Nearly a week had passed and I heard nothing from Kieren. He hadn't shown up at Joe and the office building he'd been staying in was empty. He was gone, and a large part of me knew that, but I couldn't stop myself from looking up eagerly every time the door opened.
"Okay," Tara said finally. I'd felt her eyes on me for the past week, begging me to tell her what was going on. I'd ignored her because there was no way I could even begin to explain what had happened. Now though, it didn't matter so much. I was getting desperate. "You're going to tell me what's going on, Tayler."
I sighed quietly, my eyes shooting up as the door opened yet again. "You've been doing that every day for a week," Tara accused. "What happened?"
"He left," I replied softly. "He just… left."
"What happened with you guys?" she asked, her voice much softer now.
"I don't know," I admitted. I still wasn't exactly clear when things had changed. "I have no idea. He… I…" I didn't know what to say. "I don't know."
Tara was silent for a moment. "He told you how he felt," she deciphered from the look on my face.
"How did you know he felt anything?" I asked.
"Some things are obvious, Tayler. Maybe more obvious to outside observers," she replied. I thought of her and Chris and realized that might be true.
I told her about what happened at the shop and in his building. She listened intently and I stumbled over some explanations when I realized I was dangerously close to giving vital information away. I just hadn't had anyone to talk to in so long that I found myself really opening up.
"So who do you want?" Tara asked bluntly.
I was silent. I knew the answer to the question, but the finality seemed unfair. "He was right," I said eventually. "He's not who I want. And it wouldn't work. But that didn't change how I felt while it was happening. It felt… amazing. He's amazing. And now he's gone, and I don't know if something's happened to him, if he's okay, anything, because I was stupid enough to let things progress much farther than they should've."
Tara smiled sympathetically. "What is it with all the people you know always being in such danger all the time? I'd swear you're a danger magnet."
I froze for just a second before smiling back. "That's probably true," I said. "Thanks, Tara… for listening."
"Sure," she replied. "I'm actually sorta surprised you even told me anything. You've been very closed off lately… even more so than usual," she added teasingly.
"I know," I replied quietly. I had no reason to be anymore, but I hadn't opened up to anyone about Kieren's true nature. I was nearly positive my brother would chase after him if he could have. I couldn't handle the thought of that. If Kieren was gone, at least he was safe—even if that meant I wouldn't hear from him again.
When I got home that night, I was surprised to find Jaden waiting for us outside our building. He hardly came around anymore and I hated it. Not just because I missed him like mad, but because he and Chris's relationship had been strained as well. Chris had been colder towards him and I knew it was my fault. I hated it. Jaden hadn't done anything wrong, but he was getting treated badly by my extremely overprotective older brother because Chris thought that was what he should do.
"Hey," Jaden said, straightening up as we approached.
Chris merely grunted back, unlocking the door but not following us inside. "I've gotta do something for the boss tonight—pretty much the only way I'm keeping my job," he told me. "Jaden's going to hang here until I get back." I nodded and Chris hugged me quickly. "Love you, sis."
"Love you too," I told him. He left without a word to Jaden. I bolted the door behind him and sighed. This wasn't going to be anything but awkward and I wasn't sure I was up for it.
When I turned around, I was surprised to find Jaden staring at me. Lately he seemed to avoid looking directly at me, like it hurt his retinas or something. I wasn't used to being under his gaze anymore. I broke eye contact immediately. I didn't know what else to do. Being around him was difficult. Even now, there was no way I was going to say anything about Kieren. Even if he could up and leave, I wasn't going to betray him. It couldn't mean nothing—losing Jaden couldn't mean nothing, so I held on to what I could.
"I'm sorry about Chris," I heard myself saying. "None of this is your fault."
He just shrugged. "You're his sister, Tayler. I kinda figured it would be like this." His nonchalance irritated me. I didn't want him to be okay with losing us. I wasn't okay with losing him.
"It shouldn't be," I muttered darkly, brushing past him to the couch. Part of me just wanted to disappear into my room, but I couldn't. "Are we any closer to catching him?" I asked, changing the subject before he could ask about Kieren. I knew he wanted to.
It was Jaden's turn to sigh. "No," he admitted. "Since that girl in the warehouse, he's been pretty low key. Makes me think he's up to something. And it worries me."
"Part of me wishes he'd just make his move," I confessed. "I'm tired of all this waiting." And of worrying so much about Kieren, I added internally.
"I know what you mean," he nodded, dropping next to me on the couch. He settled in, getting comfortable before turning to me again. His eyes were playful suddenly, and I was really thrown off. "Do you remember that vampire at the blood bank?"
I nodded, wincing just slightly as I thought about our first real kiss. "I spotted him again at a blood bank in Bloomington. He really makes no effort at all."
"Did you catch him?" I asked.
He shook his head. "He took off again. You probably could've caught him if you were with me. He was fast, but he kept tripping over shit. It would have been amusing under any other circumstances."
I shrugged, "It's probably amusing regardless."
Silence enveloped us. I hated sitting in silence with him, especially since they were always so awkward lately. He sighed again, reaching for the remote to the TV. I understood that he wanted to fill the silence, but I felt like it would be the end of any conversation we would have. I couldn't take it.
"Don't you miss me?" I asked him, instantly hating myself for sounding so desperate.
His hand froze in place, just inches above the remote. "Of course I miss you," he replied, not looking at me.
"Then what are we doing?" I asked him. "This is so stupid. I hate everything being so awkward."
"I know," he said. "So do I."
"Then why don't we do something about it?"
He shook his head. "You know why, Tayler."
"No," I replied. "I don't. You know that I care about you just as much as you care about me."
"No, you don't," he replied vehemently. "Or you wouldn't continuously lie to me."
"I'm not lying to you. I'm just not telling you everything. I'm respecting his privacy, Jaden. He confided in me and I'm respecting that. I don't understand why you're being so… ridiculous about it."
"Ridiculous?!" he exclaimed, turning to look at me for the first time. "You're protecting the feelings of someone you don't even know."
"Why does it even matter to you what the connection is between me and Kieren? I told you that there was nothing going on between us. I don't understand why you think I should betray his trust. So you feel better about yourself?" I asked harshly. "I want you, Jaden. Not him. Why does that not matter?"
"Where is he?" Jaden asked quietly.
I shook my head. "I don't know. He just left, okay? He didn't tell me where he was going or if he planned on coming back. He's gone." And it's my fault, I added internally. I hadn't expected to miss Kieren the way I did. I never wanted him to have to leave to get some peace. And regardless, I was still really worried about him. He could easily be in serious trouble and I would never know. Part of me wondered if I would ever stop worrying about him.
Jaden was silent, watching me carefully. When I raised my eyes to meet his, I was surprised by what I saw there. My heart sank slowly. "You know, don't you?" I asked, swallowing the lump in my throat. "You just want me to tell you."
He remained silent, but his eyes gave him away. That was exactly what he wanted and I still found myself hesitating to admit it. "How long have you known?" I asked him.
He shook his head. "I'm not going to answer that until you admit to me what he is."
"He's an amazing man—"
"He's a vampire, Tayler," Jaden spat, rising from the couch.
"I never saw that first," I replied calmly. "He's an amazing man who happens to be a vampire."
"And you just… what… ignored that?" Jaden asked incredulously. "How could you do that? Do you have any idea what he could've done to you?"
"He wouldn't have done anything to me," I replied. "He never would've hurt me." Jaden shook his head again, as if he was trying to wrap his mind around this and finding it impossible. "He's not who you're looking for, Jaden. He's been trying to help us find him."
Jaden looked at me, the incredulity obvious in his eyes. "He told you that and you just believed him?"
"I know him. We've spent time together. Are you really going to question my judgment?"
"You're damn right I'm going to question your judgment! You've known what he was for over a month and you say nothing to me or Chris? How can you do that?" Jaden yelled.
"I wasn't just going to hand him over to you for you to do whatever you saw fit. He's not like the rest of them and I wasn't going to let you kill him because of it!" I exploded. "You both only see things in black and white, good or evil… there is more to life than that! Nearly everyone and everything falls in between, in that gray space you and Chris are so afraid of. You don't get to play God because you can blindly pretend that gray area isn't there. I wasn't going to let you hurt him because you think that's your job. It's not."
Jaden eyed me carefully before responding quietly. "You're in love with him," he said tonelessly.
I threw my hands up in frustration. "I care about him, yes. I'm not in love with him. I'm in love with you." I paused for a second and realization hit me hard. "Oh, God, Jaden. You didn't. Please tell me you didn't." He didn't respond immediately and I knew he had. "Where did Chris go?" I yelled, jumping off the couch and grabbing my keys. "Where?!"
"Either you tell me, or I'm going to go find him myself. And I'll probably get caught by the real bad guy here, but I'm going to try. It would really be a whole lot better if you would tell me where he went."
Jaden hesitated for only a second. "I'll take you."
It was much farther out of town than I would have guessed. We drove past the blood bank in Eagan, farther south to an empty warehouse on the outskirts of suburbia. I bolted from the car the second Jaden pulled into the parking lot. I wasn't sure what to expect when I entered the warehouse. Chris had a decent head start on us. There was a chance that I was too late, but I didn't allow myself to focus on that. I couldn't.
"Tayler," Chris whipped around, his voice coming out somewhat strangled. "What are you doing here?"
"Sorry, man," Jaden said from behind me. I paid them no attention.
"Where is he?" I asked my brother.
"Tayler," he said my name again, gripping my upper arms tightly to stop me from moving. "You need to know something. He's a vampire."
I looked at my brother, dumbfounded, before turning around to Jaden. "You didn't tell him?" I asked.
Jaden shook his head. "I couldn't bear to. You know how pissed he's going to be, don't you?"
"Tell me what?" Chris asked, watching the conversation between me and Jaden confusedly.
"I know that he's a vampire, Chris. I've known for weeks." I paused, but when I saw how absolutely dangerous he looked, I quickly continued. "You can be as mad at me as you want, but where is he?"
He gestured at the room about ten feet away, following me closely as I hurried into it. I wasn't surprised to find Kieren strapped to a table, staring at the wall desolately. I was just so happy that he was alive that I found myself unable to move from the doorway. I wanted to say something, but the breath hitched in my throat.
He turned to face me, the surprise evident on his face. I was at his side in a second. "Kieren," I said quietly. "I thought you were leaving."
"I couldn't," he replied sheepishly. "I tried. You're impossible to stay away from."
"I missed you," I told him. "But I hoped that if you were gone, you were safe at least. Obviously that isn't the case. What has he done to you?"
Kieren shook his head. "Just threw me around a little. Nothing I can't handle."
"I'm so sorry," I reached for his hands and when I realized they were fastened down, I released them. I could hear Chris growl behind me but I ignored him. "I am so, so sorry about this."
Kieren flexed his wrists before sitting up. "No, I understand. They were trying to protect you. We're all on the same side, even if they don't see it."
"Protecting me has caused way too much trouble," I muttered.
"Can someone please explain to me what the fuck is going on?" Chris growled from the doorway.
"I can," Kieren spoke up softly. "If you'll allow me to."
There should be about three more chapters left after this one... I don't have anything more written, but I haven't it all outlined and everything. I also have a new story up as well called No Prince Charming... it's different from this, more typical of what I usually write, so if you're bored, go ahead and check that out. And as usual, I'm going to beg you to review. Pretty please. I would really love to know what you think of this if you're reading.
Thanks to ambiecromber (well I suppose this answers your question about whether or not he's really gonna leave… thanks so much for reviewing) & Champagne2 (I'm glad the Kieren/Tayler interaction made you happy… it was very fun to write).