A porcelain plate hit the wall and shattered into dozens of pieces. At the opposite side of the room stood Brie, a dainty structured, youthful mortal of nineteen. Her forest green, hooded eyes were bloodshot, her jaw clamped tight.
“I told you, he was only a meal,” Joss argued back, her hands out in the air.
“And what am I?” Brie returned with force. “What are these?” she showed her wrists and the bite marks Joss had left behind. “Are you full?” her wiry voice snapped.
Joss grunted and stomped around for a moment. “You were in San Francisco; what was I supposed to do? Starve?” her voice peaked without an increase in volume.
“You were supposed to come with me,” Brie softened. The young woman rolled her eyes and set the other plate—the one she had held onto in case it needed to be thrown—on the table. Letting the air out of her stressed little frame, Brie paced to the bathroom, locked the door and started the shower. Joss, left to stare over the mess, crossed her arms in a huff.
The loft was cleaned; Brie had been napping for over an hour in the queen-sized bed with a lavish purple comforter. Joss sat at the window and took in the late November air. It smelled pure, yet stung deep in her core. She lit her hitter and stared out to the sky. Plumes of smoke billowed before her, and then Brie appeared.
“I’ve never seen you smoke,” she uttered.
“I used to with a friend of mine. She’s been gone a while.”
“I’m sorry,” Brie carried on, her arms held tight around her.
“No, you were right,” Joss brought her knees up to her chest. “I should’ve been with you. I love you.” Brie leaned in and kissed Joss, absorbing the moment for as long as she could. When she sat back, along the sill with her eyes to the sky, she smiled. “What?”
“I miss the stars,” Brie confessed. The city was so illuminated that only the boldest stars could be seen in the blackest sky. Now, as evening set in and deep blue hue of night crept over the horizon—the man-made horizon of architecture—Brie remembered living out west.
“Is that why you went?” Joss probed.
Brie’s eyes trailed as she struggled to find clear words of meaning. “I think I went to say goodbye.” Joss’ face lengthened. “I know you want to wait, but I don’t want to be old forever.”
“I won’t pass this to you when you’re old,” Joss snapped. “I just think you should be able to order your own scotch someday.” Brie crunched her lips into a pout and exhaled through her nose. “I know you want to be with me forever, and I feel the same. I do. But you’ve barely lived.”
“I’m too young for you.”
“No,” Joss refused. “You’re perfect. I just don’t want to take away a life that hasn’t happened.” Brie found Joss’ bright blue eyes from a leaning stare. “I’ve been alive since 1898,” she started, but Brie interrupted.
“And that’s only because of what you are.” Joss didn’t have a reply. “Pass this to me, please,” Brie went on. She gripped Joss’ arm with her strong, but delicate hands. Joss, however, pulled away.
“It isn’t always paradise.”
“It certainly was when you and I went to Rouen in September,” Brie spat.
“It wasn’t when my first lover poisoned me with this virus and then left me without a penny in the back streets of New Orleans,” Joss smacked her hand onto the sill and then stood. She rushed off to the kitchen and pulled a wine glass from the cabinet and slammed the door shut. Brie sighed with puckered lips. She stood and went for her jacket, then left.
There was a pause of silence that befell the loft. Joss closed her eyes to the breath bating her along. Then with twisted fingers and white knuckles she shattered the glass over the edge of the tiled counter.
“Tell me more,” the male vampire sitting beside Joss begged. The pair were at a favorite spot, a revival of the classic soda shop from the fifties. There were sweet drinks, cakes and music. The bar stools were chrome and red. “It’s too delicious.”
Joss laughed with her whole body. “I just wanted her to understand. Somehow, I fail terribly at making myself clear.”
“That isn’t true,” the man, named Lucius, voiced with a long sip of his smoothie. “You’ve always been clear to me,” he grinned. Joss pushed at his shoulder and laughed again. The man, her closest friend, had loose curled hair that hit the lobes of his ears. He wore thick rimmed glasses, fully black, like the irises of his eyes.
“Yes, I’m sure I was clear all through the sixties,” she continued to laugh. He shushed her with a mirrored smile. After they settled, with whip cream on their tongues, Joss asked with a serious tone, “Am I insane?”
“No,” he shrugged. “She needs to know what it’s like. You’re giving her something that you never had.” Joss nodded. “Show her.”
“You think?” Joss’s brow raised. She ran her finger across the cream on her cupcake and licked it as she had several times already. Lucius nodded. “Alright.”
“Don’t scare her,” he completed.
“Enough of me,” Joss straightened her back and shuffled in her seat. “How’ve you been?”
“Besides ignoring my best friend all summer?” he trailed, catching Joss’ sly stare. “Wonderful,” gaping in laughter.
“You know I’m not upset,” Joss said. The shop was full that Saturday evening, and even their continuous noise didn’t bother the other patrons. “But, I don’t see you enough.”
Lucius sat back and looked as though he had something on his mind, but the woman at the door captured his eye instead. Joss turned to see what had her friend so suddenly silent. Briefly, Lucius swallowed and blinked to Joss, then stood.
Joss took hold of his arm and spoke quietly at his chest. “Promise me you’ll tell her.”
Dressed in all black, hair long and clean, Joss stepped out into the night with Brie at her side. The young mortal was excited, but had a way with keeping her anxiety to herself. With Joss leading the way, the night seemed to open before her eyes. Every person they passed seemed like a potential hit, a moment to break from the normal world Brie couldn’t wait to escape.
Joss stopped near an outdoor market and waited as a man walked toward her and Brie. With her hand out in front, Joss stopped her companion in the shadows. She turned to face the mortal and looked over her large eyes. Brie understood the necessary obedience required for her to achieve her ultimate goal. She didn’t move.
Joss walked toward the man and could smell his blood as it pumped deep in his veins. The livelihood that kept the mortal from death, the limbo that she was designed to sever. With batting lashes and a tilted smile, Joss attracted his attention. Further down the sidewalk, after the two had passed one another, Joss turned for one final slow bat. The man didn’t hesitate to turn around.
Joss passed the corner and turned into a dark parking lot. The man was close, and Brie trailed not far behind. Joss took hold of the man as soon as he cleared the light. In the large reflective forest eyes Brie beheld, Joss’ fangs emerged, piercing the neck of the man in a speed he never saw coming.
Rushed into the loft without the decency of patience, Joss pushed through the door with Brie in her arms. One held the other close with lips locked tight. The night had never looked brighter to Brie, though with darkness closing in, Joss hoped it was enough to pause the mortal’s thoughts.
In the early light of morning, Joss woke and stepped into the kitchen. She had missed a shard of glass, firmly planting her foot onto the sharp object.
“Fuck!” she announced, then immediately covered her mouth with her hand. In the bed, far away, but yet so close and warm, slept Brie. Joss thought of the previous night and wondered for a moment what she was doing with the young mortal. On the floor, her blood poured out and left a trail as she hopped to a stool.
“Ya alright?” Brie rubbed her eyes in only a t-shirt and her underwear.
Joss nodded. She yanked the glass from her skin and winced just before the wound closed. With a long exhale, the vampire gazed to the mortal. “Get dressed.”
“Do we have plans?” Brie asked and then yawned.
“You have to leave,” Joss spoke in a voice so low and distant that it nearly didn’t register for Brie.
“Excuse me?” the mortal’s eyes honed in.
Joss’ words were precise, “You heard me.”
“Yeah, I heard you,” Brie snapped back. “Is this because of last night?”
“Nothing went wrong last night,” Joss argued, standing and facing the woman.
“So what then?” Brie’s voiced popped. She shifted to her other foot and stuck her hand on her hip.
“I can’t do this,” Joss breathed. She stepped around Brie and went back to the bedroom to dress.
“You can’t keep dodging me,” Brie shouted.
“I don’t dodge you,” Joss reentered the room with a firm voice as she pulled her jeans on.
“We never talk.”
“Last time we talked you threw dishes at me,” Joss turned and walked back into the bedroom.
“And that’s it?” the mortal shouted. “You give up?”
“I know when things need rest,” Joss swore with her finger in the air, standing in the doorway with a loose shirt over her little tank top.
“Fuck you,” Brie spat out. “This is only because you think you love him.”
“That isn’t true,” Joss rejected.
“Then why do you follow him around like a dog?”
Joss took inventory after a long, drawing stare over the mortal. She gazed to the worn wooden floor, the pale-yellow wallpaper that had little daisies on it, and the door knob.
“Yeah,” Brie nodded with a sigh. “I hope he disappoints you terribly,” she threw out as she walked toward the bedroom. Joss, however, was ready to let it all go. She took the mortal by the shoulders and held her firm. Gazing into the forest spheres that allured her months ago, Joss dug deep for the memories of the two. “No, don’t,” Brie fought, but Joss held her by the mind and body.
Carefully finding the particular moment they met, the day in the sun under the canopy of the ice cream cart, Joss masked each word they exchanged. Her eyes swelled, both red and wet, as the moment she adored faded fast. When she felt that Brie had nothing more to remember her by, she let her go.
“Go to your mother and tell her you were wrong,” Joss commanded in her delicate voice. The tears were nearly audible in her trembling tone. “Join the nursing program, find a wonderful soul to love, and forget me.”
For a pause, Brie stood without movement. Her stare withdrew from Joss’ eyes and then she blinked. With a steep inhale, oxygen flooding her body in a way she hadn’t felt in months, Brie smiled. She put the pants that Joss had just handed to her on, then took her jacket from the hook behind the door. With her purse in hand, Brie left without a word. And Joss fell to the floor in tears.
“It’s been so long,” Lucius’ eyes were bold. “Why haven’t you told me?”
“I couldn’t wreck your happiness,” Joss answered, sitting on a park bench in April. “I wanted to call you, but I knew you had your hands full.”
Lucius gave a shy grin. “She loves to surprise me.”
“Have you let her out?” Joss’ interest grew. Lucius shook his head after a pause, eyes squinting in the light that kept filtering between the waving branches above. Little buds had begun to grow, but only the smallest leaves were visible.
“I want to, but she’s wild,” he bit his tongue. “I bring her things—rare steaks, you know—but it isn’t enough.”
“I know someone,” Joss hinted with a slanted brow. “She would love to help.”
Lucius exhaled and shook his head. “I can’t risk it.”
“I know, but trust me,” Joss leaned close, Lucius didn’t move, “she’s perfect.”
“I wish you would’ve called me,” Lucius entered after the birds overhead chirped. Joss smiled with a closed mouth. “I made a mistake,” he shook his head.
“Don’t doubt yourself,” she advised. “How long did your transition take?”
Lucius laughed to himself. “A lot longer.”
“See,” she laughed, too. “I think, well… I had to have taken a good three months.”
“No,” he opposed with a wide mouth. For a moment, while Joss nodded with smiling eyes, she took time to enjoy his lips and glowing white teeth.
“Yeah, and I actually thought of passing it along,” she rolled her eyes. Joss’ phone buzzed in her purse, capturing her entire attention. Lucius sat there and waited. “I might meet a friend.”
“Okay,” he straightened his jacket. He wore the clothes of an urban hipster, nothing like some of the friends she had.
“Like, now,” she lent a cheesy grin. Her eyes trailed off to the park behind Lucius.
“Oh,” he stood as she did.
“Josslyn,” Jack called from afar.
“He’s having problems,” Joss whispered to Lucius, who then shrugged off the interruption.
“Call me about the girl.”
“Oh, no,” she grabbed his arm. “Stay, please.” Lucius’ eyes opened, looking to Joss and then the man fast approaching.
“You’re fast,” Joss’ eyes opened large as she spoke to Jack.
Standing with his hands deep in his pockets, facial hair a mess and his eyes dark in unflattering ways, Jack exhaled with a slight bite to his lip. “Has she called you?”
Joss’ eyes tightened, then her brow lifted. “Jack,” she started off, but his anger seeped through.
“It’s foolish,” he stiffened. His onyx eyes glazed under the tender sun. “She won’t get close enough for me to explain. I can’t take it away, I can’t fix it,” his voice tensed.
“Maybe she should just keep this memory,” Joss offered.
“Are you still talking to Ari?” he pressed. Joss shook her head, but Jack grabbed her shoulders tight. “Tell me right!”
“That’s enough,” Lucius removed Jack’s grip from Joss. “I think you should go.”
“And what are you?” Jack’s eyes pinched as his voice once again tensed. “You think she cares for you?”
“That’s enough,” Joss muttered.
“She’s loved some artist forever, talks about him constantly,” Jack’s words flung into the open lilac-filled air. Joss’ eyes pierced Jack’s as her jaw opened in surprise. “You aren’t anything. She’ll always love him.” Jack’s arms flipped out before his body in disgust, his eyes flicking into the sky. He turned without another word and walked away in a huff. Joss couldn’t find the courage to look at Lucius.
As a man went jogging by, both vampires could feel the oxygen thin. Joss took a long breath in and closed her eyes. The scent of the man, his pulse beating without relief, overcame her in her state of vulnerability.
“Talk to me,” Lucius pressed, his voice quiet and still in her drumming ears. With suddenly open eyes, Joss kept the grass in her vision. “Please don’t leave me in your silence.” Joss peeked upward, her blue eyes covered in pink. “How long?” Lucius begged an answer.
“I can’t do this,” Joss mumbled with a sniffle. She turned fast and paced down the sidewalk.
“Would you please just see him,” Joss ordered at Lou while they met for lunch.
“And let him take it all away again?” the mortal argued.
“If he hasn’t done something wrong, why treat him so?” Joss snapped.
“I don’t expect you to understand,” Lou faced the window and the people passing by the pub. She wondered what they would do if they knew.
“He told the man I love that he wasn’t good enough because I always loved someone else,” Joss explained as she leaned over the table. Lou gave the vampire an and look. “And I actually love Lucius because he’s the artist,” the tea cups shook a little under the sudden collision of Joss’ hand and the table.
Lou leaned back and her gaze softened. “I’ll meet him here, on Sunday.”
“Thank you,” Joss said.
“I don’t hate him, but I’m bothered, you know.” Joss looked on, uncertain of what Lou felt. “He’s so full of passion, so much that it sometimes overflows. I’m scared I’ll lose him.”
“Lou,” Joss gasped, her hands taking hold of the mortal’s with crippling force. “He won’t ever leave you. If he chose to, it would’ve happened already.”
“I just never know.”
“He’s had others,” Joss revealed, sitting back and letting Lou’s hands breathe. “Yeah, a few. There was one, I remember. I think it was around the sixties.” Lou listened to the tale with heightened alert. “He followed her around to no end. I thought he’d pass his poison to her. But when she turned him out, accusing him of tasting another mortal just for pleasure, he severed the memories and left.”
“Left,” Joss repeated. “That was back in Virginia. He’s never returned.”
Lou rubbed her lips with her fingertips and let her mind drift somewhere far away. A faint grin swept her face before she could contain her emotion.
“What is it that you’re really scared of?”
“That I’m not enough,” Lou mumbled. She grinned again, through a sigh as her eyes glossed, then spoke candidly. “I’m not what he needs.”
“He’s completely broken because of you,” Joss gasped in a smile. “He won’t feed, sleep; he won’t even shave.”
“But I saw how he felt with her,” Lou furthered. “She can give him a life that fills his senses, never disappoints—”
“The only disappointment he knows is the emptiness he feels right now,” Joss objected. “Can’t you see?”
“And if I let him in, then we’ll have a wonderful life,” Lou idealized. Joss’ face lit up. “And then I’ll grow old, and he can watch me die. And that’s after I’ve spent a dry life trying to fill an emptiness he can’t see.”
Joss’ glare tightened. She crossed her arms as her brow lowered.
“I won’t have children, I won’t heal from trauma, I won’t find the same satisfaction that he might. And that’s only until I bore him, or I look less desirable.”
“I would give anything to feel desired as he desires you,” Joss returned calmly. “You’re the fool, just like he said.”
“I might be,” Lou agreed. “But at least I tried.”
“And that means?”
“You love Lucius, and now he’s aware. You, instead of taking advantage, run away,” Lou forced out. The storm between them had only begun to brew when Naomi came by with their sandwiches.
“He’s just given his poison to the woman he loves,” Joss defended. “What am I supposed to do?”
The pub sat empty, save for the three women. Naomi stepped back and glanced over Lou with wanting eyes. With a sharp sigh, Lou rose from the table, spilling the tea and shaking the silverware. Joss put her head in her hands.
“You weren’t here when it happened,” Naomi cleared, then stepped to the bar.
“What?” Joss asked, seconds after and only once she had cleared her frustration.
“When he saved her,” Naomi informed, her voice carrying from the bar to the tables at the window. “When he nearly killed her.”
“He did what?” Joss begged, standing and joining the mortal where she stood.
“Right there,” Naomi explained, pointing to the window, to the street where Lou now paced. “It was the last day in November, ice glazed everything over. They had a fight and she left. And a car slid directly into her.”
Joss had replaced the yellow wallpaper with blush-pink panels in February. She took all the paintings and pictures down and put up old vintage photography of landscapes. The old faded counters were replaced with cream tiles and white grooves. And a new set of wine glasses sat in the cabinet.
Now, in late-spring, Joss had yet to test out the glasses. A cold bottle of blackberry wine and fresh linguini made the perfect date on a rainy Saturday night. Then a knock echoed from the door and over the walls.
“Just a minute,” Joss called after turning the stove burner off. At the door, she peeked through the peephole and found Lucius standing with worn, sad eyes. “What happened?” she begged as she whipped the door wide.
“I lost her,” he spilled, breaking down before both feet were in the door. Joss stood there, her lip held tight between her teeth, and felt every ounce of his grief. She took one step, slowing to meet his face with her own, and lifted her hand to the air around his ear. With the very edge of his hair gracing her fingertips, she pulled her hand down. Then she pulled him tight, gripping his entire body with her comforting embrace.
“You can’t blame yourself,” Joss advised. The two sat on the couch with empty glasses stained purple. “It doesn’t always work.”
“I kept her closed away,” he punished himself.
“Don’t do that,” she argued, sitting forward over her knees. Lucius, unlike her tight presence, was leaned back onto the plush throw pillows with a warm glaze in his eyes. “Some of them can’t handle it.”
“Joss, I forced her to stay in,” his brow pressed in hard. “I wouldn’t let her go out and enjoy it. I wouldn’t let her live.”
“She didn’t want to live,” Joss spat back. “That’s why she asked for this virus!” Lucius didn’t speak. “I’m sorry.”
“No, you’re right,” he mumbled. “Do you know, I should’ve seen it. That night, when I passed it to her, she slept so peacefully.” Joss found pain in his retelling. “She woke and said it felt wonderful,” he grinded his teeth through the words. “That’s when I should’ve seen it.”
“And how was it for you?” his voice rose as he sat up.
Joss straightened her back and cleared her throat. “You don’t want to know.” Lucius’ eyes hovered until she broke her silence. “Alright,” she inhaled steeply through her nose. “She bit me here,” Joss stood and lowered her waistline revealing a scar near her pelvis bone. “She had several times before, but that time it stung.” Sitting back down, Joss could see the agreement in Lucius’ eyes. “I don’t know what made her do it, but she did. And I felt it all over.”
“You didn’t want this?”
“I didn’t have a choice,” Joss explained. “Then, after she left, I laid there in sweats, vomiting everything I could until blood came up. That lasted for, I don’t know, several days,” she concluded with fury in her eyes.
“That’s enough,” Lucius set out his hand.
“The aches set in, burning my organs and breaking my mind. And when I thought I had bested it, when I thought it was over, that’s when the hunger emerged.”
“Joss, you can stop,” Lucius leaned over and touched her hand as she gazed to the stairwell. She jolted back to him, eyes full and glossed in pain. “I’m sorry.”
Joss wiped her cheek. “Sometimes they don’t take, sometimes they feel peace. Sometimes they just die in their sleep.”
Lucius nodded. “I didn’t mean to ruin your night.”
Joss smiled. “You didn’t. She stood and went to the kitchen. With the half-empty bottle of wine in her hand, she removed the cork to find Lucius standing on the other side of the fridge door. Her eyes were still red.
“I like the new style,” Lucius said to her as he looked around the apartment.
“Thank you,” she replaced the cork and closed the fridge. Plates with white sauce sat in the sink. Lucius kept his eyes deep over hers. “I wanted something more soothing. Something delicate.” Lucius continued to dig his vision into hers while she fished for the right words. “Like the roses in Luberon.”
Lucius eyes grew heavy as he remembered France. It had been too long. He set his glass down on the counter and ran his fingers through his hair. “We often make mistakes,” he started, the memory of Luberon as present in his mind as it was in hers. “Life is never certain, never clear. But it has importance.”
Joss reached out and took his hand in hers with a nod. “You’re the best friend I have. I hope you know I want to be yours.”