Balancing a large box and two shopping bags with one hand, I stood outside the front door, fumbling for my keys. The ring had over a dozen different keys on it, so it was always a pain to open the door. I kept forgetting to separate the keys into different rings, so it was my own fault really.
When I did manage to open the door, I stepped into the vestibule and immediately lost control over my parcels, which tumbled to the floor. I swore loudly.
Quick as a wink, Callie was there, catching them for me. Had she been hovering by the door, waiting for me to come home?
Callie was a lot like a puppy, I had decided a few months ago. She was cute and playful, and got excited easily, and she had a tendency to get very loud at times. I know that there are people like that out there, but Callie acting this way was very strange because she was a vampire.
The vampires I had read about and seen on TV were stunningly attractive beings with cold, cruel personalities, who had a penchant for sex as much as for blood. Callie had none of these qualities. While she was attractive, it was in a blond, blue eyed, energetic way.
From what I had learned from Gabriel, vampires were loners by nature and didn't get along well with others. They craved each other's blood more so than human's, which made forming lasting attachments pretty difficult.
Callie heaped the packages up on the kitchen table while I secured the door, which was also a pain in the ass because it could only be locked or unlocked on either side with the key.
I had thought about seeing if I could get an extra key made, mostly during times like this, but the key was rather unique and probably insanely hard to copy. It was cylindrical, with notches and grooves all around it. Not something I could get copied at K Mart.
"What is all this?" Callie asked, peering into the bags curiously. She oohed appreciatively.
I hurried over and pulled the bags away. "It's a present for Gabriel." I said quickly.
Callie's eyebrows raised in surprise. "For Gabriel..." she said slowly.
"Okay, it's for everyone, but I got it because Gabriel's still acting... weird." I explained. "I thought it would take his mind off things."
Normally, Gabriel and I were only ever in agreement about one thing: we wouldn't give the time of day to one another. If our very lives depended on it. But... that was before his evil wife kidnapped him, then went nuts and tried to kill him, forcing him to kill her in self defense, while almost killing me in the process. Since then, Gabriel had gone from obnoxious and pleasure-seeking, to moody and downright sullen. He was always brooding, which would be bearable if he stayed in his room and did it there, but he insisted on being in the living room or kitchen most times, foisting his worst moments on his housemates.
Callie grimaced. "It was pretty bad today." she whispered softly. "You could cut the tension in the air with a knife. He finally shut himself up in his room about an hour ago."
"It's been months. I think I'm actually missing the old Gabriel." I said bitterly, grabbing the box. "Come on, help me set this up in the living room."
I set the box on the coffee table and cut the tape on it with one of my keys. I removed the protective foam, revealing glossy black plastic. "Unpack the controllers for me?"
Callie sprang into action, using her fangs to slice open the heavy duty plastic packaging. "There's a lot of games and accessories here." she commented. "It must have cost a pretty penny."
I shrugged, though I had felt the sting of the five hundred dollar price tag at the store counter. Great Aunt Katrina had left me her house and enough money to live comfortably for many years, but I had grown up in a frugal-by-necessity family and had developed a cheapskate's mindset. "I wasn't sure what he would like, so I got a few games."
Callie held up a used copy of 'Dance Dance Revolution', arching one thin brow. "Honestly?"
"He might like it, give me a break." I grabbed the game from her. "Can you get the rest of the boxes from the porch? I forgot all about them." I held out my keys.
Her bright blue eyes lit up. "There's more?" She was gone the next minute. I heard an excited squeal from the porch and smiled. Then she was back, boxes piled high in her arms. "We have to set this up right now!" she cried. "I call drums!" She set the boxes down and lifted the couch up to move it out of the way.
A thought occurred to me then. "Callie, you're always so cheerful, I take it for granted. Gabriel... 'lost' Nora, I can understand why he's so depressed all the time. But you... you lost someone, too. How can you be so okay?"
She set the couch down carefully, then turned to me, a smile on her face that didn't quite reach her eyes. "Callisto was my sister, so of course I miss her. We, vampires, don't make that many emotional connections, so we treasure the few we have." She walked over to me and wrapped her arms around my shoulders, leaning her forehead against my collarbone. "But, I just can't stay sad, or upset. Not when I'm around you, Angie. Every time I'm with you, all my dark clouds float away." She pulled back, tucking a lock of my hair behind my ear fondly.
Callie's shows of affection were often like this. I found them more amusing than uncomfortable. There was also a bit of pity, too. "I'm not a replacement for your sister, Callie." I told her gently. "I am your friend, though."
This time her smile reached her eyes, making them glow. "I know, and you help me deal. Gabriel doesn't have you to help him deal. He doesn't have anyone. The only family member he has left has his own life, and they don't really talk much. So he has to deal with things alone."
She leaned her face close to mine, her smile turned mischievous. I grew suspicious of her intentions, I might feel sorry for her, but there were limits. Then she whispered, "I totally call drums." and she was back to unpacking boxes.
"I got the instruments used, so please be gentle with them." I cautioned her.
"I'll be careful." she replied happily. "How soon can we play?"
"We can play it if that's what Gabriel wants to play. We're trying to cheer him up, remember?"
"You are. I've found a new passion." She had the drums already set up and was sitting behind them, tapping them experimentally with the drumsticks.
After I had finished hooking the console up to the TV, I disposed of the empty boxes and bits of Styrofoam. Callie was reading the game manual, her eyes zipping through the pages.
"I guess I should go see if he's willing to come out." I said, after making sure there was nothing else I could do first. Now that it was time to go get Gabriel, I was suddenly nervous. The vampire had lost his wife, whom he had probably been married to for half of forever, how could I expect a shiny new toy to make him feel better?
Upstairs was completely dark, as usual. I reached for the light switch, not expecting much. Of course it did nothing. The light bulb up here went out almost every other week. I blamed it on cheap wiring, even though I was sure that wasn't it. It was almost as if Gabriel's dark mood was seeping out of his room and affecting the house. My brain couldn't rationalize such a creepy idea, so I just lied to myself.
I crept blindly down the hallway, even though by now I could navigate it with my eyes closed. It was as still as death up here, and I didn't want the soft sound of my shoes on the carpet to break the silence.
Gabriel's room was on the opposite side of the floor from the stairs, all the way at the end of the hallway. He had the Master Bedroom to himself, as it was the only room big enough to contain his ego.
An eternity passed, and I reached his door. I tapped on it lightly with my knuckle. It was a soft sound, but with his hearing he had probably heard me coming up the stairs.
There was no answer, so I checked the doorknob. It opened easily, revealing a room just as dark as the hallway. There wasn't even any moonlight coming in through the windows, because Gabriel had covered and sealed them shut after he first moved in. Great.
"Gabriel?" I called softly. I reached for the light switch, and discovered that one was out as well. "Are you even in here?" Fear was starting to creep into my stomach, so I focused away from it, letting myself become annoyed instead. "Are you doing something to the lights? Some of us actually like being able to see, you know."
There was no answer. My stomach tightened and my hands were getting clammy. I tried drumming up some anger to burn up the fear that was crawling up my chest. "Seriously Gabriel, I only came up here to help you get back to your normal, pain-in-the-ass self. It's not healthy, acting the way you do." My heart was like a butterfly in a cage. "You're starting to scare... Callie." I added, biting my lip.
To my left, there was a soft sound, the movement of sheets. I turned to it immediately. Gabriel's voice came from the same direction, dull and flat. "Who are you kidding? I can smell the fear on you."
I ignored his observation, as challenging it would only lead to an argument. "Come downstairs, I've got something to show you."
"What is it?"
"You'll find out when you come downstairs." My mission done, I started to back up towards the door. I was definitely keen on getting to somewhere with light. My eyes couldn't even adjust to this level of darkness.
There was more rustling, then the faint creak of bed springs. "Is it worth it?"
'God, I hope so.' I thought to myself. "Come and see." I said aloud.
Suddenly, my brain was screaming a warning at me. I sensed his presence right in front of me. "Why aren't you telling me?" Gabriel asked, much closer to me now. Despite the flat tone to his voice, I could almost feel the dangerous intent hidden there. "Are you planning something to get rid of me?"
I gaped silently for a bit. How could he even think... "Of course not." I said finally. Now I was really getting annoyed. "Where would you even get that idea from? I'm only trying to help you."
"What do you mean 'why'? You're obviously still upset about last year. I understand you went through something truly awful, but it's been almost six months now and you've been sinking further and further into this depression of yours. It's not good for you."
"I meant 'why do you want to help me'?"
"I don't understand, I just answered that."
"My troubles don't concern you..." His face was very close to mine now. He could probably see perfectly clearly in this darkness, and I wondered what it was he was looking for in my face.
"Like hell they don't! I was there too, remember? Without me, you wouldn't have been able to-" I shut my mouth with a snap, to prevent the rest of that sentence from coming out.
"Exactly." His voice dropped very low, he was speaking softly in my ear. "You almost died because of me. Why would you ever want me to feel anything but remorse?"
My shoulders slumped, the wind knocked out of me. "Look, Gabriel. I know that the remorse you're feeling doesn't have anything to do with what you did to me. You're completely centered on the guilt you feel... about Nora. But, you only did what you had to do, and enough time has passed for mourning." I turned my face to the floor I couldn't see. "I think it's time you moved on."
"Moved on to what?" He asked. "There is no more Katrina, no more Nora. Nothing can ever replace them. What is left for me?"
I half turned to the door. "What's downstairs, for starters." I offered weakly.
He let out a great sigh, his breath kissing my cheek and neck. I suppressed the urge to shiver. Gabriel didn't have to breath, it was a deliberate action on his part, usually so he could speak. It always took my by surprise when he took a deep breath or sighed. "Fine, let me get dressed."
My stomach dropped a few inches. "You're not dressed? Like... you're still in your pajamas?"
His voice came from a few feet to my right, by the closet. "I took a shower, and didn't feel like putting anything on."
I was instantly and extremely grateful for the utter darkness in the room. "You know what, I'll meet you downstairs. It's not like you need any help finding it."
I turned on my heel and fled the room. "I'll be down in a minute." Gabriel said absently, but I was already at the stairs.
The living room light stung my eyes, making me blink rapidly. Callie walked over. "While you were gone I downloaded and installed the updates." She paused, looking at me closely. "Are you all right? You look... flustered."
"I'm fine." I answered quickly, walking over and sitting on the couch. I picked up a controller and started up the game.
"Uh, how did it go? Is Gabriel going to be joining us?"
"Yeah, he'll be right down." Just as I said that, Gabriel appeared on the stairs. He wore a dark blue button down shirt and a pair of black jeans. His feet were bare and his dark hair was damp and uncombed.
Callie looked over at me, arching a brow. I ignored her, grabbing one of the plastic guitars and getting up. I walked over to Gabriel and thrust it out to him.
There was a glimmer of interest in his eyes as he took it from me. "What is it?" He asked, holding up one end, then the other.
"It's a controller, for a new game I bought." I turned away from him and walked over to the microphone stand. I picked up the controller again and pressed start.
Gabriel walked into the room fully, putting the guitar strap over his shoulder. He looked at the TV screen, then down to the sleek black console blinking quietly underneath. Then, he looked back to the guitar in his hands. "How does it work?"
It was a relief to hear some emotion in his voice for a change. "When your track bar comes up, just press the colored buttons that match the chords on screen." He gave me a blank look. "You'll get it when you see it." I assured him.
"No, I mean how does it work?" He looked down at the controller again. "It's not even connected to anything..."
"It's wireless. It doesn't need to be connected." I picked up another guitar and put the strap over my shoulder. I hit a few few buttons. "Oh, damn, it's asking for our band name." I looked at the two vampires. "Any suggestions?"
"Sex bob-omb!" Callie cried excitedly.
"Okay." I put that in. "It's taken already."
"Drat." She pouted.
"What kind of name are we looking for?" Gabriel asked.
"Something cool and interesting." Callie said. "Something edgy."
"Something not embarrassing." I added.
"How about 'Tesla's Coil'?" Gabriel suggested. "Is that in use?"
I put it in. "Okay, we're good."
"That's a good name." Callie said. "I like it." I could tell that she was trying. She didn't really care that much for Gabriel, so I appreciated that as her best effort.
"It's got a nice ring to it." I agreed. "Did you know Nikola Tesla or something, Gabriel?" It wouldn't surprise me one bit if he did. I wasn't sure exactly how old Gabriel was, but I had a feeling he'd been around for centuries.
"Not personally, no." Gabriel adjusted his shoulder strap idly while the game loaded up.
I picked a random setlist. "You're set on easy mode, Gabriel. You can change it later on, after you get used to the controls."
Callie set her level on 'expert' and grinned, showing her fangs. I decided to stick to easy, since I was using the guitar and the microphone at the same time. I hadn't played in a while, not since Chris, my brother, had gone overseas.
"We are Tesla's Coil!" Callie shouted as the song started up.
I frowned at my scores. "Well, that sucked." I said sourly. "I'm rustier than I thought."
Callie, who had of course gotten one hundred percent, smiled encouragingly. "I like your voice, you sing very well. Your guitar playing... not so much."
"Bah." I pulled off the shoulder strap. "I'm going to go get a drink."
"I'll join you." Callie jumped up. Gabriel wasn't paying attention to either of us. His eyes were on the screen as he selected another song.
He had gotten a hang on the guitar right away, as I had expected him to. He naturally had fast reflexes and dexterity, so I figured video games would be a piece of cake. Besides, weren't vampires supposed to naturally be good at everything?
"What do you think?" I asked Callie as we walked into the kitchen. I grabbed a glass from the cabinet and filled it with tap water. I took a long drink, soothing my throat, which wasn't used to singing three songs in a row. I looked over the counter into the living room.
"About what? Gabriel?" Callie looked with me.
"Do you think he looks a little better?" I leaned my elbows on the counter and took another drink.
Callie shrugged. "At least he's not acting annoyingly depressing."
"Yeah, he looks better. It only took a five hundred dollar entertainment purchase, but I think I've upgraded his status from 'Tragically melancholic' to 'dully indifferent'."
"Wonder what it'll take to get him back up to 'sarcastically bitchy'."
"I don't think my credit card limit is that high." I finished my water and rinsed the glass in the sink. "Come on, let's get back to cheering him up." Callie groaned loudly. "I'll let you have the microphone this time."
"Okay, but only because I love you."
"Nonsense, you've been eying the mic."
"Actually, I do like the way you sing. I'll take bass this time." Callie followed me back into the living room, where we got ready for another setlist.