Los Angeles at night time might as well be a different world. The once bustling city full of tourists and populace settles in to sleep once the sun comes down. Lights wink from streets in the distance, and the entire sky is blanketed in darkness. A once thriving city becomes quiet as it awaits morning light to return.
In the distance, the Hollywood sign stares down from the mountain tops. How many times have I seen that sign before on postcards? To believe that I am sitting here in person is still hard to do.
I sit myself on the hood of the sports car and cross my legs. My milkshake is propped against one knee and I have to hold it firm lest it spill on the car worth more than all of my life savings.
Antonio eases himself to lean against the hood and glances at his watch. It’s a Rolex personally engraved for him. I watch as he adjusts the strap around his wrist and glances at the time.
“Have you seen enough yet? It’s just a sign,” he remarks. His voice sounds bored, tired of my antics, and I resist the urge to elbow him.
I’ve begged him to take me out to the Hollywood sign all day. Los Angeles is known for its landmark. Would it really be a trip to LA if you don’t stop and see it?
I swirl the straw of the milkshake around and watch the whip cream disappear into the chocolate. “You’ve seen it plenty of times before, but I never have.”
Havenfall, so far from LA, might as well be its own world. In that tiny little town full of secrets, sights like the Hollywood sign or the Walk of Fame are only cinematic legends. For me, to see as much of the world as it has to offer is a must.
Antonio leans against the hood of his car and lets out a puff of breath full of irritation. He stares up at the Hollywood sign as if he could never understand what makes it so important. For a man that was probably there when it was built, it isn’t hard to see why.
“You are fascinated by the simplest of things,” he remarks.
His words sound like an insult, but I don’t sense the bite in it. Antonio once said that seeing my reactions to things was interesting. He might complain about my wonder and curiosity both with his world and my own, but he has to admit that it is what ties him to me.
Immortality is neither a gift nor a curse from what I’ve learned. To live forever is just a condition that must be met. Antonio meets his in callousness and boredom. He’s traveled the world and seen all it has to offer, so now he’s grown tired of it. My natural sense of wonder and all the thousands of things that I haven’t seen before that are still capable of rendering me speechless are distractions for him. Distractions of the monotony of eternity.
For the thousandth time, I wonder what it is like to see the world in his eyes. What must it be like to see the Hollywood sign and see just a sign? To see the Eiffel Tower and see just a hunk of metal? Or to see death and just see a minor inconvenience you will never have to endure?
Suddenly the milkshake tastes bitter in my mouth. Eternity is coveted by many but endured by few.
I stretch my legs in front of me and nod at the sign. I once asked my parents to take me here as a child after seeing it on a movie screen. They had promised to one day bring me, but now their promise lies six feet under.
“I used to daydream about coming here. I would step on the floor tiles of my home and pretend like I was walking on the stars of the walk of fame. Grace and I used to cut up postcards with the Hollywood sign and paste them on our bedroom walls. We wanted to see Los Angeles for ourselves some day,” I murmur.
“And how does the City of Angels compare to your childhood dreams?” Antonio turns up at the sky. The stars are hidden from view by pollution, yet he looks around as if he could find constellations among clouds.
The corner of my mouth turns up just slightly. How ironic for a monster to be among the City of Angels.
“I would have liked Grace to be here,” I reply.
My sister would have loved Los Angeles. We could have gone to all the places she’s only seen in movies before. L.A. was always in her top destination sights.
An ache in my chest reminds me of just how much I miss her. Grace is in Spain now, moving on with her life and having all the experiences I could have never had, yet learning to be without her is difficult. Still, nothing will dampen this night for me.
“Why was the sign built anyway?” I ask aloud. My fingers swirl my straw around and I watch the milkshake lap at the sides.
Antonio shoves his hands in his pockets and snorts. “Same reason most things happen in life. Money. It was a real-estate ploy to milk Los Angeles’ growing fame in the movie industry. Guess it worked since you dragged us here.”
I stick my tongue out at him in response and toss the empty drink container at a nearby bin. The night air is getting chillier and we should be headed back to the hotel. Still, I want to stay a little longer here. Fulfilling dreams is rare and I want to enjoy the view.
Havenfall is a sleepy little town compared to the bustling City of Angels. It has no redeeming quality asides from the bowling alley and the drive in theater. The two cities come from the same country but they might as well be in different planets for how little they have in common. Havenfall has church ladies that worship on Sunday and sin on Monday. Los Angeles has stars that grace every television screen in the country. Havenfall has silence and monotony. Los Angeles bustles with life and loudness. Havenfall feels like boredom after a lifetime stuck within its boarders. Los Angeles is a breath of fresh air and a door into a much wider world.
“I needed this. I needed to get away,” I remark.
Havenfall may be my home, but I’m ready to pack and leave. Small town life is not as charming in reality as it is in fiction. I’m tired of being trapped in a fish bowl when the entire ocean awaits.
Antonio raises his voice in what is meant to be a teasing form of mine and fishes for a thank you. “Thank you so much Antonio for bringing me here on this vacation. I enjoyed every minute of it.”
He looks to me expectantly and a teasing smirk rises on his face. He awaits my gratitude, and he will wait for it forever.
I narrow my eyes and give him my best glare.
“You don’t get a thank you for anything. You wanted to kill me,” I remind him.
A shiver climbs up my spine.
That’s right. No matter how friendly we get and how good of a kisser he is, I can never let myself forget that he once tried to kill me to resurrect his sister. He has a lot to atone for before I even consider thanking him.
Antonio lets the insult slide off him. If my words have affected him, he hides it well. Instead, he glances at his watch again and huffs a breath of impatience.
I turn back to the sign and shove my hands in my pockets.
My friends back in Havenfall had wanted me to stay. Antonio is the last person they would ever trust and they’re sure to make their displeasure known. Every hour they text me to check in and make sure that everything is okay. I can almost feel their worry and displeasure from miles away.
I bite the inside of my cheek in thought. Antonio really isn’t popular with anyone. He has too much blood on his hands to be welcomed anywhere. It makes me wonder if perhaps I should heed the warnings.
I turn back to him.
Antonio is still on the hood of his car typing at his cellphone. His eyes, as red as blood when he lets his human facade drop, are narrowed in irritation, bottom lip is caught between his teeth, teeth that sharpen to fangs when he wills them to, and his fingers are flying over the keys as he berates Victor about something.
Once more, I am reminded of my earlier thought. Los Angeles is the City of Angels, and the City of Angels is no place for a monster like him.
”Everyone keeps telling me that you’re the bad guy.”
My words cut through the night silence. I almost wince at how quickly the mood drops. What was once a simple outing now becomes yet another stark reminder of the fact that I should not be here.
Being close to him sets every single one of my instincts on fire. My ancestors survived thousands of years by running from predators and evading becoming prey. Yet, here I am, willingly sitting next to a monster who could drain me dry with just a bite. Perhaps I should heed the billions of alarms that set off whenever I’m with him.
Antonio glances up at me from his phone screen. His expression is difficult to read, he’s an enigma I can’t crack yet, but he doesn’t seem bothered by my words. Antonio values honesty above all, and he did say he wanted to know exactly what I thought about him and his world of blood and bone.
“What do you think? What do you see when you look at me?” He asks quietly. I see the way he leans forward to catch my reply. He wants an honest answer from me. Antonio is not one to fall for flattery, and now he wants me to tell him what I really think.
And what do I see when I look at him? I’ve never given it much thought.
Do I see a monster with sharpened teeth and a disregard for life? A monster with blood on his hands and on his mouth?
Do I see a man with sins and mistakes and so much more? A man that has done so much wrong in his life and now just exists through immortality mourning his sister?
Or do I perhaps see a mirror into my own soul? A mirror that shows the darkness that lies within myself? The parts of myself that I try to hide? After all, why else would I spend so much time with him if I didn’t feel the smallest shred of a connection between us?
I shiver once more and this time it isn’t the night air. My thoughts whizz by and I am reminded that Antonio is still waiting on an answer. I take a deep breath.
Honesty is the best policy.
“I see you, Antonio,” I reply, “A monster and a man and a mirror all in one. You’ve done bad things and it scares me, but you’re not all bad either. You’re a bad person, but aren’t we all just sinners at the end of the day? Some of us have more sins than others, but all of us are just perfectly imperfect creatures in a rotting world with a dying lifespan.”
I close my eyes and take a deep breath. The air smells like the city. It is as clean as the exhaust from the cars below, but it is much more freeing than Havenfall could ever be.
Antonio stands up and puts his phone in his pocket. He is still digesting my answer and I don’t know whether it was what he wanted to hear or what he expected. Perhaps both.
I look behind me at the Hollywood sign. It stares down at me just as it did forever ago when it only existed as a childish dream. I take it into memory, burn it into my mind, so that this moment never fades with age.
I want to immortalize this moment. Immortalize not only accomplishing a life goal but also what it is like to be at Antonio’s side.
Antonio. The man that took me from my old life and gave me a taste of something new, the monster that showed me that the things that went bump in the night were not just campfire stories told to spook children, and the mirror that reminds me that we’re more alike than what I could ever want to accept.
I take a snapshot of this moment mentally and archive it. Already, I can tell that this will be one of those memories that I will keep forever.
“Are you ready to leave now?” Antonio asks. He’s glancing at the sunrise behind the sign. We have been here too long and morning is now rising. The hotel is a good hour away, we should head back.
I stare at the sign one last time and turn away from it. My dream of one day seeing it now belongs to a past life. The little girl that planned an L.A. trip with her sister now gives way to the girl that flirts with danger and rubs elbows with vampires. What a poetic-or pathetic-contrast.
“Let’s go,” I agree.
Antonio nods and extends his hand almost as if out of habit. It is a question more than an invitation.
I bite my lip.
My instincts flare up again, warning me that he is dangerous and has already proven that killing comes second nature to him. Every fiber of my being screams at me to run and escape while I can. My nerves are on edge and I know taking his hand is an implication to something much deeper-
Yet I take it anyway. Our fingers lace together automatically and my hand fits perfectly in his.
I knew the dangers when I asked him to show me his world. I knew the risk and the death that came with it, and I embraced it. I asked for the ugly truth and not the beautiful lie.
In the end, that’s what makes us such a good pair.
Antonio doesn’t hide his sins under layers of guilt, and I am not scared away by them. Neither of us is willing to hide who we really are. We’re both people, monsters, and mirrors. Two sides of the same coin. I asked for the cold hard truth, so now I willingly accept the ugly that comes from it. Everyone might say that Antonio is the villain in this story, but in reality he is just Antonio. A man, a monster, and a mirror all in one.
As the car drives away, the Hollywood sign grows smaller and smaller. Soon, it is nothing more than a speck in the skyline. Still, I know I won’t ever forget that moment. The moment of fulfilling a childhood dream of fun and innocence while entering a new world full of darkness and danger with Antonio at my side.