|The Taylight Zone - The Vampire Anthology
05 - The One Thing Now - Amerika & t.s. brody
I tried to use the pain to my advantage, but my mind was changing along with my body, so it was almost impossible to focus on any one thing.
The pain was sharp, jagged and everywhere at once. Not like nausea or aching, but like blades being dragged across my skin -- every inch, inside and out. I'd never experienced pain like this before, and it blinded my momentarily, I fell to my knees, trying to hold myself together. At the peak of my torture, when I was sure I'd pass out from the sheer agony of it, it suddenly stopped. I was freed. I blinked in confusion and incredible relief, and let out the breath in my chest.
There were hands on me.
Taylor and his odd-eyed friend were holding me, stroking my hair. Taylor was crying; I knew it was for me.
"How could you! How could you!" Taylor repeated, presumably at Shaun. I didn't understand why he was so upset -- I actually felt pretty good. Better than I had in a long time.
I looked around to find Shaun, who'd visited me earlier that evening, talked to me about becoming a vampire, and made me one. I'd recognized him as the boy Taylor had been seen with after the concert. He stood with his arms folded across his chest in a noble and important pose. He smiled proudly at me and I smiled back, giddy that my transformation was acceptable.
"Oh, god," Taylor moaned, rocking back and forth. With him there seemed to be a fine line between pleasure and despair. "God, no --"
"Taylor, he's fine," Shaun motioned to me. I liked having him in my defense.
"Fine?" Taylor said suddenly, too quietly, his eyes wide in utter disbelief. "He's fine, did you say that? Did you say he was fine?"
"Look at him, he's fine," Shaun nodded sternly, sounding more perfectly sane than Taylor had since I'd come in.
"He's a vampire!" Taylor roared, leaping to his feet. His eyes were feral and his fists were balled tightly. "Look at what you've done!" he jabbed a finger in my direction. "Look!"
He looked. I raised my eyebrows in faint amusement and Shaun smiled.
"I think he's marvelous," he said.
"Euphrosene, please take Zac into the bathroom and clean him up," Taylor said evenly, still glaring at Shaun, who seemed to be enjoying it all.
"C'mon," Taylor's odd-eyed friend whispered to me as she helped me to my feet, leading me away in to the depths of her house.
"Thank you," I said softly as Euphrosene gently pulled a brush through my tangled hair. She'd already washed the blood from my neck and face, and though our meeting had been awkward, she treated me with care and compassion.
"You're welcome," she answered simply and patted my shoulder. "Why don't you go and have something to eat? It'll make you feel a little stronger."
I wasn't particularly hungry, but I was anxious to know what was happening between Taylor and Shaun.
"Kitchen's down the hall and to the right, out by the living room," she instructed, showing me out the door.
"Thank you," I said a last time before stepping down the soft hallway, keeping my fingers tracing the wall to my left for balance and support. I heard Shaun and Taylor arguing, and slipped through the pantry to the kitchen unnoticed.
A partial wall separated the kitchen and the living room, with a window panel cut above the counter. I peeked through the shutter into the room where Taylor sat miserably on the couch and Shaun kneeled before him. I noticed that Tay had managed to put on an old terry cloth robe that Euphrosene had brought him.
"God, you're beautiful," Shaun reached out and tucked a loose strand of hair behind Taylor's left ear, but he recoiled. "Taylor, please..."
"Don't touch me," he said sadly. "Don't. I hate you." His tone wasn't hateful, but tired and resigned. Shaun tried to coax him by putting his hand on Taylor's inner thigh, moving it farther up inside the robe, and kissing him gently. For a slight instant Taylor responded, then pushed Shaun away.
"Please, Tay, be reasonable," Shaun begged, and Taylor snorted.
"Reasonable," he shook his head. "Don't tell me to be reasonable."
"I love you, Taylor," Shaun said. "I just wanted us to be together -- as a family. Besides, you would have done it yourself eventually."
"What? What?" Taylor shouted, pushing Shaun from his kneeled position to flat on his back. Taylor stood up and glared down at him. "Are you saying that I would have turned my own brother into a vampire?"
"All I was --"
"Fuck you!" Taylor shrieked and swung his foot, ramming it hard into Shaun's ribs. I gripped the window frame, watching in fear. Shaun doubled, gasping for air, and Taylor continued to kick in blind rage.
"Fuck you and the day I fucking met you!" Taylor screamed, not slowing for a moment and punctuating his sentences with swift jabs. "You fucked up my life! I was happy before I met you, you bastard! I was almost normal, I was almost human, and you had to blow the fuck in and not just take me, but you took my little brother too! You can die!"
"Taylor, stop it!" Euphrosene cried. She was fast -- she'd rushed in and was holding him back in an arm lock. His face was flushed and his hair in disarray. Shaun lay on the floor and coughed weakly, gasping shallowly and curling like a shrimp.
"I'll kill him," Taylor tried to pull away, but Euphrosene's unnatural strength held him fast. "I'll kill you!" he shouted to the boy on the floor. I was still in shock from seeing Shaun kiss my brother.
Taylor turned and flung his arms around Euphrosene, burying his face into her neck. She held him protectively, looking over his shoulder at Shaun, who was recovering quickly.
Though I felt so disconnected from both Taylor and Euphrosene, the love that passed between them was visible, almost palpable. I had never seen Taylor cry this way -- I hardly remembered seeing him cry at all -- so for that moment I was pinned with the same contempt for Shaun as Euphrosene and Taylor had.
Shaun stood, still slightly winded, but laughing. "That's some spirit you've got in you," he said, grinning, "God, you're sexy when you're angry! And let's just get one tiny little detail straight: I didn't take you, you took me."
"Only because you made him," Euphrosene said.
"Oh, bullshit," Shaun said. "He got exactly what he wanted. I saw the way he looked at me the first time we met at the autograph table. He wanted me for much more than just a midnight snack, whether he realized it or not. I've felt the way he responded to my kisses." He waited for a moment to allow his words to sink, awaiting an immediate response from Euphrosene. When he didn't get one, he continued. "You know what I think, Euphrosene? I think you're jealous -- jealous because Taylor wants to fuck me just as badly as I want to fuck him. You're afraid you're going to lose him to me."
"Oh, I'm afraid, Shaun," Euphrosene answered, "but for an entirely different reason. Besides the fact that I credit Taylor with a little more taste and a little more intelligence."
Shaun took a step towards the two of them.
"Don't come near him," Euphrosene growled, defensively holding Taylor, who was still sobbing.
"Why don't you let him make that statement?"
"Leave my house," she said, her voice loud and even with a stern, steady glare. "You're not welcome here."
"You don't have to tell me that, Euphrosene darling," he said audaciously.
"I do, obviously, or you would've left the first three times I told you," she snapped.
Shaun opened his mouth, and for once had nothing to say.
"Go, Shaun," she repeated. "You don't deserve anyone's company but your own."
"Clever," he smiled, and looked towards the kitchen where I stood. "Zac?"
"I'm here," I said, and stepped awkwardly out into the living room.
"Come with me?" he offered with a gentlemanly air. It was awkward here -- I felt a stronger connection to Shaun than to my own brother, who was still clasped in Euphrosene's mother-like arms.
"No," she said, and opened her one arm for me to come into.
Shaun chuckled. "You're very good at making decisions for other people, Euphrosene dear."
"He stays with us," she said finally.
"Why don't you let the darling boy decide for himself?"
"No, Shaun," Euphrosene said. She somehow managed to keep her cool.
"How dare you!" Shaun exploded. "I made him what he is!"
"Yes, you did," she said calmly. "You'll do no more damage."
"You can't deny me my creation!"
"Zac is a child, not a toy," Euphrosene said with quiet forcefulness. "He is not a possession, and he will make his own choices."
"Come with me, Zac," Shaun said hypnotically.
I looked at Shaun, and then back at Euphrosene -- I was torn. Euphrosene stood with her arm outstretched to me, the warmth from her was magnetic; Shaun carried a certain dangerous, mystical yet appealing allure. Part of me longed to be with him, living on the edge, while my other side desired the safety that I felt from Euphrosene.
"Shaun didn't make me become a vampire, Tay," I finally said. "It was my choice."
Taylor turned from Euphrosene and looked directly at me. His eyes were red and puffy from the tears. "What?" he asked. "You chose this?"
"Yes, Taylor, I did," Zac responded. "Shaun explained what happened to him at the arena tonight. He told me that you were a vampire. He asked if I wanted to become one." Taylor stared in horror. "I said yes."
"I didn't want this for you, Zac," Taylor said. "You have no idea what you've --"
"The least you could have done is told me," Zac interrupted. "I would have understood, Taylor. I am your brother, after all. Did you think I'd tell Mom and Dad or something?" I walked over to Shaun and he put his arm around me. "I wanted this -- I wanted to be like you."
"Oh god, Zac," Taylor said, "this isn't what you think it is. This isn't like being good in soccer or getting an A in school -- this is major league shit. And I didn't tell you for the very reason that I didn't want you to become like me. I was trying to protect you."
"Well, it's too late for that now, isn't it, my dear," Shaun said with a smirk. "He's one of us now."
"You son-of-a-bitch!" Taylor lunged towards Shaun, his arms outstretched, his hands aimed towards Shaun's throat. "You mother-fucking monster!"
"No, Taylor!" I shouted, standing between him and Shaun. He tried to get passed me, but my newfound strength was too much for him. I pushed him backward and he fell "butt-first" onto the floor. He glared up at me with a "how could you?" look on his face. Euphrosene kneeled down to help him up.
"I won't let you hurt him," I said.
"He's evil, Zac," Taylor responded.
Shaun snorted at that comment.
I looked Taylor directly into his deep blue eyes and responded coldly, "Well, at least he told me the truth. That's a whole hell of a lot more than I can say for you."
"It was his choice, Taylor," Shaun said, his eyes glaring at Taylor's and straight into his soul. "I know you hate me right now, but I only did it because I love you." Some of the sarcasm in his voice had been replaced by something more -- something almost sincere. "I do love you, you know."
"Get out of my sight," Taylor spat.
Shaun took one last look at Taylor and smiled. "Fine. I'll see you, then," he said ominously before looking towards me and offering his hand. "Come now, Zac," he said. "There's much we must do." I looked into his eyes -- they seemed to draw me in, cast a spell that I was unable to withstand.
I reached up and accepted Shaun's hand and we began walking toward the front door. I looked back at Taylor one last time. He shook his head at me as if to say, "please, don't go." I simply offered him a half-hearted smile. "I'm sorry, Tay," I said. "It's what I have to do."
With that, Shaun opened the door and we walked out onto the front door. The last sound I heard before the door shut was the continuation of Taylor's sobs.
I shivered slightly -- it was cold out on the porch. Shaun kneeled down in front of me and smiled. "Are you cold?"
I nodded, my teeth chattering slightly. Shaun removed his jacket and wrapped it around me. "Thank you," I managed to say to him.
"Certainly," he responded with a gorgeous grin. "You made the right decision. You know that, don't you?"
I stood silent and motionless. I honestly didn't know if I'd done the right thing or not. All I knew was I wanted to be with Shaun and with Taylor. There was something about Shaun that appealed to me. He treated me as an equal, not as a little brother to be stepped upon. Taylor and Isaac had spent most of their lives picking on me, making me feel inferior to them. Now I had a chance to have the same power -- if not more -- over them.
It felt good.
Then again, it also made things worse.
As I stared into Shaun's loving eyes I saw something. There was a warm and caring soul inside that icy exterior. I knew he loved me and would take care of me. It wasn't a physical or sexual kind of love, but that of a dear friend. He wanted me with him -- by his side. That was more than Tay or Ike had ever offered.
Feelings of doubt crept into my mind as I continued to stare at the vision of loveliness that was Shaun. I'd heard people talk of how Taylor was beautiful before, though I'd never understood how a boy could be that. Now, as a looked upon my newfound friend, I understood.
"Zac?" Shaun said, snapping me from my thoughts.
"You're doing the right thing."
I broke our gaze and cast my eyes to the hard wood boards of the porch. Tears filled my eyes, as I knew then what I had to do. "Shaun?" I said, looking up at him.
"I -- I can't go with you."
Shock registered on his face first, then hurt. "Why not?"
"He's my brother, Shaun," I responded. "I need to be with him. Please don't be angry."
Shaun frowned for a moment and then opened his mouth to speak. I braced myself for a biting and sarcastic remark. Instead, the frown turned into a smile and he placed his hand on my shoulder.
"Alright, Zac," he said. He leaned closer and gently planted a kiss on my forehead, then hugged me tightly. It felt good, I don't mind saying. As we broke the embrace, he looked deep into my eyes and said, "I understand, okay? I'm not angry with you. You're sort of my little brother now, you know. And if you ever need me, I'm only a phone call away."
He pulled a pen from his pocket and a scrap of paper.
"This is my number," he said, scribbling on the paper and handing it to me.
I nodded and removed his jacket from around my torso. He smiled as he put it on and then hugged me again. "Take care of yourself and your brother for me, okay?"
With that, he stood and walked down the steps of the porch, disappearing into the rain. I stood there for several moments shivering in the cold before stepping back inside the house to a surprised Taylor and Euphrosene.
"C'mon, Zac," Euphrosene said softly. "There's a lot you have to know."
I walked into the warm living room and shut the door behind me. As I approached Euphrosene, she wrapped her free arm around me and gently kissed me on top of the head.
* * * * *
My brothers and I were in California by the end of the week. I was eager to get out of Tulsa and away from Shaun and the madness back there. It felt releasing to be able to get back to the music, which was our salvation from everyday life and the mountains of crap it had to offer. I never missed it for a second.
Euphrosene and Taylor told me everything I had to know about the sun, my new diet, how to hide the evidence, and who to stay away from. Until then I never thought I'd have to worry about who had AIDS or some other disease, but it was now a part of my life. I was no longer safe.
The deserts of California promised to burn away some of the welling hysteria in me. Sunny cities, eight-foot cacti, mixed fruit drinks with little parasols -- like magic. I was surprised at how much alone time I was craving now that I was inhuman. One might think I'd rather be with family and friends to try and recapture some of what I'd lost.
Santa Ana was our last tour date in California, and then it was back east again. It wasn't a particularly prominent city, but it was beautiful, and it had an amphitheater. The show went smoothly, with Taylor and I soaped up with SPF 45 against the blaring west-coast sun. After the show was the usual fun time with backstage-passers, but it would prove to change me for the rest of my existence.
I had to kill; I had to take a life. That's what I became this for, after all -- the strange, exhilarating euphoria of murder for beauty. I got my first chance back at the hotel that evening.
Here was this beautiful child, an olive-skinned thing, no older than six, with midnight tendrils cascading down the middle of her back. Her delicate little body was laced into a white satin dress, and her huge, dark eyes scrutinized me from beneath her curtain of curls pinned up with a magnolia blossom.
Now that my eyes had been freshly opened, I discovered an arousal completely separate from any sexuality, excitement, true love, or performer's high I'd ever experienced. This feeling was a higher, more concentrated appreciation for and adoration of beauty. She had to be mine.
"What's your name?" I asked her; hesitant to speak for fear that even a whisper might damage her ethereal presence. A precious smile lit her cherubic face, and I hung on her response like a dying man to life.
"Maria Chavez," she said sweetly and my heart fluttered, almost releasing a soft "oh" from my throat. I found my words in a moment.
"That's beautiful," I breathed.
"Thank you," she said and I swooned at the sound of her melodious young voice. What was this heavenly feeling overcoming me? This child was simply perfection personified, an angelic innocence I could no longer touch.
"Maria…" I said and swallowed, taken with the taste of her name on my lips. "May I…kiss you, Maria?" I was deaf to what I was asking.
Her smile was unfaltering in its sweetness and I was certain that, despite her age, she clearly caught the pleading in my eyes. She laughed a soft, musical laugh, and again my soul was shaken to the core with the desire to have her. But would I dare risk marring such perfection? Touching the angelic with my newly demonic hands and chance damaging her?
"You may kiss me," she said. The ache of my heart and the intensity of my desire nearly tore me apart. Oh, to have her forever, what a constant state of rapture I'd be in.
"Come here," the lovely Maria said gently, and I trembled. I came to her and fell to my knees so that her face was slightly above mine, where the divine belonged. Her eyes sought mine, and I felt as though I could plunge into the chocolate-brown pools shaded by long, dark lashes. I could drown in them.
She touched my cheek with her soft, tiny hand, and it was all I could do to hold myself together and not melt away in her fingers. I closed my eyes reflexively and felt her small but exquisite caress, little delicate fingers in my hair.
"Look at me," she instructed softly, and I did as she placed her hand beneath my chin, so close to a true angel.
She tilted my chin up and touched my lips with her own – tears welled in me, something deeper than any fear or joy or love I'd ever felt previously. This pain was so sweet, so wonderful; I could have remained there in that moment for all eternity locked in perfect torture.
Maria parted the kiss, and the brimmed tears spilled and trickled down my cheeks. She caught them with her fingertip and drew them across my lips where they were already wet from her own. Her face was sensual and tender, still so pretty and blessedly pure.
"Oh, Maria…" I whispered, desperate for more. "Kiss me again."
She suddenly gave me a look of fear, confusion, and perhaps sadness and I took her little shoulders gently, so afraid I'd done something to upset her.
"What is it, Maria?" I asked urgently. "Tell me, please." What could be troubling this angel? Was it something I'd done? I would crucify myself if I were responsible for any shred of unhappiness to befall this lovely child.
She didn't speak, but only raised her hand to my parted lips, and slid her finger inside to touch my teeth. My heart stopped and my chest locked – my teeth. She saw. She knew.
"If you must," she interrupted me. I blinked.
"I beg your pardon?"
Maria motioned for me to stand, and I did, her little fingers entwining in mine. I could have sworn I was in love with her.
"Take me," she said. Her voice was sweeter than any sound my ears had yet been blessed with. I thought I would cry again – how was I so fortunate to encounter such a being in my lifetime, that she would lay down her life for me? Did she love me, this angel child? Did I deserve her?
"Maria," I spoke her sweet name. "I love you."
"Take me, please," she smiled, and all at once I swept her into my arms, holding her in a feverish embrace. She clung to me, wrapping her little legs around my body, and I held the back of her head, my fingers clutching the curls that spilled down her back. Once pushed away, her neck was bared, and I steadied myself enough to begin with only a tender kiss of the caramel-tanned flesh beneath her hair.
I felt her whispered words in my ear, from with a cupped hand: "I love you, too."
I held her closer and bit down as gently as I knew how, breaking her skin as delicately as a grape. She didn't cry out, and she didn’t struggle.
The sweet, thick rush of her warm blood was more wonderful a taste, more sweet a sensation than anything my young life had yet presented me with. I swallowed Maria's crimson nectar as it flowed down my throat like a river, filling my mouth like milk.
Her tiny hands, once clasped around my neck, now fell limp with the rest of her body. She should have begun to weigh more heavily in my arms, but instead, she became lighter, as if I was holding merely a shell of her. She was drained, and I was filled with Maria – she was living in me as I stood.
The bus was dark and quiet, all but for the hum of the road. Isaac, Taylor, Mom, Dad, and the kids were asleep, leaving Mr. Beck, who was driving up in the cab. I listened to my family's slow, rhythmic breathing to make sure there were asleep before moving.
In the light of the Mojave Desert moon, I pulled open the curtain of my bed, then knelt and gently, so gently, pulled open the full-length drawer underneath my bed. I waited once more before unfastening the top buttons and snaps of the garment bag, then pulling the zipper gingerly down.
Maria's beautiful little face slept there quietly, surrounded by her nest of raven curls. Her pink, ripe lips were so full one could pluck them like cherries, and her angel lashes dusted her cheek in dark little shadows.
The magnolia, once a dove-white blossom was now brown and wilted, shriveled like damp paper. It disgusted me, how it took away from Maria's unearthly beauty, and I took it from her hair and flung it out the semi-open window and onto the rushing highway below.
Somewhere, Maria's parents were grieving. But I loved her more. They'd given her life – six years – but I…I had given her immortality. Eternal love…everlasting life…heaven. I'd made her more than human, and into the angel she was truly meant to be.
I heard Isaac stir in his bunk. Quickly, I zipped up the garment bag and pushed the drawer closed, then stole back into my bed and pushed the curtain shut. I listened as Isaac's feet hit the floor and made their way unsteadily to the back of the bus where the bathroom was.
I sighed, pulled the covers back up to my neck, and, exhausted, I let the quiet thrumming of the highway lull me into a deep, dreamless sleep.
When I awoke, the first thought to enter my mind was Maria. I struggled on my clothes with lying down, and threw open the curtain. An eerie feeling permeated the hallway – the bus was quiet and not in motion.
I peered out the window beside the row of empty bed compartments, and saw the sun on empty still road. Where was my family?
"Guys?" I called. There was no answer. I opened the curtain to the front of bus and it too was empty.
I heaved a sigh of relief when a yellow sticky-note caught my eye, stuck to the bar at the exit. I plucked it from the rail and read my mother's calligraphic handwriting.
I wondered why they hadn't woken me with the others. If they were all in the restaurant that meant I was alone on the bus…with Maria.
I crept back to my bed compartment, suddenly with a rapidly beating heart. Alone again with Maria…dear little Maria…my Maria.
I knelt beside my bed and opened the drawer where Maria's carrier was. I checked back in front of the bus to see if anyone was coming. Satisfied that no one was, I pulled open the garment bag.
The sight of my little Maria took my breath away. She was inexpressibly perfect, her tender pink mouth still forming a faint smile, and her eyes closed so gently, as if only in sleep.
I bit my lip and extended my hand, almost faltering when my fingers touched her warm skin. Here was my heaven, in her – in the perfection of her.
I ran my hand down along the gentle curve of her cheek, to her neck, then trailing down her little body encased by snowy lace. A part of me wanted to touch her there, but sweetly. Only my deep reverence and respect would not allow it. I silently cursed myself for having thought it.
Beholding her, I felt the same pull at my heart as when I first saw her. I wanted to cover her, surround her; I wanted every part of my to be touching every part of her.
I licked my lips, daring in my mind to use them. Though her limbs were limp, and there would be no traceable heartbeat, she seemed so alive and merely asleep, and I was nervous. I was in love with her.
I leaned down close to Maria, her dark curls framing her angelic face. So close…
My lips had just touched hers when I jerked my head up, my heart frozen. Taylor was standing in the doorway to the bedroom; his eyes wide and his mouth open in horror. The moment hung soundlessly in the air, and I held my breath, waiting for him to say something.
"What…Who is she?" he stuttered. My mind raced.
"Maria," I said, not knowing a better answer.
"Maria," he repeated. "Where did she come from?"
"Uh-huh," he nodded, staring at her. "Maria has to go now. Wake her up."
"She's dead," I said, oddly frightened for having been the one who killed her.
"What—" he breathed, choking on his words. "What?"
"Shh!" I stood, pulling his collar close. I spoke quietly, as if I was unfolding the plot of a deep conspiracy. "I killed her, Tay. I took her in Santa Ana -- I drank her blood. She let me."
"What do you have her in your suitcase?" he hissed.
"I couldn't just leave her!" I said, pleading for him to understand. "Look at her, look how beautiful she is." I sighed, gazing at her in her queer coffin. "Would you leave her?"
"Zac, she's dead. She's a dead girl in your suitcase!" he whispered crazily. "You can't keep a dead girl in your suitcase!"
"Shh," I grabbed his shoulders. "You don't understand – I love her."
Taylor looked me in the face, searching my eyes for something, then spoke evenly. "Zac, listen, I understand that she may seem special because she's your first…your first kill, but it is impossible to love a dead little girl."
"You don't understand, Tay—" I insisted, and Taylor raised a hand for us to listen. Gravel crunched underfoot outside the bus.
"Quick, put her away," he hissed, and I fumbled with the garment bag zipper, pulling it over Maria's face, and pushing the drawer shut.
"Hey, guys, you in there?" It was Jarrod's voice that called up from the exit steps of the bus.
"Yeah," Tay answered. "We'll be right out."
"Don't bother," Jarrod called back in. "We'll be on the road again in a few."
Taylor and I both sighed in relief, knowing the call was too close.
I sat with Taylor in the bathroom of the bus, knowing it was the only place where we could be alone and talk. Our excuse was that he was braiding my hair.
I'd parked myself on the closed commode while Taylor pinned my hair up, beginning to plait the first lock.
"You don't know how lucky you are it was me who came in when you had that girl out," he said with a slight tone of scolding.
"Maria," I corrected. He shook his head, braiding furiously. "Ow!"
"Sorry," he said and slowed down. "Okay. Tell me from the beginning."
I took a deep breath, wondering how much I should leave out.
"We were in Santa Ana yesterday," I began.
"Well, I saw Maria in the hotel, and…I thought she was perfect, you know? I can't even describe it; she's so beautiful. I mean…I mean, she's just an angel, you know?"
"Uh-huh," Taylor said, assumedly to quiet me. He didn't understand. "So you killed – you took her. And then what? Why didn't you leave her?"
"I told you already," I said in a frustrated tone. "I love her. I don't care if she's dead or alive, and I know that sounds –"
"Insane," Taylor interrupted. "Not to mention just a little bit sick."
"But she isn't even dead, I don't think," I said. "Her skin's still war, like she was alive. She's been dead or dead or whatever for a day now. Shouldn't she be cold or something?"
"If you've had her in your suitcase for a day, then she's dead," Taylor said with finality. "If she wasn't when you put her in there, she is now."
"Dammit, she isn't, I know it…" I muttered, and the idea began to unravel in my head. I felt Taylor grab my shoulders and kneel down in front of me, giving me a serious look.
"I need you to listen to me, Zac," he said sincerely. "Don't even start thinking about that. That girl is not alive."
"Maria," I corrected him.
"Maria's not alive," he said. "I know you feel very attracted to her, but you can't keep her or somebody's gonna find out."
I searched his eyes, looking for an argument, but he was right. I'd known I couldn't keep her when I took her, and having taken her was only giving her up that much harder.
I sighed. "What do we do?"
"Well," he stood and cleared his throat, "I think we oughta take her back to Santa Ana and give her a proper burial."
"Come on, we can't do that," I said. "Really. Santa Ana is a day from here."
"Well, it's no good burying her here. And we can't leave her out in the middle of the desert. "
"Let's take her back to Sand Springs, Tay," I pleaded. "We'll be there in a couple of days or so. It's not like she's gonna go anywhere."
"No offense to your little "lover-in-a-box," Zac, but don't you think everyone's gonna start noticing a funny smell coming from your bunk?"
"You can see for yourself, she smells like roses," I said, hiding the defensiveness in my voice.
"You know what? I'll take your word for it." Taylor shook his head, snapping a rubberband around the last braid. "Just don't open her case till we get to Sand Springs, then. I'll call Effie, she can help with the arrangements."
He looked out the window, becoming distant. I followed his gaze to the desert spinning out in a peach-colored ocean with saguaros as the land passed us by.
It wasn't long after arriving home that I contacted Shaun by telephone. I told him that there was an urgent matter that we need to discuss and asked if he would please meet me at the city park later that evening. I wasn't sure from his tone if he was happy to hear from me or not. With Shaun it was hard to tell, especially considering how our last meeting had ended.
The park where I'd arranged to meet him wasn't far from my home. It was a rather pleasant evening, so I decided to roller blade over a little early to wait for Shaun. I welcomed the empty darkness that enveloped me as I sat on the park bench.
My hair blew in all directions as the nasty Oklahoma wind whipped through the park like a demon out of hell. I looked at my watch: 9:55. Shaun was supposed to meet me at ten. I'd had a hell of a time convincing my parents to let me go out this late. I also didn't want Tay to know what I was doing. I wasn't sure how we would take me inviting Shaun to Maria's funeral, so I figured it was better to ask forgiveness than permission.
I still hadn't made up my mind about Shaun. There was a part of me that loathed him as much as Taylor and Euphrosene did – the part that saw how manipulative and conniving he was. Taylor had told me the whole story about how he'd made Shaun a vampire. Just like Taylor, however, I was under some type of spell that clouded those feeling of hatred and spite.
It was different for Taylor, though. When he looked at Shaun I noticed something strange in his eyes. I didn't quite understand what it was, but I wanted to find out more. Why had Shaun told my brother he loved him? Why had they kissed? Obviously this was a side of Taylor I'd never seen before.
My thoughts were interrupted as a large, black Toyota 4-Runner pulled up in the parking lot. I squinted in the glow of its headlights until they suddenly faded. The engine died suddenly and the driver's side door opened. A dark figure stepped out of the truck and shut the door.
"Shaun?" I said cautiously.
"In the flesh," I heard the familiarly arrogant voice say.
I stood up from the bench as he approached me. His long, gorgeous brown hair was tied back into a ponytail and he was dressed completely in black. Before I realized what I was doing, I embraced him tightly.
He laughed. "Miss me?"
I suppose in some way I had, although I couldn't quite figure out what that might be. How could someone be your mentor and your nemesis at the same time?
I broke our embrace and the two of us sat down on the park bench.
"So," Shaun began, "how've you been, Zachary?"
"Not too bad," I heard myself say.
"And the tour?"
"Excellent," I replied. "Very cool."
We sat there for a few moments without saying a word. The awkward silence was nerve-racking, but neither of us knew quite what to say.
"Well," Shaun said, "what's this urgent matter you wanted to discuss with me?"
"I – uh…" I began. "I made my first kill."
Shaun's face lit up. "Oh, Zac," he said, "how divine! Who was it?"
I sighed deeply as I began to relay the story of little Maria Chavez. Shaun sat transfixed upon every word that came out of my mouth, stopping just short of our plans for a funeral. He let me finish my entire story, inserting a few questions to clarify a few points along the way, before he finally spoke.
"Well, Zachary," he began, "I'm very proud of you."
For some reason, coming from Shaun, those words felt pretty good. Maybe it was because he didn't laugh at me when I told him of my love for the young girl whose life I'd taken.
"You handled yourself very well." He stopped for a moment, taking in a deep breath of the cold night air. "What of little Maria? Where is she now?"
"Locked in our tree house. That's kinda why I wanted to see you," I replied. "Taylor and I thought it best that we give her a proper burial. I was hoping you might be willing to show up."
A wide grin spread across Shaun's face. "I'd be honored, Zac," he replied. "When were you thinking of doing this?"
"Tomorrow night," I answered. "On some property our family owns in Sand Springs."
"Do Taylor and Effie know I'm coming?"
"Uh…no," I replied.
A wicked grin spread across Shaun's face. "Oh, won't they be surprised!"
I rolled my eyes, the feeling of contempt for Shaun rising up inside me. How I could adore one moment and detest him the next, I would never know.
"So, you'll be there?" I asked.
"Of course, I will, Zachary," Shaun replied. "I wouldn't miss it for the world."
The next evening, at midnight on the nose, Shaun's 4-Runner came rolling up our driveway. Taylor and I had already taken Maria from the tree house after everyone was asleep and were waiting on the front porch. At this point, I still hadn't told Taylor that Shaun would be coming along – he thought Euphrosene was coming to pick us up. I'd actually called and told her the plan a few hours earlier, much to her disappointment. I'd asked not to say anything to Taylor and she had agreed.
When Shaun got out of his truck and walked toward us, Taylor frowned.
"What are you doing here?" he whispered.
"Well," Shaun said with a smirk, "good evening to you too, Taylor, dear. I'm fine, thank you, how are you?"
"Cut the shit," Tay said. "What are you doing here?"
"I was invited."
Taylor looked at me and scowled. "Damn you, Zac!" he said.
"I wanted him here, Tay," I replied. "It seemed appropriate." Taylor rolled his eyes. "Besides, did you really think Effie's Honda Civic was going to make it back to where we're going?"
Taylor opened his mouth to speak but didn't. He couldn't argue with that point. They'd need Shaun's four-wheel drive to get far enough back on the property to bury the body in peace.
He knew he was beaten, so he just shrugged his shoulders and motioned for me to help him put Maria in the back of the truck. Shaun opened the rear tailgate and inside was a small coffin. Taylor and I looked at each other and then at Shaun.
"Where on earth did you get a –" Taylor began. He threw his hands into the air. "Never mind, I don't want to know."
When the garment bag was opened, Shaun took one look at Maria and grinned. "Oh, Zac, she's exquisite." He reached out and gently caressed her soft cheek. I smiled until I noticed Taylor glaring at Shaun – then at me.
A few moments later, Maria was safely tucked away in the coffin and we were on our way to pick up Euphrosene. The ride over was completely silent, the somber mood of what we were about to do weighing heavily upon us.
Maria still smelled like roses, even as I closed the lid of her coffin. The new magnolia in her hair glowed heavenly white to match her dress, and her black hair lay in a nest of curls around her lovely face. I stepped back from the coffin and bowed my head, looking down at my black suit. The ceremony was not for mourning the loss of Maria, but the loss of the last of my innocence.
"Shouldn't somebody say some words?" Taylor said gently. I saw Euphrosene shoot him a "that-was-inappropriate" glance. She laid a hand on my shoulder, nodding for me to go ahead. I cleared my throat, and, at length, I spoke.
"I have corrupted an angel," I said, and I felt the other three look up in surprise. I went on. "I feel we're damned, all of us, and I never thought I'd let myself…" I stopped to breathe deeply and gather my thoughts. "I'm now truly a vampire."
"Amen," Shaun said. The evil glares on him didn't phase him at all.
"The birth of nature in return for the death of my innocence," I concluded.
"God bless little Maria," Euphrosene said reverently, separately, and sprinkled the white rose petals onto the small coffin.
"Amen," Taylor murmured, and I mouthed the same.
Taylor and Shaun lifted the coffin easily and lowered it gently into the grave.
I sighed sadly and folded my hand in front of me, feeling that the absence of tears was almost disrespectful.
Euphrosene laid her hand on my arm lightly, and led me silently back down the hill.