|The Taylight Zone - The Vampire Anthology
06 - Strange Bedfellows - Amerika & t.s. brody
Our lemon meringue pie and coffee sat half-eaten, half-drunk on the coffee table of my living room; it had been abandoned for frustrated, tense conversation. Taylor sat beside me, stoic. He'd changed, changed so much, ever since the entrance of the other vampire.
I buried my face in my hands, heaving a resonated sigh. I was too burned out to correctly express my anger. I had to say something, finally.
"I hate him, Tay," I muttered weakly. "I have to kill him, I have to."
"No, Euph-" Taylor protested. "You can't. I want him around."
"What?" I looked at him incredulously.
"I think I could learn from him."
"Anything you could ever need to know, I could teach you," I replied.
"I mean...other things," he said. His gaze had gone milky. I took him by the shoulders and shook him hard.
"Listen to me," I cried frantically. This is...you know how in horror movies there's always some moron going into some creepy dark house? You know that?"
"Yeah," he said apathetically, like he'd been drugged. This was a nightmare. He was leaving me mentally. I'd never needed him to hear and understand me so desperately.
"You know how everyone yells at that idiot guy not to go in the house because the killer's in there?"
"This is just like that," I shouted. "If you go with Shaun, that's what's going to happen! You'll only get hurt – I mean bad! Are you hearing what I'm saying, Taylor?"
"I hear you," he shrugged. "I don't know what you're getting so upset about. It's not like he can do any more damage."
"You have no idea –" I shook my head gravely. "—no idea what he could do. Don't even give him the opportunity."
"You're just paranoid," he argued.
"We have to kill him – just eliminate the problem."
"Jesus, Effie, stop it!" he yelled finally, and I was silent, realizing the burst of insanity I'd just gone through. I was stunned, and still left with a faint sting of helplessness. He sighed uncomfortably. "Just don't talk like that. You're tired; you ought to get to bed. It's very late."
I flung my arms around him, bursting into sobs. Was I crazy? Was I truly talking nuts? I held Taylor to me tightly, afraid he'd flutter away like paper in a gale if I didn't.
"I love you, Taylor. I love you so much," I cried quietly. "I can't lose you now, not when there isn't anyone who means as much to me as you. I need you to understand that I'm not crazy. I'm not crazy –"
"Shh," Taylor rocked my back and forth, stroking my hair. "I love you, too. You're all right –" He smelled like lemon meringue and tears.
Something Shaun was doing was putting a spell over Taylor and Zac to make them trust him, to make Zac admire him and Taylor so fascinated with him. I wanted Shaun's head on my wall, but I didn't know what the consequences of killing him might be, disregarding personal moral controversy. I might never get back the ones I loved the most. I knew what I had to do.
I clutched my navy pea coat tight around me against the small, frozen wind. The October sky was gray and overcast, making it safe for me to make the outside trip from my house to Mooreland Mansion, where Shaun lived.
I looked up at the enormous estate and knew that this was the place. It was as tall as it was wide, with a wrought-iron gate that swung open easily. I'd have thought that if the proprietors of this place would bother to put up an iron fence and gate that they'd also go to the trouble to at least lock it.
I walked the stone path that lead up to the beautiful - if not menacing - front porch. Actually, porch was an understatement. The wings of it twisted out like giant white arms that welcomed me with all the warmth of Vincent Price.
Warily, I stepped up to the double doors that were decorated with pebble-glass and cut crystal window panels. I wrinkled my nose at the hideous doorknocker: a grimacing dragon’s head clasping a ring in its brass teeth. I knocked timidly; almost afraid that the thing would open it's snarling mouth and bite my fingers off.
In a moment, a dark figure moved behind the glass of the door and proceeded to unfasten a series of hooks, locks, and latches. It was Shaun, of course. I wondered if he, too, lived alone.
"Euphrosene," he said with genuine delight that quickly formed into a smirk. "To what do I owe the pleasure of your company?"
"May I come in," I asked, trying to be kind.
"Oh, good grief, yes," he ushered me in. "You must be chilly."
"Just a bit," I confessed. He shut the doors behind us and slipped my pea coat from around me like a gentleman, and hung it in a closet nearby.
The inside of the house was no more charming than the outside - everything was huge and plain, ominous gray marble or red velvet, a horrible combination for me, as touching either surface made my skin crawl. The house was only slightly less cold than outside, though a fire was burning in a room beyond the front hall.
"Come on in, I have tea in the living room," Shaun said hospitably, and motioned for me to follow him in.
"Mint or something else?" Shaun called from what was presumably the kitchen.
"Mint is fine, thank you," I answered. I sat on the ancient red velvet couch near the fire, having been instructed to "make myself at home." It was a rather ridiculous request, as the room had not a shred of warmth or charm as a home at all. Black marble statues of terrible giant lions and dragons stood in the corners. Two granite birds - awful things - flanked the seven-foot-high fireplace. Other than that, there was no decoration or pattern to the entire place. This was an honest-to-god vampire's domain, straight from the Old World. I once again was reminded of my home in Paris, where my mother and father still were living. Once again, I was glad to be a contemporary vampire.
"Tea, my dear." Shaun handed me a cup and charming smile to go with it. I was unfazed.
"Thank you," I said politely.
"Mm," he nodded and took up the chair tilted towards the couch where I sat. I sipped the tea that burned my throat with the hot spice of mint. I felt Shaun's eyes on me suddenly, and became rigid.
"You're very pretty when you're tense," Shaun said.
"Thank you," I said with effort, feeling my temperature rise.
"What is it you came for, my darling?" he asked, satisfied to have made me sufficiently uncomfortable. "I've been so enthralled by your presence that your purpose escaped me."
"I have a few questions to ask you," I said, clearing my throat, avoiding his eloquence by staring down into my tea.
"Isn't that marvelous! I have some questions I'd like to ask you." He smiled.
I clenched my teeth. "Marvelous."
"We'll make a trade," he said and sipped his tea. "You answer my questions and I'll answer yours."
"How old are you?" he asked and cocked his head. "Really?"
I did the math in my head, counting off the years silently.
"Two-hundred-thirty-four," I answered. He raised his eyebrows in obvious surprise, but wasn't about to let me have control of the conversation. I knew his game plan – there would be no secrets.
"Really? Explain." He set his teacup on the marble end table beside his chair and leaned forward, ready for the story. I sighed.
"I was born in 1764, in Paris, France, daughter of Donatien and Annabella Montsouris – two vampires," I said in one breath. "I moved to New Orleans by myself in my fifty-second year. Word had it that the vampire population was mammoth in the New World, but I found nothing. Eventually I came up to Oklahoma where the people were friendlier and easier to pick off." I looked to him for a reaction. He merely stared at a spot on the floor and considered my testimony nodding almost undetectably.
"Where does that put Taylor, Zac, and I, on the scale of mortality?" he asked and folding his hands beneath his chin, propping his elbows on his knees.
"You'll die when you normally would," I said. "Vampires made by the bite don't age unnaturally."
"Are you immortal?"
"When will you die?"
He nodded, not having moved his eyes from their fixed place on the floor. The questions running through his head were almost visible in the air.
"All the stories –"
"Anne Rice is full of shit," I said starkly, and he looked up at the sudden curse.
"How do you mean?"
"Almost everything is fiction, just made up by writers," I said with unnecessary hostility. That had never sat well with me. "All that about garlic and crosses and absences of reflection...it's all crap. We're not satanic, for Christ's sake. And we're not invincible – we bleed just like normal people, and we can die in an accident like anyone else. We can't fly or turn into bats or anything that silly. It's just about common sense, nothing more."
"Sunlight," he stated, squinting at me intensely.
"What about it?"
"What's the danger in it for you?"
"I can't be in it for more than a few seconds," I said. "It's alright for you to be in it for a little while because you're not purebred."
"What happens if you do?" he asked. This was no longer informative, just to quench a curiosity. I obliged anyhow.
"It's much like when you touch a hot pot," I explained. "If you only brush the pot it doesn't hurt, but if you're carrying it, you get burnt."
"Taylor told me you sleep with black sheets and black curtains," he said pointedly.
"That's a precaution," I said, and secretly wondered how much Taylor talked about me. "I sleep during the day, so the curtains are for blocking out the sun. Coffins were probably a safe way to go for vampires in the earlier centuries, but I've always slept in windowless rooms."
"Mm." His eyes went back and forth to the floor. "Go on," he motioned. "Ask your questions."
"What are you doing to Taylor," I asked bluntly, fiercely. "And don't give me any bull as if you don't know. You know exactly what I'm asking."
Shaun turned his eyes up to me with a slightly mocking smile.
"Jealous?" he said. My blood went white-hot in my veins. I wanted to throw him into the fire and hold him there with the coal poker until there was nothing left but black ashes.
"Answer my question," I growled. He chuckled, leaned back, and crossed one ankle over one knee.
"What makes you think I’m doing anything to him," he smiled cruelly, narrowing his eyes like a cat. “Not that it would be any of your business if I were.”
"That's a half-ass answer," I shouted, losing my composure. "It most certainly is my business, so you'd better open your mouth about it!"
He laughed. "I assure you that I’m not doing anything to him, Euphrosene. Oh, that I had that kind of power!”
"I’m not so sure that I believe you." I was so uncomfortable to be sitting down while arguing – it just hadn't happened before.
"Oh, come on, my dear," Shaun laughed. "What do you think I did, cast a love spell on him?"
I had to admit that it sounded silly when he put it like that. Still, Tay was acting strangely.
"I don't know," I said, frustrated.
"Tell me," he frowned, "what does that have to do with you?"
"I love him, Shaun," I raged. Now it was Shaun that I needed to hear and understand me. "I love Taylor more than I've ever loved anyone in all my years, and you're tearing him away from me!"
"I love him the same, sweet Euphrosene," he said quietly, and became suddenly distant. "From the very first second I saw his face, heard his voice, my heart ached for him. The thought that one day he might be mine was the one thing keeping me together at many times. Then I had him, Euphrosene! I had him. He was going to drain me and leave me, and my death could be no sweeter at the hands of an angel, but I couldn't die without making him aware of my love.
"So I forced him to make me one of his kind, yes. But I did it for love! Can you see that now? I still love him, and I don't think you realize what kind of pain it is when the one person you would die for despises you."
His eyes were sad now, the cruelty and arrogance replaced with a softness and longing, a pleading for understanding. Here, he and I finally had something to relate to.
"I think you underestimate what a long time I've lived," I said, feeling slightly offended.
Shaun sighed. "No offense, Euphrosene, but I think you underestimate the type of life I've lived."
I looked at him strangely. "Meaning?"
He smiled. "Everyone has a sad story, Euphrosene," he stated. "You don't want to hear mine."
"I do," I was shocked to hear myself say. Well, it was a fact-finding mission, after all. What could it hurt to find out more about him?
He smiled graciously.
"Before you begin," I said, "may I ask your age?"
"I just turned nineteen."
I nodded. "Please begin with your story."
He inhaled a long breath, held it for a few moments, and then let it go. Shifting in his chair, propping one leg on the other, he folded his hands and began to speak. "Well, I don't suppose I have to tell you who my Father was."
"Jacob Mooreland," I answered, "the oil baron."
"Yes. This house is all that remains of my Father's vast empire, along with a few hundred million dollars in a foreign bank account in my name. He was a brilliant businessman, one of the most respected individuals in the industry. Mooreland Oil was the major player for many years here in Tulsa.
"My parents were your typical 'jetsetters,' hobnobbing with politicians and industry moguls and millionaires of every description. Their status in society was very important to them and they played the part beautifully. Mother was always dressed in the latest foreign fashions; the house was decorated with only the finest antiques and designer names.
"I never lacked anything as I was growing up. I had an entire playroom filled with enough toys for all the children in Tulsa. Once, when the Ringling Brothers Circus was in town, my father had them set up on our property. He invited all of the upper echelon and their obnoxious children to a personal performance. It was like living in Willy Wonka's chocolate factory – a world of dreams come true."
I snorted. "Well, so far it sounds really horrible," I said sarcastically.
Shaun smiled. "Well, with all of the wonderful things my Father gave me, there was one thing that his money couldn't buy. I would have given all the toys in my playroom – all the Hollywood premieres – for one hug from him. For once I wish he could have said that he loved me, but he never did. This is the man who signed me up for little league but never once came to a ballgame. He never even taught me how to hit or throw a baseball. All the children on the team laughed at me because I wasn't any good. I finally quit and got a beating from my Father. I hated him for that."
He fell silent for a moment, staring somewhere off to my right. This was obviously very painful for him. A part of me – way down deep inside – wanted to feel sorry for him. A part of me even wanted to wrap my arms around him and give him a hug. The hatred that flooded my heart for him, however, tried to override those feelings and push them away.
"I'm sorry," was all I could say.
Shaun stared at me for a long moment. "For a moment there I could have sworn you seemed like you gave a damn."
"My heart's not made of stone, Shaun," I replied.
He smiled. "I'm sorry, Euphrosene. I wasn't implying that." He shifted in his chair again. "It's no secret how you feel about me. It's obvious that you hate me." His eyes formed a sad, sorrowful gaze as he said it.
"Shaun, I –" I stammered. "It's not so much that I hate you –" I struggled to find the words; to understand my own feelings towards this young man I once thought to be a monster. "I'm angry at you, yes, but I don't know that I –"
"Then what is it?" he pleaded. "What is it about me that you find so repulsive?" Tears formed in his eyes as he stared deep into me, longing for an answer that would make him understand.
"You're arrogant, Shaun," I answered. "Arrogant and self-righteous and cruel. You give absolutely no thought to the feelings of others. You treat them in ways most wouldn't treat their worst enemy. You're bitterly sarcastic and you speak long before you think about what should be said. To be blunt, Shaun, you're an asshole."
His eyes looked away from me for a moment, instead turning inside him to see if he saw what the rest of us did. He turned his attention back to me and smiled. "I suppose it's true what they say about the truth being painful. Thank you for your honesty."
"I'm sorry if that hurt you, Shaun," I replied, "but that's what I see. What I don't understand is why you're like that. And why is Taylor so enamored with you? And Zac?"
"My Mother always said I was the most charismatic person she'd ever encountered. I had 'a presence about me,' she'd say, or I was 'like a people magnet.' I never really understood what she meant because it wasn't anything that I did consciously. Maybe that's what Taylor and Zac are picking up on."
I nodded. I had to admit that he was right – he was very charismatic.
"And there's also the possibility that Taylor is attracted to me," Shaun added with a hopeful, starry-eyed look. "But I assure you that I'm not doing anything out of the ordinary to make him like me."
"I believe you," I said, "but I still don't understand why you're like this. You're beautiful, you're charismatic...why do you act the way you do?"
He took a long, deep breath. "Perhaps I should finish my story. Maybe then you'll understand."
"No matter how I tried, Euphrosene, I couldn't change my Father. He was never going to be the dad I wanted him to be. His way of showing me love was through material means. I had to find other ways to get the attention I craved.
"I became what you might call a 'problem child.' In school I would always act up and cause trouble. At home I talked back, made a spectacle of myself at my Father's society parties – anything to get attention from my Father. I figured if he was taking the time to yell at me, at least he knew I existed. I suppose in my own mind that it was enough.
"I was completely out-of-control by the time I was fourteen, having fallen into the 'wrong crowd.' We drank, we smoked, we beat the shit out of other kids, and the typical activities of what my parent's generation might have called 'hooligans.' After making very clear to me that I was an embarrassment to my Father and the family name, I was shipped off to a boarding school in northern Texas.
"Every unruly male child in the Midwest had heard stories of the Lathem Academy. The nickname 'Lay-into-them' Academy hadn't come about by pure chance. It offered a second chance for those of us whose parents had abandoned all hope. Lathem was rich kid hell, and we all knew it. I'd heard so many stories about the place that I was near petrified with fear by the time my parents dropped me off at the front door and drove away."
"They just left you there?"
"I learned right away that my charisma wasn't going to get me anywhere at Lathem. The very first day I was labeled 'pretty boy' and suffered a beating from the welcoming committee. They let me know right away that I wasn't worth shit and that my very presence gave them carte blanche to kick the hell out of me. Bullies had never been a problem for me since I was able to talk my way out of anything. Lathem was a different story. There was no charming these kids – they played for keeps. So, for the next three years I was taunted, teased, beaten, and even raped by the Academy's bad boys.
I heard myself gasp. "Raped," I said, almost in a whisper.
Shaun offered a somber nod in reply. "Some of the older boys found my long hair and feminine features irresistible. They thought it would be fun to play 'fuck the rich, pretty boy,' so they did."
"Didn't you fight back?"
"Well, my dear," he responded, "I've never been much of a fighter. My Father never taught me how to defend myself. Besides the fact that 'fuck the rich, pretty boy' was always preceded by 'beat the rich, pretty boy to a pulp.' I guess you could say whatever fight was in me was knocked out by the time they got around to…that."
"How often did they –"
"Two or three times a week," he said.
"Holy shit," I muttered. "Did you try to tell anyone?"
"I went to our dorm captain. He refused to believe that things like that could go on at the Lathem Academy. The boys there were troublemakers, yes, but certainly not rapists or child molesters. As far as the beatings were concerned, I was told that everyone in life had to 'take their licks' and that I should 'toughen up.' He was used to us 'spoiled little pricks' making up horror stories to try and get sent home.
"So, I learned to take it. I became cynical and bitter – even sarcastic. It was my defense mechanism. I learned to treat people like shit…exactly how they treated me. My entire life I had not known one genuinely kind person. They all wanted something from me – my father's money, a piece of my ass. That's the way my life was. I dealt with it the best way I could find."
He paused, standing up to attack the dying fire with a menacing-looking poker. I was happy for the break. I needed a few moments to soak in everything that I'd been told. His was an extraordinarily sad tale. I'd had no idea what sort of life this young man had lead. I'd not once ever given any thought as to why Shaun was the way he was. I'd always assumed he was an asshole by choice. His behavior, however, had been forced upon him. It had been a young boy's desperate attempt to cope with the most horrible of circumstances. I was actually beginning to understand him.
Once the fire was roaring again, Shaun returned to his place in the high-back, velvet chair and looked upon me with his sad eyes. I found myself consumed by curiosity – wanting to more about his life. I needed to know. I needed to hear the rest of his story.
"So," I said, my throat dry, "what happened next?"
"I graduated two years ago and was allowed to come home again, where my Father began grooming me to be his protégé. Mooreland Oil was becoming a super-power again and I was expected to follow in Daddy's footsteps. By this time, however, my hatred for him had reached its limits. Believe me, I had no interest in becoming what he was.
"From the very first moment I arrived home, he began talk of me taking control of Mooreland Oil and ushering it into the 21st Century. He'd no idea the horrible abuse I'd suffered as a student at Lathem, nor do I think he would have cared. My main focus at that time was to try and put my life back together. I had to move past the physical, mental, and sexual abuse. The last thing I wanted or needed was to be thrust into a job I didn't want, working for a man I completely despised.
"Father persisted, however, insisting that this was my destiny. I was to take over Mooreland Oil and that was final. I stood up to him, saying there was no way in hell that this was going to happen. He became enraged, calling me a spoiled and ungrateful little faggot; Father always hated what he called my 'girlish behavior' – he was extremely homophobic. He proceeded to beat me with a billiard cue – putting me into the hospital for several weeks.
I winced. "Did he beat you often?"
"No, thank the Lord," he responded. "It only happened a few times."
"How did he get away with it? I mean you were put in the hospital, for god's sake!"
"It was, of course, kept quiet. My Father owned everyone in this town, including the police. News of it never reached beyond the hospital, not that it would have done any good. He was so well respected that no one would have believed he was capable of such an act. Everyone here had their noses buried so far up his ass that they wouldn't have heard even if someone had tried to tell them."
"That son-of-a-bitch," I said under my breath.
"My parents weren't even there to pick me up the day I was released from the hospital. They were on a private jet en route to Dallas/Fort Worth. Their plane crashed on approach, killing the two of them and our pilot. When the news reached me, I was in a limo heading back home. I remember staring at the cellular phone in shock after ending the call. I then dropped the phone to the floorboard and laughed. Yes, I laughed. I'm almost ashamed to say that I was glad they were both dead. I suppose that makes me a horrible person. Perhaps you're right Euphrosene…maybe I am a monster."
I shook my head. "No," was all I could say.
Suddenly, I was so very sorry for everything, for how I'd treated Shaun. I'd been given plenty of reason to be as cold as I was, but my heart wasn't as strong as this. I'd had no idea he'd lived so tragically.
"Is that everything," I asked softly, painfully.
"Well, you can imagine the rest," Shaun shrugged, and resumed his relaxed position in the overstuffed chair. "Poor little rich orphan boy. Father still had hopes in me, and in his will he'd left everything to me. The money, the oilfields –" he looked up and around, "—this damned house. And all the other properties he owned. It was ridiculous."
"What've you done with it all," I asked, still quiet from the heartbreaking sketch of his childhood.
"Well, of course I didn't want it," Shaun continued. "I knew well enough that it was too much for me. I'd just turned eighteen at the time. So I sold the oil company and its subsidiaries, gave some of the money to relatives and foundations and such. I kept a nice stash of cash for myself as well and this house. I am happy, though – one mansion in Venezuela is a home for orphaned children. And this house is so big I'm thinking of doing the same here. I've contributed a great deal to numerous charities, something my Father would have never done to such an extent. It makes me feel good." He was smiling now, and for the first time I could finally see his true compassionate heart.
"I'm so sorry for...how I've been to you," I stammered, knowing it wasn't adequate, nor could it ever be.
"Don't be," he smiled at me, leaning forward and laying his hand gently over mine. "It's long gone now, and I try not to linger on it."
"Forgive me," I said, touched by his softness.
"Nonsense," he smiled, and then brightened. "You know, there is one room in this house that you might be interested in."
I watched as her brow furrowed. Once again, I was reminded of how lovely she was.
"Would you like to see it, Euphrosene," I said, holding out my hand to her and standing.
She smiled back at me, placing her hand in mine, and standing up from her chair. I lead her out of the living room and down a long, dark hallway. The dark and dreary walls, the ones I'd come to despise, nearly swallowed us as we walked a twisted maze of corridors, moving deeper into the belly of the beast.
Finally, we stopped at a large door. It was made of the finest mahogany, with alphabet blocks carved out in an ornate design in the center. I hesitated for a moment. There were so many memories here, locked away for what I'd thought was forever. I'd never brought anyone here. I'd never thought it mattered until now.
I pulled a rusty key from my pocket and placed it into the keyhole. The lock resisted for a few moments then finally the tumblers gave way. I turned the knob and pushed open the massive door. I fumbled for the light switch as a wave of musty odor invaded my nostrils. As the light attacked the darkness, I was greeted with a sight I swore I'd never see again – my childhood playroom.
It was just as I'd left it two years ago – eerie and foreboding. I'd almost forgotten how much I hated this place. I looked around the room, the floor littered with broken toys and the fluffy entrails of once happy stuffed animals – victims of a child's rage. As I surveyed the carnage, the fog lifted and the memories of that day suddenly came back so clear to me.
I suddenly felt a wave of emotion come at me with the force of a hurricane. It was hate, rage, anger, sadness, fear, all rolled into one. It was so intense, that it nearly knocked me over. I felt myself being pushed backward.
Euphrosene's hand immediately went to my shoulder. "Are you alright?"
I forced myself to smile. "Yeah," I managed to say, "there's just a lot of memories. They all came at me at once."
"What – what happened in here?" she asked, her eyes staring in horror at the massive mess of shattered plastic and broken dreams.
"The day I found out about my parents death was the best and worst day of my life," I began. "Though I was happy they were gone, their death brought too much emotion back to me. It was the proverbial last straw. I came in here and broke every toy and ripped apart every stuffed animal I could get my hands on. The staff was convinced I'd gone out my mind with grief over my parents death." I laughed. "If only they'd known the truth."
She clutched my hand into hers and squeezed it tight. "Why do you stay here, Shaun? It must be awful for you."
"It doesn't make much sense, does it," I replied.
"You have to let it go, Shaun."
I looked around the room once more, tears welling up in my eyes. "I tried to so many times. It about drove me crazy. Then, Hanson came along. Everyone seems to have a magical story to tell about the day those three boys blew into their hearts like a Texas tornado – I'm no different. It was MMMBop, Euphrosene. From the moment those first few chords played, the immense walls of pain I'd constructed around my soul were torn down. It was magical.
"I bought the CD, took one look at that angel on the cover, and instantly fell in love. As I said before, the only thing holding me together at times was the thought of Taylor. All those times I tried to meet him – all the concerts I went to – and finally it happened. I got my one shot at him and fucked it up royally.
"Now, he hates me," I added.
Euphrosene gave a long and thoughtful look. I couldn't tell by her expression if she believed me or was just going along with what she thought to be one hell of a bullshit story. What I needed most was for her to believe me. If there was anyone in the world that I wanted to prove myself to, it was she. I'd never shared my story with anyone until now. She just had to believe me.
"I believe you, Shaun," she said suddenly, as if reading my mind. "As extraordinarily unbelievable as this whole story is, I believe you."
"Thank you," I said, trying to contain my joy.
"I'm left with one question, however."
I froze. A question? "And what would that be?"
"If you love Taylor as much as you say," she began, "then why did you turn Zac into a vampire? You had to know that it would hurt Taylor. Why did you do it, Shaun?"
I felt myself take in a deep breath of air and hold it as long as possible. I should have known I wasn't going to get off so easily. After exhaling slowly, I looked Euphrosene in the eye and tried to come up with what to her might be a satisfactory answer.
"Anger," I said. It obviously wasn't an in-depth explanation, but that's what it had boiled down to. "I spent so much time and money trying to meet Taylor. I had tickets to every show on the Albertane Tour, was a MOE member, etc. And each time I got closer and closer to actually meeting him. When it finally happened, he tried to kill me. He toyed with me like a cat would with a cornered mouse and then tried to drink me dry with nothing more than a cheap feel.
"You say what you want to about what I supposedly did to Taylor, Euphrosene, but he was the one who used my feelings for him as a way to get what he wanted. I simply defended myself. He was going to kill me! I don't know of anyone that wouldn't have fought Taylor just like I did.
"I'm not the only bad guy here, Euphrosene," I said, feeling the tears come back again. "He hurt me, too." I stopped for a moment, wiping the tears away. "Taking Zac was a mistake, I admit that. If I could turn back the clock and undo what I did, I would. Now I have to live with that for the rest of my life.
"I was just so angry. I would have done anything in the world for Taylor but he tore my heart out and crumpled it up like it was made of paper. Now he hates me and I'll never have him."
I was sobbing now. Although I didn't usually make it a habit of crying in front of people, I couldn't help myself.
"I'm not a monster, Effie," I said with a loud sniffle. "I'm not a –"
I couldn't continue – the tears were flowing too freely now. Euphrosene opened her arms wide and I fell into them, sobbing uncontrollably into her shoulder. There was no holding back the river of emotion that rushed out of me.
"It's going to be okay, Shaun," she said, squeezing me tightly into her arms.
"I just –" I began, "I just want him to love me."
She held me there for a few more moments before finally breaking the embrace. Euphrosene stared at me with her beautiful deep eyes, which had taken on a sad, remorseful appearance. There was so much love in them – so much compassion. I knew at that moment that I had gained a friend.
"Again, Shaun," she began, "I apologize. I misjudged you terribly. I came here to kill you, in fact, but now that I know your true nature –"
Her voice trailed off, stopping in mid-sentence.
"I'll tell you what, Shaun," she said suddenly. "Let me talk to Taylor. I think he might change his mind about you after hearing your story."
My heart jumped. "Do you really think so?"
"Well, I can't make you any promises, but I can at least try."
I hugged her tightly. "Thank you."
Several days had passed and I still had not heard one word from either Euphrosene or Taylor. Several times I'd picked up the phone and had the number dialed up to the last digit, only to hang up. It consumed my mind so that I could hardly sleep. I knew the chances of Taylor forgiving me – much less loving me – were very slim. Still, a tiny part of me held on to the possibility of one or both.
Of course, all this could have been a clever charade at my expense. Maybe their plan was to simply make me believe that all was forgiven – to gain my trust. Then, perhaps, they would follow through with Effie's original plot to kill me. Or maybe it hadn't been Effie's idea at all – maybe it had been Taylor's. Quite possibly his hatred of me was so strong that he too wanted me dead.
It was that kind of thinking that eventually drove me to forcing myself to find a way to occupy my time until I heard something. I decided finally to make arrangements for the donation of Mooreland Mansion to a Tulsa charity. Euphrosene had been right – it wasn't right for me to torture myself by living here any longer. I'd found a very nice town home closer into Tulsa that would suit my needs just fine.
After paying cash for the town home, I'd contacted Safe House, a local shelter for abused children, and asked them if they'd be interested in having a new headquarters. I knew, of course, that they'd been searching for a new building, their current one filled beyond capacity. They were delighted with my offer, accepting it most graciously.
I contacted my lawyer and had her iron out the necessary details, happy that once again I was able to make a difference. With each good deed, I'd been able to restore a little bit more of myself. It was part of my healing process – doing right what my Father had done wrong. Not just to me, but to everyone he'd ever lied to or cheated – the current number of which might come close to filling the Mabee Center in Tulsa.
You do whatever you have to do to survive – to become whole again. For each person it's a different process, but as long as the goal of becoming a real person again is achieved, who cares how you get there? For me, it was working, and that's all that mattered.
I'd made arrangements to be out of the house in two weeks. Moving wasn't going to be a problem – I'd told Safe House that whatever was left by me could be auctioned off. They were probably expecting to be left with nothing but junk. I'm sure they'd be surprised to find a house full of antiques. The money generated from that auction should bring them a tiny fortune. I didn't need the junk anyway. It only reminded me of things I was trying to forget.
With the arrangements for the house out of the way, it left me back to my original dilemma. Why hadn't I heard from Euphrosene or Taylor? Had I lost them both forever? Once again, those questions plagued my thoughts. I would, however, have my answer very soon.
The afternoon was a Sunday, and the autumn sun was shining through cracks in the clouds, so I drew the heavy satin curtains shut. My spirits were lower than down, and I was sure that the ache in my heart would soon finish me, mercifully.
But...I felt a presence.
I wasn't sure at first if it was a living feeling, and then I wasn't even sure I'd felt it at all. It came to me like a scent on the air, sparking some memory in me, some feeling, and I knew little more than that it was exquisite, and I tried my best to follow it. It entered through straight through my heart, plucking strings there I hadn't dared to touch since... since I'd last seen Taylor.
It was coming through the door.
I straightened my slack collar and smoothed out my ruffled hair, trying my hardest to look regal as my heart threatened to crack through the cage of my ribs. With one last deep breath and a trembling hand, I opened the door.
Taylor looked even lovelier than I had remembered, which can hardly be described. Botticelli made you, I thought. He was dressed in a long, black coat, his pretty white hands folded in front of him, and his head bowed slightly as if in prayer. He lifted his eyes to me and simply could not find the breath – they were as blue and clear as the shores of Barbados.
"Hello, Shaun," he said. His voice…its timbre, melodic and achingly sweet. For a moment I forgot to answer.
"What are you doing here," I asked. It sounded less kind than I'd meant; I was dumbfounded. Did he still care enough for me to come back? I'd hoped so, but I knew very well that I wasn't worthy of his company.
"May I come in?" he said with the suggestion of a smile on his lips. I opened the door wider and stepped clear to allow the angel through. He came in.
"Shaun, I –"
"Wait." I quickly shut the door and led him up the stairs without explanation; there was a place for this, and I wanted it to be perfect. Up the staircase and down the marble hall, I opened one of the many doors and it cracked defiantly open. Sweet fragrances rushed from the room and into the hallway. I led him inside.
The room was filled with candles and flowers and perfumes and soft drapes, things appropriate for accompanying my eventual apology and confession of true love. I would not wait again.
"Alright," I said, and Taylor spoke.
"There are things I can never forgive you for, no matter what the Lord or Effie or my own heart tells me," he said. I thought for a moment how very strange it was that even in his new monstrous species he had not left the calming shade and sanctity of his Christianity.
"Euphrosene had a long talk with me," he continued, staring at his fingers with which he fiddled. "And she made me face a lot of things I wanted to ignore – like that I'm not very wise, and I'm temperamental, and I'm not very good at letting go of a grudge –"
He took a deep breath, "And that I love you –"
I was shocked, but pleasantly so. Still, there was that unspoken "but." I waited for more. He laughed suddenly, bitterly.
"You know, I was thinking so hard about not forgetting that I forgot what I was forgiving you for."
"I don't understand."
He looked at me for the first time since we'd come in the room.
"I still love you, very much. I don't forgive you for making me take you, and I don't forgive you for taking my brother, but I forgive you for being cruel."
"Just say you love me," he said. I was speechless, completely and utterly. Did he imagine that I didn't? Was that possible?
"Taylor," I said. "My angel. If you only knew –"
"Please," he said, and touched my hand. I closed my eyes, his touch like a grip about my heart.
I spoke softly.
When lying in my bed and fast asleep,
I dream of thee and there my passions take,
To caress thee while I'm dreaming deep,
And long for thee again when I awake,
Thy gentle spirit beckons even I,
To tremble and to shiver at thy touch,
And move my newly melted heart to sigh,
That one could stir me to adore that much...
He was looking at me with wonder and enchantment.
Thou art so sweetly unaware of this,
The overwhelming beauty that thou hast,
That my soul could be cornered by a kiss,
And captured in thine golden wings at last;
The angel in thee moves to set me free,
But in that I am bound eternally.
For a long moment he merely watched me, his sweet lips open, his azure eyes threatening tears, and all at once he fell into my arms. I held him tightly as if he might fly away, and kissed his hair, his eyes, his mouth, anywhere that my lips would reach as he clung to me and I cradled him.
I lifted him in my arms and he wrapped his legs around my waist. I lay him onto the four-poster bed that was covered in sweet rushes, lavender and crisp petals, and opened his clothes with the gentlest of touches.