“Whoever said that an enchantment was magical and something to behold was a fool,” Lillian mouthed with her wine-stained lips.
“Come now, you don’t mean that,” Mateus’ eyes smiled.
“You’ve never felt like this,” she crossed her arms and tapped her foot. She loved heels, even though she never needed to prop herself up. Pressing her back to the molding of the door frame, Lilian rolled her sky-blue eyes.
“Tell me of him,” Mateus sat on the couch with his leg bent beneath him. He wore a gray sweater with dark jeans. His skin was deep olive and perfectly preserved, his hair thick and dark. He waited with patience until Lilian broke a smile.
With a steep breath, the woman went to his side and sat with her knees pressed tight. Her fingers ran down her thighs in thought until she found something she could say.
“He’s kind and never closes his mind out on me,” she glimmered. Thoughts of her mysterious love always forced a smile.
“Does he know?”
Lilian shook her head. “It isn’t important anyway. I have to get to New York,” she stood quick and grabbed her coat.
“Listen,” Mateus rose and put his hands into his pockets. “I can travel with you, if you’d like.”
Lilian hesitated to answer, carefully examining the good and the bad before deciding. “Alright.” Mateus rushed to the backroom and soon emerged with his things. A nod from the woman and he followed her out the door.
“How long has it been since you visited?” Mateus asked in midflight.
“Four years,” she stared ahead. Mateus’ brow raised. “I can’t thank you enough for coming,” she briefly caught his eyes. “I don’t like to travel.”
“I’m aware,” he laughed. The plane was full, but it was late. The people were sleeping, or at best, lost in their devices and various entertainments. “When I mentioned the art exhibit in Marseille I think you stopped breathing.”
Lilian smiled, her teeth gleamed in the low light. “I’m sorry,” she spoke.
“Don’t be,” he offered. “I’m just glad you allowed me to be your companion this time.” Lillian gripped Mateus’ upper arm and held firm. Glancing over her hand, he realized that her glistening wine-colored polish never seemed to chip. Mateus looked around at the mortals and remarked, “It’s so quiet.”
“Yes, it is,” she agreed.
“Do you plan to stay with your brother?”
Lilian shrugged. “I don’t think it’s smart. He can be a little… reckless.”
“Alright,” Mateus nodded.
“I’ve made reservations at a hotel in Brooklyn,” she removed her hand from his arm. “It’s a double.” Mateus nodded.
“Did you eat recently?” he whispered near her ear. She nodded while keeping her eyes straight ahead.
The plane landed just after midnight. The late March air wrapped at their ankles and livened their lungs as they walked out to the rental car lot. Lilian took the driver’s seat and she and Mateus found the hotel within the hour.
“I understand you’ll be visiting for four days,” the receptionist spoke. Lilian nodded. Behind her, Mateus had carried the two bags from the car into the hotel. He stood back and looked around at the black and gold fixtures, the detail in art and design; everything from the tile to the moldings were cut with such precision.
“Ready?” Lilian said as she turned to face the awe-struck man.
“Of course,” he replied.
The hotel stood fourteen floors high, but it didn’t seem so. From where it was, between old structures from times lost long ago, the hotel hid from the curious eye. Mortals often visited, mostly because of other hotels not having space, but the majority of guests were those of the nightly kind. Mateus did not expect this.
“The second floor is reserved for mortals,” Lilian told as she unpacked her toiletries. “If you’re hungry, the staff expects a full memory wipe and no mess.” Mateus’ eyes shifted from one end of the room to the other. “Have you never been to a place like this?”
“I can’t say I have,” he grinned.
“I prefer the window,” she pointed to the bed dressed in black. The other was white.
“Of course,” he agreed.
The sun rose and fell again, and Lilian woke from her nap. She showered and put on her undershirt and stretch pants. When exiting the bathroom, Mateus caught sight of her fair skin and bony features. He leaned up from his lying position and kept a focused gaze on her and her tendencies. She took the lotion bottle from the dresser and held a small amount in her palm as she sat on the edge of the bed. She smoothed the cream over her arms and up to her shoulders, then she rubbed it on her face.
“Oh,” she breathed, turning to see him with a studying stare.
“I didn’t mean to watch,” he sat all the way up. She shook her head with a smile. “Tell me more of your brother.”
Lilian turned to fully face him as she cupped her elbows in her hands. “Well, he and I were inseparable as children. I’m older than him, but he’s always kept me protected. When he became a vampire, I was there at his side. The illness spread like wildfire, seeping into his veins and ravaging his mind. It was hard for me to watch, but I wanted to understand it.”
“Did he pass it to you?”
“He did,” she nodded. “In 1843, after our mother died of scarlet fever. Eli realized that I was as weak as she. I didn’t exactly have a choice.”
“You didn’t want this?” Mateus leaned to the edge of the bed and folded his fingers together. “I apologize,” he corrected himself. “It isn’t my business.”
“No, I don’t mind,” she lifted her chin and shortened the distance between her body and his. “I’ve known you now for nearly three years,” she counted in her mind. “But I feel like we’re so far sometimes.”
“The opportunity hasn’t come along for us to be so intimate,” he acknowledged with a delicate smile.
“Now is a fine time,” Lilian leaned her head and her eyes sparkled. “I didn’t really want this life,” she cleared. “My brother, however, made it clear to me that everything would be better. That my health would never again be a concern.”
“Are you angry with him?”
“I was after the night he passed his poison to me. I was for a while.”
A knock echoed on the door as Lilian’s eyes lifted. Mateus rose and went to see who was there. A man dressed in a black suit handed a card to Mateus and tilted his head in a gracious nod. Mateus closed the door and pinned the latch. He read the card to himself, and then handed it to Lilian.
“Wonderful,” she gleamed with smiling eyes.
“And this is often?” Mateus questioned as he stepped at Lilian’s side. She had placed her arm into his after leaving the hotel room.
“No, which is why I’m so excited,” she boasted in a tender tone. “I went to one of these dinners back in the sixties.”
As they walked down the hall, wearing all black and masks to match, Mateus could feel Lilian’s impatient step scurry along. They stepped from the front door of the hotel and approached the black sedan that had parked to the left. The moon above was nearly full, casting a luminescent glow over the vampires and their metallic and monochrome ensembles.
In the sedan, the smell of leather entered Lilian and Mateus’ nostrils. The vehicle was brand new, accented in brushed chrome, and harbored tinted windows. The invitation for the dinner was exclusive, only those who knew the host on a personal level were invited. In her excitement, Lilian realized her brother would most likely be in attendance.
“Are you nervous about seeing him?” Mateus asked.
“No,” she drew in a breath. “I think it’ll be strange, but only at first. It’s just been too long.”
Mateus watched the city pass by as the driver took them over the bridge into Manhattan. He hadn’t been to New York in over a decade, leaving in a rush to avoid the woman who broke his heart. With Lilian at his side, however, the old flame faded fast.
“Tatiana expects to see you in the dark room,” the driver explained as he pulled up outside of the theater. “She’ll be wearing white.”
Lilian stepped out of the sedan with the help of Mateus’ hand. Her long dress grazed the pavement outside of the theater as she wrapped her arm into his once again. The two walked in line as others came behind. At the ticket booth, the pair were given a ticket each with scrolls in gold foil around the edges. There were several things on the tickets: the name of the theater; the embossed initial ‘T’ in large print; a letter for the section where the table was; and, finally, the exact number for the table.
Inside, the theater was lit by white lights along the edges of the floor. The walls were covered in a dark velvet material, and each seat was plush and roomy. There were exactly fifteen tables with two seats each. The vampires found their places by a card on each table; no seat was left empty. There were three sections laid out in a triangle; sections X, Y and Z. Lilian’s eyes searched for anyone she knew, but among the black costumes and concealed faces, she found no one recognizable. Not until a voice came from behind.
“What patience have I?” a musical voice clicked in her ear. “Not the wind between leaves, not the moon over tides,” the man at Lilian’s back continued.
“My patience isn’t kind,” she spoke with him. Turning to her feet, Lilian jumped into Jack’s arms and embraced him fully. Mateus stood, too, respectfully smiling at the stranger.
“I hoped you’d be here,” she smiled with her mouth open and a breathy laugh seeped from deep in her core. Mateus remembered what she had said to him before leaving home. “Is my brother here?”
“He received an invitation,” Jack confirmed, he and Lilian took a second to look around.
“Jack, this is my dear friend, Mateus,” Lilian introduced the men and they shook hands. “Jack is an old friend of Eli’s,” she told her companion.
“Yours too, I hope,” Jack gave a cheeky grin. The lights dimmed as the three looked ahead to the small wooden stage. “I’ll see you after for drinks,” he whispered and then left.
Lilian couldn’t help but to still scan the crowd for a familiar face. She watched as Jack took his seat beside his mortal companion. The lighting completely darkened, and then the stage filled with an iridescent mixture of colors. The crowd lent their ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs’ for a brief moment as the spectacle continued to mesmerize. Silence fell over the theater when a woman, dressed in a long, form-fitting, white dress came across the stage. Her gown had silver embellishments that started at the hip and wrapped around the front of her lower half in a cascade. The edge of the gown rippled outward like the frosting on an elaborate wedding cake.
The woman stopped center stage and wrapped her hands around her little waist. Her hair was slicked back into a lengthy, deep honey ponytail that was tipped in blond. Her eyes were perfect circles of chocolate, enhanced by her lavish eyelashes. Her mask matched her gown; diamonds bordered the glamorous mask around her eyes. Lilian told Mateus that the woman was Tatiana, a wealthy, ancient creature that delighted in the mastery of being different. He was surprised by her youth.
“I’d like to welcome you all to my theater,” her voice broke the air in a rasped, but tender manner—just the type of vocals expected of someone centuries old. “Tonight, we celebrate our beautiful nature, as only we can.” The vampire swayed her body to one side as her eyes befell the floor. She was in thought, and the entire crowd thought along with her. “We are filled with a desire unlike any other,” she went on. All the vampires watched on with the utmost interest. Eyes were wide in the darkness, mouths left open. “We are poisoned, yet left to live,” she exhaled, then lifted her eyes to the crowd. “We should never feel ashamed of who we are,” Tatiana paused and examined the faces of all her guests. Then, with her lips curled to one side, she spoke, “Enjoy.”
Lilian glanced to Mateus and raised her brow in a smile. The lighting on the stage dimmed and a spotlight appeared. A young woman stepped out from behind the curtain, fully dressed as a ballerina. Soft music entered the air and she started to dance.
“How did Tatiana know that you’d be here?” Mateus questioned. Lilian’s hair waved out from a side ponytail, just touching the edge of her shoulder. She gave a shy grin, and then took his hand.
“I spoke with her last week, and I might have suggested a few things,” Lilian pressed her lips tight in a smile.
Mateus’ brow raised as he exhaled. “You must be very close to her. She’s doing this all for you?”
“Sort of,” Lilian told. “I just wanted this trip to be special. I haven’t been here in a while, and when I left… it was kind of a mess.”
Mateus caught sight of numerous women walking out from behind the left wall. They wore black pants with high waistlines, skin-tight gray turtlenecks with sleeves that stopped just above their elbows, and sharp heels. In their hands were silver platters of food. Each woman went to a single table, setting down a plate of canapés between the two guests. On the plate were a few delectable samples, such as; a cherry atop a piece of milk chocolate, resting on a thin, sweet cracker; ultra-thin slices of cucumber topped by salmon, feta and strings of green onions; and a wheat cracker, topped with pineapple cream cheese, a small roll of thinly sliced ham and sprinkled with sesame seeds. The vampires in the room delighted in the detail.
“I love chocolate,” Lilian remarked with her mouth full. Mateus, turning to face Lilian with a tender stare, reached up and brushed his hand on her cheek. She returned his gesture with a delicate smile, softly staring back to his awaiting eyes.
“I love you,” he whispered. Lilian gained a surprised face, but one filled with happiness. Her eyes clouded and her cheeks warmed. “But if there is another, I’ll understand.”
“No,” breathily spoken with a light shake of the head, Lilian reached for his hand. “You’re the one. The only one.”
Mateus wasted no time to press his lips to Lilian’s, finding sheer satisfaction in the lingering taste of chocolate. The women returned with a full plate of steamed vegetables and chicken tenderloins in a buttery sauce. The dinner continued while the dancer on stage twirled in sparkling lights. Soon, she was joined by a male dancer and together they heated the room with their intimate dance.
“Yes, please,” Lilian spoke to the man at her table as he held out a bottle of Merlot. She and Mateus drank and ate until Eli gripped his sister’s shoulder, startling her completely.
“I should have announced myself,” Eli laughed.
“It isn’t funny,” Lilian scolded, standing to embrace her brother. “I’ve missed you, though,” she spoke with a kind voice.
“Not like I’ve missed you,” he returned, close to her ear and without the loud obtrusion he was known for. Stepping back to bring his companion into light, Eli spoke, “This is Naomi.”
“Wonderful to meet you,” Lilian replied, taking the woman close for a soft hug.
“Likewise,” Naomi replied. Her eyes briefly looked across the room, then returned to gaze upon Eli alone. This made Lilian very happy.
“Eli, this is Mateus,” Lilian introduced. “He’s my companion,” she spoke boldly, but Mateus only found pleasure from her words. The dancers rested center stage as the lighting dimmed.
“I’ll see you in the dark room later for drinks,” Eli urged and his sister agreed.
“He was nice,” Mateus offered.
“This evening is one of few, but it’s the friendships that I’ve obtained in my life that will always be,” Tatiana stood center stage and spoke with delicate emotion. The two dancers remained in their final state, frozen in their places in the shadows of the theater. “I welcome you all to stay in touch, to stay close. If not with me, with the person you are sitting beside.” The vampire turned with the hint of a grin on her pastel lips. The woman dancer, adorned in red, stood and went to Tatiana’s outreached hand. The vampires in their seats waited for what was to come.
Lilian, scooting to the edge of her seat, wrapped her arm around Mateus’ and peered on with wide eyes. Tatiana reached to where her skirt emerged at her waistline. Beneath the embellishments, tucked against her dainty frame, was a small, thin blade of silver. The woman stood without a flinch. Her arm sat nestled in the cold hand of the woman vampire. With a direct flick of her eyes, out toward the crowd and into the flooding overhead light, Tatiana gave a puckered grin to those in wait. She slit the skin of the dancer’s arm, straight down the center, and breathed in deep as the blood streamed outward.
Tatiana licked at the blood, tasting and breathing, her mouth and nose inflamed from desire. The women came from the left wall once again, each one stepping to the table they had served through the night. In their right hand was a blade, similar to Tatiana’s. They stood between the two guests and slit their skin in the same manner Tatiana had on stage. The vampires did not hesitate to feed.
Ahead, in Lilian’s eyes, Jack did not partake. Eli, however, was quick to taste the flowing life. Facing Mateus, Lilian gave him a stare; as if to ask if he wanted to drink or not. Mateus nodded, his fangs and hers protruding in the afterglow of the theater. Their fingers wrapped tight to one another’s, their mouths sucking in the blood.
Behind the stage sat a hidden room, the dark room. When most of Tatiana’s guests had left, save for only her most intimate relations, the hostess retreated to her cove. The dancer and the servers were left to the many minions Tatiana possessed. Their recovery was of no issue.
“I do enjoy your returns to New York,” Eli boasted toward his sister with a glass of amber liquid in his hand. The masks were off, ties were loosened, and Lilian hung tight to Mateus.
“So I see,” she smiled. With welcoming arms, Tatiana brought her friend in close for an embrace—a firm hold that she shared with few beings.
“I needed a reason to connect,” the aged vampire spoke. She stepped back and gazed tenderly into Lilian’s eyes. “I see you did as well.”
“I can’t thank you enough,” Lilian expelled. Tatiana lent a carefree, modest tilt of the head.
“Mateus, yes?” Eli called to the newest member of their close-knit club. Turning, Mateus nodded to the man. “Come with me for a moment, would you?” Mateus faced Lilian and kissed her cheek with a slight pause. He then left her side and retreated to the bar with a few other men.
“They’re planning a night out,” Jack’s mortal spoke as she stood beside Lilian, who then let out a long exhale. “I don’t think we’ve met. My name is Lou, I’m here with Jack.”
“Yes, I saw you earlier,” Lilian remarked.
“Ladies,” Tatiana directed, walking to the far corner and an oversize, plush couch. She sat carefully with her drink in hand and leaned back. With a deep breath, Tatiana closed her eyes and moaned on the exhale. “It’s so boring.”
“What is?” Lilian asked.
“This world we live in.”
“It’s magnificent,” Lou perked, then felt like biting her tongue. The other women looked on with misunderstanding eyes. “I’ve never seen things so beautiful, so imaginative.”
“Yes, well, that’s Jack,” Lilian laughed to herself.
“No, I meant because of tonight,” Lou cleared. She, however, could see the twisting allure in Lilian’s eyes. “How long have you known Jack?”
“A while,” Lilian spoke, rotating her short glass at her fingertips. Tatiana, sitting between Lou and Lilian, glanced to one and then the other as her mind opened.
“Franklin, more raspberries, please,” Tatiana’s voice lifted toward her personal server standing near the bar. The entire room fell silent. “Chocolate, too.”
The men at the bar regained their banter and the ambient noise crept back into the air. Lou glanced to Jack, who had also searched for her. They took a moment to enjoy the sight of one another, and then their friends stole their attention.
“Are you willing to succumb for him?” Tatiana asked Lou, her eyes interested in the desires of the mortal. The vampire had seen a lot in her centuries, surrounding herself by an increasing amount of vampire friends. She had often spent weeks without any mortal contact in the capacity of normalcy. Her servers were made to be emotionless, submissive and blank. The usual interaction with true mortals and their wild ambitions intrigued her deeply.
Lou sighed, her eyes befell her near-empty drink. “I would if he asked.”
“He hasn’t?” Lilian begged an answer. Lou shook her head. “How long?”
Lou laughed a little and rolled her eyes. “I’m not entirely sure.”
“He’s wiped you?” Tatiana jetted forward, but before Lou could reply, the vampire put her hand straight into the air and snapped her fingers. The room again fell still. “Jack,” her voice supreme, yet quiet. The man stepped from the bar and before the women. Again, the noise rose. “Everyone in this room knows you are nothing if not passionate,” Tatiana’s left brow pointed high as she grinned. Jack’s eyes scanned for their intent. “Why do you tease?”
“Please,” Lou interrupted, but the instant glare of the ancient vampire’s blazing brown eyes hushed the mortal. Lou peered up to Jack as he stood with surprise on his face. “She asked me a question, I didn’t mean to—”
“Yes, it was my fault,” Tatiana apologized in her own way. She slipped her heels from her feet and rose from the couch. Jack towered over the ancient beauty, gazing down to her delicate frame. Lilian waited to see what else the woman could spit out. “Don’t tease.”
Lou put her head in her hands and sighed. Jack, without break, sat at her side. Lilian watched as Jack put his arm around his mortal love, consoling her and making her understand that he wasn’t upset. It crushed Lilian to realize how mad Jack was for Lou, and how the mortal wanted so badly to please him. Lilian stood silently and left the room.
“I’m not the one,” Mateus’ voice entered the sober air of the red hall. Lilian had her back to the vampire, but a simple nod was clearly visible. “Why let me believe?”
Lilian turned abruptly, “Because I wanted to let him go. I don’t like this feeling, this pain.”
“Then why cast such pain over me?” Mateus’ voice lifted.
“I was a fool,” she muttered. “I won’t trouble you again.” Lilian lowered her head and stepped toward the backdoor.
“Not yet,” Mateus called. “Lilian look to me, please,” he asked of her. As she faced him slowly, he spoke with sincerity, “You’re a dear friend of mine. Even if that’s all, I want it.”
Lilian lent a smiling sigh, then returned to the vampire. Embracing in the stillness of the corridor, the two vampires listened to the laughter of the dark room. The people within were satisfied—and satiated—from an evening of bliss. Lilian, however, was heartbroken.
“He left you here alone?” Eli pressed his sister for answers as she sat on his couch in athletic pants and a t-shirt that once belonged to Jack. It was absurd of her to wear his clothes, but she couldn’t help herself. Their friendship was long and meaningful, just like the things they gifted to one another upon her move to California.
“Yep,” she slumped deeper into the couch. “But I told him to leave. I manipulated my friend for my own satisfaction.”
“Don’t defend him,” Eli advised, his hand waving outward, his eyes clear. There was a torn open package of cookies on the coffee table and several magazines about music that Lilian had thumbed through. Lilian had her feet curled on the edge of the table as she slumped deeper into the couch. Then a knock hit the door.
Eli planted his lips onto Naomi’s as she walked into the apartment. The mortal turned and saw the state of despair that Lilian was in and immediately sighed with soft eyes.
“Don’t pity me,” Lilian huffed. Naomi turned on her toes and shuffled her way to the couch. “I know what you’re thinking.”
“I bet you don’t,” Naomi popped. “You and I don’t know each other yet, but we will,” smiling, Naomi tilted her head down.
“Well, what then?” Lilian pursued.
“You should have a girl’s night,” the mortal urged.
“That was last night,” Lilian refused, taking her time to sweep one leg beneath her bottom.
“No, this is different,” Naomi went on. She peered up to Eli, who was standing with his arms crossed and his face smiling ear to ear. “I promise.”
“Only if Lou doesn’t come,” Lilian pouted.
“Great god,” Eli rolled his eyes and dropped his arms at his sides in a flailing effort to let out his frustration. “Would you please move on already,” he shouted at his sister.
“That’s easy for you,” Lilian pipped back. “You forced a connection on Mara and then left her to feel the pain of loneliness,” the tendons in Lilian’s neck stressed tight. “She submitted to you and you refused her love.”
“She never submitted to me! I did just as you said,” Eli leaned forward with his feet shaking around beneath him. “I forced her!”
Lilian spent a few seconds scanning her brother’s face as she settled her emotions. Then, as her eyes flipped to the mortal at her side, regret overcame her. Naomi’s eyes were trailing along the edge of the furniture as she stood from the couch. She moved to the doorway while Eli looked on in a wide stare.
“Don’t be afraid of me,” he meant to settle her fears, but moving before her only heightened them. Lilian sat and watched, wondering if intervening was smart. “I would never force you to do anything you didn’t want.”
“But you did to Mara,” Naomi spoke, her voice brittle and far. “I knew Mara. She really loved you.”
“Love is an enchantment,” Lilian mumbled.
“I know you knew her,” Eli reached for Naomi, but she backed into the wall. “Please, Naomi, I’ve never loved someone like you. I would never hurt you in any way.”
“I believe you, I do,” she agreed, letting him near her by one more step. She licked her lips and tried to find the words. “But you did,” her brow lifted in a hesitant smile. “You drank from me without remorse, all because of her.”
“You can’t believe everything Oliver tells you,” Eli raised his voice yet again.
“He told me about you,” Naomi waited for his reply. “When no one else saw it, he did. Why is that?”
“Fabulous,” Lilian crunched on a cookie as she sat in audience to their squabble.
“He daydreams too often,” Eli defended. Naomi laughed to herself with full eyes. “Say something,” Eli pleaded, his hands shaking Naomi’s upper arms. “Say something!”
“Undo it,” blank-faced, Naomi let the words roll from her mouth and into the atmosphere. Eli, with his shifting blue gaze, tried to avoid the demand. Naomi chuckled and a tear fell. “Give me the time I’ve lost.”
“You haven’t lost anything,” he refused.
Naomi felt her cheeks warm as Eli blurred in her sight. “Liar,” she whispered. Eli dropped his hands from her shoulders and sighed. His eyes hit the floor and then went straight back to her awaiting gaze. A soft touch to her face and the memories flooded in. Their eyes remained lock in a battle between dreams and realities. Naomi found truth in the past, but also fear and uncertainty. When Eli returned the final memory, Naomi was left breathing heavily, gasping for clear air.
Two steps back, Eli kept his eyes low. He waited for Naomi to leave, to run from the apartment and not look back. He knew he could never visit the pub again, never taste Naomi’s blood again.
Naomi, however, found one memory worth gold. She jumped, wrapping her arms around his neck, impacting him like a wave of cold air. Her skin flurried with goosebumps as she breathed him in.
Lilian, bothered by the vision before her, stood and went to the fire escape. She peered out over the city as she wondered why she was even there. The spring breeze of late afternoon brushed through her hair and against her neck. She wished she had something to smoke. The shirt she wore—Jack’s shirt—was graphite-colored, soft from years of wear and had a band’s name over the chest. It would forever smell like him.
On the street below, nestled in the warming sun, stepped a woman with bouncing red hair and a frilly pink skirt. Lilian sat up and leaned over the rail, calling to the hurried person. “Joss?” The woman immediately looked up and her mouth opened into a wide smile.
“Lily!” she shouted, rushing up to the apartment building door. Lilian hadn’t been called that name for years. She didn’t always like it, but Joss had exclusive rights to use it. Lilian went back inside, finding Eli and Naomi tossing around in his bed. There was a half wall between the bedroom area and the kitchen, but it didn’t hide what was happening. Lilian covered her eyes with her hand after gasping.
“Oh, Lilian, didn’t you leave?” Eli threw at her.
“I am now,” she returned. Taking her bag and jacket by the door, Lilian popped out of the apartment just as Joss appeared.
“I have missed your face,” Joss grabbed the woman tight and exhaled. Then, as they stepped back to see each other clearly, Joss slapped at Lilian’s shoulder in a childish way. “Why did you leave?”
“Let’s go for cupcakes,” Lilian offered.
“You poor thing,” Joss concluded. Her voice was dainty and soft; no one had ever heard her truly yell. “And then he left you here.”
“I asked him to go,” Lilian explained. “He loved me and… well, I didn’t love him. I used him, used terribly him.”
“It’s not your fault,” Joss consoled as she set down her cup of tea. “We girls are brittle when it comes to them. We have no strength to refuse, no reason to do so.”
Lilian flicked her eyes upward and then to the counter. “I was a fool.”
“I can see you still love him,” Joss concluded, her eyes finding the t-shirt hidden beneath Lilian’s jacket. “Every time you come to New York, you leave so quick. Over all these years, why only stay a few at a time?”
“I don’t belong here,” Lilian spoke. The man behind the counter brought two cupcakes on white plates before the women. Joss’ cupcake was chocolate with coconut cream frosting. Lilian’s was vanilla with lemon, and a raspberry on top. Lilian pulled the plate close and lifted the treat, and the fruit fell to the floor. She took a deep bite and smudged frosting all over her upper lip.
“Come stay with me for a while,” Joss belted. “We’d have so much fun.”
“I have to return to work,” Lilian muttered, finally wiping her face with a thick white napkin. At the door, when the bell rang overhead, Joss and Lilian turned to see Jack walk inside with another man. Lilian felt the world collapse in her lap. She gripped to Joss’ arm, who was then as straight-faced as her friend.
“It’s fine,” Joss whispered.
“I’m in his shirt,” Lilian panicked. She pulled her overcoat tight, but with buttons alone, she feared he’d see. “Maybe we can sneak out.”
“Yes,” Joss nodded.
“Josslyn?” Jack’s voice peeked between the women as they plopped back onto their stools. Lilian held her coat tighter than ever. “It’s been years,” the man exclaimed.
“Jack,” Joss rose and took him in. “It has. You look well.”
“I am, thank you,” he returned. “Lilian, I didn’t think you were still in town.”
“Only ‘til tonight,” Lilian cleared. “Well, we were actually just leaving.”
“Shame,” Jack pronounced with a soft raise of his brow. “Join us,” he urged. “Just for a little while.”
Lilian tossed the idea around for a moment, thinking it’d be nice to see him without Lou around.
“We’re waiting for our girls to show,” the other vampire perked, and the idea now had a sour taste.
“Lucky girls,” Joss gave a grin from beneath her round blue eyes. Both Jack and his friend grew puzzling looks as the two women stood and left the soda shop. Jack watched through the window as Joss gave Lilian a pep talk, pointing her finger and shouting a continuous flow of words. Then, turning into the wind, Lilian’s jacket blew open just enough to reveal the shirt beneath to one forgotten witness beyond the window.
Lilian felt the pressing dark eyes of a vampire gazing to her through the window. She instinctively faced him. And there he was, standing with pain in his eyes. Lilian drew in the fresh air and started off down the sidewalk.
“Wait!” that musical voice shouted out. Lilian froze. She could feel him near as Joss watched with sorrow in her gaze. She could see by his expression that her friend would not find peace in the nearing conversation.
“Go ahead,” Lilian whispered to her friend. “Go.” With a swallow, and a final look to Jack, Joss turned away and walked into the mess of mortals that clouded the pavement. Lilian breathed again, long and deep, closing her eyes and remembering when Jack gave her the shirt.
“Is this why you leave? Again and again?” he asked at her back.
Lilian faced him with full eyes. “I’m happy for you. Really I am.” Jack’s hair fluttered in the wind, his mind followed. There had been a time when he thought different of Lilian. When he had desired her as she now did him. With Lou in his constant gaze, Jack no longer felt the same.
“I never knew,” he spoke with a pressed brow. “If you had said something, anything… back during…” he searched his mind for the memories of them in the early nineteen-hundreds. A time when they lived in Vienna.
“No, I know,” she interrupted him with trailing eyes. After a pause, she reached up and felt his face in her hand as he closed his eyes momentarily. A slight glimpse of the feeling he had years ago came over him. But it wasn’t enough to sway his mind. As he opened his eyes, Lilian dropped her hand and sniffled through a grin. “When I’m in town again, I’ll give you a call.”
Jack nodded, but something pulled at his attention from afar. His collar flapped, his eyes honed in; the mortal of his desire stared back with a broken heart. And Lilian, she was gone.