I’m not really sure what happened, but something happened.
It wasn’t simply the way that Caleb was staring at me as if I’d grown a second head. Nor was it the tingly feeling I had in my legs. And it definitely wasn’t because I’d eventually stolen a sneaky peak at a lamp and thought that they looked like two ice cream cones stuck together. No, it was more than that.
It was the surge of rebellion that coursed through me at the first taste of his icky blood. It was the same feeling I used to get when I defied Mother, even slightly. Like that time, at my birthday party, when Broof told me he’d cover for me if I sent Faith and Melinda to my bedroom instead of home. Or the time I told Mother that her new chin looked like a ball sack. Or that time, when I was thirteen and went to Wren’s pet cat’s baby shower.
Wren was a girl from my school whom Mother insisted that I hang out with, even though Wren and her girlfriends hated and called me ‘fish’. I never understood why.
Anyway, her father owned a few successful record labels so Wren’s parties were almost as extravagant as Mother’s. And being Wren’s ‘friend’ I always had to go and always had to ensure that I was in plenty of photographs, looking like I was having fun and not simply wishing to drop dead.
The most important photograph to be in though was the one of Mother collecting me at the end. At the baby shower I stood with Mother while she flirted with the paparazzi, claiming that her outfit she’d spent five hours curating was ‘simply thrown on!’ and pretending to care if I got home safely. I played along, because that was my role.
Little did she know, that day while I stood beside her acting the perfect Del Sol Valley socialite daughter, I had strange items in my underwear and a bra full of frosting.
See, I was given a gift bag to commentate the momentous occasion of a pet giving birth which wasn’t unusual. This bag contained, amongst other things, an item of jewellery, a CD and a sliver of cake. The cake was purely for decoration. Not a crumb of it was ever supposed to pass the lips of any true Del Sol Valley girl, and we all knew it.
I knew that Mother would confiscate the bag the second she arrived, so I slid the CD into the waistband of my briefs and slipped the necklace into my shoe. I hesitated as I looked at that delicious, sugary slice of cake before deciding that something that smelled so good simply had to be eaten.
I did consider shovelling the whole thing into my mouth, but fear told me not to, that Mother would know, so instead I hid it in my bra. A bra that I wasn’t quite filling yet but that Mother insisted I wear, padded full, as my breasts were ‘embarrassingly underdeveloped’.
Upon my return to the mansion, Mother ordered Broof to dispose of the bag and, after checking my purse for contraband, banished me to my room, so she could supervise Broof disposing of said bag.
I would gift the necklace, a silver ring on a silver chain, to Melinda and the CD, which had two interlocking triangles on the cover, to Faith. As for the cake…
I broke it apart into even smaller pieces than my tissue-stuffed bra had. Then, I took a teeny, tiny piece with me down to breakfast each morning, in my bra, of course.
I politely nibbled whatever garnish was served with my breakfast while Mother insulted me, praised herself or moaned about the world and then, the first moment she was distracted, I stuffed that sweet, sweet strawberry flavoured bite of cake into my face. I savoured the miniscule morsels right under her nose every single day until I had eaten the whole slice.
That moment in bed with Caleb, right after I’d bitten him, felt just like that, but without the sticky boobs. It felt better, even. It felt like the biggest piece of cake ever and like I’d realised that everyone else was missing out on all the glorious cake because they were following their stupid rules. I felt like I’d rebelled at Wren’s stupid party and eaten the whole damn cake until I was fat and sick and disgusting.
I felt like, instead of smiling beside Mother like everything was fine, I’d shouted from the rooftops about how much I hated my ‘perfect’ life. Ungrateful. Proclaimed for all to hear about how often I’d fantasised of jumping from my balcony just so I could leave, one way or another.
Biting Caleb felt like finally peeling off the last layer of the pampered illusion of April Moss, shedding everything I was meant to be and revealing the girl beneath. And that girl was unashamedly flawed; she was super weird.
She liked movies where everyone died in grisly and absurd ways. She liked eating things that were eighty percent sugar and twenty percent artificial colours and flavourings. She didn’t care if her jeans got tight or that her boobs didn’t fill their DD-sized cups. She thought girls were much nicer to touch and kiss than boys were.
One girl in particular.
At that thought, that liberating realisation, I felt like April Moss had taken her last choked breath and curled up and died in an overly-perfumed ball of sadness. I was no longer April Moss: Sandy Moss’s daughter. No. I was Apes Harper.
And Apes Harper didn’t have to pretend to be anyone. She was her own person. She was free.
I had been staring at the ceiling while Caleb half-dozed beside me. He suddenly reached out to pull me into an embrace, turning my face towards him a moment before the bedroom door opened a crack.
Panic fluttered in my chest.
“It’s no one,” he whispered, settling me back against him and nuzzling my hair. I relaxed a little and heard the door close, leaving only the faintest hint of candied violets in the air.
“I need to go to the bathroom,” I lied, wriggling from his arms.
He held me firm and smirked. “I didn’t know that vampires needed to use bathrooms,” he teased, mimicking our first encounter. I pushed his arms away with a little more urgency, the lies coming easier than they had for a while.
“I still do, sometimes, rarely. I think perhaps because I’m a new vampire and my tummy isn’t shrivelled up?” He shook his head and held me firm. “Or… or maybe,” I tried again. “Maybe as I’m so new, I just still have some residual um… poo to get rid of.”
His hand, which had been idly caressing my naked bum, immediately left me. He grimaced.
“Humans are revolting. Fine, but once you’ve, ugh, emptied come straight back here,” he murmured, as he fell back to his pillow. His pale body and all its taut muscle was almost glowing, ghostly white in the low light. His thing rested on his belly, already looking like it was ready for more. A smile appeared on his face as he caught me looking at it.
“Don’t be long.”
I blushed, I think, and scrambled on the floor for my discarded shorts, the fading scent of Melinda’s perfume spurring me on through the nerves. “I’ll be five minutes,” I said robotically.
I had zero intention of ever coming back.
I followed the trail of sweet fragrance and partly-closed doors to find myself on a cute little roof terrace. Melinda was leaning against the balustrade in only her pyjamas, the cool night air blowing strands of her hair astray where they caught the moonlight making her look like she was alight.
My chest thumped almost like my heart was trying to beat. My sludgy brain slowly stirred to life, kicking itself in realisation. Mother had set me up on dates with numerous boys, each one richer and more handsome than the last, despite me having no interest in them. Mother had told me repeatedly that girls can’t love girls.
I had never stopped to ask myself why Mother felt the need to do those things.
I had never stopped to wonder why I’d cheerfully invite Melinda over and then spend the visit running through everything that made me miserable until I was crying in her arms.
I never did that with Faith.
I had never asked myself why I’d lure Melinda into dull conversations simply so I had a reason to press mouth to hers and physically stop her from talking. I had never admitted, even to myself, that her amazing mind, her lithe frame and her soft tongue dancing with my own occupied my most private thoughts.
April Moss hadn’t realised that she’d had a huge crush on Melinda, but I did. Apes Harper did.
April Moss couldn’t have done a damn thing about it anyway, but Apes Harper sure could.
At first she resisted me and I worried that she didn’t like me anymore, and then…
Even though I’m also a cold, undead thing, nothing quite compares to how it feels when one of the ancient vampires enters the vicinity. It’s like someone turning the thermostat way down, bringing up all those tiny bumps on your arms. Despite spending most of the night with him, and supposedly being his puppet wife, I didn’t feel any regret or shame or anything much at all as Caleb appeared, his face frozen somewhere between hurt and anger.
Melinda’s eyes were naturally drawn to faces, but this time she had a hard time lifting her gaze that high. At least she could say that she had also now seen a willy in real life, I thought.
“Oh! Caleb, you silly goose!” I laughed. “You forgot to put your trousers on.”
Caleb seemed completely unbothered by the fact that he was naked on the roof where the neighbours could see. He looked between me and Melinda and shook his head.
“April, come here.”
Our fingers had not fully untangled at Caleb’s appearance but Melinda immediately began pulling away. Although I had no compulsion like I’d had before to answer to Caleb, after a lifetime of conditioning to obey the direct orders from an angry superior, I still felt a need to obey.
Melinda was whispering to me in a strange voice, it’s OK; I will survive if you choose Caleb.
I turned to her and was amazed that even though her lips weren’t moving, I could still hear her. It’s OK, if that’s what you want I’ll be OK. But I won’t give you another chance, she thought, I can’t give you another chance.
“No,” I whispered.
“No?” Melinda repeated.
“No,” I reiterated, squeezing Melinda’s hand firmly. Confidence roared through me with that slender hand in mine, squeezing back. I could do anything; I was Apes Harper. “No, Caleb, I’m not coming with you. I’m happy here.”
Caleb nodded and for the briefest, most fleeting moment, I thought that he’d simply give up. Maybe he’d go and get dressed and gracefully accept that he couldn’t just bully me into doing whatever he wanted me to. Maybe then we’d all go and have a nice cup of blood and watch some more movies.
I think believing that may have been a touch naïve of me.
I could sense the rising panic in the air, I wasn’t sure of the source, as Caleb’s fine features completed their shift into something beyond life, something cold and demonic.
“Get over here,” he ordered, “now.”
Caleb roared and stomped his foot, like a toddler having a tantrum. Like I’d been doing since he’d turned me.
“…can you blame him for treating you like a child, April? Since you became a vampire you’ve been throwing tantrums, getting jealous over nothing…”
“Get over here!” Caleb shouted. “You’re not hers, you’re mine! You belong to me!”
“No! She’s mine. She’ll go to Lilith… I’m not letting her go!”
Faced with those glacial eyes and that rabid expression the fight rapidly evaporated from me. As he stormed towards me, April Moss crawled back out of the grave she’d fallen in. I covered my face waiting for the worst. I sensed a shadow appear before me and dared to open my eyes, only to see the back of Melinda’s head.
“Caleb!” she squeaked. “She doesn’t belong to you – she is not a toy!”
He tried to push her out of the way, but she held her ground.
“No,” she said firmly. “Look at what you’re doing! You’re scaring her! I’m not letting you anywhere near her when you’re like this. Go and calm down.”
He laughed, a horrible mocking kind of laugh and he grabbed Melinda’s arm. Or, at least he tried to. She snapped it from his trajectory and dodged him. He grabbed her other arm, managing to fling her towards the edge of the balcony.
Like some kind of slippery ninja, she managed to shrug off his grasp and leap up on to the fencing.
Then I watched in slow motion as she lost her footing and fell over.
I think I screamed as she vanished from view then immediately turned my scream into a sound of choked confusion as she bounced straight back.
Caleb looked as confused as I was but Melinda understood. She was so smart.
“Sage’s barrier – we can’t get through,” she explained as she snarled at Caleb. “You can’t get rid of me that easily, you pasty noodle.”
“What are you doing?” I whispered frantically. “Don’t antagonise him!”
“I’m distracting him while you go wake Wyatt,” she whispered back.
“What? Distracting him how?”
She swallowed hard, rising to her full height. “You lost to me again, Caleb,” she sneered. “Can’t win a race, can’t outwit me, can’t keep your girl. Is there anything you’re good at?”
Frothing at the mouth, Caleb lunged directly at Melinda. Maybe she wasn’t fast enough to dodge, or maybe that was part of her plan, I didn’t know. The pair became a moving smudge.
I knew that I needed to go and find Wyatt, but my feet were glued to the floor in my panic. I could only watch the wind changing colour before me as Caleb and Melinda fought in a blur of flying limbs.
I’d only seen a few fights in my lifetime and they were mostly the hair pulling and insult throwing kind that were easily separated by someone who wasn’t a huge scaredy cat, like I was. But I wasn’t even really seeing this fight. How could I break up a rift between two vampires who were faster than me?
“Stop it!” I cried out. “Caleb!”
That didn’t work.
I heard a gargled yell, a vicious crack and a spray of black fluid emerged from the angry blob to land near my feet. It looked like the stuff I got from my wrist when I did my pregnancy test—
Oh my goodness.
I screamed, unable to tear my eyes from the splatter of blood on the floor. There was definitely no Seth this time. No one was going to intervene. I needed to be brave. I needed to get to Wyatt. And I needed to be fast.
I think I must have fallen down the ladder, bumped my head and lost consciousness for a moment. Either that or I teleported, because I reached the snug almost instantly. Wyatt was still exactly where we left him; snoring and oblivious.
He looked so peaceful and content in whatever dream he was having that I almost hesitated to wake him with this nightmare.
“Wyatt!” I wailed like a banshee. “Wake up! Wake up!”