The sun gleamed in the center of the sky. It was late October, a time when the leaves were orange and the air crisp. Packing her things, Mara caught sight of Eli as he stood in the doorway with his arms crossed. He adored her gingerbread eyes and the way they curved up like a smile.
“You can stay longer if you want,” he suggested.
“I know,” her voice danced in his ears. To him, she was a dream. Everything in his world meant something great because of her. With her leaving, life felt like it had run dry. Mara went to him, slow and swaying like she would, and touched his arms with her hands. His back grew rigid and his jaw tightened. “If I don’t leave, you will never truly know yourself.”
“I’ve had decades to know myself,” he argued and dropped his arms firmly at his sides. “I want to know you. To love you as I always have,” he fixed.
“If I find you, on some random day, for some random reason, out alone on the street… then I’ll reconsider,” she tilted her head and eased her gaze. “Until then, remember my love.”
Eli huffed as he watched Mara take her bag over her shoulder and leave the apartment. He stared to the sudden emptiness and realized that all the things he owned were only there to occupy space. And even at that, the place felt utterly bare.
“Everything was fine,” Eli told Jack as they sat at the pub together. Spirits didn’t affect them as much as a mortal, but it quenched the desire when needed. “She was happy; so was I.”
“She wants time,” Jack repeated his friend’s words. “You have to allow her space, or she’ll never return.”
“Not everything is a damned bird, Jack,” Eli spat. He gulped the bottom half of his drink and then slammed the glass on the bar. He stood, slightly weak in the knees, and went to the bathroom.
“I think he needs some food and a long nap,” the bartender laughed. Her bright honey hair swirled in loose curls over her shoulders and to the top of her apron. Her name was Naomi, and she smelled like lilacs in the spring rain. She leaned close to Jack, putting her elbows on the counter out before her, and smiled.
“I think you’re right,” he agreed.
At three, the pub closed. Eli had gone to the window to turn the lights down; the pub always felt like a second home. Jack sat at the bar watching Naomi clean. It reminded him of Lou.
“Do not scream,” Jack, quick to rush behind the mortal, spoke in Naomi’s ear. He walked her out and handed her off to Eli, and then he left the pub.
“I hear you think I’m hungry,” Eli stated, his hand gripping her neck. Naomi could only nod. Her eyes were large and her veins thumped out of control. Eli, tasting Naomi before, knew that he needed to pace himself. He eyed her wrist, but then could feel the pulse throbbing in her neck. Her body heat enveloped his thoughts and he dove straight in.
In his boxers, Eli dragged his feet across the tile late the next morning. His hair was bent in strange ways, his left sock was missing. With a long exhale, he stared out to the city and felt empty all over again.
Eli had met Mara in Belgium in the late 1920’s. They lived in Europe for fifty years before coming to New York. Mara always talked about returning home, but Eli never cared to go.
That day, when they first met, Eli had decided to travel to England. On his way to the airport, he stopped for lunch and saw her. Beautiful dark waves of hair flowing to her elbows, a body with finesse and poise, and the effortless way of attracting another person by simply stating hello. He knew he was doomed from the beginning.
“I swore not to let myself fall in love,” Eli proclaimed on the phone. His eyes watched the birds through the open window; the cold air didn’t affect him at all. “I knew it would only bring me pain,” he ranted, his fingers tight on the phone. Pausing to listen to the advice from the other end, Eli’s face grew stiff. “Lilian, I don’t care for your politeness, tell me, have I lost her forever?” he begged with swollen eyes.
“My dear brother,” Lilian spoke. “I plan to visit you in the spring. Please have your head straight by then.”
Eli slammed the phone onto the dresser and let out a growling shout. “God, damn it!” The wind carried in the scent of grilled sandwiches from the pub. Eli looked down to his fist and the blood that smudged between the broken pieces of the phone and the wooden dresser top. He let out a sigh, shaking his head and tightening his shoulders until they rose tall like a mountain peak.
An hour of prep, including a shower and shave, and Eli had the pub on his mind. The air smelled just like it had tasted earlier. There were two couples at tables and a few people at the bar. Eli sat down and waited for Naomi to turn around.
“I haven’t seen you in a while,” she smiled. Eli gave a grin.
“Rum and Coke,” he muttered. He tapped his fingers on the bar as his eyes shifted around the room. The sun was setting, but the buildings kept the intensity far from skin. The street had a strange reddish-orange glow on the nights when the sky was clear. It reflected in the metals and smooth curves of his urban home, a maze that the starlight had to filter through before plummeting beneath the horizon. Eli admired the sun, however; there with his fresh glass of alcohol, he laughed at the notion of said sun burning him alive.
“What is it?” Naomi leaned toward Eli, her arms bent and her head resting on her palms.
“Nothing,” he cleared. He watched Naomi as she studied his features. His bold blue eyes and the way they glowed only in the whitest light; his high cheekbones and thick lips; then her eyes found his hands. Naomi always kept her eyes on his hands.
“Are you hungry tonight?” she asked, gathering her breath and turning her back to the vampire. She grabbed the bottle of rum from the middle shelf over the back wall. She had to lean onto her toes to reach the item, stretching up and revealing a little bit of skin just above her jeans. “Do you want me to make you something?”
Eli kept his lips together allowing only the very edge to curl up in delight.
“Anything you want,” Naomi furthered, leaning in close, whispering with eyes intent.
“I don’t think you understand what you’re offering,” Eli gulped down what he could before needing a breath. Naomi coiled inward with a quiet laugh. “Really, you don’t.” In her moment of delight, she missed his penetrating glare. Eli clasped down on Naomi’s wrist in a subtle, yet indignant manner and her eyes wiped clean and her body tensed. He stood from his stool and leaned over her, speaking to where only she would hear. “Don’t be so eager. Death will find you eventually.”
“Tell me you aren’t serious,” Jack’s brow perked in the center as he hoped his friend had not done as he bragged.
“She frustrates me,” Eli slopped onto the couch of his studio apartment. Mail sat untouched on the table, empty bottles of chocolate milk rested along the counter. Eli didn’t see the mess; he saw a world without Mara.
“Too bad Ryan’s so strict with Ari,” Lou spoke up after shutting the bathroom door. Jack crossed his arms and lent her a sly sneer. “Don’t be like that.”
“You know how I feel,” Jack pleaded only as he could; tender eyes, patience and complete desire. Lou could never argue with that look.
“They’d have fun together,” Lou’s hands tightened around her waist. Jack kept on staring until she rolled her eyes and sighed with a grin.
“I need to go to Belgium,” Eli stood with wide eyes.
“Uh—” Jack started.
“She’s there, I know it,” Eli rushed to the far cabinet and gathered some clothes. “She always wanted to return and I never agreed. All these years I kept her still,” he rambled, dropping his toothbrush after exiting the bathroom. “Where else would she go?” he faced his friend with a glowing glare. Jack had no words. His mouth opened but all that came was a sigh.
“I’ll call,” Eli furthered as he shoved his things into a large bag that he then flung up on his shoulder. He went to Jack and gripped his arm with an anxious smile. “Tell Lilian where I’ve gone.”
“You’ll be back soon right?” Jack called as Eli opened the door.
“Love knows no time!”
The plane landed at four in the morning. Eli thought of many things on the trip over. Naomi came to mind more than once, but the last image he kept of Mara was the strongest. Not even the sweet taste of Naomi’s delicate and giving blood was enough to drown out the years of pleasure spent with Mara.
From the airport, Lier was another hour. It was a small restaurant in that city where he had first saw her. There was nothing standing between him and there. By morning light, with the peeking sun in such cold air, Eli laid eyes on the city he didn’t realize he missed so greatly. At the edge, with his bag hung over his slumped shoulder, the vampire found his eyes glazed by sheer satisfaction.
Pastel colors adorned the buildings in ways that America never could embellish. The river ran so close that the air bloomed with a deep purity, a fresh and sterile infusion. Eli shook his head with a grin. His breath expelled before his eyes and he felt the sun on his skin. Turning to face the star, he closed his eyes and absorbed the light.
Walking never bothered Eli when it had meaning. Now, as close as he was, Eli nearly ran. His bag bounced at his back, his eyes searched for the restaurant. Feeling the wear of his venture, Eli’s nature called to him. Thirst, deeper than any desire, heavier than any pain; his need for blood flooded his thoughts. Again, Naomi came to mind.
With a bit of exhaustion, Eli placed his hand on a small table in the center of a tiles park. He leaned and took a breath. With his eyes low and to himself, Eli didn’t notice where he was. That the table, one of nearly twenty, sat just outside of the place he longed to revisit. A glance upward, and the sight of heaven appeared.
The little restaurant, front covered in wooden planks, windows old and discolored, was empty. Eli half-knew she wouldn’t be there then, but he had hoped. He took a seat and let out a long breath. It would be a while before he’d allow himself sustenance. He would wait; everything would wait.
People came and went, the sun rose and fell. Eli sat at his table with diligence. Another day passed and the chef left the restaurant eying Eli with curiosity. On the fourth day, the chef approached him.
“I won’t be any trouble,” Eli muttered. His grin was no longer vibrant, and the hair on his cheeks masked his fair skin. The chef nodded and backed away from the vampire without a word. A week had gone by and Eli’s thirst embodied his mind. He looked at every person as though they were his; fountains of blood, beating, drumming hearts begging for adventure. Age didn’t matter, gender didn’t matter; Eli craved their blood with a desire so innate that not even the voice of an angel could dissuade.
“Eli?” dancing distant from his ears came a subtle sound. The vampire, however, was fixated on a woman near a tree. Her auburn hair was straight, coming to a point at the center of her back. When she moved, her lean frame seemed to gather the wind. Eli could practically taste her from afar. “Eli?” the voice nearly penetrated his desire, but it wasn’t strong enough. It didn’t own blood.
“Excuse me,” Eli announced himself and the woman at the tree turned. Her forest-green eyes slid over his form and a smile overtook her expression. “Would you care to—”
The woman did not wait for him to finish speaking before laughing out loud. She covered her mouth with her hand and rushed away to her friend down the path. Eli stood with a pain growing in his heart. He swallowed long and hard; his throat—his entire body—had begun to dry up. The woman, now with her friend, laughing at his indecent appearance, became the single most desirable thing he had ever known.
The evening had come in the midst of Eli’s pursuit. The first star twinkled in the east. Eli once again caught the faint sound of that dancing voice, but his eyes honed deep on the woman and her friend. Walking closer to them, careful not to be seen, Eli paced himself to stay behind trees and bushes. The moon was weak, only a sliver of light pierced the deep sky. After the woman and her friend parted ways, Eli didn’t hesitate.
“Would you like to be my dinner?” he grabbed her neck by his arm and pinned her body close to his. “Go on, darling. Answer me,” he taunted. “Tell me how I repulse you. How I disgust you,” he demanded as he walked the woman to a dark area on the side of a building. He was far from his beloved heaven now.
Eli turned the woman quick on her heels and held her throat in his hand. She could have screamed out, but something in his wild eyes made it clear that she shouldn’t.
“I only wanted a taste,” he grinned, his eyes tracing the outline of the woman’s jaw. “But you took one look at me and ran away.”
“Yeah, I know,” his eyes shifted and squinted around at the empty park. “But if you would only have let me speak,” his voice peaked more with each new word, “I would be sitting at my table awaiting my love.”
The woman’s eyes were full as she watched Eli’s every move. His hand shook just slightly at her neck, his feet kept moving though they were standing in one place. And far behind, keeping her distance in order to observe her lover, stood Mara. The distance she desired was not only for his benefit, but also her own.
Eli tipped back his head and scaled the vision of the woman with patience. When his eyes met hers, he let his fangs penetrate the abysmal night now before him. The woman stiffened, her voice shrieked out.
“All I want is a little taste,” he cleared. “And then you can leave.”
The woman nodded without pause.
Eli took her hand into his and examined her wrist. Tracing the sound of her pulse up her arm, he soon heard the loud pounding surge of her jugular. Overcome by the desire for blood, Eli’s mouth began to throb, his nose flaring out to experience the woman’s scent on levels so extreme no mortal could understand.
And close to her skin, Eli hovered, taking in the moment in every shade. The trembling of her body in his hands—waves of terror flooding her veins—it only heightened his thirst. He kissed her neck and thought of Mara. She never could offer him the blood he craved, but then neither could he for her. And then he bit. He drew the blood from the woman like water through a straw. Rich and metallic, blood wasn’t something mortals could stomach, but it was delicious as it dripped from Eli’s mouth.
He rose to breath, then drank more. Within the minute, the woman was weakened. Taking her living energy replenished his own, but it wasn’t enough. He was stronger, clear minded, but the emptiness in his heart lingered. Eli’s grip loosened and the woman fell to the dirt. He wiped his mouth and inhaled the sweet air.
“Eli?” Mara spoke, and the vampire in his satiated state shuddered. “Why are you here?” He almost couldn’t look her in the eye. There she stood, as he had desired, gingerbread eyes and all, but she wasn’t pleased to see him. No, she wasn’t bothered either. He found sadness in her gaze, an uncertainty that had started to turn decades ago.
“I knew you’d be here,” he expelled, blood stains on his mouth. His hands reached to her, but she leaned away. “I should’ve come with you. Long before now.”
“I don’t love you enough for this,” she talked with clarity though, in his ears, her words sloshed together. Eli tried to near her again, but she held firm.
“You aren’t serious,” he grinned, his eyes blinking rapidly. Mara leaned her head and closed her eyes. “This is madness!”
“Eli, you can’t believe that things were perfect,’ she argued in her kind way.
“I only saw the good,” he countered.
“And that’s the problem. You never saw me cry, never heard me ask for something more.”
“You never cried,” he argued, his nose crinkling in distaste.
Lifting her chin, she stated, “I did.”
“It’s nearly been a hundred years,” Eli voiced in a near whisper. “You can’t turn away from me now.”
Silence filled the night as Mara stared on. She knew how long it had been, right down to the day. She understood their bond, their connection that seemed to always be there. Unable to look him in the eye, she spoke to the sky. “I already have.”
Eli’s begging heart hadn’t felt the reality of their break until that moment. His veins, filled with perseverance, no longer pumped hope into an empty cavity. Darkness encased his heart as his hands rose to the object of his existence. Fright entered Mara’s eyes as her former lover took hold of her arms and shook her violently.
Pleading for release, Mara found a stranger’s eyes. A step closer and Eli was upon her, his hand wrapped on her neck.
“Please,” she cried, lips wet and quivering.
“You’re mine,” Eli forged through his teeth. “Forever.”
Mara hadn’t seen this side of him in years. A hostile night in France many years ago sent Eli into a jealous fit that left lasting marks on her olive skin. She could still feel the sting.
“Don’t do this,” she pleaded to him, but his mind was made. The night had fully emerged now, and there were no eyes left to see Eli’s act.
“Let us stay,” he started, his chin lifted, Mara trembled in his grip. “And keep this space.”
“Please, don’t,” she begged.
“Lasting for ages,” his eyes dripped as he gazed to the abyss. “Within each other, a single face.”
Mara had heard those words times before, but never for herself. A sacred pledge meant to bond two together, keeping their hearts linked until death. For mortals, it would appear as a beautiful commitment, but to the vampires standing in Belgium with broken hearts, it was a forced equation.
Clenching onto Mara’s arm, Eli took her wrist directly to his mouth and held her blood on his tongue. He savored the moment, breathing in her life until the liquid slithered down his throat. He searched for her eyes, though they hid beneath her submission. She reached for his arm and brought it near her mouth, and breathed in his scent. With a slow dig at his skin, Mara let his blood swirl in her mouth.
Seconds passed while the two stood silent, allowing the connection to renew. Mara had tasted Eli many times, but never for such a reason. It made her smile to realize, that after all their years together, it was only then that Eli had decided to commit. And as she felt him, truly felt every inch of him, for the first time, she locked her eyes to his.
Eli, now understood her too, felt her heart beat, felt her love. He looked around to the open park and thought of all the life he hadn’t lived, all the ideas he bottled up. He caught her gaze and lingered in it for a moment before speaking.
“I’m sorry,” he cleared in an airy tone, reaching to touch her hair. With a lock of her waves held tight, Eli thought of Naomi. “Damn,” he uttered to himself then laughed.
“What is it?” Mara pried with a curious stare, searching for something in the eyes of her opposite. He could only laugh. “What?” she shoved at him, but he quickly caught her wrists, pushing back and pulling her in.
“I made a mistake,” he whispered, inches from her mouth and her shifting globes of gingerbread. Mara couldn’t pull her hands from his grasp, she couldn’t force herself to leave him. Not after all this.
But then, Eli let her go and turned his back.
“No,” she voiced. “No,” shouting louder. Eli kept walking. “You don’t get to leave me! You don’t get to take a part of me!”
“Goodbye,” Eli whispered, steadily stepping farther from his love.
The last patron exited the pub and the lights dimmed. Eli stepped from the side of the building and caught the door just before Naomi bolted the latch. Those chestnut eyes enlarged and found peace in his returning gaze. It didn’t take any time for Naomi to leap into Eli’s arms, digging her fingertips deep into his jacket.
“I missed you,” she whispered. Like the sweet air he had fought so hard to find, her atmosphere filled his lungs with a pleasure his body hadn’t understood until then.
“I’m not what you think I am,” he told as he pushed her away. “I need you to know.”
Naomi grinned, laughing a little to herself, and then pressed her lips together almost like a kiss. “I know you.”
Eli, determined to be correct, showed his fangs and licked the edge of his teeth. Naomi, however, flinched with excitement. She leaned up to her toes and ran her thumb against his fang, piercing her skin and letting her blood drip to his lip.
“I know,” she whispered.