Saturday, October 1, 2016

Only With The Heart - Chapter 11 - A Paranormal Romance story by Kallysten

If you are new to this story, you can find chapter 1 here.
If you missed chapter 10, it's here.


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ONLY WITH THE HEART
CHAPTER 11



As Taylor climbed the steps to her apartment, she couldn’t help but feel some sense of trepidation. For weeks, she’d had no visitors. She and her best friend had communicated by texts, seen each other occasionally for a few clandestine minutes in a car or a back alley, and she’d not seen her boyfriend at all… but of course, he wasn’t her boyfriend anymore, was he?

This enforced solitude had been shattered today—repeatedly. Taylor may have been the first one to reach out with a call for help, but she certainly didn’t imagine it’d result in three separate visits, two of them from Lance. Part of her was still half convinced that no one would be there when she reached her landing. Surely Ellie hadn’t waited all this time—almost an hour—just for her?



She had.

Coming out of the stairwell, Taylor found herself staring down at her friend, who sat with her back to Taylor’s door. Ellie looked up, a small, tired smile stretched on her lips.

“I’m sorry,” Taylor blurted out. “I didn’t mean to be so long, it’s just that…”

She trailed off when Ellie shook her head as she pushed herself to her feet, raising a shopping bag through which two pint-sized cartons were just visible.

“No trouble. The ice cream must be at a perfect starting-to-melt point by now.”

All of Taylor’s doubts disappeared in a rush of memories. How many gallons of ice cream had the two of them shared across the years, sometimes in celebration, sometimes to drown their worries into deliciousness, sometimes simply for the pleasure of shared company?

They’d known each other since they were just kids, had been best friends since their teenage years, had suffered through the same growing pains, had had the same dream of becoming Special Enforcers and had supported each other all the way to graduation day.

When Taylor, at age sixteen, had warily admitted over a shared carton of cookie-dough-and-chocolate-chips that she had ‘more than a crush’ on Ellie’s twin, Ellie’s squeal of excitement had been so loud that Lance had peeked into the room, wondering aloud if they’d finally gotten tired of each other and were beating each other up. Ellie had only squealed louder, unable to catch her breath for long minutes.

Two years later, it was over cherry-and-vanilla drizzled with chocolate syrup that Ellie had oh, so casually mentioned this guy she’d met, a med student with the prettiest eyes. Between the two of them, they were probably responsible for half the profits earned by Ben & Jerry in the state.

Or they had been, before everything changed.

In front of Taylor’s choked up silence, Ellie’s already small smile thinned up a little more.

“You can eat ice cream, right?” she asked in a tiny voice. “I mean, at the Academy they said vampires can eat, so I thought—”

The rest of that sentence was lost in a startled gasp when Taylor abruptly dropped the paper bag she carried, stepped forward and engulfed her former best friend—still best friend?—in as tight a hug as she dared to give. After a moment’s hesitation that seemed to stretch halfway to forever, Ellie finally hugged her back.

Taylor could have wept as she felt her friend’s warmth seep into her skin. It had been far too long since she’d touched a human being in anything more than a fleeting, casual touch, and she hadn’t realized until this very moment how much she’d missed it. She screwed her eyes shut as tightly as she could and worked to get a grip on herself.

Only when she was sure her voice wouldn’t break did she pull back and say, “Yes, I can eat ice cream. Let’s get inside. The neighbor across the hall is behind her door, probably watching us through the peep hole.”

The faint heartbeat she’d been hearing suddenly accelerated, and she heard a quiet gasp from inside her neighbor’s apartment. She was sorely tempted to make a rude gesture toward the closed door but refrained, and instead picked up her paper bag, holding it in the crook of her elbow as she pulled out her keys and opened the door. She started feeling a flash of embarrassment—she still hadn’t cleaned up—but stomped down on the feeling. This was Ellie. They’d long ago agreed that they wouldn’t be embarrassed about anything in relation to each other.

Ellie came in after her and walked over to the kitchenette, setting her bag on the counter and giving Taylor a feeling of déjà-vu. Lance had stood right where Ellie was only a couple of hours ago, he’d set his cooler right where Ellie had put her shopping bag, had pulled something out just like Ellie did now. Taylor’s throat tightened and she chased the memory away. She didn’t unpack her paper bag—she doubted the sight of blood containers would be all that appetizing to Ellie—and put it straight into the fridge, only removing the bundle of six metal spoon tied together with a bit of tape marked with a bar code.

“That’s why I’m late,” she said, showing the spoons to Ellie, who had already opened the ice cream cartons. “I had to go to three stores before I found one that sold metal spoons. Plenty of plastic ones, but people looked at me like I was crazy when I said I wanted metal.”

Ellie nodded gravely.

“As though ice cream can be eaten with plastic spoon. Heathens, all of them.”

For all that she sounded completely serious, her eyes twinkled when they caught Taylor’s, and the two of them burst out laughing at the old inside joke. Taylor stopped first, turning away before Ellie could notice that her eyes were filling up with tears. She had no desire to explain that she couldn’t remember the last time she’d laughed. She unwrapped the spoons, washed two of them in the sink, and had a smile firmly in place when she turned back to Ellie; judging from the sad look Ellie gave her, she wasn’t fooled.

“Do you want to stay in the kitchen or sit in the living room?” Taylor asked, handing her friend a spoon and accepting an ice-cream carton in return.

“Let’s sit down,” Ellie said, and followed Taylor across the open space to the sitting room.

Taylor made a half-hearted attempt to straighten up the haphazard piles of books on the floor and coffee table before finally shrugging. She kicked off her shoes and climbed onto the sofa, sitting cross-legged with her back to the armrest and the carton in her lap. Following her example, Ellie removed her ankle boots and sat as well, facing Taylor, one foot on the floor and the other leg folded beneath her. They both dug in and took a few mouthfuls of creamy heaven—dark chocolate for Taylor, her all-time favorite, and mint and chocolate chips for Ellie. Only then did Ellie ask in a subdued voice, “Does it hurt?”

For a mere second or two, Taylor wasn’t sure what she meant. And then she remembered, and shook her head in wonder that the mere presence of her friend had allowed her to forget for the past few minutes the dull pain radiating from her hand and half her face. She looked at her hand, cradling the carton, and shook her head again.

“No. Well, not really. Not as much as it did last night, or even this morning.”

Ellie’s furrowed brow and pursed lips all but screamed her skepticism, and Taylor went on.

“I mean, yeah, it still hurts, but it’s getting better every time I feed, so…” She finished with a shrug and shoveled an extra large mouthful of ice cream in her mouth to give herself an excuse not to talk for a moment.

“Is that why you were out, then?” Ellie asked. “To get more blood? I thought Lance brought you more tonight.”

The same reluctance to explain herself she’d felt in front of Lance came back, but this time Taylor dismissed it at once. Ellie would understand.

Wouldn’t she?

Only one way to find out.

“He brought human blood the second time. I didn’t take it.”

She kept eye contact with Ellie, and could practically see the gears turning behind her eyes. She’d remember that, on the phone, Taylor had specifically asked for blood from the butcher. She’d understand what Taylor wasn’t quite saying. She’d understand why, too. And she proved it by asking, “Do you really think it’d change things if you drank human blood? Change you?”

Taylor shifted her shoulders, not quite a shrug but maybe an acknowledgment to herself that she wouldn’t have to carry the weight this particular burden alone anymore.

“I don’t know,” she said softly. “But if there’s any chance it would, I’d just as well avoid taking the risk. I’ve changed enough already.”

Ellie looked like she wanted to say something, but all she did was nod once, and that was it. The topic had been opened and closed again. Taylor could have sighed in relief. She ate a few more spoonfuls before asking, “Is that why you’re here, then? Because I got myself burned by being silly enough to stay out too long?”

“Yes,” Ellie said, but at the way she dragged out the word, Taylor raised an eyebrow at her. “No,” Ellie sighed. “Well, yes and no. I was worried about you and wanted to check on you, but I just… I miss you. I miss talking to you.” She lifted her carton. “Sharing a pint with you. Being your friend.”

She started raising the spoon to her lips, but lowered it again without touching the melting ice cream it held. She dropped her eyes for a second, then met Taylor’s gaze and held it.

“I haven’t been a very good friend to you since you became a vampire. I don’t think any of us have been good to you at all.”

Yet again, Taylor only realized how much she’d needed this—to hear this acknowledgment—when it finally came. But at the moment she heard the actual words, the hint of resentment she’d tried to ignore, right at the back of her mind, vanished completely.

Yes, it had hurt not to have her best friend at her side while her life was turned upside down. Yes, it had hurt that she was always the one who contacted Ellie with information about vampires, and Ellie never reached out to her first. But she’d known why, of course, and she couldn’t hold it against Ellie.

She held out her hand across the sofa, and Ellie took it without hesitating.

“You had other things on your mind,” she said softly. “I’m guessing you still do. Do you want to talk—”

“No,” Ellie cut in, apologizing for the abruptness of the word with a brief tightening of her fingers on Taylor’s. It was her burned hand, and it hurt; Taylor couldn’t have cared less.

“No,” Ellie said again, more quietly, and let go to pick up her spoon again. “I mean, not now. Not yet.”

But the need was there, Taylor guessed. And when Ellie was ready, she knew where to find Taylor.

For a little while, they ate in silence again, and after the last exchange it could have weighed heavy on them. Instead, Taylor felt… comfortable. Something else she hadn’t experienced with someone whose heart still beat since her own had stopped.

Her spoon was beginning to find the bottom of the carton when she mustered the courage to voice the question that was niggling her.

“Why tonight?” she asked. “You got the ice cream before you even checked if I was home or not, so I’m thinking, spur of the moment. If you’d just wanted to check on me, you’d have come without the ice cream.”

Long seconds passed, and Ellie looked into her apparently empty carton as intently as though she might find an answer if she scrapped enough melted ice cream from the sides. Taylor extended one leg and nudged her knee with her foot.

“Elle?”

Ellie grimaced.

“It’s stupid,” she muttered. “It was James.”

“The kid?” Taylor asked, frowning; Lance too had mentioned the child when explaining why he’d come the second time. “What does he have to do with me?”

“He was filing the paperwork on your desk earlier. We’ve let it accumulate, and… and I thought he could help. But seeing someone behind that desk, it just made me realize how much I miss having you there.” Her mouth twisted into a half-smile. “Not because of the filing, obviously. And then tonight I was working, just a small disinvite spell, and I didn’t feel like going home, and… Like I said. I miss you. We all do. Even my jerk of a brother.”

The warmth that had been pulsing through Taylor with each of Ellie’s words abruptly disappeared at the mention of Lance’s name. After he’d barely been able to talk to her earlier, she somehow doubted he missed her that much.

“I’m glad you’re here,” she said quietly. “But let’s… let’s not talk about him, all right?”

Ellie agreed with an apologetic look. They were both done with their ice cream, but Ellie didn’t look like she was ready to leave quite yet. The suggestion came to Taylor’s lips almost automatically.

“Movie?”

It had always been the logical next step in their ice cream nights. They found something on-demand and settled down for their usual running-commentary watch.

It was only much later that night, when Ellie had finally gone home after another warm hug, that Taylor realized her friend hadn’t mentioned her husband once the entire time she was there, nor had she received a call or text from Evan wondering where she was.



Chapter 12

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