused her to pause. The fluid seemed alive, almost – rolling itself around the vessel, glowing, shimmering. It called to her like a siren; lulled her into a dream.
“Why is it moving?”
“Some sort of magical energy? I don’t really understand.”
“And it’s like April’s?” she asked, taking a tentative sip.
Caleb nodded and took a sip of his own. “Yes. It’s really good, incredibly satisfying. I don’t understand why only myself and Lilith are allowed to drink from Wyatt. Do you?”
“I mean, drinking it from wine glasses is weird,” Melinda explained. “I’d rather have a beaker or something.” She twirled the stem of the glass between her fingers. Perhaps it was the tentative truce she had established, perhaps it was some sort of power rush. Or maybe she was succumbing to the monster within, but whatever it was, she was feeling worlds happier. “This is… woah. Amazing! What a… a… head rush!”
He chuckled. “I know. I don’t know how Wyatt stays standing with arteries full of this.” He watched Melinda swinging her glass around like an airplane for a while as he emptied his own. “Um, maybe I should have given you a smaller amount…” he said, reaching towards her. She yanked her arm back and grinned at him mischievously.
“Nu-uh! It’s mine now!” she giggled. “You touch my magical drink, Thor, and I’ll whoop you.”
“Will you now?” he grinned back, leaning over and managing to ping the glass in her lightning-fast hand. “And how do you propose to do that?”
“Oh no!” April whispered, stopping dead in her tracks as she heard Caleb’s voice through the closed door. “Caleb’s in there!” She pivoted on her heel. “Let’s go do something else—“
“No. We’re gonna watch one of your mum’s crap movies, remember?”
“But he sounds so mad!”
“Then he can go be mad somewhere else. I’m not having you being scared in your own house. It’s fine,” Wyatt reassured her, as she shook like a leaf beside him. “Apes,” he requested softly. “Look at me.”
She rolled her eyes up to meet his and blinked back tears.
“No matter how angry he gets, no matter what he says or tries to do, there’s one crucial thing you must remember.” He leaned towards her, his tone deadly serious, causing her alarm to turn to panic.
“What?” she gasped.
He grinned. “We can turn him green, like that.” He clicked his fingers, emitting a small spark.
She blinked in amazement and then laughed and was still laughing as Wyatt opened the door.
“Again?!” Caleb roared, gripping the game controller so hard that the plastic creaked and cracked under his fingers. “I thought you said you were bad at this game?!”
“I am! I always lose to Faith. You must just be really, really bad at it!” Melinda laughed. “Oh! Hi both! Just in time to see me completely thrash this over-inflated potato for… what is it? The fifth time?”
He muttered something unintelligible, and Melinda laughed, glancing at the clock on the shelf. “Five minutes until break is over,” she said, “What do you think, Caleb?” she asked, nudging him playfully. “Is sixth time going to be the charm?”
“Oho, you’re going down, little vamp.”
“Actually,” Wyatt began. “We were hoping to commandeer the TV—”
“No,” April whispered. “Not yet. I’d rather watch this.”