The smoke that tainted the glass above her door has cleared. The paint is blistered like cracks in desert sand. Dark shadows gather at the frames around the glass, smudges of ashes of recently deceased vampire that Adilyn would rather not think about. But she can’t help it. She stares at the brown sheen on the glass without really seeing it. Her heart is still beating in her chest a mile a minute, tapping against the inside of her ribs like a jackrabbit.
She still can’t wrap her mind around what just happened. The last ten hours run through her thoughts on repeat, a blur of confusion in her sleep-deprived mind.
Jessica pledging to protect her and staring down the barrel of her father’s gun as her first act of loyalty.
I meant it.
The Hep-V-riddled vampire framed in the moonlight like a bruise on pale white skin, spitting words about her like she were the last meal of a criminal on death row.
The coppery taste of Jessica’s blood as it dripped down her throat, terrifying and reassuring at the same time.
I am not leaving.
The smoke that even Adilyn could see from her home-turned prison, dancing off of Jessica’s skin as dawn approached.
I invite you in!
Jessica’s guilt-wracked eyes wide with regret as she released her, her cold hands replaced by warm summer air and hard floor.
It’s a moment before Adilyn realizes she’s said the vampire’s name out loud. She brings her hand to her lips.
Why’d she say it?
She looks up the stairs, wondering if the vampire has heard. Wondering if Jessica can hear everything she says, everything she thinks, everything she feels – now that she’s drunk her blood.
She licks her lips and realizes she can still taste it, the smear on the inside of her bottom lip a reminder of this screwed up night. She moves to wipe her hand across her lips, and watches as it shakes when she sets it back on the ground.
This wasn’t how the night was supposed to go. It was supposed to – Jessica wasn’t supposed to… Well, Adilyn’s not sure how it was supposed to go, but definitely not the way it went. Maybe just with she and Jessica talking, taking tentative steps at finding common ground among everything Jessica had broken. It would be slow going and painful to blindly and barefootedly navigate the landscape of broken glass that currently spanned the space between them, but they’d made a start.
She glances at the smoke-stained window again, and quickly averts her eyes.
Slowly, she picks herself up off the ground. Her hands are still trembling, but the sun shining through the glass reassures her. It’s daylight, and the only vampire she need fear at the moment is locked away for that exact reason.
She glances to the top of the stairs as she begins to scale them, and the memory of Jessica’s hands on her makes its way back to her thoughts. Her grip on her leg, tilting her body into her steady arm. The brush of her fingertips over the back of her neck. The press of fingers into her shoulder as the redhead sucked in a breath to taste the scent of her.
Her heart is racing again. And it has nothing to do with climbing the stairs.
And… something else.
She frowns, the voice as unfamiliar as when she hears a stranger’s thoughts inside her head.
But then she’s at the attic door, and she wonders when this became her destination. She presses a hand against her chest to control her heartbeat because even if she’s naïve about a lot of things, she knows vampires can hear a cricket miles away, let alone a scared girl’s rabid heartbeat.
Except… she’s not scared. Not really.
Her hand flattens against her chest – and yes, it’s still beating, fast, but it’s not fear after all.
She was scared. Before. Terrified, actually. The small step she took across the threshold when she invited Jessica in had felt like a mile, her fear holding her feet down like lead. But as soon as Jessica’s hand clamped around her wrist and pulled her into the house, all she felt was relief.
She glances at her feet, and at the sliver of darkness underneath the attic door behind which Jessica is only a few feet away, be it sleeping soundly in the darkness or standing attentively listening to her rabbit heart.
The relief she’d felt at safety, at home, at Jessica’s body pressed against her when she’d pulled her into the house was short-lived, because the lustful, hungry look in Jessica’s eyes was shockingly familiar. A few weeks ago, it was the last thing she’d seen before she’d passed out in a pool of her own and her sisters’ blood.
She closes her eyes at the memory, and steels her jaw. She doesn’t cry anymore, and even if she did, her eyes would be dry as parchment now nonetheless. She’s let go of the anger that used to constrict her throat until she was choking on her own sobs.
She doesn’t hate Jessica.
Because as quickly as the vampire’s proximity had called back vivid memories of her fangs sinking into her thigh; as quickly as her hands had scrambled against Jessica’s shoulders, pushing back futilely against the girl’s steel grip; as quickly as the look of hunger had appeared – it had all faded with the way Jessica’s face had fallen instantly, the starved half-smile replaced by a vulnerable frown of remorse and fear at what she’d been about to do – again.
She’d let her go.
She’d let her go.
She shakes her head to clear the mess of emotions that that realization brings up, and she tries to sort them out, to reason through why.
She doesn’t know what she smells like to vampires. She doesn’t understand the intense fascination they have with her (and had with my sisters, she thinks bitterly), but she’d seen the way every vampire had reacted to her, however subtle and obviously unbidden the reactions were. Flared nostrils. Sharp intakes of breath. Subdued swallows of restraint. And a feral look of lust that made her understand instantly why her father hated and feared vampires. They can’t resist her. And her family had paid dearly for their naivety.
But Jessica had let her go.
She knows the vampire hasn’t eaten in a while. She doesn’t know how long a vampire can go without blood, but hungry is hungry – human, fairy, halfling, or, clearly, vampire. And she’d heard the subdued sobs on the porch and seen the blood in her eyes as she grieved for her friend and for her guilt. Jessica’s anything but weak, but at the moment, she’s anything but strong nonetheless.
And still she’d let her go.
Because – as far as Adilyn can see – Jessica would give anything to take back what she’s done and to give Adilyn back her sisters. And the last thing Jessica had wanted to do – no matter how much Adilyn’s blood, her own hunger, her pain, or her very being had called out for her to sink her teeth into Adilyn’s neck – was to hurt her.
So she doesn’t hate Jessica. She can’t. Perhaps she’s too innocent, too naïve – her father had said as much as he’d cried angry tears at his daughters’ funeral – but she’d been on the brink of forgiving Jessica since the moment she stood strong against her father’s threats earlier that night. The rest of the night had only confirmed she had been right in being on that brink. She may not be able to read the vampire’s mind, but it didn’t take telepathy to read the remorse and regret dripping from every pore of the girl’s being as she watched silently over the house or the determination and loyalty as she faced the dawn for her charge. And though she’d been scared for her life tonight as much because of her potential rapist and murderer as because of her protector, she knows, in the end, she’d been right to trust Jessica.
Adilyn rests her hand against the wood of the door to the attic, and sighs, letting every strangled, raw emotion slide off her like rain, and realizes what she has left.
And utter exhaustion.
With another sigh of relief, she presses her hand against the door, whispers “Sleep well, Jessica,” and slips quietly down the stairs to her bedroom.