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''Bye, see you later Mom !”
Those were the last words I ever spoke to her. My real last words were “Please no, ple-”
I remember that it was raining that day. A Sunday, if I recall correctly. After all, I do have the right to forget, and I'm good at it. I can forget painful, sad memories. I do this for many reasons. I have that divine right to do so. I've earned it.
I died that day, just another boring Sunday, the Man Upstairs' day off. I guess that's why I died. He wasn't checking in on me. He was taking a well deserved break. I'm not angry with Him. If I had to look out for every single person on earth, I would also like some time to myself. Anyway, I'm the one who walked out that door, not Him. I willingly ran down the path way in our front yard, running late as per usual. I'm the one who looked both ways before crossing the street. I'm the one, or more, I was the one. It was under my own free will. I could have stayed in bed that day. I could have slept in, instead of seeing my friends. The night before, I could have turned my alarm off, feeling a sudden surge of laziness. I could have canceled my date with my girlfriends. I could have, I could have, I could have... But I didn't, did I ? Obviously not. What a rhetorical question, if I'm hear telling you this.
I never had a very interesting life. Never did anything special, never went anywhere worth mentioning. I didn't want to be famous or anything. I enjoyed blending in, I was particularly good at it. I had my closest friends, good parents, a cool brother. I wasn't rich or poor. I lived in a nice house. A house filled with lovely memories. It was the same one that I grew up in. I didn't have bad grades but I wasn't a straight A student. I did some stupid stuff in my time, but not often as I disliked drawing attention to myself. I wasn't beautiful either. My features were basic : straight, long brown hair, brown eyes. I had nice teeth, thanks to years of painful braces and night retainers. I didn't have extremely large curves, or a model like figure. I was just Leah Mortel. Your well behaved, average, girl next door. I guess it was faith. I was destined to be there that day, at that specific moment. Even if I hadn't, it wouldn't have changed much. He'd still have found me eventually.
As I waited for the bus, I listened to my mp3 player. I liked music tremendously. I often disagreed with my brother's taste, which lead to us fighting for control of the radio station. As the song died down, I felt my cell vibrate in my jean pocket. A text from Aly. Aly has been one of my best friends since as long as I can remember.
From Aly :
To Leah :
Where are you ? Lola, Missy and I are in the food court. Hurry up !
I wrote back, smiling at her impatients.
From Leah :
To Aly :
Sorry bus is late :( Be there soon !
I hit send, checked my watch growing impatient. Pushing a strand of hair behind my ear, I pulled my black sweat-shirt down. Then, standing about twenty feet away, I saw him.
I'd grown up in this town, so I knew most of the kids, but I had never seen this boy. No, he wasn't a boy, too adult looking. But he wasn't a man either. He caught me staring at him. I quickly looked down at my gray sneakers, my cheeks flushing in embarrassed. I could hear him approach and when I dared a glance, there he was. Wow. I'd never been interested in any of the guys I knew, never had a real crush. Ok, maybe one or two but those didn't count. And I might not have drooled all over him but I'd be lying if I said that I didn't find him extremely, if not out of this world, attractive.
I couldn't see his eyes, as he wore black tinted sun glasses, although it was raining softly and any sign of the sun was nonexistent.
“Hello,” he said in a voice just as beautiful as his face.
I stared. My throat seemed to have shrunk because I couldn't utter a single word.
“Are you alone ?” he asked, and once again I couldn't find my voice. So instead, I opted for a brief nod, afraid that if I didn't respond he'd think I was slow (which I wasn't).
“My name is Adrian,” he offered with a smile. What ? No ! Don't smile you beautiful idiot or I'll surely go into shock.
I cleared my throat and lamely answered, “I'm Leah. Hi.”
His laugh was music to my ears. He proceeded to explain that he was new to town, and now lived with his uncle... or something. My brain didn't seem to be functioning properly. Out of the corner of my eye I saw my bus and waved my hand, signaling that I wanted it to stop. Suddenly, Adrian grabbed my wrist. I pulled, trying to release it from his strong, borderline painful, grip.
“Please ! Could you let go, my bus is here. We can hang out later if you want,” pointing out the approaching vehicle with my free hand in case he hadn't noticed. That's when he pulled off his glasses and stared directly at me. His eyes were empty, just completely white. And I mean just white, the color of snow or chalk. My first reflex was to scream, followed by a vain attempt to wiggle my wrist from his hold. His other hand grabbed at my throat, I guess trying to stop the sounds from coming out. I was chocking. The air caught in my lungs made me have a cough fit. My eyes started to roll back as my brain grew foggy from lack of oxygen. The last words I muttered were, “Please, no, ple-...”
“Keep heading straight for 0.5 miles. Turn left on exit 14.”
* * *
"Turn left in 1 minute."
* * *
“Approaching final destination.”
* * *
“Go back to sleep, you're a safe.”
* * *
When I woke, I felt disoriented, scared but mostly in pain. My head – well, I'm not even going to talk about it. My body... an example :get run over by a truck 100 times and ask an elephant to sit on you. Finally, multiply the pain by a million. Yeah, that's just about how I felt at the moment. But forget that part. The most pressing feeling was that of disorientation. The last thing that I could remember was a falling sensation, into a never ending cold pit, darkness surrounding me, engulfing me. Now I found myself in a small, bare room. No furniture, not even a bed. This was my definition of a cell. A feeling of dread and anxiety gained me but I felt strangely calm as well. As if this wasn't happening to me, but another. I was viewing things from a different perspective than my own. As I surveyed the room, I noticed the only source of light was cast from a lightbulb hanging from the celling, held together by some duck tape. No windows. That narrowed down my non-existent escape plan. My eyes were drawn to an imposing gray trap. Was that the door ? If I was to guess, I'd say it was made of iron, or some kind of invincible material. Great, my chances were looking slimmer and slimmer.
Before I could truly start to panic I stood up, gently in case I lost my balance. However, both my legs seemed to work fine, fortunately. Maybe slightly wobbly but nothing drastic. I slowly made my way to the door and tried finding any sort of knob. Nothing. It must lock from the outside then. Not a very big surprise, in all honesty. I sank back down to the floor which was carpeted. Where was I ? In a room, that I was certain of, maybe in a safe house ? Why was I even here to begin with, when I should be with my friends at the mall. What time was it, had anyone noticed I had disappeared ? But the real question didn't concern my location or why, I could work that out later, the problem was who had done this ? What did they want from me, of all people ? Then it hit me. Adrian ! His cold hands wrapped tightly around my throat, cutting off my air. I'd been kidnapped. Me, Leah Mortel, a nobody, just another face in the crowd.
Now I found myself in the hands of a crazy man, who might even be a serial killer, or a rapist. Someone who had some serious problems. He could be part of a human trafficking cartel for all I knew. What was he going to do to me ? And god ! His eyes... White ! I was hyperventilating. Take deep breaths, Leah. Freaking out won't help solve anything. I tried to soothe myself. I needed to find a reasonable explanation. Maybe he had contacts ? He was nuts after all, so it wouldn't be the least he was capable of. If I got away nobody would believe me. In case I actually made it out, there was a slim chance that I would be able of describing him to the police. His face was to normal to identify, he had no striking features, like a scar. He was handsome, yes, very much so but also ordinary. His name probably wasn't even Adrian. Who would give away their name ? Unless they didn't expect you to make it out alive.
I sat up, shaking off that horrible thought and pushed myself into a position that didn't hurt as much. For the first time since I'd woken, I felt the overwhelming urge to cry. Once the first tear slid down my cheek, I couldn't stop the rest from following. I cried for hours, calling out the names of my parents and my brother, wishing, hoping, for someone to save me from this dreadful nightmare. But as frightened, confused and mad as I felt, I was also glad Adrian couldn't see me like this.
Talk of the devil, just as I wiped the last of the moisture from my eyes, the door opened and there he stood, looking as handsome as ever. How could such a beautiful face be so evil ? He waltzed in, it seemed like he was gliding across the carpet. He had the grace and stance of a dancer and the gait of a king. He left the door wide open behind him. I didn't think, just grabbed my chance. Once he was far enough from the door but not too close to me, I jumped up and ran, my legs protested but didn't fail me. I didn't pause to contemplate the insaneness of my act, all I could think was that had to get out of here before – a hand caught me by my hoodie and yanked me back sharply.
“Stupid move," Adrian remarked.
Yes, stupid indeed, but necessary coming from a helpless and desperate person. Then, as if I didn't weigh more than a pound, he picked me up like a bag of potatoes, and swung, yes, swung me over his shoulder.
“Let go of me," I exclaimed.
"Sorry, but I can't do that," his tone suggested amusement, as if we were best buddies fooling around.
So naturally, I hollered and kicked, which didn't change anything. I shut up when I saw where he'd carried me. Let me give a brief description the room we were now stood in. A grand hall, dominated by an imposing crystal chandelier that must weigh a ton, made of thousands of tinny, hand crafted and shinny jewels. My jaw literally dropped. The floor was laid in beautiful marble, with mosaic patterns here and there, of greek myths and magical creatures that seemed to be in perpetual movement due to the vibrant colors of the stones. He gently pulled me to a plush love seat, and sat me down. I didn't have the courage to protest. My hands ran over the ruby red velvet in fascination. I'd never seen such an ornamented room. On the walls hung elegantly embroidered tapestries. The room itself was furnished with the upmost care, each item seemed to have a reason for it's strategic placement. All of the furniture had an ancient feeling to it, like it had been here for centuries and would remain so for decades to come.
The hall had four windows that extended from the celling to the floor and opened like European doors, with gold handles. It was dark outside, but I could guess that behind the windows was a long balcony that stretched on the length of the room. They were draped with gold curtains, in a heavy looking fabric, and tied together with a bow made of silver woven threads. But the most breathtaking thing in the room was a black piano in the center.
"Did you hear what I said ?" Adrian's voice brought me back to reality.
"I said," he sighed, "You are bound to this room, you may not leave and if you have to use the powder room, I will have to accompany you."
"Really, it's not that great a sight," I snapped. Who did he think he was ?
He didn't acknowledge my tone. Wow, he really was beautiful. I snapped myself out of it quickly. This guy had kidnapped me ! I should not be marveling at his looks.
"Whatever," I mumbled.
He nodded and left the room, locking the door behind him.
I drifted in and out of sleep, as if my mind couldn’t decide if it wanted me unconscious or not. I finally did dose off a few hours later and dreamt vividly.
* * *
“Wake up hon, you're late for school. Again.”
“Baby...”, the owner of the voice shook my shoulder.
I pulled my pillow over my head.
“Leah Mortel, so help me God, I will not break the law speeding to get you there on time. Now get up !”
As if you ever drive under the speed limit, Mom.
This was a daily routine in the Mortel household. Each morning, every single day, threats of icy water buckets and “I'm leaving without you” comments were made.
A moment later, my shutters were wide open and blinding sunlight came flooding into my childhood room.
I swung my legs over the bed, eyes still shut tight from the previous hostile action, and when I finally opened them I sat, looking around my room. I examined my powder blue walls and yellow lace curtains that did absolutely nothing to help shield me from the offensive sun. My two windows looked out into the back yard, one was obstructed by the old oak tree that had been there since the house was built, in the late nineteen hundreds. My wood floor, with various clothing items scattered around. I liked how all the furniture pieces didn't match. All made in the same material but in different shades from white to dark brown. The alarm clock on my night stand beeped rudely, interrupting my daze. I leaned over and silenced the vulgar object. It didn't stop emitting the distracting sound.
* * *
An alarm wakes me up. No, it's a telephone. Mine ! I sit up quickly, my head spinning from my hasty movement, and am disoriented for a moment before I remember where I am. It was my cell that was vibrating in my pocket. I hadn't even thought about using it. Adrian seemed to have forgotten to take it away, a big mistake coming from the hands of a criminal. I was still alone, so took a chance and answered, not bothering to check the caller ID. From the sharp intake of breath I could already tell it was my brother, Darik.
“Help !” I whisper in my most pressing and urgent tone.
“Leah ? Where the hell are you ? Mom and Dad are going crazy. They called the police,” I had never heard him so worried.
It takes all my strength not to burst into tears again, “He kidnapped me. I don't know where I am. Save me, send help, please, Darik ! Help..” I trail off, my mind can't seem to deal with reality anymore. I'm shaking so badly, the phone almost slips out of my clammy fingers.
“Calm down. Leah, tell me what happened.” His voice is soothing but doesn't clear up the panic.
I explain everything, how the bus was late, how he said he was new to the area, his eyes (at this point I think Darik is doubting my sanity but, he doesn't interrupt). I tell him everything I can think of that might help. Help how though ? Because I have no freaking clue as to where I am.
“I'm scared, Darik.”
He doesn't answer at first. He's a good guy, my brother. Not great when it comes to handling this kind of stuff however. Not kidnapping in particular, just your average stressful situation. I still remember a few years back, our cat Lucifer ran away. Darik went crazy, ran around our block, shouting the poor beast's name until it grew dark. The neighbors told my parents that if they didn't shut him up they would call the cops. We never did find Lucifer in the end. So I can only imagine the degree of angst he fells at this instant.
“I'm going to call the officer in charge of your file, they can trace your phone. They'll find you, I'm sure they will, they have to...” he rambles.
“I Love you and tell Mom and Dad tha-” Darik cuts me off.
“Sis, you are not going to die, I'll find you. It's not time for goodbyes.”
That was Darik, loving, strong, an emotional snow ball, with dozens of feelings mashed into one.
“I won't let that freak touch you. He won't hurt you, I swear.” Brave words, “And if- when I find this loony, I'm going to beat the crap out of him.”
“You are such a -” but I couldn't finish because the next second, Adrian was standing next to me, as if he'd appeared out of fine air. How much had he heard ?
“What in the world ?” He didn't even have to finish his thought. He knew perfectly well what was going on. He grabbed my phone but not before I screamed into the receiver. My last warning to my sibling.
He crushed my cell in his hand, like a knife through butter and I swear, I could see flames in his empty eyes.
“Who. Was. That.” he pronounced each word as if it was painful, and it felt like I was being repeatedly stabbed.
“My brother and the police will be here soon too. I would run if I were you,” I said with all the confidence I could muster up.
He laughed coldly, “I doubt that very seriously.”
I flinched at his matter a fact tone of voice. I couldn't just stand there saying nothing, so out of all the things I could say, I chose the first that came to mind.
“If you did this for money, sorry to disappoint you but I come from a middle class family. We don't roll on dough exactly.”
He doesn't answer and I am overcome by this horrible feeling, deep in my gut, that he didn't kidnap me for money.
I was bored out of my mind. Who would have thought that being held captive was such tiresome business ? So, to pass the time while waiting for help to arrive, I slept. I was impatient for the cops to find me. Why was it taking so long ? In TV shows, after an epiphany the hero usually rescues the victim and is rewarded with promises of eternal gratitude and so forth. Considering the alternative, that no one actually finds me is probably the most frightening thing in the world. Adrian should already be in prison, shackled and awaiting his sentence, which will hopefully be along the lines of life long imprisonment.
Since the call, I haven't seen Adrian. A young lady brings me food and water. She usually doesn't say much apart from “Eat up !” or “Do you need anything else ?” It's like room service minus the thrill of being waited on hand and foot. I spend most of my waking hours thinking about my home, Mom, Dad and Darik. I miss my friends too. Aly most of all.
But I was going to see them again, I needed to keep surviving for them. They kept me going. They were like my own personal silver lining. My one happy thought.
I wonder what the kids at school said on Monday when I never showed, do they speak of me in the past tense ? Do any of them miss me ? Do they actually care at all ? Probably not. Teenagers can be the coldest, most calculating and selfish of them all. All these things repeated in my mind, like a broken record.
I truly hated these moments of consciousness. They drove me mad, made me question every detail, replay that dreadful Sunday, why why why... When I was awake that meant my mind could take over and I lost control over my own thoughts. Sometimes your imagination can be as cruel as reality.
I remember one specific Friday night. At the dinner table, we were talking about kidnaped children. I was ten and Darik was twelve.
* * *
“Most of those poor kids die,” Darik said.
“But that's sad, don't parents try to find them ?” my ten year old self inquired.
Dad cut in, he could tell I was on the verge of tears. “Of course they do. If it were either of you, I would never give up if someone took you from me.”
“Promise ?” I asked.
He smiled, “Cross my heart and hope to die.”
“I wouldn't give up on you either !” Darik added.
* * *
I hope they haven't forgotten their promise, I think to myself, while massaging my legs. My whole body is still extremely painful for some reason. At first I thought it had to do with my position when Adrian kidnapped me. But if it was due to that, it should have passed by now. It's like my bones and joints are one fire. Each movement must have a purpose, each misstep is regretted instantly. My mouth and jaw also ache, maybe it's my wisdom teeth making an appearance. It's about correct in timing. My eyes are still puffy and raw from my constant crying, basically, I am a wreck. Before I fall back into a dreamless sleep, I take a minute to pray. I pray for my life, for my family, for strength. But prayers don't seem to be answered when you are residing in hell.
After what feels like a few days, and judging from the moon cycle, Adrian finally pays me a visit. I had been desperate for this moment, never quite certain whether I was dreading or anticipating it more. He's probably just making sure I haven't planned another escape or maybe he has other reasons, I have no idea. Maybe both.
I don't feel great and could do with a new pair of clothes and a nice, long, shower. I probably smell terrible, but it's not like it's my own fault. I haven't really stumbled upon many showers behind golden drapes and velvet couches. I so annoyed that my fear of my captor has dissipated completely. I can feel my face reddening in anger and place my hands on my hips.
“Are you going to kill me ?” I ask matter a factly. I've grown numb to the idea of death, I don't really care anymore. I just want out of this place, one way or another. It's being stuck in this limbo that is frightening, because my thoughts are the loudest thing in my prison, and they aren't exactly pleasing. That or I am consumed with the need to sleep and sleep some more.
He shakes his head. No. Well, that's one straight answer I've gotten from him. It's a start. Maybe the technique “Let's punch the wall until someone answers me” isn't the most effective.
“Are the cops going to be here soon ?” he chuckles, just a little, but it's enough to piss me off tremendously. Unfortunately, he shakes his head yet again. Well, you can't ask for too much in life. God, what's taking them so long ?
I am exhausted, “Can I take a bath ?”
He offers me the first nod of the day and heads out without even having said a word to me. The young lady, Mouse as I've nicknamed her because she tries to make herself invisible and never utters a word unless spoken to, walks in carrying a towel, some mini soaps and various toiletries and thank you Jesus, a pair of jeans, a cotton shirt, socks, underwear and a bra. I could just kiss her. Actually, on second thought, no I couldn't.
The steaming hot water feels amazing. Each muscle and joint loosens itself. I feel as if I could just melt any instant. After washing my hair twice, and scrubbing myself raw to removed the layers of grim, dirt and oil that caked my skin, I get out and dry off. Before getting dressed, I examine my body in the mirror. Wiping away the condensation with the tips of my fingers, I look over my naked reflection. My brown eyes no longer hold that special twinkle, my hair is in urgent need of a cut and my skin looks sickly, extremely pasty and paler than usual. I can't make out any bruises that would explain the pain I am in. I press my face closer and turn my head this way and that, but my face is also clear of marks. Maybe it's psychological. Disgusted by my own reflection, I pull on the fresh garments. It fells nice to be a little closer to my older self.
As I walk back accompanied by Mouse, I start brainstorming. I haven't tried anything radical yet in order to get away. She is tinny, shorter than me by at least five inches, and can't weigh more than a hundred and ten pounds, max. She is skin and bones, even in my state I could easily take her. But I feel guilty, she is at a disadvantage, her back to me, leading the way. She wouldn't see me coming. It wouldn't be fair. What am I thinking, this isn't about bloody chivalry and politeness. She is working for Adrian, she must know he's a kidnapper. She deserves each and every punch I can land. This is a matter of survival, I convince myself. I elaborate my plan easily as she takes me back, totally oblivious to what is about to happen. Why does she even agree to work for him, ? She young, she should be in education, partying and whatnot. Maybe she owes him a favor or maybe she is in it for the money. Anyone who can rent a mansion such as this one must be filthy rich.
“What's your name ?” I ask, trying to put on my friendliest tone.
She looks startled. She wasn't expecting me to strike conversation. Probably doesn't know what protocol calls for in such situations. Must have missed the chapter on mingling with
hostages in the “Top 100 Worst Jobs” handbook. I nod encouragingly.
“Demitier,” she answers.
What kind of a name is that ? “That's an original name,” I state (good one Captain Obvious), “Tell me, Demitier, where exactly are we ?”
She's worried, he must have forbad her of saying. I sincerely hope she won't get into too much trouble, but my needs are more important than her reserved attitude.
“Miss Leah, I like you, I don't understand why Mr. Ivanov chose you. And I don't think he will hurt you, you're safe with him. But he won't approve of me telling you.”
The girl actually looks genuinely sad. I act out of impulse, because I swear, I have never been the aggressive type. I just need to know. I grab her by the neck and slam her into the wall, with much more force than is necessary. I didn't even know I had it in me. Her feet barely graze the floor. I can see the terror in her eyes.
“Please,” deciding I should stay polite no matter.
“We're in Canada,” She whimpers hastily, slowly turning blue.
What ? No, we can't be. It's impossible. I live in Florida. Not up in no man's land Canada. I almost forget about Mouse, until she lets out a strangled sob. I let Demitier go, and watch as she falls to the ground.
“You won't tell Adrian about our little discussion, OK ?” I warn, looking down at her with my best glare.
She nods frantically. Ashamed by my behavior, I help her stand but she pulls away from me in fear. I take the lead and find my way back into my luxurious prison.
Where had he disappeared to again ? If Adrian was going to be my so called captor, he should at least stay around long enough enjoy my imprisonment. His pretty face might make things more bearable on my part.
Demitier however I couldn't get rid of. If she wasn't cleaning, bringing me food or talking on that damned phone with lord knows who, in some incomprehensible eastern European language, she was finding reasons to spy on me. I wasn't sure what information she expected to gain but I sure as heck wasn't going to give her the pleasure of reporting back to her dear Mr. Ivanosk or Mr. Ivashkov, or whatever his name was, with details concerning me. If he wanted it he'd need to come to the source and face me.
I, however, learnt that she had immigrated from Europe when she was fourteen, her father was a diplomat, and she has five siblings. Adrian had saved her life once upon a time, which I found quite ironic given the fact that he'd gone from saving damsels to locking them up in his palace. What surprised me most was that she'd asked him permission to serve him freely. I'm sorry, but isn't that modern day slavery ? Putting aside her life for two years, in order to repay her debt towards him.
“Adrian.” I stated.
She looked up from the book in her hands, “Excuse me ?”
“Adrian. Is Adrian home ?” She nodded, yes.
“Mr. Ivanov is in his study.”
That did it ! I got up, raging mad, and stormed out of the hall that was kept unlocked when Mouse was keeping me company. I retraced my steps to the bathroom, but instead kept going until I ended up at the feet of a large stairwell. The stairs, I had originally thought, would only take me to a second floor kept going until a fourth landing. I was out of breath by then.
There were five doors, each in lacquered dark wood. The orient rugs were probably hand made and cost a fortune. Torch like looking chandeliers lit the corridor, and gave off an eerie, mysterious air. Surprisingly, Demitier didn't run after me. I put it off as due to our earlier encounter. The stairs continued up another floor but I decided to check here first.
Adrian's study would most likely be near the Hall, where he could appear if anything want wrong.
I felt a surge of déjà vu. A few years back, a guy, Charles Wilson, in my sophomore class was hosting an end of the year party. His parents of course weren't in on the plan, as fate works, they had been called out of town for a business meeting and would be gone for the weekend. Leaving their seventeen year old son in charge. Do I even need to state the reasons why this was a bad idea ?
I wouldn't have gone if it wasn't for Jake. He was the main reason I'd agreed. He was my future husband (in my wildest dream) and he was single, having ended his self destructive relationship with Terri, some strawberry blonde cheerleader two weeks previous. I had had a crush on him all year and this was my one and only chance.
Charles was Aly's boyfriend at the time and he had no choice other then to invite the best friend. His house, scratch that – his mansion was quite a sight, mostly it screamed money money money. Just like every other thing related to Charles Wilson, his name, his clothes, his car to name a few.
When Jake and I started making out on the couch, numerous beers later, and he proposed we should continue in a more private area, I complied and we set off to find an unoccupied room.
Taking me by the hand, we went upstairs without breaking our kiss. I really was an awesome multitasker back in the days. When made it to the first floor, Jake pushed me against the wall delicately, to deepen the kiss. I was the happiest girl in the world at that moment. Because let's face it, I was having a make out session with one of the most sought after guy in our year. I basically had him eating out of the palm of my hand. When we came up for some much needed air, we restrained ourselves long enough to try the various doors. And we tried them all, desperately hoping one would magically unlock under our fingertips, without any luck.
* * *
I shivered at the memory and tried the first door, shut tight under lock and key.
The second and third, same story. About to give up and just head back downstairs, like that one night long ago, I gave the fourth a shove while turning the knob. The door swung open and what a sight to behold !
I was greeted by something I had not, even in my wildest nightmares imagined to be so disgusting. Something that would be rated R for gore and blood. Adrian was on the floor, mouth pressed firmly against bruised neck of the immobile form of a child, whom was resting between his legs, pressed against his front, almost peacefully. He was sucking the life out of a kid no older then seven. I wanted to protect the girl, tear him off her limp body, before it was too late and he drained her life. All I was capable of was let out a horrified scream, louder than anything I thought my vocal cords were able of producing. I then proceeded to faint, as per usual when I was around him. He seemed to have perfected his gift at knocking me unconscious on demand. My last coherent thought being close to “He's a vampire.”
Ouch. My head had doubled in size, in behalf of my head hitting the door on my way down. I felt considerably worse than the first time I woke up, in a small enclosed room a few weeks ago. And that's saying a lot.
I was now spread out on a black leather couch, with a damp wash cloth pressed against my swollen forehead. I wasn't sure what purpose it was meant to serve because it just felt moist and uncomfortable.
“You alright ?”
I looked up into blank white eyes and started to open my mouth, drawing in a sharp intake of deep breath. Before I could let out a sound he clasped his hand over my mouth and shushed me.
“Don't,” he warned.
I looked him over, as if seeing him properly for the first time. Is he a vampire ? He can't be, such things only exist in horror movies and bed time stories. Life isn't filled with creatures of the night. The earth isn't roamed by werewolves, fays, goblins and ogres. The night isn't ruled by blood sucking, soulless monsters.
“I deserve answers,” I say with force. I will not just sit around and wonder what is to happen to me in the next few days. And the situation I just witnessed needs a great big deal of explanation.
He sighs loudly, in defeat if I was to guess. He shrugs his broad shoulders and begins :
“You're right, you should know, but...” He stops mid sentence and gives me a warning look, “But what I am about to say won't please you. It's not what you want to hear.”
I look expectantly at him. If he thinks I am going to back off, he has another thing coming for him. And then he tells me everything that he'd been keeping to himself.
“It all started around the year 1214. A vampire named Ramona fell in love with a zombie, Fredrik II. Vampires have souls but if for some reason they lose it, they become zombies. A creature that has no feelings and after a few decades starts to decompose but never truly dies.
“They had a baby boy named Fredrik III. He then created a hybrid that was part zombie, part vampire, just like him. That person was known as Juliette. She was beautiful but also was rejected by all creatures of the night. She was different, unnatural and no matter her hardest efforts to prove she wasn't that different, she was always going to be considered an outcast.
“Juliette finally turned to Fredrik III. Together they decided to build their lives at each other's side. They found happiness and were content. They called themselves Forgotten. Being that they were the same race and both were outsiders, even werewolves and witches didn't like them. They later realized that two Forgotten couldn't mate. They could create a Forgotten, by transforming another being, but Juliette could not bare Fredrik's children.
“I am like them, Leah, I am that same creature. One of my parents is vampire, the other a zombie. I am a Forgotten.”
I was speechless. This was impossible. It was absurd even ! And yet, here I was. Face to face with one.
“So wait, two Forgotten can't have kids but a vampire and a zombie can, which makes a Forgotten ?” I ask. I wanted to get my facts straight.
“What about human and vampire ?” He shakes his head.
“Human and zombie ?” Again he shakes his head.
“Vampire and a Forgotten ?”
“No,” he replies.
“Zombie and a Forgotten ?” Again he explained it wasn't possible.
Alright, so only a vampire and a zombie, or a vampire without a soul, whatever you wished to call it, could have a baby. And a Forgotten women, and a Forgotten man couldn't. Only create one.
“How do you create a Forgotten ?” I found myself to be intrigued. This was a curious world I was meddling in.
He shrugs, “You bite a human. Same as a vampire, you undergo a transform.”
I gasp, “So if you bite me, I'll become a Forgotten, like you ?”
A look of guilt crossed his face.
“Uh, I kind of already did... At the bus stop,” he confesses.
My eyes widen in shock, my mouth suddenly feels very dry. I am just about sure that my heart stops beating.
“I'm still human, my eyes aren't white,” I contest. “It must have failed, thank the heavens.”
“That comes later. The eyes are only a detail, when you've completed the change.”
He studies me, making sure I don't pass out again, “I'm sorry.”
Why ? Why had Adrian chosen me ? I was a nobody. He could have picked anyone, absolutely anyone in the world. Yet, thanks to my rotten luck I was the one doomed to be a creature of the night. There was only one plausible solution. I had to end my life before it was too late.
“I want to know more about Forgotten people.” I had to find a weakness I could use to my advantage.
“We are immortal. We can eat and sleep. As for physical stuff, we are stronger than vampires. We also have great hearing and acute night vision. Our skin and eyes are white from the zombie genes.We bite humans to transform them using our fangs, from our vampire genes.”
I sigh, this is a lot to take in.
“Do you drink blood daily ?” I could not imagine myself as a blood sucking leech.
“Only after we transform someone, we need to regain our strength.”
“How long does it take to become a … – like you ?”
His smile is bittersweet, lased with sadness and maybe a hint of regret. “Well, we both know that you are much stronger than before and your skin is getting paler each day. I made sure Demitier was looking after you. I wasn't sure how smoothly everything would go. You are the first human I have ever bitten. I would say in about a few more days. The process is finished once you wake from a deep coma. Only then will all of your human cells have died.”
I look at my hands, at how pale my skin is, just like he said. “Why me ?”
To that question Adrian laughs. “Isn't it obvious, Leah ? Why would I do anything for a human girl – young lady, sorry. I forget how touchy mortals can be when it comes to age.
“Because you are the only one I want to spend eternity with. You are my soulmate and I have been searching for you, for a very long time.”
With that he got up and started for the door.
“Wait, where are you going ?” I inquired, after having processed his previous words.
“Leah, you need your rest. Sleep well,” he turned back, closing the door behind him.
As blackness swallowed me up, I shed a single tear, then let it all go.
“He is so beautiful. Are you certain that he is not a vampire ?”
“Very, he is one of them.”
“What a shame. Such a beautiful boy.”
“He'll be grown up before you can say so. He will be just like all of them.”
“Maybe not, we must hope for the best. Not all Forgotten, cursed be that name they've been given, are outcasts.”
My eyes are closed as I listen to the rhythmic ticking of the clock. I can see the hand make its round across over and over, slightly deregulated. I mull over various things, some of less importance. My mind cannot quiet itself, I believe sleep will avoid me tonight. My thoughts drift to my dear mother, overprotective and loving. I think about all she had sacrificed for my sake, how she was forced to bid goodbye to many of her beloved friends and how her own family disowned her. All to live with my father. No one seemed to approve of their marriage, they believed it to be sinful and unorthodox.
I am grateful for her selflessness and bravery, without it I would not be here. My life is perhaps a far fetch from wonderful, no matter. I still live in a nice house with marvelous parents. We have a hefty sum of money put aside, both have successfully amassed considerable fortunes. Russia might have its problems but they do not concern us. We have nothing to do with humans. Weak, fragile and problematic bunch they are. A waste of space if you ask me. We'd be better off without them. All they are good for is their precious blood.
I think about a perfect world, preferably ruled by Forgotten, as night sets in. The witching hour, safe haven of damnable creatures, a utopia made for us, where we need not hide ourselves. Soon I will be fifteen years old. I take a glance at my imposing grandfather clock. Yes, very soon indeed. It is ten to one. I was born fifteen years precedent, on this very same night, when the moon reaches its apogee in the starry sky. I watch the seconds pass. Time is such a peculiar thing. I will never run out of it. A hundred years from now, I will still walk the face of the earth, admire the trail of beautiful destruction that humans leave in their wake, keep existing in an unchanged state while humanity evolves.
The clock chimes. Happy Birthday, Adrian. I turn over, facing the wall and close my eyes, falling asleep to the sounds of Novosibirsk and the living souls of its inhabitant.
I am dragged from my dream by obnoxious hammering on my door. wake I try to engrave into memory the details, but as dreams seem to go, most slip away. It was about a girl, that I am sure of. Brown hair, worn long with wild flowers tangled in her curls. Rich brown eyes, like honey and chocolate, swirled into one. Beautiful features and rosy skin. Smooth curves and graceful fingers.
We were dancing. I held her close to me as we swayed. When the music stopped, she looked up to me and with a slightly whiny voice exclaimed, “Why did you have to ruin my life ? You took all I had and even more. For that, I shall detest you infinitely.”
I started to reach for her, to comfort the breathtaking angel, to apologize for whatever I had done. I wanted more than anything to feel her lips pressed against mine, but as I blinked, she started fading into nothingness, like mist dissipating.
“Are you dressed ?” Mother's sweet voice pulls me back to reality.
I grab the wool covers which had fallen off during the night and yank them over my chest.
She peaked her head in. “Breakfast is ready darling.”
“I'll be down in a minute.”
She leaves, shutting the door behind her and once alone I stretch. While getting dressed I walk over to my desk. Grabbing my plume and a sheet of paper, I draw the young lady from my dream. Under, I sign my name and the date. As I head down to the dining room I promise myself that I will find her. I don't care how long it takes, I will make her mine.
* * *
Florida City, present day.
I don't know why mom and dad called me down. Maybe it's about Leah. We haven't received news from the police yet. I guess no news is good news. In fact, since she disappeared we haven't talked much about anything at all. The house has grown silent, Leah is the missing a piece, without her we are nothing. After I told them about the phone call, it had gotten very unstable around the house. Mom would break down each time she overheard Leah's name. Dad took any framed picture of her and packed it up. I almost feel like she never existed.
I walk into the living room, where my parents are sitting on the couch, holding hands.
“Have a seat, son,” Dad says in his husky voice.
When we were kids, Leah was scared of the dark. So, once she was tucked in and our parents had gone downstairs, I would sneak into her room and we'd curl up in bed together. To help her relax I would joke around about Dad's voice, saying that he was Santa Clause and that that was why we always had such great gifts for christmas.
I sit down in the worn out recliner.
“We have something to share with you. We should have told you before, but we could never find the right time.”
My mom nods along, agreeing.
“Yes,” she takes over, “With all that's been happening, it's a good moment to, hum... Well, let's say “come clean” – in a sense.”
“Just tell me already,” I press.
What is it ? Are they getting a divorce ? Or having another kid ? I eye Mom's stomach, it seems a little rounder.
“Darik, son, Leah isn't your sister.”
The world stops turning. The clock stops ticking. My heart stops beating. How can my parents just sit there, with wide, worried eyes and still be able to take a breath ? It's impossible. This is some sick joke. I've known Leah her whole life, I went to see her at the hospital the day she was born.
“Huh?” I must have heard wrong.
“Leah was adopted, Darik.”
“When ? Where ? ” I know I'm not supposed to react this way, that I am stone-faced, because Mom's eyes are damp.
Dad sighs, “When you were one you got the flu. We had to take you to the hospital and while a doctor examined you, your mother and I walked around.
“We stopped to look at the newborns. At the time we were trying to have a second child but it just wasn't happening.
“A teen was standing next to us, biting her nails and rocking on the heels of her feet. We asked if her mother had had a child. She pointed to a beautiful baby girl and said the baby was hers. She told us that she was going to give her up for adoption. A few days later, after considering and discussing the matter, when you were being discharged, we came home with two babies, you and Leah,” he says.
“We named her after her birth mother.” Mom finishes.
I wipe tears from my eyes.
“That's why there are no pictures of Mom pregnant. She never was,” I muter.
“Yes, honey. We're sorry. I can't imagine how hard this must be for you. But, you needed to know the truth.”
I abruptly get up, mad at both of them. How could they have not told me before ? Did Leah know ? No, she wouldn't keep something this big from me. Holding back my tongue, I grab my car keys and run outside. The cool October air fills my lungs and bites my face as I rush to my car. Leah, my beloved only sibling is not related to me. But we look the same, talk the similarly, even think alike. We are brother and sister, by everything but blood.
I drive for hours. Around town, on the highway, along the coast. I'm stuck behind the wheel in traffic when it first occurs to me, when the idea takes form. I never considered running away before. Then again, I never felt the need to. Yes, it's a good plan. That's what I'm going to do. I'll go home, pretend everything is fine and tonight I will leave my lying parents to go off on my own. I will do what the police isn't. I will find Leah and I will kill whoever kidnapped her. The last is a not a fact, it's a promise.
* * *
Russia, Novosibirsk. 1876.
Once I head downstairs I slip into Lord Ivanov mode which consists of showing zero to no emotions or not betraying my thoughts by various facial expressions. In other words, I turn into a real life statue. The house is huge, so in October when temperature drops drastically, the hallways become freezing. For most Russians, we, the noble Ivanov family, have lived here for generations. Fact or fiction ? Truth be told, I am the third generation after my grandparents and my mother and father. But many other family members such as cousins, uncles and aunts have lived with us for extended periods of time, which makes the list of descendents less spaced out, more suitable for the human life span.
Once I reach the dining room I take a seat and present my excuses for my tardiness. Mom walks over to me and pulls me into a hug.
“Happy birthday, Adrian.”
“Thank you, Mamka.”
Papka, father, doesn't acknowledge this exchange. He doesn't believe in birthdays since he says we will never die. I for one don't actually care but it is still nice to receive the good wishes. As we eat I let my thoughts drift towards the nameless saint from my dream. She was so soft, yet so strong. So sensible, so fragile but at the same time, quite tough. Words could not describe my feeling towards the stranger. Except maybe one...
* * *
Florida City, present day.
I drive back home, mulling over my future plans. The house Leah and I played in, with its reassuring yard that separated us from the whole world, no longer feels safe. In the course of a ten minute conversation my life was blown to bits.
As I pull up the driveway and park my car I see my “sister's” favorite hoodie, half hidden under a dirty blanket that I use to cover the beaten up backseat. I can't believe it's already the 14th of October. Time goes by so fast, I feel as if only yesterday the cops knocked at our door, with Leah's abandoned backpack. I grab it and walk up the steps and through the front door. Mom and Dad are waiting for me. It seems like they haven't moved since the last time I stormed out.
“Honey are you alright ?” Mom's voice sounds so heartbroken.
“No, I'm not alright,” I shout as I head down the hall. The stairs are after the living room which gives me no choice but to walk passed them. Dad reaches out and grabs my arm. That's all it takes for me to snap.
“Get your hands off of me you lying bastard !” I scream.
I look into my mother's eyes but I feel no sympathy. Instead I turn, my father having let go and head towards my room, where I start packing up my things. I include all my money. I will not be coming back. I check Leah's room and grab some of her stuff too. When I find her she'll probably thank me. Once everything is set there's nothing left to do but wait. Wait until night and my chance to slip out.
My eyes flutter open. It fells like it's been an eternity since sunlight has greeted me. I notice how uncomfortable I am. My clothes are dirty, my skin and hair desperately need a wash. My mouth is like sandpaper and my body is painful to the touch. What else is new, huh ?
Once my eyes are adapted to the light I take in my surroundings. My head is tilted at an uncomfortable angle and I cannot feel my legs, that have grown to numb from my immobility. Something is cutting into my waist and my arms are folded around the ugliest yellow bag, maybe the ugliest of the ugly, the worst since the dawn of yellow bags.
I look around and see trees flying by, already drifting away the second we pass them. The lights of a big city are still visible, far behind us, and mountains surround us.
It only takes a second to realize that I'm in a car. And cars have mirrors. Have I changed ? Am I a monster now ? I can't look. I dare myself to keep my eyes fixed on the breathtaking sights of nature and friendly deer lurking between the trees. They won't judge me whether I'm a Forgotten or still a human being, with a beating heart and a soul to keep. But my soul can't be saved anymore, can it. No matter how hard I try, I am a goner for sure. I died already, I am dead to God. I will never be a part of humanity. My life as Leah Mortel is over. Finished. It's almost ironic, Mortel, when I am no longer mortal, but immortal. Maybe I should change my name. No, bad idea. Changing anything else would mean embracing the new me. I am not that person. Nor will I ever be.
That's when it hits ! Mom and Dad, Darik... They will never know the truth. Because they believe that I was kidnapped. Well, I was but for all the wrong reasons. Adrian wants me to be his forever young looking bride, parter, girlfriend, something rather unholy let's say.
Don't get me wrong, sex doesn't repulse me but I was raised in a Catholic family, I went to church every Sunday until High School when it became uncool to go pray on weekends.
One of the most important lessons I learnt at Sunday School was about consent. How, in life, men don't want to marry in holy matrimony a woman who is not pure. That pressuring someone into a physical relationship is unacceptable, and if continuing to do so after the other has said “no” is a sin, and a federal crime. I must say, it saved me more than a few times from doing something I would have regretted later on. And I won't bend that rule I've imposed on myself for some freak, even if it kills me. Hell, I'm already dead. Death a second time can't do much harm. He might even achieve to end this torment. It looks like a rather bright path from were I'm standing. And if you were wondering, I am currently standing at Hell's front gate.
“Sleeping beauty finally awakes.”
That voice, the one that freezes me, chills me to the bone, frightens me to death (I have to stop using that pun – it's killing me), that one voice that brings nightmares along for the ride. It's his. But at the moment, I feel the opposite. It somehow sounds like bells, honey in warm milk, a soft fire, rain drops soothing you to sleep, Mozart, laughter. His voice warms me from the inside and brings butterflies to my stomach.
I turn to face him. Adrian, my soulmate, my one true love. Wait, back up ! What am I thinking ? I shake my head clear of that foggy stuff and whatever it's doing to my brain.
“How do you feel ?”
I trust my voice to work properly, not start blabbing out sonnets or something.
“Dizzy.” Great of all the insults and comebacks, I choose a lame adjective. Especially after our last meeting in his study, where I found out what he was and what I was becoming, and he took the opportunity to confessed his undying love for me.
“That's normal. And may I state that you look beautiful this evening.”
I blush, no matter how hard I try, his words effect me. His words seem to stick somewhere in my throat, next to my heart. The one that doesn't beat because of him.
He said it's evening, but how could it be. How can he tell ? To me, it's morning. The setting sun and vibrant blue horizon are marvelous. A shade I've never seen before, one words cannot describe.
I remember his flattering comment and being well brought up, thank him. Then we drive for hours, not a word is exchanged. When the sky changes from midnight black to dark blue I know dawn is approaching. I'm not the least bit sleepy though. Do Forgotten need to sleep ? We stop for gas, I could run but I feel safe with Adrian. I am as strong as he is now, so why should I fear him ? Instead, I head to the unoccupied restroom. After I wash my hands I can't stand it anymore. I cautiously glance into the mirror and shriek. My brown eyes, the ones I'd always hated for their blandness are white, like Adrian's. My own skin makes me crawl. It's to pale, I look like an Albinos. My brown hair that's had a washed out look to it since I was kidnapped is shinny and straight again. No more curls or waves. I look skinnier too and in the name of all that's holy ! My breast are larger. I look like a bra model for some popular brand. I turn from my reflection and take a step backwards, I don't even make it that far. For a strong Forgotten, my legs can't even hold up my weight. I scream, I cry, I shout out for Darik. Didn't he promise to save me ? Where is he ?
I hear approaching footsteps after a while. And I begin to hope it's him. Adrian bursts in and takes in the wrecked sight also known as me. He doesn't ask a single question, just pulls me into his strong arms. I realize that I wasn't calling for my brother but for him.
“Promise to never leave me again,” he never even left. Doesn't matter.
Adrian's white eyes meet my own, I hold on to his gaze until tears start streaming again. I need to know, hear him say the words.
“I swear it Leah.”
And with that he picks me up and carries me to his car. He is gentle with me, like a father claiming back his little girl after her first break up, persuading her to give up on guys for a few more years, so she learns more about life and gets to profit. As we hit the road once again a song is blasted through the stereo. I turn it up even louder, until I can feel the bass vibrate in my bones. I drown my painful thoughts in the music. I'm not ready to face my demons, not just yet. I will one day, but for now I have Adrian as a shield.
“Such a beautiful song,” he says.
Yes it is. Almost as beautiful as him. I shut my eyes, tuning myself to the beat instead of my new life. It's the first time I feel so connected to a rhythm, this song is the first I get to experience as a Forgotten. It's strange because I know it, as a human I had listened to it often. I even sang it sometimes. So to hear it from another perspective is like discovering it all over again. It's a song about new beginnings, and tragic ends, about hope, about life's ups and downs... It has a new meaning to me.
Mom and Dad are fast asleep when I sneak out the back door. I don't even think twice about how what I'm doing will effect them, they have hurt me so much. I deserve to be selfish. They need to pay. They are the biggest bunch of hypocrites, only thinking about themselves. Not caring about my feelings, or Leah's for that matter. She will never know the truth if I don't find her. She could die never knowing. Her whole life would have been a lie. She would have passed, thinking she knew who she was, what her parents were truly like. This sort of stuff changes a person. Your roots shape who you become.
I should have figured it out sooner. I mean, yeah sure, we look alike and stuff but there are other brown haired, brown eyed people in the world. And we don't have a family resemblance going on. No, this is too bizarre. I can't get my head around the idea that Leah hasn't got a drop of blood in her body that comes from the Mortel line. What even is her last name ? Who was her father ? I don't understand how a mother could abandon her child. Leah was the sweetest kid, who could look into her big eyes and push her away ? I wonder how she'll take the news, I'm guessing that she'll cry. I know that I would if I were her. Will she try to track her birthmother down ? Whatever she chooses to do with the information, I'll be there to support her decision.
I put my duffel bag and my sister's, I mean Leah's, backpack in the passenger seat, start the car and back out of the driveway. Once I'm on Oak Street, I head over to the nearest gas station. I won't be able to go anywhere with an empty tank. As it fills, I head inside to buy a snack. I walk through the double aisle and pick up a water bottle, four granola bars and a pack of mint gum. The guy behind the counter rings me up. I pass him a few one dollar bills and count out the exact change in dimes and pennies. He thanks me as I leave. I'm probably the most entertaining thing he's seen today, the highlight of his evening. A broken looking guy, that actually uses coins to pay for candy bars – yes, I am premium entertainment.
I get back inside my car, a second hand Chevrolet Silverado, that I acquired when dad bought his Nissan Juke. My hands, my head, everything hurts. I rest my head against the steering wheel. I just feel like dying. What in the world will I do if I can't track her down ? Where will I go ? A sharp tap on the window startles me, I look over and see the cashier gazing in, a worried look plastered on his face. I roll my window down.
“You okay, son ? You forgot your stuff.”
He hands me the plastic bag with my purchases. He looks like a nice guy, mid fifties, beer belly but wears clean clothes. He shaves each morning and the ring on his left hand, that's resting on my door, tells me that he's married. I bet you he met his wife in College. This is probably a second job, to earn a little more money. Maybe for a family trip with his two kids, or his eldest's going off to University soon and needs money to pay tuition.
“Yeah, I'm fine. Thanks man,” I answer.
But I'm not. My parents lied to me my entire life. I don't know what to believe anymore, or whom to trust.
“Alright, but if you get tired, pull over.” He's concerned for my safety, the first one to be. “Do you want me to call your folks ?”
No, most certainly not ! “I'm driving down to see them now, don't worry.” I don't know why I lie, I could have just said no, thanks.
He hesitates for a moment before stepping back, “Be careful, son.” He still doesn't seem reassured.
“I will,” I tell him.
I roll my window back up and turn on the music station once I've left the parking lot. It's the rock station that Leah loves. It's always passing these old songs that no one listens to anymore. We usually fought over who got control of the music. We would play rock, paper, scissors. Now I could change it without any trouble. I leave it on though. It's the only proof Leah even existed in my life, other then being a huge lie my parents made up. She was here, not too long ago, beating the rhythms out, while singing to the lyrics slightly off-key. My sister ? No. A friend ? Yes, of course. Maybe, if I hadn't grown up with her, she could have been a girlfriend. She's beautiful, truthful, funny, caring, smart, loving... Any guy would be lucky to call her his own. I turn my head at the unholy thought. She and I were raised by the same people. We are brother and sister by everything but blood, I have to remember that.
* * *
“Leah, come on. That guy's stupid ! Don't let him ruin your day,” I try coaxing my sister out of her room and down to her own birthday party.
“Leave me alone ! I'm never coming out !” she cries back.
“Pretty please ?” I beg.
“No, I said !”
I can tell that she's crying. I can't stand it. She is my baby, it's my role to protect her from douche-bags like Kyle McGreen. An ass who had the audacity to break up with Leah on her birthday. A day dedicated to her. He didn't even have the guts to do it to her face. No, Kyle broke up with Leah with a simple text message.
I need her to open this damned door. I need to put my arms around her. I need to comfort her, to brush away her tears and tell her that tomorrow will be a better day, a new beginning. With endless possibilities.
“Your cake is waiting downstairs. Guess I'll just have to eat it on my own,” I tease her.
I can hear her giggle and mumble something along the lines of “idiot”, or maybe “I don't care.” I prefer the latter.
But she gets up anyway and unlocks the door. I walk in and see that Leah already has her slender arms wide open, waiting to collect a hug. I reach for her and pull her close to my chest, burying my face in her hair.
“I love you,” she says.
“So do I, sis.” I also add, “You shouldn't care what people think, especially Kyle.”
“Easier said than done. Especially coming from you. Everyone loves you ! ”
“Do you want me to kick his ass ?” I suggest.
She laughs, then shrugs. Leah shakes her head. My sister isn't the violent type. Finally, after a few minutes I convince her to head down to the garden with me, where our family is waiting.
* * *
It's early morning by the time I pull up to an old motel off the Interstate. I grab the bags and lock the doors. The clerk is fast asleep at the reception desk, his drool dribbling onto a men's sport's magazine. I shake him. Startled, he sits up straight and mumbles a hurried “I wasn't asleep, boss !”
“A room, please,” I ask. I don't comment on the obvious lie, it wasn't meant for me.
“Sure. For how many days ?”
I hadn't thought about a timeframe. When should I leave ? As soon as possible. I'll stay for a day, catch up on all the sleep I've missed and then head up the coast. I don't have a clue of where she is though. The thought that she might be dead has crossed my mind a few times, but I push it away. If only I had some information on her location, I would know where to start looking.
The clerk hands me a key and gives directions to my room, first on the left, second floor, number 201. I thank him and head upstairs. The hallway is narrow and dimly lit. The place smells like the seaside and the slight odor of synthetic air freshener lingers in the air. My room isn't hard to find. The door is made out of cheap fiber wood and an actual keyhole, not an automatic card pass thingy, like in most hotels these days. The inside of the room isn't much better. The floor is dusty, the walls are moldy and the furniture is probably from Ikea. I don't really care, at $48 a night, I wasn't expecting a five star room. The window offers a nice view over the parking lot. Well, at least I can make sure that no one steals my car. There's a bathroom with a toilet and a shower, that looks clean. I refresh myself and strip until I'm only wearing boxers. The bed in nice and warm, hopefully without bed bugs. I turn off the light, waiting for sleep to take me away and sail me off to somewhere were nothing can hurt me.
An annoying beeping wakes me up. I rub the sleep out of my eyes and look around to see what's making that awful noise. It's my cell, that I'd left in my jeans, which were now laying on the floor. I pick them up and I double take at the caller ID. It's Leah. After I'd called her weeks ago, I had assumed her kidnapper had confiscated her phone and hadn't bothered trying to reach her again. I have to steady my hands before picking up, my heart beating out of my chest.
There's a rustling noise on the other end of the line, then I hear the most beautiful voice, Leah's, “Hey, brother.”
I bite my tongue at her words. This isn't the time or place to tell her that we aren't related.
“Where are you, are you hurt ?” I ask urgently.
She laughs into the phone, “Don't worry, I'm fine. I was sick but Adrian took care of me. And as for where I am, I'm not sure. Somewhere between Maine and Vermont. I'm in a hotel.”
“Who's this Adrian ? Your kidnapper ? The creep ! I bet you he's trying to sell you to some pimp ! Get out of there fast ! I'll find you, I'm in South Carolina. I can get to you in four days,” I exclaim.
“Don't Darik.” I can tell her voice is shaking. “I want to be here, Adrian didn't kidnap me. Things have changed, I can't go home. Not now, not never,” she's crying.
I feel like someone's ripping me to shreds.
“Are you pregnant sis ? Did he rape you ? Leah, you can stay with me. We don't need Mom or Dad.”
“Yes, I'm pregnant,” she's lying, I can tell.
“What's he done to you ?”
Why is she so scared ? Is he holding a gun to her head at this instant ?
“No, honey. I want to stay with Adrian. I just called to say goodbye. Darik, please just listen for a minute. Forget about me and comfort our parents. Take care of them. And don't come looking for me. I'm safe and happy.”
I'm about to contest when the line cuts and the only noise left is the lonely dial tone. I get dressed as fast as I can, take my things and head downstairs, leave a few bills to pay for my room and get into my car. I have my new destination, and it's somewhere between Maine and Vermont.
Why did I call him ? Stupid, stupid, stupid ! God, I always seem to act without anticipating the consequences. But I needed to hear his voice at least one last time. After all, he is my brother, knighted defender of the bogie-man, malicious ghosts and cookie monster (because, truthfully between us, those were the scariest beasts roaming the earth's plaines). I sometimes forget that we're no longer young children. We've long since grown out of those childish stories. However that doesn't mean I don't still need someone to look out for me from time to time. I miss Darik, his lovingness, his permanent good mood, our late night conversations. I just wanted a chance to say goodbye. I needed some form of closure.
I sit up from my five star hotel bed and decide to have a shower. Adrian has already left, in order to buy airline tickets at the nearest agency. He hasn't told me where we'll be flying off to. I just hope it's far, far away. Somewhere that offers the possibility to bury my past. If I'm supposed to fully embrace my new life as a Forgotten, I may as well try to avoid all forms of mental torture. Which involves great distance and cutting all links with my family and friends, no matter how difficult at first. In the end it'll probably be worth something. It might even relieve some of the pain I'll feel when everyone I've ever known will eventually die, as I remain the same for eternity. So, the farther away from such triggers, the better.
The warmth from the shower jets feel amazing on my hypersensitive skin. I take immense pleasure in mundane tasks like simply washing my hair and the soft spray of water dripping down my back is heaven like. My, does it feel good to just relax after all that's happened in the last few hours.
I dry off quickly and braid my waist length hair, like my mother used to do every morning before school. At least, that is until we both forgot about these little moments we were meant to share. But we lost each other in the rush of life, while steadily growing apart. Then, I get dressed in the new clothes Adrian bought me at the mall in a nearby town. A pair of jeans, a purple cashmere turtle neck and a black leather jacket. He also got me these wicked black, leather, knee high boots. I take a look in the mirror and barely recognize myself. I must say, he's got style. I'm ready to head downstairs when I remember my eyes. I can't be seen like this. I'll set off the next crisis, probably give a few poor souls a heart attack. I decide that calling Adrian is the next best thing.
“Adrian Ivanov,” he answers immediately.
“How am I supposed to eat breakfast when my eyes look like something from a Doctor Who episode ?” I can already hear his deep laughter in the receiver before I even finish my complaining.
“Well good morning to you too. I slept fine, thanks,” he says.
I feel an imminent mood swing rear it's ugly head. It's like puberty all over again. The state of euphoria I was in steadily vanishes. I actually feel like punching him now... In his family jewels, if you get what I mean.
“Why do I feel so angry suddenly? I was absolutely fine two minutes ago,” I groan.
“Your transition is coming to an end. On an emotional scale, you are very unbalanced Leah, so might I suggest that you stay in your room, out of the way. As for your eyes, I'll fetch some sunglasses and buy a pair of contacts. What color would you like ? I, personally, thing you'd look smashing with violet eyes. Not that you don't look lovely anyway.”
“I don't care,” breath Leah, calm down, he's trying to be nice. “You can pick whatever you like but hurry up, I'm hungry. I wouldn't say no to a triple cheeseburger and some curly fries.”
With that I hang up hastily before he says anything else to piss me off. Throwing myself back onto the plush bed, drowsiness creeps over me and pulls me back into a deep slumber.
When I finally awake, my head is resting against Adrian's toned chest. I can feel his slender fingers stroking a stray strand of hair that's escaped from my braid. I pull away uncomfortably. He seems hurt but hey, tough love.
I clear my throat. “So, did you find a solution for my eyes ?”
He swiftly gets up and tosses me a brown paper bag from across the room. I'm still surprised by my new gained sense of equilibrium, heightened vision and fast reflexes. I take a peek inside and see three different pairs of eyewear. Each ridiculously expensive brands. As well as a set of colored contacts, brown, gray and green.
“What, no purple ?” I tease.
He smirks, “Sorry, they were all sold out. Next time.”
I choose the brown. If we're going to be using any sort of public method of transportation, I'll have to resemble my I.D picture.
I go put them in and blink a few times. It feels like I'm seeing through murky water, quite like my human vision. Well, this is going to take some getting used to. Adrian joins me, removing his black Ray Bans and putting in the green lenses.
“This would have been my natural color if I'd been born human. My mother's eyes are the same shade of green.”
I don't know why he tells me this, but it's touching that he can confide himself in me. I only hope that someday I will be able to do the same.
Once I've eaten a lukewarm burger, I look Adrian in the eyes.
“I still have a few questions, you know.”
He holds my gaze, “Then I will try my best to answer them as well as I can.”
“Where are we going ? Who were you feeding on when I walked in on you at the mansion ? How old are you ? Since Forgotten are immortal does that mean that Juliette and Fredrik III are still alive ?” I refuse to take a breath between each question.
He chuckles softly and I'm surprised that the sound brings a smile to my face.
“Well, aren't you curious.” I nod. Yes, yes I am. It's not always a bad thing.
“First of all, we are going to Russia, to Novosibirsk. You shall meet my family there. It' s not my favorite place to bring you so soon after your second birth but I'll be there to protect you from some less enthusiastic members of the Ivanov clan.
“Secondly, the child you saw me feeding on is Demitier's little sister, Wendy. After biting you I needed a younger source to replenish and draw strength from. I usually never use her, only Demitier.
“Thirdly, I am 152 years old, I was born October 20th 1861. And no, Juliette and Fredrik are no longer alive. They were killed in 1604, in a witch hunt. There were many Forgotten who perished in Russia's 17th century witch trials. Humans successfully got there hands on supernatural creature, they were simply unaware which kind. Forgotten were cleaver, when they knew they were done for they pretended to act like puny vampires, because the outcome would have been much worse if humans had found out about another, more powerful and dangerous breed of night roamers. Us.”
Wow. 153 years old. Witch hunts. Russia. This was a lot of information to process at once. Adrian seemed prone to withholding information for long periods of time and then drowning you under a load of it. I was sitting cross legged on the floor, playing with the soggy, greased wrapping from my burger to keep my hands occupied. Adrian gently tilted my head up so he could hold my gaze. I preferred starring intently at the former rather than the latter. Oh well. It's just that I find it hard to come to terms easily with the fact that the man sitting across from me is so old. It's unbelievable. It's unnatural. He looks so young, and yet. I guess what they say is right, that appearances can be deceiving. He seems to read my thoughts, as he turns from me with a look of guilt. Adrian gets up with a bit too much grace, and mumbles something about having to pay the hotel bill.
Once he leaves, I start packing my few possessions. Just as I ask myself how I'll fly to Russia without a proper legal document, I see two passport that look relatively new on the desk. The first is Adrian's. All the information on it adds up with his story, apart from his date of birth unsurprisingly. The other is mine, although not my original. The picture is from my old one, but faintly photoshopped to make me look more mature. I guess that answers my first question. When and how he managed to forge it on the other hand... Some time later, when the sun is setting in the sky, Adrian returns. This time, he is accompanied by a young man, around twenty five, I'd say. He doesn't find the politeness to introduce us, simply steers him over to the bed, lays him down and ascends on him. I want to look away as his fangs pierce the fragile skin and blood coats his lips, but I can't. I am transfixed, fascinated by the scene unfolding, that only days ago made me weak at the knees and queasy. My own fangs dig into my tongue and I become painfully aware of the burning sensation coursing down my dry throat. I let out a raspy, desperate breath. God, I just want one bite, one taste, one drop even. All too soon he pulls away and wipes the excess from the corner of his mouth, gives me a smirk before tossing the man over his shoulder and disappearing out the door. Less then a minute passes and suddenly he's only a few inches away from me. I didn't even notice he was back. Now he's so close, I realize that he reeks of blood. The odor is pungent, sickeningly rich, and oh so strong. I can't help myself when I lace, against my own will, my hands in his hair to pull him slightly closer. His eyes widen in surprise but I think nothing of it. Gently, I bring my top lip to meet his bottom one. I can taste the essence of human life and it's almost enough to make me swoon. I give myself five seconds, then pull away unwillingly. Our lips make a satisfying popping sound as they part. What he might believe our first kiss, I will always remember as my first taste of blood. I untangle my hands and push him away.
That night, we both lay motionless in our separate beds, eyes wide open but never uttering a word, replaying the event over and over in our heads. What had I done ?