A young woman wakes up in the middle of the night only to find a vampire having an existential crisis sitting on her bed.
A/N: The last chapter! Meeting an element of the supernatural probably has lifelong effects on a person's psyche. It will probably put into question many of the things a person believes. This chapter deals with that. It also comes back to the question of existence...and what it actually means to feel real.
HAUNTED | CHAPTER 3
For thirteen years, he came to me. Every November 1st, he would be there without fail. Rain or shine. War or peace. No matter where I was, no matter what I had going on that day, he would show up and I was bound by a promise to drop everything and go with him. The first year was awkward. Things hadn't changed much. I was still at the same apartment, still going out with Neal and still working as an X-ray tech for the local hospital. Things were so normal that I almost didn't expect him to even show up. I mean, really, I had two conversations with the guy…how much of an impression could I leave for him to come back?
I shouldn't have underestimated him.
He showed up at my door at exactly midnight on November 1st. I was ready to go to sleep but all of a sudden, there he was. We talked for a while but I couldn't keep the tiredness at bay. I fell asleep on the couch but when I woke up, I was in my bed with him lying next to me, lazily playing with a strand of my hair. It was all downhill from there. He forced me to take a sick day at work, since it was a Tuesday, but afterwards couldn't think of anything to do. We ended up talking some more, watching two movies and going out to dinner. Life was going well for him. There had been more instability in the Middle East, more suicide bombers, more deaths. He said he avoided the bodies of American soldiers. They were usually collected by the US military and brought back home to the families. The locals, however, were left out in the desert to rot. And that was when he would swoop in, drink one body, collect the blood of another body in a jug to save for later. He told me that he hated drinking from the dead at first. The blood was cold and tasted old. Like food that had been left out for too long. But then he got used to it.
"Besides," he had said, grinning from ear to ear, "a little loss of flavor is a small price to pay for what I get in return."
I never figured out if he meant getting a clear conscience…or getting me.
The night of his first visit after our deal, he grew restless and angry. It was clear that the day had passed by too quickly for him. Which was more than what I could say for myself. A day had never seemed longer. But if he noticed my discomfort, he made no mention of it. After dinner, he announced that he wanted to go clubbing. At his suggestion, I immediately wrinkled my nose and firmly declined. But it was his day and "no" was never the right answer. So I got dressed and we went. It felt claustrophobic, being in a crowded room with people all swaying this way and that. It was very crowded that night for some reason. I think it was something to do with there being a semi-famous DJ. I could hardly move, yet alone dance. The music was too loud and the air smelled like sweat and cologne. I feared that eventually, someone was going to push me over. But then I felt his arms snake around my body as he stood behind me. I tensed at first. It felt so wrong to be held by someone other than Neal. But what could I do? I let him steer me however which way he wanted. I didn't care if we were in rhythm or not. I don't think he cared either.
Around midnight, he dropped me off at my apartment in his rented car. It felt weird to see him drive a Ford Fusion. It seemed to normal and our situation was anything but. As I was about to get out of the car, he grabbed my left hand and, his eyes never leaving mine, pressed his lips to my skin. I gave him a stony look, a look that he laughed away. Winking at me, he put the car into drive and sped away just as my phone buzzed with a worried text from Neal. My throat was dry and my skin crawled with unease.
The next several years were no better. He continued his flirtations, continued using every excuse to be close to me. Dancing, teaching me to shoot a bow and arrow, pressing himself next to me on the couch as we watched a movie, holding my hand during nighttime walks by the lake, anything and everything he could think of. I felt like a whore. It felt like I was selling my soul, my body, my time—all things that belonged to Neal—to a strange man I couldn't even call a friend. All the while, I reminded myself that it was for a good cause, that I was keeping him from killing needlessly, but who was I kidding? I didn't even have proof that he was keeping up his end of our bargain.
Despite his flirting, I was surprised to find that he never crossed the line. Not once. There were no kisses, no allusions to sex, nothing of the sort. He knew I had a boyfriend.
"It's another thing I love about you," he whispered to me one day as we rode on a Ferris wheel at Raanu's high school carnival, "It's how you treat Neal."
"What are you talking about?" I asked, slightly bored. I had learned to tune him out whenever he tried to charm me.
"You're so deeply devoted and loyal," he said, running a finger down my arm, "you would never cheat on him, would you?"
I glared at him before brushing his hand off.
"No," I answered, "I wouldn't."
"Even if you were unhappy with him."
"Even then," I affirmed, "I could never betray a person's trust like that."
There was no missing the momentary look of disappointment on his face but it was quickly replaced by one of pure bitterness.
"Lucky son of a bitch," he muttered under his breath.
I chose to ignore him.
One day a year soon proved to be too little for him. But we had had a deal. Even then, he found a loophole. It took him three years to figure it out but he eventually got there. We never made any sort of agreement about keeping in touch. And so one day as we waited in line for some frozen yogurt at the 25th Annual Town Festival, he asked me for my email address, saying he wanted to write to me while he was away. I shrugged and gave it to him, deciding that he could write whatever he wanted. I was in no way obligated to respond.
It carried on like that for a couple of months. He sent me email after email after email. Some were short, sometimes forwarding a video he thought was interesting, a news article or (on more than one occasion), a cheesy pick-up line. Others were rather long, describing his most recent travels and meals. It was actually kind of interesting to read about at first. I was even slightly jealous; this guy was traveling all across the Middle East and Eastern Europe while I was stuck in the suburban United States. But then he would start talking about blood and I would remember the price he had to pay for his travels. That was no vacation he was on. The hardships of living in a developing country were a daily problem for him. The lack of sanitation, the language barrier (because becoming a vampire doesn't automatically make you intelligent or well-versed in the world's languages), the terrible housing, the lack of acquaintances. Nothing was worth it.
So for several years, it continued in that way. He was my burden to bear while I was his only true friend. It was sad, really. Part of me wondered what would happen if he revealed his secret to someone else. I even voiced that thought to him. He said he would think about it but after pondering over it myself, I told him not to. No one really believed in vampires anymore. They were intriguing, mythological creatures whose only place in the world was in fiction. They were either dark, romantic heroes or vicious, terrifying monsters. I used to hold that belief as well until it was ripped out so harshly. Knowing what I knew shook my world and changed my life forever. I wouldn't wish that on anyone else. I told him this in an email. The only email I ever wrote to him.
Our next meeting was the only one in which he left early. It was also the reason why the emails stopped completely afterward.
As usual, I was in my pajamas. We had a ritual. He would show up at midnight. I would greet him…and then leave him to entertain himself while I slept. Normally, he would watch TV in my living room or read in my room with the small table lamp turned on. That night started off no different. I was standing in front of my closet, hanging up some clothes I had neglected for days, when I heard a noise behind me. Before I could even speak, I felt hands clamp onto my shoulders and turn me around. I was then engulfed in the tightest hug I had ever experienced in my life.
"I've missed you," he murmured into my ear as he loosened his grip.
"You nearly killed me," I choked out. He stepped back and gave me a sheepish grin.
"Sorry," he said, "I got a little excited."
I rolled my eyes and went back to hanging up clothes. That was when the trouble started. Not keen on being ignored, he grabbed my arm and pulled me to him.
"What, no welcome back kiss?" he joked, "Am I going to have to take one for myself?"
Laughing to himself, he brought my hand up to his lips as if to kiss it when something glinted in his eye. He blinked and stared at my hand.
"What's this?" he asked.
I yanked my hand away, feeling my heart beat faster. I was hoping he wouldn't notice. But he had to find out sometime.
"My engagement ring."
"Engagement. Ring," he repeated, "Who gave you that thing?"
I glared at him. He knew the answer already. His face darkened with anger.
"Don't tell me that Fish Boy actually proposed to you," he said in a low, dangerous voice, "Don't tell me that you're going to marry that fucking idiot."
It was my turn to be angry.
"He's not 'Fish Boy', he's Neal. And he's not an idiot." Not as much as you are anyway, I thought to myself. "And yes, I am going to marry him."
He gave me a look so full of anger and hatred that I instinctively shrunk back, suddenly feeling the fear I hadn't felt in years crawling back into my body. And then, he was gone. He had left so fast that it unnerved me. I went from room to room, calling for him, absolutely sure that he wouldn't just leave but to no avail. I didn't sleep that night at all.
He wasn't back the next morning so I went to work, feeling rather agitated and nervous. All I could think about was him, where he was, what he was doing. If he was breaking our bargain. I could hardly stand the suspense, which was good because when I got home from work, he was waiting for me. His face was neutral and calm. It was unsettling.
"When's the wedding?" he asked tonelessly.
He nodded, his lips pressed into a hard line.
"So the next time I see you, you'll be married."
"It was going to happen eventually," I said quietly.
"I knew that," he hissed, "I just didn't think it would be with him."
Did you think it would be with you? The question was on my lips but I knew saying it out loud would only make him angrier. I wondered then if he had ever planned on marrying anyone. Could he ever marry anyone? Suddenly it was so hard to hate him. He was so alone.
"You can come if you want," I said, the words coming out my mouth before I could stop them, "I'll send you a…"
The murderous look he gave me stopped me from finishing the sentence. The room was silent for a while. I averted my eyes and fiddled with my thumbs, waiting for him to say something. Anything was better than letting the tension rise even further.
"You realize this doesn't change anything," he said finally, "You're still mine on November 1st. Don't think you can use this as a way out."
Is that what he thought? That I was rushing into marriage just to get away from him? I didn't know whether to feel insulted (how can he think I would treat marriage so lightly?) or relieved that he wasn't expecting anything to change. Because if it did change—if my actions somehow changed him, reverted him back to his dark days—the guilt would be immense.
"Of course not," I said, shaking my head, "I'll still expect to see you every year."
And with that, he was gone.
The emails stopped. I didn't hear from him at all during the year. But honestly, I was too busy with all the changes in my life to even care. I was getting married. I was also going back to school to get a certificate in programming because really, who wants to be an x-ray tech for the rest of their lives? Neal and I moved into a brand-new condo after a honeymoon in Canada (as if an x-ray tech and a research assistant in a struggling oceanography lab could afford anything fancy). With so many things happening at once, time flew by fast and before I knew it, Halloween was over and I was stepping outside my condo at exactly 11:50pm, trying not to wake Neal. Just as my cell phone alarm beeped midnight, I felt a cold hand press itself against mine.
"Didn't want to invite me inside?" a voice whispered into my ear. I shivered, not willing to answer.
"How's life?" I asked. He shrugged.
"Kind of hard, actually. Who'd ever thought that the Middle East could actually become a bit stable? Not that many people dying. I'm thinking of leaving, actually."
"Mexico. The drug cartels aren't happy with weed being legal there now. They're busting up anyone who tries to sell it with a government license."
"Not for me, it ain't. I just got to brush up on my Spanish."
I cringed inwardly. He was like a leech, benefitting from other peoples' miseries. Even if he wasn't causing conflict himself, he lived off of it. He hated peace. And I hated him for it.
I changed the subject then, not wanting to hear any more about his lifestyle. We walked for an hour before I started to get sleepy. But when I was finally in bed with Neal snoring slightly to my left, I found that I couldn't sleep. It didn't take long to figure out why. There was a strange shadow across our bedroom. When I turned my eyes to the window, he was there, perched on a tree, grinning at me through the moonlight.
And so life went on. He stopped coming to me at midnight. I think it's mainly due to Neal. It gets hard to keep sneaking out at midnight. And I refused to invite him in, not for my protection but for Neal's. I could never be sure and I never fully trusted him. But thankfully, he never asked after that first night. Of course, he didn't need to ask anymore, not after what happened three years after the wedding. It was a Saturday and Neal was called in to the lab at 6am about some dying cultures. I was home, happily preparing breakfast when the doorbell rang. Before I could even put my spatula down, Lee—Jiao's four-year-old son I was watching for a couple hours—had opened the door.
"Hello, Mister!" I heard his high-pitched voice squeak.
"Hey, I'm looking for, uh, your mom." My blood ran cold with the thought of him speaking to a child.
"Lee, don't invite him—" I began to shout but the damage was done.
"My mom's at my house but you can talk to Auntie Char! You can come in, she's making me eggs!"
I got to the front door just as Lee finished saying those last words. The coy smile on his face sent a shiver down my spine. I gulped as he took one foot and put it across the doorway.
"Lee, why don't you go check on your akka, make sure she's still sleeping?" I said, "After that, go to the kitchen. Your omelet's on the table."
The kid smiled at me and happily skipped away.
"Well, that was interesting," he said, still smiling, "you going to make me some eggs too?"
"You can't be here."
"It's November 1st, babe, sure I can. Or did you forget?"
I hadn't forgotten. But I didn't exactly have a plan either.
"Well I can't go anywhere. I'm watching Lee."
"Yeah, who is he anyway? I thought you'd adopted some kid."
"He's Jiao's son. You don't know her, she's a friend of mine."
"Oh I get it. You're playing the domestic mother role. It's a good look on you," he said, winking at the spatula still in my hand. "So who's Akka? I thought that was your name."
"Just leave, okay? Lee will be gone around 11 and then—"
"Answer my questions and I'll leave," he said, finally shutting the door behind him and leaning against the wall.
"Fine," I said through gritted teeth, "Akka means 'older sister' but I use it for just 'sister' because the word for 'younger sister' is too complicated and…and it was never my name. My name's Charu."
He raised an eyebrow at me.
"Geez, you're babysitting two kids? When will you stop watching other peoples' kids and—"
"Auntie Char! Akka's awake and I think she wants you!" Lee yelled.
Sure enough, the shrill cry of a baby pierced through the air. I heard Lee run from the bedroom and into the kitchen right after. He hated being around the baby when the noise started. As she continued to cry, I was torn between trying to get him to leave and going to stop the tears. The look on my face seemed to say it all.
"The baby, she's—she's yours?" he asked incredulously. I nodded. He looked stunned, too stunned to even say anything, as the cries grew louder. After several moments, I decided that he was too much in shock to be much of a threat. And I had a daughter who I needed to see badly.
"Look, don't do anything, okay? Lee's in the kitchen, you wait here. Promise me you won't do anything?"
He nodded weakly.
I dashed off into the baby room and picked her up. She immediately quieted down and I breathed a sigh of relief when I heard a noise behind me. I whirled around to find him standing at the doorway.
"I thought I told you to wait by the door," I said. He ignored me, staring wide-eyed at the baby.
"Holy fucking shit," he said quietly, "you had a kid."
I shot him a disapproving look for using language. Even if Angie couldn't speak yet.
"Can I hold her?"
I held on to her tightly.
"No," I said quickly, "no, I don't think so. Just go back outside okay? She needs to sleep and—"
But as I was speaking, he stepped closer to me, finally standing right before me. Knowing something was happening, Angie turned around, her big brown eyes settling on the vampire in front of her. She looked at him appraisingly before looking at me.
"I think she likes me," he said softly. He held his hands out. Angie hesitated first and then, to my complete and utter shock, leaned forward towards him. Smiling, he took her in his arms and looked at her more closely.
"She's beautiful," he murmured, "just like her mother."
There was something in his voice, something sweet and good-natured, that put me at ease right then. He wasn't behaving like a vampire, a killer or a psychopath. There wasn't anything perverted, sinister or wrong about him, his words or even his manner of speech. He was happy then. I could almost feel it.
"What's her name?"
"Anjali," I responded, "we call her Angie for short."
"Anjali," he repeated, tickling her with his finger just under her chin, "It's nice to meet you."
Over the next six years, Angie became part of our days together. She took a liking to him, something which I never understood. Maybe it was because she didn't know of his past, who he was and what he had done. What he was still doing. He was just a nice man who would bring her presents every November 1st. When she asked why we only saw him on that date, we lied and told her that it was his birthday. We also fed her some elaborate, made-up story about how he was running from bad people and that she was never to tell anyone he came over. She never did tell her father. That girl could keep a secret just as well as I could.
Our relationship changed after her birth. She had stopped what even my marriage to Neal didn't: the flirting. If he still thought of me in that way (which, to be honest, was doubtful as I grew older and older), he made no indication of it. No winks, no grabbing my hand, no comments about my appearance, nothing. Our relationship was finally purely platonic. For a while there, I could almost call him a friend. Angie's hyper, boisterous personality had us running around after her and laughing. It was easier when she was around. I actually forgot who he was. And I think he forgot about me as well. It was hard to focus on anyone else with Angie around.
When Angie was six, I decided that she was old enough for her first sleepover. She had always been an independent girl and I knew she would have no problems spending the night at someone else's house. Especially if that someone else was Amelie, Liz's seven-year-old daughter and her best friend. After the first one, sleepovers became a regular occurrence for Angie. I welcomed it most of the time. It was a night without demands for the TV, whining about soggy vegetables, refusals to go to sleep. But that sixth year, I scheduled a sleepover on November 1st, forgetting that it would mean I would have to be alone with him after years. There was no going back on it. With a sinking feeling in my heart, he and I dropped her off at Liz's house (he stayed in the car, not wanting Liz to see him) before driving to the beach. He wanted to take a walk.
It was silent for a while as we walked in the sand. I took off my sandals and winced slightly at how wet the sand was. He cleared his throat.
"So, how's life?"
"How's your job?"
There was an awkward pause.
"What do you do again?"
"I do programming for biomedical software."
Another awkward pause.
"I never got the chance to ask you: what happened to your physics?"
"What do you mean?" I asked, frowning.
"It's just that you don't seem very interested in it. When we first met, you spoke a lot about it. You watched documentaries about it. But I don't see you doing any of that now."
"Yeah, I uh, I kind of lost interest."
"Why? I thought, especially with the recent findings at CERN, that you'd be all into that shit."
"No, not really."
I took a deep breath. I didn't want to have this conversation. We hadn't spoken about anything serious in years. But the answer to his question was serious. I began to walk faster.
"Look, can you drop it? I'm just not into it anymore."
The pain in my voice didn't pass his notice.
"No, I want to know why."
"It's not important."
"Then you'd tell me."
I glared at him. I'd forgotten just how much he could get under my skin. Just how much he could annoy me, how persistent he was when he set his mind to something. Without Angie there to distract him, his focus was back on me. My life, my feelings, my thoughts. They were all things I didn't want to share. But he wasn't really giving me a choice here.
"Fine," I muttered, "it's because of you, okay?"
He blinked. I knew it was far from the answer he had been expecting.
"What? What the fuck do I have anything to do with it?"
"You want to know why I decided to major in physics? I thought it was interesting. It approached the world in a way that no other discipline did. It had all these weird theories on time and space, on matter and energy. It was focused on…on finding the truth. The truth about the universe, the origins of life, what matter and space and time really were. I thought it was the best way to understand the world."
I bit my lip, hesitating to continue but knowing I had to.
"But then I met you."
"What did I do?"
"You told me you were a vampire. Vampires aren't supposed to exist, remember?"
Understanding dawned on his face.
"Did knowing that…change you?" he asked quietly. Something blew up inside me. I stopped walked and faced him, a look of frustration on my face.
"Of course it did! What was the point to any of the knowledge if it was incomplete? They never taught me about vampires in school. I never believed the supernatural to exist. And you know what? To this day, I'm still not sure if you're supernatural or…or just biology gone wrong. Way wrong. And if vampires can exist, what else can? Witches? Werewolves?"
I sighed again and turned away.
"I realized a long time ago that I was never going to find out the truth about the world. Knowing that something is out there but not understanding it is just…it's a feeling I could hardly bear because I spent so long trying to understand things. And so I just…gave up. I stopped caring. There are more important things in life. Like my family."
I continued walking again but stopped when I realized he wasn't following me.
"So it was me? You gave up what you liked because of me?"
"No," I said, now annoyed, "I realized that what I liked wasn't real."
"Wasn't real," he repeated, "funny how everything keeps coming back to what's real, doesn't it?"
"What do you mean?"
"Before I met you, life didn't seem real at all. Probably because it wasn't like anything I expected. After I met you, none of the other girls I met seemed real either. Probably because I kept comparing each and every one of them to you. But after our deal, life became easier because I knew I would get to see you every November. Things began to feel real after that."
"So what are you saying?"
"I'm saying, I think I finally figured it out."
"Figured what out?" I asked impatiently.
"What's real and what isn't."
"Have you ever been somewhere so insane, so out there, that you just can't believe it's happening?"
"Yeah," I said, thinking back to my honeymoon with Neal. We had visited some really strange geographic hotspots in Canada that didn't look like anything I had seen before.
"Why can't you believe it's happening?"
"Probably because I've never thought about it before?"
"Exactly! That's when things don't begin to feel real. It's when what's actually happening is so different from what you expected that your mind just can't process it. That's what happened to me when I turned. And that's what happened to you when you found out about me."
My mouth dropped open at his little speech. He was actually being…insightful? That was a first. When I thought about it, he made sense. He was just missing one crucial element.
"You're right. But it's not just that," I said slowly, "you've got to have an emotional connection with it. I mean, engineers come up with all sorts of crazy stuff nowadays, things I couldn't even imagine as a kid, like 3-D TVs becoming a household staple. But 3-D TVs do exist. They feel real, they feel like a part of my life. Because it never violated any of the principles I held before. But you—you changed everything."
"I'm sorry," he muttered, "I'm sorry for everything."
"What? No," I said, taken back, "You don't have to be sorry for changing me. It's just what happened. I don't mind."
"But I do. I get that you have Neal and Angie and you're busy with your job and all but come on, I never wanted you to stop looking for the truth because of me. It can still happen. I can get answers for you. I can ask the older vampires."
I cringed. I hated thinking about other vampires. It made me paranoid, left me wondering if every other person I met secretly wanted to murder me.
"I thought they hated you."
"Yeah but how long can they keep hating Jews? I mean seriously, I'm not even religious anymore."
"No," I shook my head, "I don't want to know more. I'd rather just…just not think about what's out there. I don't care about the truth anymore. All I care about is my family being safe and happy. Truth doesn't factor in anymore. I think the truth is so far from what I actually know that I'm scared. I'm scared if I find out, what I know won't be real anymore. You—you get it, don't you?"
"Yeah," he breathed, "in the same way my own family doesn't seem real. It feels weird to think they're still out there somewhere. So yeah, I think I can get it."
We walked in silence for a bit more after that. For the first time in years, he took my hand in his. I didn't stop him. I knew he wasn't trying anything. It was a gesture completely devoid of romance, a gesture meant to comfort. At that point, I wasn't sure who it was he was trying to comfort: him or me. But either way, it felt good to have his hand in mine. For once, he felt real.
That was the last time he visited me on November 1st. He never emailed, he never called, he never made any attempt to contact me. At first I thought it was a mistake. That he had gotten the date wrong or he was held up somewhere. But two years passed, then three and I realized that I was never going to see him again. I admit: I was worried. What if he had died somehow? But after a while, that thought became comforting. If he was dead, then he couldn't hurt anyone. He was shot of a life he had never wanted. Maybe it was a good thing.
Angie asked about him a couple of times throughout the years but even she forgot as time went on. That's the funny thing about time. It stops for no one and anyone, no matter how special they are, can get lost in it. Even someone as special as a vampire. I have to admit that. Even if I never particularly liked him, I couldn't deny that he was special. One doesn't often meet vampires in life. But even he faded away as my life was filled with everyday things like taxes, Angie's first kiss, Neal's promotion to a professorship, my own promotion to a managerial position, buying a house, prom, college tuitions, Angie's wedding, retirement. There were other things, too. Things like the US-China war that dropped a nuclear bomb on Hawaii. Even as a Chinese-American, Lee enlisted in the US army and went to fight in Beijing. He died in the war. Things like the Great Quake of 2042 in Los Angeles, when Raanu, her husband and kids watched their house crumble to the ground. Things like the stock market crash of 2031, starting a recession that was even worse than the one in 2008. Liz lost her job then and the whole family had to move. Angie tearfully said goodbye to Amelie and I watched them lose touch with each other, even when Liz and I didn't.
There were good things as well. The United States saw its first female president elected. She was a Democrat and within eight years, finally instituted a government health care plan that appeased nearly everyone. Liz, who was without health insurance after losing her job, could finally go back to the doctor. Good timing, too, or else they would have never found the tumor on her breast in time. With the popularization of hybrid and electric cars, the air became cleaner and it was safe to play outside again. The commercial space flight business took its first passengers to a nearby asteroid. We took a trip down to Florida to watch the space shuttle launch. Angie loved it. That was the day she decided she wanted to learn about space.
That was one of the best things about watching Angie grow up. It was seeing how much she loved space. Neal bought her a telescope for her 12th birthday. She immediately set it up and tried to locate the major stars using a star chart she downloaded from the Internet. I saw in her the same curiosity I once had but magnified tenfold. She devoured it. She even loved the math behind it all. And all throughout life, she knew what she wanted to do. She wasn't like Neal or me in that sense; neither one of us had planned to be what we were. But she always knew. So when she announced one April that she had been accepted to USC to study Astronautical Engineering, I couldn't have been more proud. Neal and I beamed at her four years later as she went up to the stage to get her degree, already set to get her Master's of Engineering from the same school. Five years later, she was hired by SpaceX, a multimillion dollar company that was at the top of the space exploration industry. That was where she met Razeen and found the reason to start a family of her own.
In all those years, I would only think about him sporadically. Just every once in a while, usually on November 1st. Sometimes, I wondered if he was still alive and still killing people. But I preferred not to think that way. I'd like to think that he would visit me if he was alive. But it didn't matter. I no longer felt any guilt about him. I had done my best. I had kept my end of our deal. If that didn't change his behavior, what else could I have done? I had my own life to live. And I tried to make it as real as I could, to savor every moment, every fight, every hug and every kiss. Even when my joints started hurting, my memory started fading and my eyes started losing their focus. Even when I watched the flames grow around Neal's body after his stroke. Even when I felt the world spin around me and heard my granddaughter, Leila, frantically call my name.
I saw him one more time. It wasn't in a dream or fantasy. He was there, right in front of me and in the flesh. I gaped at him. He hadn't aged a bit. It was like watching a memory come to life. And in that moment, it didn't feel real at all.
"Hey," he said in a demurring voice.
"You're here," I breathed, "are you really here?"
He nodded, a pained look on his face.
He obliged and I reached out to touch his face with my hand, wrinkly and old with an IV tube sticking out of it. I marveled at the contrast. His skin was young, soft and firm. Still a little pallid but otherwise healthy-looking.
"Why'd you come to see me? After all these years?"
He tore his eyes away from mine and glanced at all the monitors around my hospital bed. When he looked back at me, there was unmistakable grief in his eyes.
"Because you're going to die."
The words brought a smile to my face.
"It's okay," I whispered, "it's been a good run. I was happy. And honestly, I'm glad to go this way. It gives me a chance to say goodbye."
He shook his head.
"But I don't want to say goodbye."
I smiled again and held out my hand. He took it in his own, biting his lip.
"We all have to say goodbye one way or another," I said, "you've lived for nearly sixty years without seeing me. You'll be okay."
He wrenched his hand away from mine and turned away. When he spoke, his voice shook with emotion.
"I couldn't come back to you. I was changing you. I didn't want you to change."
"Is that why you never came back? Because you wanted me to go back to the way I was before I met you?"
"Part of the reason, yeah."
"That's ridiculous. Everything changed that night and I could never go back. Just like how you could never go back. But I didn't let it bother me. I was still happy."
"You were happier without me."
I couldn't deny that.
"So what was the other reason? You said this was only part of the reason why you didn't come back."
He hesitated before answering.
"Honestly? You were getting old."
"Seriously?" I asked. He turned back around and cracked a smile.
"Yeah. I saw the lines on your face. Having a kid really aged you, you know. It must be all the stress from parenting or something, I don't know. You were 36 and for the first time, you actually looked it."
"So you stopped coming to see me because I was getting ugly?" I asked, still laughing. His smile faded.
"No, not exactly."
He hesitated again and looked at my heart monitor.
"Seeing you get old, it—it made me realize that time was moving on. You were married with a kid. You were living your life. And what was I doing? I was stuck in some war-ravaged country, counting the days until November 1st. But for what? There was no hope for me anymore," he turned back to me, his eyes glimmering with unshed tears, "I knew you were a lost cause. That you'd never have me. And I was sick of acting like your platonic friend."
My words caught in my throat.
"I thought you stopped liking me," I said slowly, "after Angie was born. I thought I was getting too old for you."
"Well, you kind of were. But it didn't change what I wanted. I wanted so desperately to be human again, just so you could see me as an option. Or anyone else, for that matter. I would have grown old, too. We wouldn't have looked as weird as we do right now."
I smiled a little at that. To an outsider, it must have looked downright wrong to see a twenty-something man speak to an old, dying woman this way. Something changed in his face.
"I could turn you," he whispered, "you don't have to die. You could live forever. With me."
"I mean, think about it: your natural life is ending. But you can start a new life. You don't have to go."
"If I turn, will I become younger?"
His face fell.
"No," he admitted, "you won't. But you'll be healthy."
"I won't do it," I said firmly, "I don't want to stare at this face in the mirror for all eternity, no thanks."
"Now where was that sense of humor when we were younger?" he asked.
"It was hiding from you because it knew you'd never understand it."
He smiled and reached out to brush some gray, wispy strands of hair away from my face.
"Fish Boy took care of you well," he said, "but he wasn't the only guy out there to love you."
My breath caught in my throat. I could hardly believe what I was hearing. Did he just say…
"I loved you," he said seriously, staring at me intently, "Still do, I think. But I got to say: I'm not really feeling you as an old woman."
I couldn't think of anything to say. But it was apparent that he wasn't expecting me to.
"I've always known, really. Ever since that first night, I couldn't get you out of my head. It didn't really take me long to realize it, either. It was…halfway through our second conversation. I thought I was just attracted to you before. I thought it was because you were my only real option, since no one else knew what I was. And maybe it is, I don't know. But that doesn't change anything. I've loved you for sixty years. I just thought you should know."
It didn't make sense at all. We had two conversations and saw each other only once a year after that. A total of thirteen days. Thirteen days and two nights. Was that enough to foster love? I had never believed in love at first sight. Hadn't it taken me two years to realize I loved Neal? Yeah but it took you two seconds to love Angie, a little voice inside me said. But she was my daughter so that was different. Wasn't it?
"There's something else you should know, too."
"I stopped honoring our deal."
My throat constricted and I knew no facial expression could possibly convey the depth of my disappointment.
"It became hard after the Swiss Peace Treaty. There weren't any more major wars. Or even minor ones. And I had to live. But I tried! I picked out the drug dealers, the rapists, the sex traffickers. Scum of the Earth, they all were. I'm sure there's someone somewhere out there that's glad they're dead."
So the beast finally learned to love but that didn't stop him from being a beast.
"It's still wrong," I muttered, "justice should be delivered by the government, not decided by you."
"I know. But it's the best I could do."
"And what about the women?" I asked, not sure if I even wanted to know.
"That I actually did stop. That was the one part of our deal I honored. No always meant no and I never did anything…unless she said yes. I think—I think I've become happier for it, too. Gives me a clearer conscience, which gives me the strength to do what I'm going to do next."
"What's that?" I asked, yawning. I suddenly felt an overwhelming desire to sleep. It didn't pass his notice. He looked at me, the grief and despair etched plainly on his face.
"You're going to die?"
"Yeah. I figured out a way. Turns out that most animals are poisonous to vampires. You were right. I drink enough animal blood and I'll die."
"But why do you want to die?"
"You've lived a full life. And in a way, so have I. I've been young for sixty years. I've seen the world. And I've seen you. I've had enough. The blood doesn't taste like anything more. I don't care about the other women anymore. I'm old inside. Sixty years is a long time and I've done everything I can do. It's time for me to end."
I smiled sleepily at him.
"Good," I whispered to him, "You've thought this through. I thought you were going to say something stupid like you couldn't live on without me."
He smirked, suddenly looking like the vampire I knew years ago.
"Trust me, I could live on without you. Your granddaughter Leila? She's hot."
"That's just wrong. You're an old man."
"Not to her I'm not. She was totally hitting on me when I asked to see you."
I rolled my eyes, knowing very well that it wasn't true.
"Don't be a moron," I said, yawning again, "I'm so sleepy."
The pain flooded back into his face.
"Speaking of Leila, there's one last thing. I've managed to obtain a small wealth in my years. It's in my bank account in Zurich. I've left it all to her. She's the closest thing to anything that I've got."
"You didn't have to—"
"Shhh," he hushed me and pressed a piece of paper into my palm, "the details are on this page. I also emailed Angie about it. Hopefully she'll remember me. I told her you're like a sister to me so she doesn't ask any questions about why I'm leaving Leila so much money. The last thing I'd want her to think after you died is that you were cheating on her father."
"That's kind of sweet. Thanks."
He smiled at me and I tried to smile back, I really did, but the sleepiness overtook me at that point. I closed my eyes though I did not fall straight asleep. I felt him squeeze my hand and then press his lips gently against my forehead before walking away. The last things I felt and heard before I let the sweet wave of black sleep wash over me were Angie's hands over mine, Razeen murmuring a quiet prayer and Leila tearfully singing a lullaby.