Tags: #Fantasy, #Fiction, #General, #Anthologies (Multiple Authors)
On Friday night, the club where Simon played reopened and he insisted on taking her with him. He didn’t have to insist very hard; she was anxious to go. She’d heard him play on his portable piano, and they’d listened to numerous recordings, but she wanted to see him on stage with a band, lost in the music she knew he loved.
And he did love it. At the small but crowded nightclub Claire sat at a small table near the raised stage.
She sipped wine and watched as Simon and the other three musicians made beautiful, fast, and furious music. They all loved what they did, not just playing their instruments but creating this music. Simon’s face lit up when he performed. Claire had always known he had remarkable hands, but to see them fly over the piano keys and make such music, that was magic. It was a different kind of magic than that which her grandmother had told her about, but still, it was magic. Until tonight she had only seen Simon look this happy in bed, and yes, she was a little jealous.
But more than that, she was happy for him. Everyone should have something or someone in their life that they loved so much.
When the evening was over, at an hour much later than Claire had ever been out even on a Friday night, they walked from the club heading toward the apartment. It was a trip of just a few blocks, which was one of the reasons Simon had chosen her apartment building. The evening was a bit cool, but with Simon beside her she didn’t feel too chilly. He was very warm, very much alive, and she smiled contentedly as she remembered that she’d once believed he might be a vampire.
She was still convinced that such creatures were real. She knew in her heart that there was more to the world than most people ever saw. But Simon, Simon was just a man. The perfect man, perhaps, but still…a man. He was warm-blooded, his heart beat well, he didn’t mind going out in the late afternoon sun.
…and he ate her garlic bread.
They held hands very easily, as they walked toward home. Claire couldn’t remember when she’d ever felt so close to a person, when she’d ever felt so much a part of someone’s life. This relationship which had begun so very oddly was important, and if she had her way it would only become more important in days and weeks and years to come. Only one small detail kept her from perfection.
“There’s something I should tell you,” she said as they reached the front entrance to the building. She sensed there were possibilities with Simon, possibilities that went beyond sex and shared laughter. Such a connection couldn’t be built on a lie, no matter how small.
And this lie wasn’t particularly small, to be honest.
As they walked up the stairs, she gathered the strength to begin. “Do you remember when you accused me of stalking you?” she asked.
“Four days ago?” he responded lightly. “Yes, my memory works well enough to remember that.”
“Well, you weren’t entirely off the mark.”
They continued to climb. “You wanted my body,” he teased.
“No! Well, yes I suppose I did, but that’s not why I was following you.”
A small line appeared between his eyes, a hint of a frown. “What, then?”
Claire licked her lips as they entered the third floor hallway, where a few days ago she had attempted to gather proof that Simon was not what he appeared to be. “I thought you might be a vampire.”
She expected an outburst of laughter, and was prepared to order him to be quiet so he wouldn’t wake the neighbors. He continued to walk steadily, and there was no laughter. He didn’t so much as smile.
“Why would you think such a thing?”
It seemed like a long way to the section of the third floor where their apartments were located. Maybe this conversation would be best finished in her apartment or his, since he wasn’t taking the news as well as she’d expected he would. Maybe it was too soon. Maybe she should’ve kept the truth to herself for a while longer.
It was a little too late for that particular revelation.
“Why?” he prompted.
Claire ticked off her reasons. “I never saw you during the daytime, for one thing, and I never saw you bring in food, and you listen to that old music…which I understand now, really I do, but I didn’t before I knew you…and I could swear that when you looked at me you were looking right through me, looking into my soul in a way that was not at all human. And, ok, I Googled you and you’ve moved a lot in the past few years. A man who doesn’t want his immortality to be discovered might…” she hesitated after her breathless rush of words, realizing how ridiculous it all sounded “…move frequently,” she finished in a lowered voice.
Finally they reached her apartment, and she grabbed her keys from her purse. Simon said nothing as she fumbled with unlocking the door, and she was terrified that she’d ruined the best relationship she’d ever had simply by telling the truth.
“What about now?” he asked as they stepped into her apartment. “Do you still think I’m a vampire?”
“No!” she insisted. Here, alone, the door closed behind them, she could take Simon’s face in her hands to look him in the eye. Yes, there was power in those eyes but it was perfectly ordinary power, right?
Maybe what she saw, what touched her, was a power only she could see.
“Because I didn’t gag on garlic bread or explode in the sun?”
“Because I love you!” she insisted.
Once again Simon went very quiet, and Claire cursed herself. It was too soon for those words that sent some men running. Simon was a man, just a man, and he would run like hell from those words delivered too soon. But it was too late to take them back, and in truth she didn’t want to take them back.
“I love you,” she said again. “It happened too fast and it took me by surprise but that’s the truth. I don’t want any kind of lie between us and that’s why I wanted to tell you about my ridiculous notions.”
He seemed to relax a little. “Did you tell anyone about your theory?”
“No. Who would I tell? My girlfriends would never believe me. Co-workers? I’m pretty sure that would get me fired, or sent to counseling at the very least. There’s really no one else to tell.” Except Granny Eileen, and she’d been gone five years.
“That’s good.” More relaxed than he had been as they’d entered the apartment, Simon began to undress her. As always he took his time, caressing skin as it was revealed, kissing her mouth and her throat, raking his talented hands across her body. He played her as well as he played his piano, and they did make music.
Simon removed his clothes, with her help, as they walked into the bedroom. Once there, he did not rush to the bed as he sometimes did, but held her so that she was facing the mirror while he stood behind her. They were both naked, both entirely bare, but for the small gold cross that caught a glimmer of light from the other room. Simon’s hands covered her breasts. His fingers rocked back and forth, very gently, and she found herself leaning into him, reveling in the sensation of her skin against his. There had been a time when Claire had been embarrassed to look at herself this way, but Simon thought she was beautiful and he’d said so so many times she was beginning to believe him. He bent his head and kissed her shoulder.
“Do you really love me?” he whispered.
“Just for today because you like the way I make you feel, or for forever? Think before you answer,” he added quickly. “Forever is a very long time.”
She did think, but in truth she’d known the answer before he’d even finished asking the question.
“Forever,” she said.
“For better or for worse?”
She nodded, and his hands slipped lower, where he aroused her with a deliberate slowness while his eyes held hers in the mirror. She saw a flash of fire there, and this time she knew the fire was real, not a reflection of neon.
“I was bitten in 1941,” he said.
Claire gasped, but did not move.
“It was hard at first, adapting to a new way of life. I had no one to help me, no one to teach me. I was bitten and abandoned to find my own way in a new world.”
Claire’s heart pounded as Simon spoke calmly and his hands caressed.
“It’s the immortality that’s hardest to take, I must admit. You’d think it would be wonderful, a gift instead of a curse, but friends always grow old and die and it’s impossible to stay in any one place for very long before people start asking questions about why I don’t grow older. Immortality is lonely.
“Are you saying…”
“I’m not a killer,” he interrupted. “At least, not an indiscriminate one. Since ’41 I’ve killed three people. Two were trying to kill me. The other was a mistake.”
“I did not know my own strength.” His hands continued to arouse her, and his eyes held hers in the mirror. The flame there had died, but she did not fool herself into thinking it had never existed. “You have a choice to make. If you’d like I can pack my bags, change my name once again, and go somewhere so far away no one will ever find me. Say the word, and I’m gone.”
“I don’t want you to go!” she whispered, horrified at the idea that he might disappear from her life.
“What’s the other choice?”
Simon lowered his head and nipped at her bare shoulder. “You know, Claire. You know. Come with me, if you dare. It’s your choice.”
“I don’t want you to go,” she said again. She didn’t want to go back to the life she’d lived before Simon had come into it.
“That’s not an answer,” he protested.
“There must be another way!” But she knew there was not. When I was bitten. I’m not a killer. Come with me.
Claire slowly tipped her head to one side. That was her answer. She would not lose Simon. Not now, not ever.
“Look,” he whispered.
His hands now rested against her bare stomach, and as she watched they began to change. Long nails grew in the blink of an eye, and hair sprang up on his arms, his hands, his face. What had been lean, pale muscle grew larger and was almost instantly covered with dark fur. The shape of his face changed from the handsome face she had come to love to one that was caught between man and wolf. The teeth that grew long and sharp were fierce, but the eyes were Simon’s. She knew those eyes.
He raked his fingers, his claws, across her belly. Sharp talons did not break the skin, but they did leave fine red marks in their wake. She looked so pale, so vulnerable, with those powerful claws moving against her flesh. And yet, she was not afraid.
“I’m no vampire,” Simon said, the voice his and yet not his. It was throatier. Deeper. Colored with the force of an animal even though he touched her with the gentleness of the man she loved. “Whiny bastards,” he added beneath his breath. “Look at me without flinching, without being filled with horror.
Look at me and understand that if you choose me we will never have children. We will never make a home that will last more than a few years. For an eternity, we will only have one another. Still love me, Claire? Still want to come with me?”
Because she knew those eyes so well she saw the pain there. Simon thought she would say no, that she would be terrified by what he had become…what she would become if she joined him. She should be terrified, but she was not. In fact, she remained amazingly calm. The face of her lover was no longer beautiful, but it was still his face. He was a werewolf—a shapeshifter, a Jekyll and Hyde—a monster to the minds of most just as a vampire was a monster.
But in spite of his current appearance, Simon was the best man she had ever known. She loved him. He was hers.
She reached up and touched his head, surprised by the softness of the fur that met her hand. She gently but surely drew him down until his mouth touched her neck. That was all the answer she had to give.
It didn’t hurt much when he bit her, when his sharp teeth broke through the flesh at her neck. A heartbeat later she felt the power of the animal that was inside him enter her blood, rushing through her veins with a burning sensation that traveled quickly throughout her body, changing her. Feeding her.
Making her stronger. Simon held her with tenderness, though his limbs looked as if they could not offer tenderness.
There was pain, as the burning increased, but Claire welcomed the pain as she welcomed the rush of energy and strength. A new element was added to her body, and it shook her to the core. She and Simon were completely joined, much as they had been during sex, and she dismissed everything but the way it felt to be held in this way, to be joined. To be bitten.
The teeth were withdrawn from her neck, and Simon became a man once again, quickly, smoothly, and completely. Again, he met her eye in the mirror.
“When?” she asked. “When will I change?” For a moment she felt a tickle of panic, but the panic did not take root. It did not last.
“Some changes will come to you immediately. Others will arrive with the rise of the next full moon.”
“Hey, wait a minute,” she blurted. “You changed and there’s no full moon tonight. I thought…”
“Don’t believe everything you read, love,” Simon said with that touch of humor she adored. “You’ll learn all you need to know, in time. I’ll teach you. I’ll teach you everything.”
He led her onto the balcony that overlooked downtown Atlanta. Already Claire felt stronger, more alive. In addition she felt something she had not expected…an increased pull to Simon, who was, in a way she had never expected anyone to be, hers. Forever hers. He was in her blood, now, and she was in his.
“I was so sure there was a vampire in the building.” She laughed lightly and easily.
“There is.” Simon said. “When you come into your full abilities you’ll sense when a vampire is near.”
“I knew it,” Claire whispered. “Is there like a club or something? Monthly meetings?”
“Vamps and Weres don’t get along, but we refrain from fighting openly so we won’t bring undue attention to ourselves. Existing in a world that doesn’t believe in us is tough. Keeping it that way is even tougher.”
“Who is it?” she asked, searching her mind for the most logical answer. The young guy from the first floor, Charlie, the handyman…
“Mrs. Tillman. Don’t let the doddering old lady act fool you. She can be a nasty bitch when she feels like it.”