Monday, August 15, 2016

Only With The Heart - Chapter 8

If you are new to this story, you can find chapter 1 here.
If you missed chapter 7, it's here.

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The heartbeat was like a beacon, drawing Taylor toward the door even as it accelerated and resounded even more strongly in the apartment. She’d done her best to ignore the passing heartbeats of her neighbors all day long, but this one felt different, maybe because whoever it was seemed to be standing still close to her door, or maybe because it felt so familiar.

She could only think of one reason why a heartbeat would feel familiar however, and that couldn’t possibly be right. It couldn’t be Lance, standing by her door. Not twice in a day when he had never come here before and hadn’t talked to her in weeks.

Could it?

More than the hunger growling deep inside her, it was her curiosity, maybe even her hope, that drew her to the door and its peephole. One quick glance, just long enough to recognize Lance, caused her stomach to do a little flip, the way it used to back when they first started dating. A second, longer look showed her someone who didn’t want to be there at all, and the flipping became much less pleasant, to the point that she wondered whether all the blood she’d ingested today would try to come back up.

Should she move away from the door, pretend she didn’t know he was there until he decided to finally knock or walk away? It might be best. If he didn’t want to talk to her, she saw nothing to be gained in forcing the issue.

And yet… She missed him so much… She’d barely spoken to him earlier, and then it had only been to hide her embarrassment when he peeked into her tiny, untidy apartment. He hadn’t said a word at all. Would it be so bad to open the door and see if he would talk to her this time?

She didn’t let herself think too much about it and unlocked the door with a twist of her hand, pulling it open before she could change her mind—or before Lance could flee. He stood on the threshold, one hand still raised as though ready to knock, a very strange look on his face that might have been relief, fear, or both.

Could he really be afraid of her?

“Hello again,” she said quietly, clinging to the side of the door to give her good hand something to do while she kept the burned one curled against her chest.

Lance nodded, and for a moment she thought he’d stay silent again, but he finally did speak, even if he wasn’t meeting her eyes. Instead, his gaze remained on her bad hand, to the point that she wanted to hide it behind her.

“Evening.” He cleared his throat. “I thought… I mean… Your burns, they looked pretty bad, and James said you’d heal better with… with a different kind of blood, so… Here.”

A flash of confusion about who ‘James’ was—of course, the kid he’d come with earlier, the one they’d found in that vampire lair last night—morphed into confusion about what Lance meant exactly by a ‘different kind of blood,’ but that question, too, was quickly elucidated. The hospital-branded cooler he was holding out toward her made it clear what he meant. Her hand clenched a little more tightly over the side of the door.

“No,” she blurted out, a little louder than she meant to. “I don’t… I can’t accept that. Thanks for helping, I’ll be fine.”

As much as she wanted to see him, talk to him a little longer, she wanted to remove the temptation he presented even more, and she started closing the door. He blocked it with a hand.

“What do you mean, you can’t accept that?” he asked, only now looking up to meet her gaze. “It’ll help you get better faster. Don’t tell me that doesn’t hurt.”

He indicated her burned hand with a nod of his head, and this time she did hide it behind her.

“It’s already much better with all the blood you brought earlier,” she said, and it wasn’t really a lie. She had felt a lot better after drinking half of what he’d brought. The pain had started to return since then, but it wasn’t as bad as it’d been last night. “I’ll be fine.”

Just then, the neighbor who lived opposite her came out of the elevator and stopped in the hallway, letting out a quite noticeable “Humph” that drew Lance’s attention to her. She’d made it clear before that she didn’t appreciate having a vampire neighbor, even if Taylor had the law on her side. She looked at Lance and at the cooler he held with an increasingly deeper frown. The same disgust that had filled her voice weeks ago when she spat the words ‘vampire’ and ‘unnatural’ now spilled from every syllable as she said, “This is a respectable apartment complex. There are children here, families. If you don’t take your… dealings elsewhere, I’ll report you to the police. Or even get Special Enforcers here.”

She seemed particularly pleased with herself at that last threat, and all but strutted toward her door—only to be stopped midway when Lance, leaving the cooler on the floor, turned to her and reached inside his jacket. A look of fear crossed the busybody’s features, followed by confusion when Lance handed her a business card.

“Here you go,” he told her, and while his back was to Taylor, she could hear the savage grin in his voice and knew exactly what he looked like right now. “This is the number for the only S.E. agency in a fifty miles radius. When you call, be sure to tell the lady who answers the phone that her brother is here visiting her best friend. The number for the vampire department at the police station is on the back. If you decide to call them instead, you can say hi to them from Lance.”

The look of pure shock on the woman’s face was such that Taylor hoped she’d remember it for a long time. In contrast, Lance’s expression when he came back to her was entirely too satisfied, and it was all Taylor could do not to burst out laughing. He picked up the cooler again, and seemed much more relaxed when he asked, “Should we finish this conversation inside?”

The conversation was finished as far as Taylor was concerned, but with her neighbor still standing there frozen, watching with wide eyes, she didn’t want to give the impression she was dismissing Lance. So she stepped aside and allowed him inside, closing the door behind him and leaning against it.

They looked at each other in a silence only broken after a moment by the sound of a door banging shut on the other side of the landing. They both broke out into laughter and for a few seconds everything fell away, as though the past months had been nothing but a bad dream, as though she were still human and a Special Enforcer at his side—as though he still loved her.

The moment passed much too quickly.

Both of them sobered up. Raising his free hand to gesture at the door behind Taylor, Lance asked, “Is she always like that? If she’s harassing you we can take it up with Karen.”

However much Taylor liked the sound of that ‘we’, she shook her head.

“She doesn’t like vampires, that’s all. Nothing in the law against that.”

Lance pursed his lips, which she knew meant he wanted to argue but was forcing himself not to.

Don’t try to read anything in all this, she told herself forcefully. He never liked bullies, you know that. He’d have done the same for anyone.

Once more the silence returned. Had they truly nothing left to tell each other?

Well, Taylor did have a lot to say, but none of it was anything Lance wanted to hear; he’d made that perfectly clear when she had awakened as a vampire.

“I’m going to put this in your fridge,” he said suddenly, his voice low, already turning away from her and toward the kitchen.

She reacted without thinking, stepping forward and reaching out to grab his arm. She did so with her injured hand, and had to grit her teeth not to gasp in pain. She didn’t let go, not even when he looked at her hand, disgust flitting on his features before he looked up. This time, she could practically feel his eyes running over the burns on her face.

“How did it happen?” he asked, barely louder than a whisper.

She shrugged and released him, even more self-conscious now that he was asking about it.

“I was outside too long, what else do you want me to say?”

“But didn’t you… feel it or something? The sun, I mean. Don’t you feel it coming up? Why were you out so late anyway?”

She bristled at the last question, straightening up to her full height.

“Unless the town hall passed a new law I didn’t hear about, I don’t think what I was doing is any of your business.”

Except that it was, very literally, his business that she’d been working on, looking for a vampire she’d heard about so she could pass information to Ellie. Not her business anymore; vampires couldn’t be S.E.s.

“Sorry,” he muttered, and turned away again, this time walking to the kitchen before she could stop him. He set the cooler on the counter and opened it, pausing only when she said in as strong a voice as she could muster, “I don’t want it.”

He gave her such a blank, nonplussed look that she repeated herself, a little louder now.

“I don’t want it. I told Ellie I didn’t want blood from the hospital and I haven’t changed my mind.”

“But it will help you heal faster!”

“So says your new friend, but I still don’t want it.” Hoping to distract him, she changed the subject. “What’s with the kid, anyway? Why did you bring him here earlier? It’s hardly the place for a child.”

“He was with me when Ellie called. And you’re deflecting.”

She was, but he was ignoring her, which wasn’t any better. He now pulled two IV bags from the cooler and opened her fridge to place them inside. Part of Taylor wanted to step forward to physically stop him since he wasn’t listening to her words, but she was afraid to get close to those bags of blood—afraid that somehow her hunger might take over if they were within reach. Afraid that she might show Lance a side of her she knew disgusted him.

“You barely have anything left in there,” he commented as he placed the bags inside, already turning to take more from the cooler. “If you’ve drunk most of what I brought you this afternoon already, you can’t say you don’t need those.”

This time, he pulled another IV bag from the cooler, but also a different kind of bag; it looked like one of the zipped freezer bags the butcher used.

“I do need it,” she said, her voice ringing hollow. “But I don’t want it. I don’t want human blood. It’s my choice. Could you please respect it?”

“But you’re hurt! I just wanted—”

He met her eyes across the room and abruptly fell silent.

“I’m sorry,” he murmured, and it sounded like an apology for more than the blood… or was that only wishful thinking on Taylor’s part?

Without another word, he set the bag in his hands back in the cooler, then retrieved those he’d already stashed in the fridge. When he slid the lid of the cooler shut and it slipped into place, the clicking sound seemed to echo through the apartment with a note of finality.

As Lance picked up the cooler and came back toward the door, every fiber of Taylor’s being wanted to protest. Surely he wasn’t going to leave already. He’d just come in! They had barely talked at all! There was so much she wanted to tell him, so much she wanted to ask…

But as he stood in front of her, obviously waiting for her to step aside so he could leave, she couldn’t think of a single thing to say, couldn’t conjure up a reason to touch him again.

“I really just wanted to help,” he said quietly.

She nodded and, with great effort, managed to get out of his way. Opening the door for him, however, was beyond her.

“I know,” she said. “And I appreciate it, really. It was nice… nice to see you.”

‘Nice to know you still care about me’ was what she really meant to say, but she couldn’t force the words to her lips.

As he stood there in front of her, she could hear his heartbeat pickup speed as though he’d been running when instead he was completely still. Scents had become more intense ever since she’d been turned into a vampire, but she didn’t spend enough time around people to learn what they meant; right now, to her nose, Lance’s scent was complete chaos—and nothing she could identify.

“If you need more from the butcher, I could…”

He trailed off when Taylor shook her head.

“It’s all right. I meant to go tonight. I need to get out and get some fresh air anyway.”

A flicker lit up his eyes—she’d seen it a thousand times before and she knew what it meant: there was a joke on the tip of his tongue, and any second now a grin would split his face and he’d say what she could already guess was a quip about fresh air and how she didn’t need it. She waited for it, barely holding back a smile in anticipation. She couldn’t remember the last time he’d joked with her, and that was just one more thing she missed about him.

But he didn’t say anything.

The flicker died out. His features remained grave. He didn’t say anything more than a quiet “Bye, then.”

And then the door was closing on him. He was gone. He was leaving her behind without so much as a last look, a last smile, the way he had in the hospital. And it hurt beyond anything she could ever have imagined all over again.

chapter 9...

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