{ XIV }

“Alright, everyone,” Beau exclaimed as we snaked through the crowed of guests, to get to the center of the room. “The dinner menu will be up shortly, but for now the bar is open and it will be all night long. So go on, get some drinks in, and for the kids: there’s a wide array of sodas and juice, so go nuts!”

With Beau’s announcement, everyone finished filing into the room and casually separated into their own groups. The kids stuck together while the adults remained in small groups. Some couples were stuck together at the hip while others separated. Either way, it was organized in a way that I would be able to come around and greet them.

I stood beside the bar, contemplating where I would like to begin only to be interrupted by Beau’s soft nudge. He smirked and held out a champagne glass for me to take. Before speaking, I wrinkled my nose and smiled.

“You thought I’d give you alcohol?” He laughed, “It’s just some sparkling grape juice, which just so happens to have some plasma in it. I figured you may be a little thirsty by now.”

“How very thoughtful of you,” I mused. “Have you spoken with your children yet?”

“Actually, I was about to do that since I see you eyeing everyone with quite a bit of determination. Do you want me to come along, or do you want to keep it casual for now, before we make some formal toast?”

“Casual, I believe. Go say hello to your children.” I urged him to, although as he moved, we were met with one of Beau’s–well, our friends, Ellie. She approached us with a drink already fitted securely in her hand. That was not the most surprising thing about her, for the way she looked me up and down even startled me.

“Hello, Elvira,” Beau spoke for the both of us. “Nice to have you here with us. Are you enjoying yourself?”

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“Well,” she started, keeping her eyes moving till they settled on Beau’s hand, which gently stroked my side. “I’m having a lovely time, and I must say the open bar is a very wise touch. What I do notice is,” she squinted and tapped the glass in my hands. “Mrs. Merrick is not joining in on the booze-y festivities…”

I nodded slowly, keeping my smile from spreading any wider.

Taking a sip of her drink, Ellie arched her brows and smirked slyly. “You smell different too…”

“Ellie,” Beau chuckled. “Come on…”

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“No-no, I know what I’m talking about, Merrick, and something tells me that within the next,” she hummed and tapped her glass, “five or six months, we may be seeing a new face in your family.”

As my eyes widened, Beau’s lips curled and he adjusted his hold around me, almost as if to show me off. “Well, I’ll admit that you’ve got quite the nose for this, but now you’ll have to excuse me. I feel Averi and Mira may need some help warming up to the crowd.” Before he stepped away, he tilted my face towards him to capture my lips with his. Even the lightest tap, stroke, caress of my skin by his left me feeling even more breathless than I was by default.

I bobbed my head slowly and watched Beau slip away to the other side of the room, which left me with Ellie until she excused herself to get another drink. Given a free moment, I walked around the hall extending my personal thanks and greetings to those who were not too into their conversations. It was wonderful to see all of those smiles. Perhaps weddings were a good way to bring people together, no matter what might have happened prior to the event. From my knowledge, some couples were not exactly in the best place, but the civility was thankfully present. The last thing I would want was to spoil a mood on a day that was meant to be bright and cheerful. Morrigan arrived with William and not Wogan, but her polite smile was still very visible as she spoke to me. I offered to be there for her if she ever needed anyone to speak to. I too had my fair share of strife, though Morrigan urged for me to only focus on my well-being and the new eternal bond I had with Beau. Ellie was enjoying the open bar, which was understandable, though part of me believed that not arriving with Vlad had something to do with it. How I hoped that all difficulties would be resolved sooner rather than later. They were all such wonderful beings who deserved the same feeling I had experienced each and every day since Beau and I became involved.

While making my rounds, I made sure to speak to everyone. Being that I was still such a newcomer in the intimate circle of Beau’s friends, I truly did not want to remain that. Yes, many years had past that would no longer qualify me as a newcomer, but that did not matter. I always did my best to blend in with them, and for them to enjoy my company rather than to feel forced to be around me. The only group that I had not met with was Beau’s children. It was merely for the time being, for I wanted Beau to speak to them first. A father’s right, was it not? The children were not too familiar with me, which often led me to wonder what they thought of my presence in their father’s existence. On my own, I truly did not know. From Beau’s lips, he could have whispered words of encouragement to clear my worried thoughts. I knew that Beau was involved with other women in the past. I knew how serious some relationships could have been, and I knew that the children present here were not his only offspring. Regardless of what had happened in the past, our wedding was not a clean slate for either of us. Our bond was another phase in our existence, one that was now combined with histories from both of our sides. Perhaps that was why I allowed Beau to go on without me at first before I made the decision to finally make my way over to cluster of small children and Beau. It appeared that I even came at quite an intriguing time. The small crowd was erupting with laughter that rang like music. The young girl, who laughed the loudest was Mira, our truly special guest. It was the first time I saw such a bright expression from that young girl.

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“A-Averi said t-that,” Mira breathlessly.

“Come on now,”Beau chuckled. “Don’t rush.”

“She said that maybe we can go with her Mommy to the carnival and on the big carousel!” Mira finished and grinned happily while keeping her eyes focused on Beau.The love in that little girls eyes was overflowing. It was heartwarming to see her so close with her father, still admiring him so much after all this time. And Beau–I nervously tugged on my lace sleeve and stepped closer, close enough to gently tap Beau on the shoulder.

“I hope that I am not intruding,”I spoke softly. Even at the softness of my voice, I watched Mira’s eyes grow wide. Her timid state was enforced within a second.

“No way,” He smirked and helped me step closer to the group of children. “I was hoping you’d show up soon before we get the music going. You can finally meet Mira and the girls.” He turned around to look at her, but Mira was found chatting nervously with Averi.

I would have waited for Beau to assure her that I meant no harm, but instead I decided to try on my own. Slowly, I got down to my knees and looked at the girls. Somehow I felt it would be wise to approach children from a lower angle. I too understood the difficulty of conversing with someone who towered over me. The same could be said for my sweet daughters.

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“Thank you so very much for coming today, little loves. I am not sure if your father has told you, but I am Lotus.” I held out my hand which I felt was more of a casual approach rather than begging for an embrace. I was a stranger, after all, and technically I too was their new stepmother.

Averi did not dare approach me as she waited for her sisters reaction. Luckily I was not left denied by Mira, who stepped closer and agreed to give my hand a weak shake.

“Are you kinda like our Mommy now?” She asked. “Do we need to call you anything special, b-because my Ma-”

Beau gasped, but before he could even say anything, I shook my head and placed my hand over hers. “You do not need to call me anything that you do not want. I can be Lotus to you, if you wish. I would never force you to do anything that you do not want.”

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Her fear faded slowly, but then transitioned into a sweet smile. This enticed Averi to step from behind her sister and extend her small arm as well. She was a beautiful child. From the photos I’ve seen, she had much of her mother in her. Remarkably, she did not stutter or stumble as much as Mira. In fact, the little beauty startled me when she practically threw her arms around my neck. Beau was just as surprised, immediately placing his hand between Averi and my slightly misshapen stomach.

I glanced at him, assuring him I was alright, before leaning back to get a good look at the young girl. “And you must be the sweet Averi your father has told me so much about.”

She stepped back and nodded. “You’re not mean and scary like those stepmom’s in the fairytales, right?”

I admit I smiled at that and agreed. “I am not, little one.”

“Oh!” She squeaked. “T-that’s good!”

Honestly surprised, I pulled a strand of my hair behind my ear. “Was that your big concern?”

They nodded.

“I promise you that it is not like that at all. I would never do such a thing to such sweet girls…” I repeated. As relieved as I felt to know the uncertainty about my presence in their father’s life was cleared up, for the most part, I could not help feeling sad. For a child to assume that of a new person in their parents life is heartbreaking. Even more so knowing that such things happened. Being Beau’s wife, I was prepared to meet his children, and I too was prepared to be a good figure in their life.

Beau later helped me back to my feet and guided me around the hall. From time to time he kissed my shoulder and my cheek while thanking me. There was nothing to thank me for–what I did was what should always be done when welcomed into someone’s family.

I leaned down and picked up a slender champagne glass from the table, tapping it lightly with the side of a fork. It echoed loud enough to silence the room and bring everyone’s attention up to where I was standing with Beau. He was ready with a sheet of paper that he pulled out from the inner pocket of his blazer.

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“I’d like to take a moment,” he recited, “to welcome all of our friends and family. I know we’ve probably been to many of these, but it means a lot to me, and to Lotus, that you all could make it. I met Lotus when I needed a light in my life and the last few years, I can honestly say that I feel it still. Her heart may be still like ours, but it burns with so much warmth of her love and kindness that I often don’t find myself feeling deserving of it.”

I ran my tongue over my fangs and rested my head on his shoulder for a quick moment. What a sweet man to speak of my so highly.

“Honestly,” Beau said, turning to glance at me with his glass of bubbling champagne raised. “I’d like to raise a toast to my wife.” The way my title eased off his tongue was so smooth, like the sweetness of caramel, melting away on my tongue. “Thanks for letting this old man take you out on a tour of the town. I’m not sure where I would be without that cute accent every day.”

From the crowd of our friends, a few women clasped their hands together in and cooed in response while the men hollered at the “cheese” that Beau was speaking of. Yes indeed I was learning the meanings of these words in their non-literal sense. Slowly but surely.

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“I never thought I’d say this again, or even feel it, but Lotus Merrick, I look forward to an eternity with you.” Before Beau tipped his glass into his mouth, he wrapped his arm around my waist and dipped me as our lips met. This once again erupted the roar of cheers from everyone, including the young girls. After returning me back to a vertical stance, I gave his arm a quick rub and bowed my head as I thanked everyone as well.

“But you did not come just for all of this cheese,” I announced, pointing to the large three-tier cake that was adorned with red roses. “Please enjoy the food and the beverages, a-and the music too!”

The celebration continued and we continued to mingle. Now that Beau had met with his children, he was up with his friends at the bar while I surveyed the room in search of a group I could sneak into. Of course the moment my eyes landed on Ellie’s group, she waved me over. Now, how could I object to such an enthusiastic invitation?

“You sure have him head over heels in love with you!” Ellie stated.

“I don’t blame him, truly,” Morrigan expressed, reaching out to touch my wrist. “I think this is very healthy for Beau. You’re just who he needed in his life. See, Beau wouldn’t hurt you. He made his fair share of mistakes, but I’ve heard him speak of you before we were properly introduced.”

I could not help blushing.

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Morrigan’s eyes grew wide and she stepped closer to me. “There’s no reason to worry. He said nothing but good things. I just think that this will be very good. After all this time, I think both of you deserve this…”

It felt good knowing that Beau’s choice in asking for my hand in marriage was not because he felt a responsibility due to my bloated condition, but rather because he too felt that we completed each other. In my life and in what came after it, I had never felt like I belonged more than when I was with him. Being married to him, I wanted everyone to know how right our match was.

“Mom!” Mai and Mia squealed once they ran up to me with a handful of food in their hands. I had to admit that their mortal bodies required a lot more food. They were growing girls after all. I still had trouble believing that everything that I had experienced in the last few years was in fact my reality.

The cake was cut not long after we made our rounds again and then it was time to dance. I felt like I was dancing on a cloud–so light on my feet until I realized that Beau had his arms wrapped tightly around my waist, enough to lightly lift me with each twirl.

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“And here I thought I was as light as a feather,” I grinned, flashing my fangs, something I was no longer afraid of doing around him, and especially not around our friends, our family.

Beau’s lips brushed lightly against my cheek as he chuckled. “You think you’re not? I could lift you with one hand if I truly wanted to, although we have to be careful with you,hmm?” He grinned and placed his hand on my stomach. Even though I could not feel much yet, my small frame wasted little time in making it clear that I was carrying my husband’s child. “Precious wife with precious cargo,” he smiled wider. “Are you ready for our vacation?”

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I had lived a life of recluse for I feared being found out. Luca’s fears of the mortals had rubbed off on me for the longest time, however things appeared different now when in the company of other immortals, such as Ellie and even little Mira. They were our friends and our family who came to celebrate our eternal union. Simply the thought of spending my existence with Beau excited me, and I was sure it excited the small being growing inside of me. When Beau and I were marching out the door to get into a limo that was summoned for us, we were sent off with cheers and applause from all of them. In that moment, what grudges people had disintegrated, even if for a moment.

After years of struggling for answers about a cure for vampirism, we had found it. My girls were mortal and even I began to allow myself happiness, the kind that I only found in Beau. Now our hands would link not as partners with a business transaction, but rather intimately as husband and wife. I had never thought that the day would arrive for me. I was Lotus Everglow no more.

That night I shed my identity as one turned by her brother, Luca.

That night and forevermore, I became Lotus Merrick.

 

“So, you are not going to inform me where we are going?” I asked, lacing my fingers with his. “Truly?”

“Not just yet. You made it to the airport just fine and now you’re asking question after question.” Beau’s arms draped around my shoulder and he leaned over to kiss my nose. “My silly wife. I’m sure you can wait just a bit longer.”

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We were on a plane, a modern contraption that I had never boarded. When I was alive, my family could not even dream of such magical creations. Now? People talked into cordless phones and were still dissatisfied with how they worked. In my time, people would consider it witchcraft. Such a speculation would never end well.

I did enjoy them–the planes, that is.  They were very large and quite comfortable, but I still did not know where we would land!

Beau sensed my frustration and wrapped his arm around my shoulder tightly enough to urge me to rest my head on his shoulder. “It’s just a fun trip, Lo,” he assured me. “You’ll be wearing beautiful dresses, and we will be pampered like royalty.”

“R-royalty? Beau are we not splurging?”

“For you?” He smirked, “you are priceless, so you must have the very best. Plus, after the last few years, I believe we can treat ourselves a bit to a healthy amount of sun. Maybe some drinks? And of course some much-needed time to really make this bond official, hmm?”

With his hand snaked up my thigh, I leaned back to check that no one was coming our way.

“You don’t need to check, Lo,” Beau smirked, his lips coming down against my collarbone. “This is a private cabin and I instructed them to leave us be.”

There were no words to voice my excitement. Beau and I were bound forever, and I knew that the passing years would not change it. The passion in our love would continue to burn brighter and hotter.

 

 

 

 

{ XIII }

“No!” Mai shouted from the other side of the door. The rather thin oak door rattled noisily each time my daughter leaned back against it. This went on for a few lines before the low rumbling chuckles of the only other man in the house captured my attention.

“Not even a peek?” Beau asked.

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“No!” Mai replied once more, stomping her foot firmly before her sister chimed in. Her voice was small and no louder than a squeak. I suppose that was where my hearing came in handy, as I could pick up a wide range of tones without straining.

A few whimpers were heard from the other side, which I could only connect to my daughter Mia as she confronted her sister. “But it’s just Daddy, I-I’m mean Beau,” she gasped at her slip. “There are so many customs that we aren’t using for the wedding, so what makes you think that this will bring bad luck?!”

Goodness, these girls were getting all riled up over such a minuscule detail of old world customs.

“The groom can’t see his bride before the wedding! That’s just–” She grunted and stepped back, again, to rattle the door with her back. “You know…not by the book…”

There were attempts at saying more, but the loud shuffling against the floor cut off my daughter. Instead, Mia spoke up again, saying that they better wander downstairs to make telephone calls to our guests, to make sure they were arriving safely to our venue, which Beau would have to be at soon himself.

So, with the wonderful perseverance of my darling Mia, the girls finally made their way downstairs, or so the stomping on the stairs proclaimed. That beautiful girl continued to surprise me every day as she showed signs of stepping out of her cozy shell of comfort. Her strength made me feel insanely proud and even brightened my mood on an already amazing day. To make things even better, I heard the door squeak open. I only assumed that the coast was clear.

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“You have evaded the girls successfully, dear,” I mused as I watched Beau sneak into the room, his tight lips threatening a wide smile. He was dressed in an ebony suit that made the light of his skin and his bright eyes stand out. He looked elegant in a way that would have made my heart skip a beat, if it could. I was able to show him my admiration for him with my parting lips while I turned away from the full-length mirror before me. “Are you truly an impatient man?” I asked in a tone that invited him closer to me, close enough to guide me into his embrace that smelled of pine and citrus. I inhaled deeply and rested my head in the nook of his neck.

“I’m very impatient when it’s you waiting on the other side of the door, and might I add,” he chuckled when he slowly put some space between us, enough for him to look me up and down. “You look insanely beautiful, Lo. You sure we have to wait till the ceremony?”

My eyes looked deep into his as I softly confirmed the words that left his mouth, simultaneously. Truth be told, we would have eloped without even thinking twice, but Beau wanted me to experience a wedding, the way any woman would want. It was very thoughtful of him as he had wives before me, yet he did not want to rush a single moment. He wanted to experience every moment with me. It was strange standing with his arms around me while wearing a wedding dress. The lace on my back, my chest, and even my arms felt so foreign. I had waited centuries for this moment, for this day, and even for that man. From the bottom of my still heart, I could admit without a hint of doubt that I was thrilled about getting married. I was excited at the thought of a new phase in our existence, and our relationship, even more so now that we were expecting a child together.

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“How are you feeling, be the way?” He asked. The last few days were not exactly pleasant for me, for I saw the porcelain bowl of the toilet much more frequently than I saw Beau.

“For now,” I smiled politely while my hands slid from Beau’s arms and onto the bow on my stomach. “I believe that I am given a break today, to celebrate what we will be doing. Perhaps even the baby is doing the same.”

The pregnancy that we both began to embrace was not an easy one, and it reminded me so much of what I had gone through with my girls. The pain was identical, however, I did not regret a single second. Every moment that I had shared with Beau was one of love, of kindness. Knowing that he would be with me, knowing that our child would have a family made me feel at ease. This time everything would be better. As happy as I was about being pregnant and getting married, I could see a hint of sadness in the eyes of my beloved. He too was thrilled, but on this day where his friends were to be present, there were some who could not attend. These precious beings were not his friends, but his children.

I reached out to stroke his cheek, taking care not to allow the rough lace catch on his skin. Words need not have been said when Beau placed his hand over mine.

“I’m fine, Lotus.”

“Even so, I am sorry that they could not come. I am sure that they wanted to see you…” I trailed off, shutting my eyes at the thought. How could someone keep a child from their parent? From my experience with Beau, he had been nothing but an exceptional father figure to my children, and even a warm being to his friends children.

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“Hey,” he chuckled and pressed his lips gently against my temple. “Don’t trouble yourself with this. It’s going to be a great day, okay?” He began while his hands worked up my arms to then bring them up around his neck. “Only a few hours left till you’ll finally become Mrs. Merrick…”

“Mrs. Merrick,” I repeated. Somehow hearing those words flow from his mouth made it almost seem right. Lotus Merrick. I choked back a sob hearing it in my head, from my mouth, and again from his. It fit. After centuries of living with a name that left a tainted spell on me, I felt my existence standing on the brink of relief.

“Lo, are you alright? Look, you can change your mind if you’d like to keep your name. I’m okay with that too.”

It was then that I began to shake my head. Slowly, at first, then rapidly enough to cause Beau to fix his hands on both sides of my face, in order to keep me still as I fought back the tears that threatened to spill. I was not upset; I was not scared…

“I do not,” I whimpered, “I do not want to be Lotus Everglow another day. This name has brought me too much suffering and–”

“You’ll have none of that,” Beau assured me with his lips softly planted on my forehead. “I will keep you safe. None of what happened before will come between us, okay?”

I nodded slowly, listening to the vibrations of his voice. He told me I would finally be able to start fresh, even my children would be able to as well. The news of that promise left me sniffling, but I was thrilled. And as I silently urged him to go to the venue where I would soon meet him, I told him only one thing, and it was something that caused his excitement to return, depicted in the shine of his ivories that he flashed at me.

“You are the one who will free me…”

Once Beau left, I returned to getting ready for my own departure. I still had to apply makeup onto my face, and I too had to fix my hair. Despite Beau already having seen me, I still wanted him to look at me as if he has not seen me yet. Over the years I spent many hours looking up information about weddings. Dresses were always nice and even the decorations were gorgeous, but there was nothing that could match the reaction of a groom seeing his bride walk down the aisle. Perhaps if would be different now that Beau had seen me, but I still wanted to hope that my finishing touches would surprise him.

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As I applied the last bit of eye shadow, I was ushered out of my room and into the car that would take me and my daughters to where everyone else was. Beau and I thought about having our wedding in Bridgeport, as it was local, but he suggested somewhere new, somewhere different. Our destination was close to an hour away, which only allowed me a few more moments of privacy, and even of reflection before arriving at the venue where I knew Beau and the guests were

“Are you decent?”

The door creaked open and I saw the bright smiles of my girls, I knew that my last-minute touch-ups had to be finished up quickly. There was no more time left to worry about the way that I was going to look. It was finally time to follow my children as they would guide me down the aisle and under the arch where I would meet Beau.

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“You look really beautiful, Mom,” Mia sniffled, wiping her eyes with her free hand. “I’m really happy that you and Dad are getting married…”

I used to cringe at the sound of my daughter’s getting so used to seeing Beau as their father figure, but at that moment, I couldn’t think of anything else that sounded more…natural. It was truly a relief that my children were welcomed into the family and given the opportunity the experience having both a mother and a father, even if their birth father was…not around. Without dwelling on the thought, I simply nodded and extended my hand, to brush away a tear from my daughter’s eye.

“I too am happy, my sweetness.”

Grinning at my gesture, Mai stepped back and motioned for us to step outside. “Your groom awaits, Mother. Let’s get this show on the road!”

As Mai said, it truly was time to cease stalling. I was nervous, yet excited all at once. The moment  we stepped out, I could hear the chatter from beyond the doors. Beau’s friends were there with their dates, and even their children. it was wonderful to know that they came, and that they supported us. Being accepted by Beau’s friends meant so much to me. It allowed me to be myself without the fear of rejection. Without fear altogether.

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The doors opened and I was finally allowed to bask in the brightness of the outdoors. I could feel the warmth beginning to embrace my hand despite it being shrouded by the elegant bouquet that I held. As warm as it was, I did not feel the pain of the light. It was almost like I was mortal again and my flesh was allowed to drink in the warmth. It was not a miracle that I felt that pleasant sensation, but the atmosphere of where we were staying. The brightness was present, but the pain of the sun’s rays would not hit us.

Like a choreographed scene, everyone who was seated, turned their heads to look at me as I gradually made my way down the aisle. My pace remained slow despite the jitters I could feel creeping up my spine from more than just the reality, but even from the expression I could spot from the corner of my eye. Expressions of awe, bewilderment, and even happiness graced the faces of our guests, and even shined in their eyes.

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My daughters soon finished their walk to the arch, which finally, fully opened up my view to see Beau and his best man, William. I could have watched his smiling face for hours, though I could not keep walking forward forever. My destination was getting closer with each step.

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My slow strides down the aisle came to an end, which prompted Beau to step forward with his arm extended for me to take. All the moments of reflection, all the worries and doubts—they were thrown away. Feeling my hand in Beau’s hand, I exhaled softly. I was home.

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Glossy-eyed, Beau leaned in close to bump his nose against mine. It was almost as if the murmuring from the crowd behind us disappeared for the moment as he brought his hands to my face and grinned happily.

“How did you pull this off?” He asked.

Words were not needed to voice my confusion. In fact, Beau did not speak anymore as he slowly turned my body to look back at the benches where our guests were seated. In the back were three girls. While it was no news that children were invited to come with their parents, there were two girls who struck the same surprise in me as they did in Beau. One of the girls, with dark hair like Beau’s, sat timidly on the bench while the blonde girl next to her was more relaxed. From the way that I once heard Beau’s children described, I had little doubt about guessing who those girls were.

“Did you have anything to do with this?” He chuckled, placing his hand over his mouth. “This is…this is just perfect.”

“As much as I wish I could have been responsible for this, I actually had no part in making this happen. But what I said was right, was it not? That all good things will come to you…”

Beau shook his head and once again took hold of my hand, to pull me closer under the arch after my flowers were taken from me, to free my hands. “None of it could have happened without my lucky charm…”

I was touched at his words. It was with him that I, for the first time, did not feel like an omen. I wanted to say so much to him, although, perhaps it would be more appropriate to wait as our ceremony was about to commence. Led by us, Beau allowed his best man to take a seat next to Morrigan, who was gently dabbing a handkerchief under her eyes.

“Before we begin,” Beau spoke proudly, still holding my hand securely in his. “I’d like to thank all of you for being here. It really means a lot to us that you guys could make it. Now, our ceremony will be a little different, even non-traditional. Then again, how traditional is our existence, right?” He smirked and turned away from our seated guests, to look at me. “We’ve written our vows and will begin with that, won’t we, Lo?”

My head bobbed steadily and I allowed my hand to stray to my stomach for a moment to settle the  butterflies. I had volunteered to speak first. I believed that it would be so simple to speak to Beau without feeling the eyes of so many on me. That was still somewhat the case, only now it was more difficult to speak to him. My words were slipping from me when all I could think to do was thank him and tell him I loved him–a shame when I had so much written and memorized. I could only try now, and even improvise, if needed.

Shakily, I forced my felt to exhale. Beau said nothing. He only remained with his bright expression on me–waiting patiently for me to speak.

Here goes nothing, I thought.

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“My life was a series of let downs. I grew up during a time where my life was not up for me to shape. I wish I could say the same thing about my existence from the moment I felt the living. Bad luck followed me like a shadow–always bound to me, always ready to snatch away even a glimmer of happiness that I had found on my own.” I tilted my head, gazing at Beau in awe, with nothing more than love and gratitude in my eyes. “When my children were born, I no longer sought to achieve happiness the way I used to. I was on my own and the only thing that mattered was the safety and happiness of my girls. Although they smiled, my dormant heart ached, for they were cursed with immortality. It was never a life I wanted for them.”

Beau offered me a small smile and allowed me to continue.

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“From the moment I ceased to hide in Sunset Valley, my life began to turn around at our meeting, Beau. You sat with me beside that dumpster until the bar opened for the night, and you talked to me. That night you offered to help me. From that moment, I looked forward to the evenings when I would see you. Aside from you being so kind and helping my family, I found it difficult not to fall in love with you. You helped me feel comfortable in my own skin. You made me feel beautiful. Being with you has been nothing but a wonderful experience. I have found my happiness in you, Beau. Today–” I paused and fluttered my eyelashes to keep my vision from blurring. “I can hardly believe that this day has come. For centuries, I believed that I would never even try on a wedding dress. Now here I am with you and I just want to say that with each day that passes, and with each evening that you fill with life, I fall even deeper in love with you. I have existed long enough to be able to speak with full certainty, so when I say this, there is not even a single trace of doubt. I will always love you, cherish you. I will be your partner when days are good and even more so when they are bad. You are my other half, Beau Merrick, and being your wife will answer my childhood question of “will I ever meet someone who I will not be able to live without?”

As I finished, could feel my hands tremble and my voice crack as I caught a glimpse of Beau’s eyes. They glistened as they did when he saw his children. His bottom lip quivered the way it did before he kissed me, but as we were in the middle of our ceremony, I watched him fight back with his lips sealed tightly. Eventually the pressure was lifted and he reached over to wipe my tears before taking over.

He did not even glance back at our guests before taking my hands in his. His chilled skin was comforting and his smooth voice kept my attention fixed on him.

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“I can say the same, Lotus, because my life hasn’t been easy. I’ve run into more unfortunate situations than I could count on one hand. I’ve taken wrong turns and ended up in places I never intended to. But like you, I’ve found that none of that truly compared to what I found with you. Getting to know you and your children, I felt that all the wrong that has happened in past relationship wasn’t so much unexpected, but perhaps it was written to happen until I met you. Like all of my children, I care for yours as if they were my own. You and the girls have been nothing more than a positive addition to my life.”

“O-oh, Beau…” I managed softly.

“Come one, love,”He snickered playfully, “don’t cry. See, that’s what I want to offer you. You’ve opened yourself to me–shared your fears, your secrets, and I want nothing more than to offer you security, and every ounce of love that you deserve.” Beau ran his hand through his hair and clicked his tongue. “I once thought that I knew what love was. Maybe once I did, but over time the meaning began to take on a more twisted from. I thought that I had forgotten what it was for a very long time, but the more time I spent with you, I found myself rediscovering what it feels like. Each day, the feeling is stronger and I find myself smiling a lot more often…”

“That’s the truth!” William hollered from his seat, earning a scattered chuckle from our seated friends.

Beau nodded and sighed. “I love you, Lotus, and I vow to take care of you and our family. I want nothing more than to see you smile every day and to have you beside me. Having you in my life has brought back the warmth I lost in my heart. And to answer your question,” he spoke, slowing down his speech, “you have found that someone, because he too can’t think of a life where you don’t exist.”

I could have started bawling at any moment, but feeling Beau squeeze my hand, he kept me focused on the last step before we would finally be married. The final thing that had to be done before I would finally be able to shed the Everglow name from my existence.

William and Mai walked up to us to hand us our rings which we would exchange.

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Beau, signaling he would go first, raised the ring in his hand and cleared his throat. “Lotus Everglow, with this ring I vow to love and cherish you till time ceases to exist. I will be nothing but a good man to you no matter if the day will be good or bad. So, now I ask you, do you take my name as yours and allow me to be your husband?”

Not even allowing a moment of silence to settle between our voices, I grinned widely and nodded. “I do!”

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Raising Beau’s ring when he finally slid mine onto my finger, I inhaled and rubbed his hand with my thumb, repeating the lines that he had recited, only leaving out the request for him to take my name. Once again, there was little hesitance as Beau spoke “I do”.

The relief that washed over me was incredible. I felt light, new, and the joy bubbling inside of me was much more than our child softly reminding me of its presence. I was no longer a part of my family’s history. I was no longer to be followed by the shadow of my past, but to be led towards a light of new memories and experiences that would only be shaped by me and my husband.

“Come on,” Ellie shouted from the back. “Seal the deal, ya softies!”

Vlad turned around quickly to glance at her before returning his gaze to us. “Yeah! Go on, kiss your bride, Beau!”

Soon, nearly everyone began to happily chant their desire for Beau and I to finally share our first kiss as husband and wife. Truth be told, I was not complaining. I could not wait.

“Now, I’m not doing this because they’re telling me to,” Beau chuckled and pulled me in close to him. “Only because I’ve been waiting for so long…”

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Without waiting a moment longer, I felt our lips collide in a hunger that was satisfied by our touch. I could have remained there with my arms wrapped wound around him for hours, but even then we had to find a moment to pause as our ceremony was only part of the event. We still had so much ahead for that evening, which included an activity that I had looked forward to since we began planning the precise details of our wedding. There were so many mortal customs that we considered, but there was one that did not truly remain with wedding customs. Despite it being used for many other reasons, I found it symbolic to our relationship and perhaps even a good omen for our future. It was the release of paper lanterns, which would light up the sky.

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Beau and I released our own before others were given the chance to join in.

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To us, the lanterns were a symbol of the disappearance of our worries. They were a sign of a fresh start to the new life we would have together. Seeing that beauty light up the sky, I truly felt the new beginning grace my being. The past that I had feared, the ominous memories that kept my broken psyche company were not to tread across the line of my new chapter.

When it came time to move, no one really hesitated in leaving their seats to head back inside. Those who came together, stuck together, and the kids were in a group all on their own–one that Mai and Mia gladly led. I was doing my best make sure that everyone was comfortable and going where they were supposed to, but even then I had a habit of forgetting that this day was not about me doing things for others, but merely enjoying the day with my husband. My lips curled at the fact that Beau being my husband was now a conscious thought, and no longer a fantasy.

“Don’t make me drag you in there,” Beau joked, linking his arm with mine. “You okay?” He asked, gently placing his hand on the bow that rested overly stomach.

“I am alright,” I assured him before taking a step forward. “A little lost in thought, perhaps, but it is nothing of an ill matter. I am,” I paused briefly, “I am happy…”

Pleased, he smirked and nodded towards the doorway that our guests were still filing into. At this point I did not need him to tell me that we were needed inside. After all, we would finally be able to say hello to everyone and thank them for coming. To others, not having close family or friends come to a wedding might have been slightly upsetting. Even in the case of immortals. Having loved ones regardless of occult type was always pleasant. In my case, I did not have anyone else but my children and Beau. My parents were gone long before my girls were born–taken by the plague that had struck Sunset Valley without the curse of immortality attached to their beings. Then there was my brother. Luca was—I did not find myself associating with him as I used to. After all that he had put me through, I was prepared to leave him behind as I did my surname the moment Beau’s lips touched mine. Despite not having many close people beside me, I was welcomed into the lives of those who knew Beau. His friends accepted me as his partner, and even asked to spend time with me. Friendship was so foreign to me, as even in my mortal life, I knew little of such experiences.  Now I was allowed a fresh start in a new existence where I was considered accepted, a friend, and a wife.

 

{ XII }

Life or perhaps, my existence, continued to move forward after my brother’s unannounced visit. It was startling how shaken the knowledge he shared with us left me. The life that I managed to reshape for me and my children was teetering on the brink of absolute chaos. Would things really come crashing back down to the point I would be forced back into hiding?

“I won’t let anyone hurt you or your girls. I promise you that, Lotus.”

Beau’s words rang in my head for weeks. They echoed when I needed comfort. His voice was so sure and it often did being the wave of paranoia down. It was my remedy when my hands shook while performing everyday tasks, like when I did the laundry, or even washed the dishes.

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The method of remembering his kind words worked from time to time, although lately the result of my worries ended up with them coming right back up as a puddle of plasma and other remnants of things that I ate. It never failed to startle me when I spent moments watching the bright, iron-smelling liquid spread across the plates I recently washed.

“Oh…” I hummed, no longer quite as taken back as I was the first time it happened weeks ago. I did not spend much time pondering the source of my accident, but reached to tear off a piece of a paper towel and wiped my mouth. If my worries did not need to be so prominent in order to cause this, then I truly had to me more careful.

“Mom?”

My daughter’s voice jerked me away from my inquisitive trance and suddenly resulted in me turning the faucet on. The water spewed till the sink was full of steam and bubbles from the dish soap that I poured in. Mortals would have flinched at the heat, but to my chilled skin, the boiling water felt pleasantly warm.

“Mom? Are you busy?” She asked again before being joined by her twin, who stopped with her hand immediately plastered to her nose.

“What the heck is that smell?!”

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The last thing that I wanted was unneeded concern from my daughters, so I had to pull off my accident as innocently as I possibly could. After all, after being around for centuries, I should have picked up some tricks to have up my sleeve. However, I had to admit that it was not every day that I tried to cover up something such as me throwing up in the kitchen sink. First trick was to avoid the question all together, but I did not raise my girls to give up.

Mai and Mia walked to me while keeping a distance since the acidic aroma was still quite ripe in the air. “Seriously, Mom,” Mia whimpered through her hand. “Did something happen?”

My stomach began to turn once more and I definitely felt my nerves starting a riot inside of me. So, I moved to my second trick: a simple fabrication of something that didn’t quite exist.

“It is,” I chirped to keep myself from stammering uncontrollably. “It is a new cleaning product that I picked up at the store earlier today.”

“It sure doesn’t smell clean,” Mai mentioned, who then too brought her hands up to her nose while I continued to work on flushing the acidic matter down the drain. What unfortunate timing for this accident. It only took several moments for my daughter’s to stop questioning what had happened in the kitchen.

I was saved from further interrogation, but I knew that for sure once I noticed that Mai was not standing empty-handed. I did not need to see her to notice that, as a jingling of metal against plastic cleared the air. As I wiped my hands and turned around to look at my daughters, I braced myself for what was going to be asked of me. My girls were not so young, and I could finally see that just by looking at their mortal shells; it was still difficult to see them in anything but clothes meant to cover children—small children who looked to be no older than twelve. Now Mai and Mia were beautiful young ladies—finally matched with the growth rate of their friends.

“How may I assist you, loves?” I asked once I set down the dish cloth on the counter.

“Well, we sort of forgot to ask you to pick up something at the store when you went earlier today,” Mia twiddled her thumbs before her sister brought her arms up, flailing them about. “A poster and some more colored pencils for our project! I’m doing a grid drawing for class!”

So far I saw nothing alarming, yet I did not have to be blind to see that there was some hesitance coming from them. Meaning: from Mia. I suppose that then it truly wasn’t that shocking after all. That sweet girl was always so very timid, even once she began to age with her sister. Then maybe the immortal curse they were born with was not the cause of it, but merely her sweet personality. I did not worry about her as much as I once did. Mia was a wise girl and she never failed to impress me with her knowledge. Before my mind wandered any further, I folded my arms in front of me and waited for either of them to speak, as the words looked to be inching forward at the tip of their tongues.

“Since Dad,” Mai began before Mia nudged her firmly, “since Beau, geez, sorry,” she paused and looked back at me. “Sorry, Mom, where was I?”

The slip-up was once one that alarmed me too, but now it brought nothing more than warmth to my still heart. “Since Beau is,” I smiled, “at work?”

“Yeah!” Mai agreed. “He taught us how to drive, but we really need these supplies, and I still need an adult in the car in order to leave the house.” Then, of course, she had to use the secret weapon that all women appeared to have. Young and old. It was one that even my mother revealed to me: the batting of ones lashes. “I sure could use some more practice, Mommy…”

“But she’s very safe!” Mia added almost immediately.

I had to admit that I was never very fond of the transportation that was now more favored more than horses were. Perhaps that was a part of me that would never change, even when Beau offered to teach me. As wonderful of an instructor as Beau was, I could never truly get the hang of all the terms and buttons, and even gears that were inside the contraption. What was the difference between a neutral and a parallel park? Was one a status and the other a location? Was it something in the car? It was all a foreign tongue to me, one that I simply could not comprehend no matter how hard I tried. Chuckling at the memory of all my attempts, I shrugged and checked to see that the sink was finally free of any acidic remnants.

“I do not see why not. I could go with you, and perhaps I could find a new substitute for this cleaning product.”

“Yes!” The girls exclaimed excitedly before I could cut in with my finger wagging.

“As long as our younger driver,” I said, directing my conditions to Mai, “is careful. You do know how queasy I gel. All the stopping and turning is much different from Crescent and Luna.”

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The girls agreed without even making a fuss, which was a great relief. Before we could head out, the girls realized that they had to run up to their room to double-check which supplies they needed. That gave me the opportunity to excuse myself to the restroom. The memory of nausea spells in the car was not all that distant. In fact, it was no older than two weeks—the first time I was a passenger in the car that my daughter was driving. That too was the reason I chose to stay behind when she went off the practice with Beau. Upon walking into the restroom, I noticed the brown paper bag I had acquired earlier day from my most recent excursion to the general store. I did not bother peeking inside to remind myself what I had purchased, as a recommendation by the sales associate after I listed off the symptoms I was experiencing, mainly my repeating nausea spells. They could have pointed to many things, including the stresses that sprawled over my shoulders. It did not have to be…that. I pulled back the paper bag to catch a glance of my purchase—several boxes that were stacked high. The boxes were left unopened, and I had no intention of changing that. “That is nonsense,” I uttered before I heard my name being called from downstairs. “I am fine; I feel perfectly alright,” I continued to chant to myself. “I am not sick at all, and this car ride will not bother me one bit.”

I could only hope.

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Once we were settled in the car with Mai behind the wheel, me in the passenger’s seat, and Mia buckled safely in the back seat, we were ready to head out. After several attempts at backing away from the curb where the car was left since the last time it was driven. Mai got back into her own zone after a few miles, and relatively smooth sailing commenced. She appeared comfortable in her seat enough to glance back at her sister in the mirror hanging in the front. They talked the entire way while all I could focus on was the road ahead of us, not the conversation surrounding the young boy that their friend was having difficulty with, or even the modern tunes on the radio that Mai turned on. From time to time I would reach to my lap and pull back, only to realize that I was sitting inside a car and not on a horse, so pulling back on my imaginary reins was not exactly anticipated by anyone of this time. Thankfully the occasional startling halts at intersections, which were followed by a quick apology from the driver, did not cause my stomach to flip. I certainly did not want to leave a mess in the car that Beau helped the girls pick out. But deep down I knew that it would not be alright for long if we would continue driving that way. Then it had occurred to me that the light of the mid-afternoon that we left in was slowly turning into the early evening. The sun descended from its post above the towering edifices of Bridgeport into a bright orb that traveled and touched down on the horizon that was now adorned  with the final brightness of a setting sun.

“Mai,” I spoke, but her attention as not yet grasped by my voice. “Sweetheart,” I said once more. “Forgive if I am incorrect, but this does not seem like it is the way to the store. Goodness, even I do not know where we are.” Like Beau once instructed in case of emergencies, I poked at the screen that illuminated the time. “Shall we ask the voice in the car, the GPS, to help guide us to the store, or perhaps even home?” Goodness, we sure did spend a long time in that car. What if Beau was already home? I did not leave a note to let him know we were out of the house.

Mai and even Mia did not seem alarmed. Frankly, they looked so much more at ease than I ever did in a car.

“Girls?”

“It’s okay, Mom,” Mai finally spoke, signaling that she was going to turn. “I just wanted to get some practice before I was going to drop you off.” Before I knew it, the car stopped across from a place I never recalled seeing. And there I thought that I saw all there was to see in the bust city. Only this place was not in the heart of busy streets and loud cars. It was remote, peaceful, and goodness, so beautiful. “This is your stop, Mom,” my daughter smiled and unlocked the door for me.

“What do you mean?”

Mia poked her head between the seats and placed her hand on my shoulder. “We can’t exactly say anything. Plus, we don’t really know.”

“We’re only the messengers!” Mai giggled. “Don’t worry. You’re safe. Beau instructed us to do this.”

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Beau? I was puzzled even after stepping out of the car to get a better look at where I was dropped off by my daughters. Goodness, I could barely wrap my mind around its beauty. It was a garden that blossomed with such breathtaking colors. There were emeralds of different shades, and even crimsons, and azure hues that highlighted petals. Then there were fountains that accompanied nature’s finest work of art with the soundtrack of water trickling, splashing peacefully. I was at a loss of words as I stepped deeper into the garden. The shaded walkway created by the pergola nearly brought tears to my eyes, for something so beautiful once caught my eye centuries ago. It had been a long time since I set foot on land like that. As I reached to dab the corner of my eye with the back of my hand, I found the culprit behind my extended car ride.

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“You made it.”

“It appears that I have,” I started, stepping closer only to have Beau join me halfway. “You scheduled this? Goodness, Beau, I was afraid that we were lost. We just kept driving and driving to the point even I knew that we were nowhere near the store.”

“The store? That’s what they said?” Beau began to chuckle before reaching to stroke my cheek with his thumb. Soon after he apologized for their white lie, which I truly did not mind all that much. It brought me to the man who often made me forget that my heart was dormant. “How was Mai’s driving,” he asked, “last time I had her work on her turning, so it’s a bit more smooth.”

“Rather bumpy still, but she does have a great teacher, so it should not be long before she improves, I’m sure…” After answering, I turned my head from him and continued to look around the garden. I was still so in awe of the beauty that now surrounded us. “This is a beautiful garden, Beau…”

“Really?” He smirked and reached down to take my hand in his. There was always a moment of peace when I felt his fingers lace with mine. “Then let’s go for a walk, hmm? I know I’ve been a bit busy with school, but I thought that it would be nice for us to spend some time alone.”

How could I reject him when I agreed completely? Beau had been distant for some time after my brother’s visit, and I missed him terribly. It was not only because I was afraid to be alone with the nerves that rattled my brain into a state of absolute restlessness, but because his company was cherished. So we chose to stay in the garden, walking hand-in-hand. From time to time I would look past him and grin happily at the sight of a flower I recognized. There were so many! From lilies to sunflowers, and even lotuses blossoming in the water—the garden was full of the purest beauty. Much of it felt like a flashback to a past I feared I had forgotten.

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“What are you laughing at?” Beau asked, reaching to brush my hair away with his lips.

“This is all so familiar,” I began. “I used to visit places like this when I was mortal. I was such a rebellious young girl back then, and it infuriated my mother. Her face, I can no longer see it clearly, but I will never forget her words. She feared that I would never find a good husband because I chose to ride horses instead of attending my etiquette classes regularly.”

“You were a little rebel?”

“Hush now,” I giggled. “The times were much different, correct?”

Beau nodded and apologized quietly with a soft peck on my cheek. “They sure were.”

I smiled and squeezed his hand. “But my mother would not rest. She wanted me married off to a man of great status. With Luca refusing ever hand from the young ladies in our area, my mother wanted at least one of us to have a good foundation for the rest of our lives. Every month of so, my mother would respond to offers and put me in this,” I motioned with the free hand I had to depict the image of a plump garb I once had to wear, “ridiculous getup!”

“Must have looked pretty darn cute,” Beau commented, but I continued.

“I would meet with my possible suitor and our parents would allow us a moment alone. Many of those moments were spent walking down paths in a garden, but none of them were quite like this.”

“They weren’t?”

I shook my head slowly and stopped once we reached the shaded walkway that Beau led me to once more. “Not at all. They were beautiful, but my walks were never shared with someone who made my heart race. And now I stand beside you, after I lost the right to feel that warmth, only to feel more than I ever felt in my entire existence.” I felt the sudden rush of emotion envelop me. Words came rushing out without me even thinking about them, but they did not seem inappropriate as Beau’s lips only pulled back to show off his brilliant ivories. “For once I feel comfortable in my own skin and it is because of you. I do not think I have ever loved another man this way.” I did not mention it, but I knew and understood the magnitude of my feelings for the man smiling at me. These feelings surpassed those that I felt for Mai and Mia’s father, Wesley. When Beau was near me I felt fear stripped from my body, only leaving my body to be embraced Beau’s kindness and admiration. It was comforting. When I finished, I waited for Beau to speak, but he tugged on my hand and had me follow him closer to the benches before he let go of me. Perhaps I did say too much.

“That’s really nice to hear, Lo,” He said, taking a couple of steps forward before turning back around. “It’s nice to know I’m not the only one just trying my best to stay focused around you.”

“O-of course not, love.”

I watched him approach me with his eyes fixed on mine. He stopped in front of me and cupped my face in his hands before he silenced any possible question that could have slipped past my lips with a kiss that sent the same energy that I felt each time his lips touched mine. It was something inexplicable that made everything seem so unimportant when we kissed. That magnetic energy was only felt with him. And us not needing to breathe only meant that we didn’t have to stop, but Beau must have found the reason, because for once we pulled away before I did. He looked down with his forehead resting against my neck. Part of me worried, but I did hear him smirk against my skin before he kissed the crimson mark I once dreaded.

“You are truly one of a kind, Lotus,” he whispered as returned his gaze to me.

“Is that a good thing?” I asked.

Beau’s lips spread only wider and he stepped back, slowly beginning to shake his head. “You know, I came here early and even spent weeks trying to perfect what I want to say to you.” He rubbed his chin gingerly and paused. “Yet one look at you, or even the quietest chirp of your voice leaves me to find my words again.”

Beau appeared to be so collected since the moment I met him, but there was something about him in that moment that made him look vulnerable. It was touching, but I did not know what to do. Should I step forward? Reach out to touch his shoulder?  Instead of doing any of that, Beau walked to me and held my hands. Though our skin was chilled and our bodies were without a pulse, I liked to imagine that I would feel warmth in his touch, and that our hearts would beat rapidly when we would be together.

“I’ve been around for a really long time, Lotus, but I have to say that this is the first time in a long that I felt well, like this. I thought I would give up on this thing people here still desire, but meeting you changed my mind.”

“Beau, love…”

“That’s just it,” he muttered. “I’m in love with you, Lotus Everglow. Meeting you was some strange chance occurrence, but it has been the best thing that has happened to me in years. I swear it. Y-you do this to me,” He motioned to his shaking hands. “I want to make you feel safe and beautiful. You deserve to see that every day without hiding. The moment you showed yourself to me—just,” He forced himself to exhale and kept his eyes on me while he decreased in size. It only took me a moment to realize that he was now down on one knee.

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I wanted to say something, anything, but I could not produce a single sound!

Clearing his throat, I noticed Beau reach into his pocket to retrieve something that I could not see just yet, and his hold on my hand loosened completely.

“I thought about this for quite some time, and I finally mustered the courage to go through with it. Having you with me has been amazing, Lotus. You and your girls have brightened up so much in my life. I don’t find a need to spend hours sitting at a bar and just watching the days go by. I can get up and smile when I see you.” He suddenly stopped and laughed, partially to himself. “I may put on this rough and tough exterior, but you’ve touched the tenderness I still have. The more human part that hasn’t gone away.”

I allowed my lips to tighten, afraid that a single sound would cause me to break down.

“And here I thought I wouldn’t get all soft and cheesy…”

“I-I like the ‘cheesy’ you speak of, Beau,” I quickly uttered. “I-I do.”

Beau finally brought his hand forward in my direction and cleared my throat before revealing a ring, the object he was hiding from me only moments prior.

“I’m just going to do this now before I stumble over any other words. I love you, Lo, and I promise that I will keep you and your children safe, and I also promise to love you. I don’t want to spend the rest of eternity with anyone else but you. What do you say?” He smiled and locked his eyes on mine after noticing my trembling lips. “Will you marry me, Lotus?”

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I stared at him, but I did not even distance myself to think of what happened before nodding happily through the tears that began to stream from my eyes. I extended my hand for him to take and I laughed throat the tears when I felt his lips on my hand after he slipped the ring on. “I would want nothing more than that,” I finally yelped before Beau pulled me into his arms and squeezed me harder than I anticipated. We were bought laughing by that point and I swore that I could feel his excitement seeping into my skin. I felt…alive. That was until I felt the all too familiar twisting and turning in my stomach. Beau did not notice as he was still occupied with swaying our bodies from side to side. His excitement was prominent, but so was my need to empty the contents of my stomach, which I thought, by now, would be nonexistent.

“O-oh goodness,” I quickly slipped from Beau’s grasp and ran in the opposite direction, holding my hand over my mouth. Oh, how I hoped that the ill feeling, probably brought on by all the emotion, would settle and allow me a peaceful evening. Sadly, it did not. In one brisk heave, I decorated a plant with blood that was mixed in with my stomach’s contents.

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Wonderful…

Beau did not wait for me to say anything before rushing to my side and making the decision for both of us that it was probably time that we went back home. It certainly was an exciting evening, but I was not able to get out of Beau’s very own interrogation to see if I was alright. What could I say? Even I did not know if I was okay anymore. After a while he ceased to question me and only did his best to make me feel better till the taxi he ordered took us home, where he said he would take good care of me. I wanted to believe him, but I was not sure that there would be anything that he could do. So the moment that we walked inside, I quickly excused myself to pay the restroom a visit. Only this time was not quite as elegant. I did not walk up calmly, but ran as quickly as I could in the shoes I was wearing. Halfway up the stairs, I felt another wave of nausea hitting me.

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“God, no!” I yelped before rushing into the restroom and quickly closing the door, trying to make as little noise as possible, but that proved to be futile when I dropped to my knees and quite literally stuck my head in the bowl of the porcelain throne. The intensity of my sickness drained me, more than anything I ever experienced. After I was given a moment to rest, I turned to rest my back and wiped the corners of my mouth with my thumb and index finger. As I sat I looked to the paper bag still sitting on the sink. I knew it was wild thought, but what else could I do. I had to explore the possibilities and only hope that the woman in the store was wrong. I slowly got back to my feet and locked the bathroom door and walked to the wink after I unzipped my dress and allowed it to fall to the ground. The less obstacles the better when it came to dealing with the strange technology I was recommended. I took out a box from the bag and frowned at the printed label: “Early Response Pregnancy Test”. I blinked for a moment, calculating just how absurd it was that I even considered the recommendation, but in a moment of desperation, I tore open the box, and then another, and even another before making my way to the toilet, which appeared to be a requirement to conduct these tests.

“Lotus?” I heard Beau call from beyond the door.

I was locked up in the bathroom much longer than I usually was, so I suppose I understood the concern, but I did not want to come out. I looked like a mess sitting on the floor with several little white sticks scattered on the sink and even the floor. What would Beau think of me if he saw that? I had my order, but in that moment everything shattered. Each test had the same result that I had to check the instruction manual to see if I perhaps read it incorrectly. That was not the case.

“Lo, hun, are you alright? I heard you well,” He paused, “throw up. Everything okay?”

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“I do not know, Beau,” I managed to speak once I made myself comfortable against a wall. My answer did not promote further questions. Instead the door clicked and opened slowly to find him standing with nothing but worry on his face. He did not look at the mess around me, but at the lack of excitement. Goodness, it was only a little bit ago that I felt like I was on top of my world. Beau approached me and slowly transferred his attention to the scattered pregnancy tests. He picked one up and his lips parted. I could not see how upset he was because I immediately bowed my head and sniffled.

“You’re pregnant?” He asked quietly.

“So the sticks I urinated on assume.” I did not want to say anything more, because I did not know what to expect. The last time I found out I was expecting was not exactly a moment that was celebrated. My brother called me names which I could never force out. He made me feel like I did a bad thing. Not once did I receive support or even a touch of admiration. So how could I expect something else?

Sensing the sadness in my voice, Beau squatted down and reached out to link his finger with one of mine. He was not frowning or even fuming. Instead, he was smiling as if he heard a joke. “How many of these tests did you take?”

“S-seven.”

“Seven!?” Beau nearly fell back on his rear and chortled. “How much Sunny-D did you need to drink to help you take those? Holy smokes, three gallons at least!”

I stared at him, confused. “What is this ‘Sunny’?” I truly had no clue what it was he was talking about, yet when his brows furrowed, I felt like it was a simple human fact that I should have been familiar with.

“You don’t know what Sunny-D is?”

I shook my head.

“It’s orange juice, silly gal. I’ll definitely have to get some for you. Now, come on,” he smiled, leaning over to wipe my tears away that continued to flow without me evening making a sound. “Why are you crying like that?”

“B-because I am with child…” I covered my face and felt the heavy sobs rattle me only moments before I felt Beau settle beside me with his arms immediately wrapped around my shoulder. My crying did not cease, but Beau did not rush me. He did not silence me with a kiss, but simply allowed me a moment to do what I wanted. Soon I turned my head to find him watching me with nothing but the same love I saw at the garden. “Y-you are smiling? Why?”

He smiled, kissing my exposed shoulder, and allowed his free hand to venture to my stomach. There was not much to feel, but he still kept it there. I understood his gesture, but it still felt so foreign. There was no negativity coming from him. Only love.

“Beau?” I whispered.

“Because I didn’t think that this day could get any better. This is great news, Lotus,” He grinned against my skin before kissing my forehead. “Now I understand why you’ve been ill, Lotus, but why all the tears?”

To be honest, I was in awe of his reaction. He kissed me and smiled? This was all so different. I adjusted my posture and wiped my eyes—turning to face him. His smile was still present and his eyes did not leave mine, only to glance at my stomach from time to time. “I-I do not know what to say. Y-you are not upset?”

“Why the hell would I be upset about something so great?” He grinned.

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For a moment the bathroom fell silent. It was completely still as neither of needed to breathe. I thought about my response and finally spoke quietly. I explained to him how my first pregnancy was a nightmare. I was alone. My brother abandoned me and the father of my children was killed by my hand, because of my hunger. Then I was afraid that I would not make it. After all, I had to deliver twins on my own when I could barely keep my head up from the bone-breaking pain. It was then that Beau’s smile faded slowly and he helped me up to my feet, only to have me sit down on the bench. His fingers tangled in my hair and I felt his lips touch the top of my head.

“I’m not upset, Lotus. I’m happy.” His hands trailed down to my chin, so he could motion for me to look up at him. “I don’t love you any less than I did when I proposed to you. If anything, I love you more. I thought it was a great day when you said yes to me, but this?” He chuckled and kissed me. His lips were soft against mine, but he pulled away soon after. “Things are just falling into place for us, Lo. Whatever your brother said is wrong. You’re beautiful and what happened is nothing that we can’t handle. I’ll be here for you, for your daughters, and the little one you’re pregnant with.” Touching my lips gingerly with his thumb, Beau gave me quick wink and motioned to the door. “I’m going to go downstairs for some wash cloths, okay? You can stay up here, because I’ll be right back with a blanket, some warm towels, and a bucket for you.” Once he was at the door, he scratched his head and nodded slowly. “Congratulations, Lotus. This is wonderful news. It truly is.”

When Beau left the room, everything felt so surreal. Beau was happy that I was pregnant. We were now engaged and I truly did have to admit that nothing felt out of place. My situation was still rather frightening, but having Beau beside me gave me some peace of mind.

This time I would not have to face the most frightening experience on my own. This time I would not be treated like a tainted woman, but one who would be loved as a mother, and, goodness, a wife. My eyes still watered at the thought, but inside me I felt the ache I once felt in the past slowly begin to fade. New memories would be made. For once things in my life were beginning to make sense. Things were finally falling into place, and I was slowly beginning to accept the happiness that I never thought that I deserved.

{ XI }

~*~Luca’s Point of View~*~

“Brother, is that you?”

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When I felt my body surging with emotion that peaked at red-hot rage, I felt it all drop in an instant. It was cut off at the sound of the voice that matched the scent I recognized, that was entwined in the stitching of Beau’s shirt.  It was in his hair, his skin, and even on his breath. All the things that were racing in my mind were swept aside when I saw her. Finally the scent matched the body of the pale skinned female. My sister, Lotus.

“It is you, L-Luca?” She stammered, stumbling closer with her arms extending to me. As eager as she was to approach me, she shut down as my anger did only moments prior. “How is this possible? Brother, I thought you were dead!”

I stepped forward just as she took several steps back, back against Beau who looked even more pissed off just having me in his view. The guy made it seem like I was some diseased animal. There was no surprise that Lotus was bewildered at my arrival, but I mean it was good news, wasn’t it? After years of running, hiding, and changing my identity to remain undetectable in the system, I knew I had to stop. After losing so much, I had to find the one woman who meant everything to me.

“Sister…”

“I asked you a question, Luca!” She shouted through her tears that were soon wiped with Beau’s finger. “How is it that you are standing in our home!? You were buried, were you not?! A-after Miss Ophelia–were you not going to take a cure to set yourself free and leave me all alone?” Her bottom lips trembled and her eyes left mine completely.

“I can explain everything, Lo, I can,” I spoke, approaching her slowly even after I noticed that Beau wrapped his arm around her shoulder like some sort of protective gesture. Why would she need protecting when I would never hurt her? “It’s still me, sister,” I muttered loud enough for her to hear me. Slowly, her head did turn back to me and her glowing orbs pierced me with another jolt of emotion that I thought I would never feel again. Not since walking out of that barn, centuries ago.

Lotus continued to look at me as if she had seen a ghost despite the fighting urge she had to smile. It resulted in a quick twitch that displayed her pointed canines. I guess it did make sense. I did leave quite a large headline in the papers declaring my demise, but clearly that wasn’t the case anymore. I was back in Bridgeport only because I sensed her after steering myself away from her no matter how painful it was for me as time went on. Existing in a world I didn’t belong in was much worse when I couldn’t run back to her and apologize.

I fucked up over the years and it cost me the relationship I had with my sister. Even when we were mortal, we were close–the best of friends, really. And as things began to crumble around us once immortality changed everything, I made the foolish mistake of distancing myself from her. Damn it, I never wanted that–anything but that. Dealing with that emptiness became easier as time went on, as I managed to meet fellow night-dwellers up until now. The excitement was taking me whole. I was trembling at the very sigh of her. My sisters beauty did not falter, for time had not touched her, and the harsh conditions of city life that I struggled with many years ago appeared to have left her untouched as well. Her hair was also much shorter than it was the last time I saw her in person, but her eyes were the same. The same sparkle behind the glow was there and I could see it when she fought back another wave of tears.

After all those years of wandering around Bridgeport and other cities across the country, I could feel every emotion that I never truly stopped feeling for my sister begin to swell. If my heart could beat, it would probably threaten to burst through my chest. When we were finally at arms reach, I didn’t wait for her to stumble forward into me. The jerk of my body sent me towards her with arms ready to wrap tightly around her small frame.

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It took her by surprise that I acted so impulsively, but I wasn’t going to wait any longer when she was so close. Thankfully she didn’t fight back. I guess our connection was still there. I was still her brother from all those years ago. Beau didn’t take it quite as well, but he kept his distance. Good. He had no right to tear me from her when he was just a fill-in. I understood Lotus better than anyone ever would.

“I-I thought you were gone, Luca. I could no longer sense you after I heard…” Lotus sniffled and brought her hands to my back where I could feel her slender fingers wrap around my jacked–pulling herself closer against me. “Hundreds of years, brother. You were pronounced deceased; you no longer existed, yet here you are holding me as if you never left me.”

Taking in her scent, I allowed the aroma to intoxicate me. Between the distracting grunts coming from behind me, I ran my hand over her head. The strands of her hair that were never coated with cheap dye were soft to the touch and tangled around my fingers easily. After keeping quite when she finished speaking, I brought both my hands to her shoulders. The tension between us kept us stiff, but hearing me force a sigh loosened the knots and made her look back up at me. “I couldn’t lose you, Lotus,” I whispered as I continued to take in the scent I missed. Her hair smelled of flowers. It was different, but everything else was the same. Her skin was the same porcelain color I remembered and she felt the same in my arms, like she always did even before I stole her privilege of mortality.

“Luca,” She mumbled slowly.

That single moment brought every emotion over the edge. Everything I ever felt came rushing back like an electrifying stampede over my still heart. When she pulled back from me with a small smile that she would soon direct at the outsider beside us, I found my eyes quickly bolting down to her lips that continued to tremble excitedly. Yes, they were for me. The excitement was finally for me!

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Before Lotus could step any closer to Beau, I pulled her down to me again. My grasp was much more firm on her than it was only moments ago, but I couldn’t help it. I couldn’t keep my feelings aside any longer, the feelings I stored away for as long as I could remember. Hell, even when we were still breathing. With all other thoughts aside, I guided my sisters face back to mine where I could finally gaze at her plump lips that I then planted my own on. I closed my eyes and moved my parted lips against hers just like I always imagined I would. I imagined it would feel amazing, but never did I imagine the jolt of ecstasy shooting up my spine. Hell, for a moment I could swear I remembered what it felt like to have a beating heart, to be alive.

“Mph! S-stop!” She whimpered before forcing her small hands between us. I was given that one moment to thrust all of my feelings at her in that single kiss. It was a great one, really, yet she continued to push me off. “B-brother!” She yelped loudly before the indescribable sensation was torn away from me by her.

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Lotus stood shaking in front of me while waving her arms around frantically. For a few moments she was speechless, but her silence then turned to a stuttered need for an explanation as Beau quickly rushed to her side, ready to make a move. That wouldn’t be necessary, of course, not when I would finally tell her how I always felt about her–since the very beginning! All those times that we spent in the barn and even as far as when we were growing up. I could still remember the sensation of my blood rushing to my cheeks when I found her bathing. Everything just continued to develop as we got older. Now–now things could be different.

“What has gotten into you, brother? Are you ill?” She screeched, stepping back when I started advancing towards her again. “N-no! Do not touch me, you murderer!”

It was the first time she ever referred to me as that. I needed to look past her label for me. No, she would have to understand that I wasn’t bad. I-I wasn’t!

Instead of being allowed another chance to kiss her the way I remembered that pathetic mortal man did, I was faced with a hateful glare from the man I once believe I could all my friend. He swiftly moved my sister back behind him and stood between us like some sort of guard. His nostrils flared like a bull but I wasn’t going to let him intimidate him, so I stepped forward with my arms folded across my chest.

“Step aside,” I hissed, “can’t you see I’m back? Lotus won’t be needing you around anymore.”

Beau didn’t budge even after I stepped forward, standing with his face only a foot away.

“You think you’re worthy of even laying a single finger on her? Beau, old friend, I’ve known her much longer than you have. And as much as I hate even smelling her sweet scent on you, I’m willing to ignore that if you leave now.”

Now, I expected Beau to say something to challenge me. After all, it appeared that he made himself too comfortable with my Lotus to walk away without a fight. What actually occurred made me cease to assume anything else. Instead of words I received a swift blow to my face by a firm fist without a word of warning. I could feel each knuckle make contact with my cool skin as I stumbled back, completely forgetting just how strong he was. From my past experiences with him, I should’ve known. I had to remember how swift his movements were when provoked. As it appeared, I was blinded with the vision behind him enough to ignore Beau’s wrathful temperament. Definitely a bad call on my behalf. One blind moment won me a busted lip from one single blow to the face.

Before I could even rebound after his attack, Beau forced me forward by the collar. He snarled and shook me without his eyes leaving mine. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing, huh?” He questioned me without even allowing me to continue as he started up again. “Who the fuck do you think you are coming in here, coming back into her life after you fucked things up for everyone?!”

To remind me of the guilt that still lingered within my flesh, I returned the heated energy. Building up enough of it, I shoved him back as the answer lingered at the tip of my tongue, well, at least one of the answers that tied into my presence.

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“Because I love her, you son of a bitch!” I shouted, swinging my arms at him like a drunken fool. My accuracy was off and I did nothing more than graze my fist against his shoulder. But even that small touch made him pummel me with a flurry of punches to my face, my gut and upper chest. I could barely keep up to dodge or block his hits while he continued to growl.

“She’s your sister, you fucking disturbed piece of shit!”

After the struggle of waiting for a window of opportunity, I shoved Beau back enough to throw a couple of punches in–only missing his body once. It was then that I heard the first yelp from the other being in the room. She cried out with such distressed in her voice that everything ached, but maybe it wasn’t because she was crying, but because she showed no concern. No, she continued to gasp out the name of my opponent.

“Please, stop it!” She cried after Beau assured her that everything would be okay. “Stop it, Luca! This is wrong! This is so wrong!”

When I heard the pain and hell, even fear in her voice, I wanted nothing more than to tell her it was okay and that I wasn’t as bad as she was making me out to see. Why couldn’t see how much I loved her and how good it would be? Yes, she was my sister, but could I really help the way I felt? The need to act overcame me, but Beau threw me against the cabinet once more and then again–hard enough to knock down the coat rack in the corner. I hissed at him, showing off my own canines when I reached to go to Lotus. If he was going to continue to fight me off, then I wouldn’t back down either! Of course, my chance of even getting there was taken when my scalp began to sting. At first it was nothing  more than a single sting, but it became much more in a split second. The sensation escalated into painful pinching that threatened to tear the hair straight off of my head.

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Beau’s hand wound around my hair and pulled me back acrimoniously, like a goddamn rag doll, against the wall . Picture frames detached from the nails that held them up and hanging keys rattled with each thrust of my body against the wall.

By that point I was actually coughing. See, being on the run, I avoided being the center of attention wherever I ended up. To support myself, I ended up taking jobs in places where they didn’t ask much more than if I wanted the job or not. Because of that, I rarely had to fend of assholes throwing me against walls. All I could do since I didn’t have the strength to break my head free from Beau’s grasp, I lean my head back and spit on him.

Chuckling, I relaxed my shoulders and groaned, licking the blood flowing down from my swollen lip. “I know her, B-Beau. You know I could be a better lover.”

The intensity in his grip skyrocketed and my body was flung back against the wall that was now sporting an unflattering crack from each collision with my head.

“You,” Beau growled, forcing my head against the wall repeatedly. “You touch her again and I will find a way to end you.” With one final growl, my head collided with the wall; the spider-web crack doubled in size and for the first time in centuries–the light disappeared and I felt my body sinking, losing all animation in my limbs.

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“Is-Is he dead, Beau?”

“No. Just knocked out,” He exhaled sharply. “Love, are you okay? What the hell got into him?”

“I truly do not know; I never knew. He never did anything like this, not even when we were young children. What must be we do now? Oh, Beau, this is not good, is it?”

“Let’s leave him for now, okay? This was a lot to deal with all at once, so let me take care of you tonight. I won’t let him worry you like this. You’ll be alright with me, Lotus. That’s a promise I intend to keep…”

~*~

When you don’t have a pulse, you don’t sleep. Shut-eye doesn’t really exist for immortals, but for the first time in centuries, I could say that I remembered what it was like. Everything was dark and it lasted much longer than if I only closed me eyes to clear my mind. Nah, I probably had the shit beaten out of me enough to actually knock me out. Couldn’t say that I was happy about that especially since I awoke to a pounding headache. Sure did feel like my brain was swelling, but I was bound to heal.

Always did.

After lounging around with my head against the glass of a picture frame, I forced myself up to my feet. The front of the house was empty and I couldn’t hear much. Very nice, Beau. You left your old pal downstairs like trash. I scoffed and wandered away from the mess that we made during the stupid brawl.

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No one was around to even notice that I was up and walking, which meant that I was given the chance to look around the house. Everything looked organized like a home. It was no barn and definitely no cheap apartment, like the one I had with my ex-wife. This place was a home that Beau seemed to have made himself too comfortable in. The sight of their “family” pictures made me wrinkle my nose–the pinch of immense jealousy took over. He knew I had a sister; he knew me! Why did he even talk to her? Now he reeked of her scent and it made me–it made me sick! That’s what it did. What right did he have to touch her, to love her?

Feeling frustrated, I looked back from the kitchen and to the stairs. My fingers wrapped tightly around the wood knob of the railing before I took my first step up the ascending staircase. I loathed the feel of home when I forget what it was like to have one. Seeing Lotus smile was everything I ever wanted, but not with the mortal and definitely not with Beau. I was merely protecting her. It was my job, wasn’t it?

The memories of what happened minutes or maybe hours ago replayed in my head. He threatened me like some knight in shining armor. He kept me from her, but Lotus had to feel something.

I reached the top of the staircase sooner than I expected. Then again, my looping thoughts kept me occupied. The place was dimly lit and there was another hall for me to walk down. Room after room that I checked out, I found no trace of my sister and Beau. Of course, that was till I heard muffled sounds coming from beyond the door at the end of the hall. These sounds were familiar. Well, the person that the sounds belonged to, at least. Noticing the door was left cracked open, I approached it slowly, avoiding any possible creaking floorboards.

“Ah! O-oooooh!” Lotus moaned loud enough to even pierce through a thick wall. Immediately, I felt my pants tighten as her pleased wail stretched for several seconds. Fuck, it had been a long time since I heard anything like that. From her, especially. It was only once that I ever saw her body moving in rhythm with another person, but I would never forget it.

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Only hearing her soon wasn’t enough for me, so I squeezed inside the room through the gap of the open door. I kept quiet while staying pressed against the wall that would keep me hidden from her. The sight of her slender body curving to Beau’s was infuriating, but I didn’t want to step in. No, not when I was presented with the sight of her breasts obeying the rules of physics–bouncing each time her hips raised and lowered over that jerk’s erection. Damn it. I couldn’t stop looking when she leaned her head back and cried out his name over and over as she led their pace. The longer I stared at her glowing flesh melding with his, the more prominent the urge to unbutton my pants became.

I bit my lip, licking off the dried blood from my mouth and held back a groan when I heard Lotus laughing at the feel of Beau’s hands fondling her milky breasts.

“Mr. Merrick, do not stop! P-please!” She giggled before she looked over her shoulder and Beau urged her to switch positions with him. It was then that I quickly slammed my back against the wall and waited for a moment before slipping out of the room. As I attempted to walk towards the staircase, I stopped. The throbbing in my pants intensified as the memories of my sisters moans and liquid motions were fresh in my mind. Replaying on a loop, I took the first turn I could make into the  bathroom where I paced around with my hands rubbing the back of my head. This was exactly like when we were little.

Yeah, when I said that I felt more for her than anyone would ever feel, I meant it. We were alone, Lotus and I. Not too many children were in our area since the estates and farms were kept pretty separate. Guess no one wanted to worry about a neighbor stealing a horse or butchering their cows as some strange revenge. Anyway, I didn’t see much in the girls around town when they were compared to my sister. I was older than her and I watched her grow. On occasion, I would find her bathing or dressing. The same lust took over me and sent me to the barn to relieve myself to the thought of my sister’s fair flesh. It continued for years, even when I was being introduced to other young women who were possible candidates for my future wife. Like, Lotus did with her male suitors, I turned them all down. Then the great sickness came and people started dropping like flies. Well, that was what we believed till I experienced it and took my sister with me. Even without a pulse, the admiration I had for Lotus never ceased. All I could do to deal with it all was to watch her and continue my pathetic routine.

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Skin against skin, I gripped my erection tightly in my hand as I fantasized about the moans I heard only moments ago. I fantasized about her skin against mine and my lips on her breasts. She must taste so sweet. I sighed at the thought and continued with the thought of laying with her as Beau was till even I couldn’t handle holding back a groan, letting her name slip softly off my tongue as I finished.

After I took care of myself, I ventured back downstairs since I figured that they would finish up sooner or later. That would also mean that sooner or later they would arrive downstairs and confront me. It was only a matter of time and I knew that well. Truth be told, I didn’t regret kissing Lotus. It was something I wanted since the very beginning, but it really wasn’t the only reason I followed a single scent of her being. I guess I just got sidetracked. Her presence never failed to do that when my being wasn’t drowning in jealousy over the lust I couldn’t satisfy.

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Soon, as expected, two figures descended the stairs. One was grinning while the other was keeping her eyes away from mine. I-I guess I understood. Did I approve? No. But I did understand. Maybe that was why I never acted on my feelings before, but I took a chance, right? Swatting the thoughts aside, I cleared my throat and tapped my hand against my head.

“Nice of you to check up on me,” I joked, offering a light-hearted chuckle.

“Not exactly in the mood to joke with you, Everglow,” Beau explained and rubbed my sister’s side before he motioned to the room I didn’t get a chance to explore. “You’ve got some explaining to do.”

“I understand that, but look, Lotus–“

“No,” Beau stopped me. “You fucked up enough for a lifetime. Now, get off our table and get in the room. No beating around the bush, got it? I ask; you answer.”

Now that I was reminded of what he was capable of, I found no reason to fight back or struggle. I was tired and reminded of the business that resurfaced, the business that brought me to Lotus. Since I couldn’t even say anything to my sister, I followed the direction given to me by Beau, to walk away from the kitchen and into a room that looked very much like an office of some sort. Without an order, I walked over to the couch and sat down. Beau and Lotus only followed when they knew which couch they wanted to occupy. Guess I really was seen as some sick pervert in their eyes. Lotus still didn’t even dare look at me, but it wasn’t her that I was allowed to focus on when Beau snapped his fingers loudly.

“Luca,” He called. “Do you plan on explaining what the fuck you’re doing here?”

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My gaze darted around the room enough to occasionally catch a glimpse of my sister. She looked so torn, like her trust was stepped on. I knew it was my fault, but I couldn’t really turn back time to fix things. Before Beau could raise  his voice, I bobbed my head slowly.

“Yes. There is a reason why I’m here.”

“Other than to have my beat the shit out of you for even laying a finger on Lotus?”

I confirmed. “W-what happened wasn’t exactly my plan, so Lo, please,” I groaned. “Yes, I do have feelings for you, but this wasn’t my intention. Not the main one, at least,” I muttered. “Something happened while I was in another town.” I finally admitted.

“Go on,” Beau urged.

Before anything, I told them of what I did for a good century after the incident in Bridgeport that involved me and the daughter of my ex-wife, Sonny. Everything spiraled out of control after that day because I became a wanted man. The police gave up eventually when I didn’t turn up after forty years. The mortals were easily convinced that I was, in fact, dead, but others began to wonder if that was truly the case. That was why I hopped towns and changed my entire being. I was a red-head in Sunlit Tides, a blond in Riverview, and brunette in Sunset Valley, and even some punk with multi-colored hair in Moonlight Falls. I changed my name and personality multiple times. By my third switch, I had gotten good enough that people didn’t question me. But I guess that wasn’t good enough when I was in Appaloosa working in a diner. People talked and I was lucky enough to hear that word that led me to skipping town again.

“Hunters showed up.”

Beau’s brows arched curiously, “Hunters?” His quirked lips flipped and I noticed his hand gripping the arm of the couch.

I confirmed. “T-they brought up my name and I had to run.”

“Why?” I finally heard the voice I longed to hear.

“Lotus…” I sighed. “Look, I–“

“You killed an innocent woman, Luca. Why are you so surprised that there are those seeking to avenge her?” Her eyes did not meet mine, but she looked forward. “You murdered her in cold blood, for you were unwilling to accept that a woman did not love you.”

“H-Hey!”

“My lover asked you a question, Luca. Answer it. Why is it you are here now if you are on the run?”

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“Noomi and Freya are dead,” I managed to force out past my lips. “My daughters were murdered by those hunters, and it’s all my fault…”

Lotus bowed her head in her hands and shook from side to side. “Innocent children…”

“Look, the reason I followed Lotus’s scent was to make sure she was safe, Beau. I was expecting her to be alone, but I guess I’m glad she isn’t. Look, the hunters aren’t exactly great, and I don’t know in how much danger my sister is in. I-I just had to make sure she was okay, because I left her before. I don’t want to lose the only person I have left,” I admitted, turning to look at Lotus only to notice that she was no longer seated, but wandering back to the fireplace on the other side of the room. All that time I heard nothing from Beau, but now I could tell that he wasn’t just listening. The man was holding himself back from tearing into my throat, more than likely. Anger burned in his eyes and I was his target. Instead of acting on the desire embedded in his gaze, Beau got up from the couch and all I could do was follow.

“Please, listen,” I begged.

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“Are you a fucking idiot?” He growled, shoving me back. “Do you know what you did by coming here? If anyone spotted you?!”

I stepped back cautiously but didn’t respond. Somehow I felt that he wouldn’t let me get a word in even if I tried.

“I told you to play it cool, didn’t I? All those years ago, I took you in when you were nothing but some newborn who couldn’t hold down a relationship. I helped you, Everglow. I helped you land a nice girl, but you fucked it up with whatever witchcraft you pulled out of your ass!” Huffing, Beau waved his hands in front of me and chuckled. No, he wasn’t amused at all. “You do realize that you really fucked up by killing that woman. She was innocent, you little shit. Because of that stupid move of yours, all of us were questioned. Every one of us in the damn city. I had to admit that I knew you and I was the one to declare that you were dead–stuck six feet under.”

“I-I thought I was going to be, but the cure,” I groaned. “It didn’t work on me.”

“Clearly. Look, I don’t need hunters on my ass and there’s no way that they’ll ever get to Lotus, got it? So don’t you even get your sick little incestuous mind wrapped around the idea that you’ll be protecting her.”

“Merrick, look, I honestly–“

“I’m not going to be cleaning up your messes, Luca. I suggest you get your shit and leave before I get a call that one of our own spotted the dumbass of our entire community.”

I guess I couldn’t really argue with him. Maybe coming to see Lotus was in fact a bad idea, but I was willing to risk it to see her again. I needed to see it with my own eyes that she was alright. As much as I didn’t want to, I knew that it was my time to leave. Part of me knew that if I walked out, then it would probably be the last time I would ever walk by that part of the city. I wouldn’t be able to risk another trip like that just to check in on her. I knew that Beau could see it in my eyes. I was willing to comply only if I could speak to my sister. He didn’t fight back, but I knew he would be watching me, so I walked back to the fireplace while I still could to see my sister rocking back and forth on the rocking chair.

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“Lo,” I started. I didn’t expect much of a response from her, but it was worth a try. If she wouldn’t respond, then at least she would hear me. I guess I hoped she would. “I know I messed up on more than one occasion. I’m sorry that I left you all those years ago and I’m sorry for what I did. I jumped head first when I kissed you, and I know you probably don’t want to even look at me, but I hope you’ll find it in your heart to forgive me,” I groaned, “one day, maybe.”

The chair creaked steadily, but she still didn’t respond or even turn to look at me.

“I’m sorry for everything, Lotus. Y-you’re my sister and I’m just sorry. Look, I’ll do whatever you want now as long as it’ll make you happy. A-anything,” I begged her. “Please, Lotus…”

“Please, leave my home.”

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I didn’t fight her on her decision. It was her home after all and I was nothing but a stranger to her now. I was supposed to be dead anyway. Beau didn’t have to walk me out, because I knew my place wasn’t beside her now that he was around. No, I wasn’t fond knowing that my old friend was sleeping with my sister, but Lotus wasn’t a kid, or a woman I could call my own.

My sins were my own, not my sister’s or Beau’s. If hunters followed me, then I would pay my dues instead of skipping town again. There just was no way that I would let anyone  else pay for my crimes.

Not again.

~*~ Lotus’s Point of View~*~

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Everything that happened in the course of less than a full day made my head spin. Nothing seemed right. The brother I once belied to be dead was still walking the Earth, and twisted enough to think that he loved me. Perhaps I was merely oblivious in the past when he acted out of pure jealousy. I-it was taboo. Even after he left our property, I was shaken, for the truth he brought into our home was truly frightening. The nieces I never had a chance to meet were dead. Annihilated for the crime my brother committed. They were innocent girls and they had to suffer because of their father. It was horrifying.

“Lotus, hun, are you okay? It’s alright now…”

His voice was truly reassuring, but my fear was much to strong to be dissolved by his kind words.

“I am afraid, Beau. I do not want to die; I do not want to leave you or my girls,” I whimpered. Slowly, my frame began to rattled and Beau’s hands rested at my sides. “I am so afraid…”

Noticing the tears spilling from my eyes once more, he pulled me in tightly so I could rest my head against his shoulder. Our bodies swayed and he hushed me like I did my daughters when they had a nightmare.

“It’s okay,” He repeated once more, tangling his fingers in my hair. “I won’t let anyone hurt you or your girls. I promise you that, Lotus.”

{ X }

Spring was a time of rebirth.

While winter brought the blossoms to the ground and chilled the Earth, Spring revived them. After the cold ran its course through our town, the ground softened to let the strong stems of flowers emerge, ready to brighten the town with their vibrant colors and intoxicating scents. Spring was the sign of new beginnings that not only connected to aspects of nature, but to the lives of humans, and even creatures who were no longer mortal.

After the lives of my children were freed from the curse of immortality, I felt myself stripped of the weight that I carried for many years–the heavy burden upon my shoulders of guilt and shame for ever bringing such a fate to my girls. Now that they were back with me with warm flesh and beating hearts, I could hardly hold back a smile each time that I saw them. But of course my smile was not only directed at the joy emanating from my children, but towards the man who made it all possible.

Spring had arrived and my life with Beau Merrick was my new beginning.

~*~

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After my routine visit to Beau’s study where I watered the plants I purchased merely to brighten the room, I made myself comfortable by leaning against his desk once I got back up on my feet. With it being Spring break for my girls, they were invited back out to Sunset Valley by their friends, which I had no problem with. The Wells were a kind family that my girls had better relations with than my brother. But with that being the past, my worries dissolved like soil from my hands after a long day in the garden. Of course with them being gone, I was left alone the majority of the time since Beau was a professor at private university downtown. And since the college was still going through the “midterm madness” as Beau stated on multiple occasions, he often came home a lot later than he usually did. His students were an inquisitive bunch, but of course that would make sense since their term papers were to be on a selected play by Sophocles. An intricate work,of course. Even when it came time for Beau to have his own break, it was usually full of hours spent in his study, working on grading the term papers. That was where I came into the picture.

Even professors needed a break from grading papers, or least a little distraction.

“Aaaaand done!” Beau exclaimed, tossing his pen across the stack of papers that he finished grading. It was not long before the slow creak of his chair resonated above the sound of the breeze coming from beyond the sun room doors. “No more papers to read and grade circling around the topic of some play full of psychological issues…”

The very sound of his voice was pleasant to the ear while my fingers urged the strap of my dress back up to my shoulder. “And that is wonderful news, my love.”

Another squeak of the chair sounded and I knew Beau was no longer seated, but right beside me with his arm wrapped around my slender waist. I fit right into his hold, feeling secure when he nudged me playfully.

“So you know what that means?”

“Perhaps we get to finish what we started?” I motioned with my hand gently brushing up against the front of his pants. Feeling him twitch beside me made my smile widen, but of course, I was taken by surprise again when he wound me around his arm, urging me even closer to him. “Mr. Merrick? Am I not correct? That is not what you wish to do?”

With arched brows, he shrugged, swaying our bodies to an imaginary swing. “While you were beyond perfect and might I say, the greatest motivation I could have asked for, I do think that we could leave that for the dessert course of our evening.”

“Dessert?”

“A sweet treat in the evening,” Beau gleamed, making me out to look clueless despite knowing that I knew very well what each course of a meal was. “For the appetizer and the main course,” He sighed, leaning down to plant his lips against my exposed neck, “I would like an evening with my dear Lotus. I think we deserve some time to spend together without running around just to avoid not seeing each other for an entire day.” His fingers danced up my arm, stopping at my shoulders before he spun me around to face him.

“An evening with you, Beau? What do you have in mind? Should I change or look up some places where we could go?” I asked, slowly leaning into him, to rest my head on his shoulder.

“How about we just open up a new bottle of some wine and stay home? We could pick out some movies to watch and then we’ll see where to go from there, hmm?” He suggested as I pulled away from him.

Moments like that almost made me feel human. Hearing him speak to me that way had me pretending I was a woman still stuck in the very prime years of her youth. Yes, like a school girl–over the moon because her crush just so happened to like her back. It was a pleasant feeling, imagining the fluttering in my chest that I once felt. When I looked back up into Beau’s eyes, I felt the corners of my lips turn to form a pleased smile. As much as I loved being together with Beau in an intimate fashion, it made me feel wonderful to know that he enjoyed my company even if we were both fully clothed. That made me feel loved and informed me that maybe I really was more than a partner who took part in the bedroom waltz.

“So, what do you think of that?” He asked, trailing his index finger over my lower lip. “Quiet night in sounds okay to you?”

“Beau,” I started almost apologetically as I was trapped in my mind enough to make it seem like my response was being held back. But my tone never for even as second embodied hesitance, especially when I kissed his fingertip lightly and nodded. “I do believe that a quiet evening is just what the doctor would order for us.”

With one thing settled, all that we had to do now was await the beginning of our evening together. Since we had some time between our “feature premiere”, Beau could barely old back a chuckle when he mentioned that I would be picked up at seven o’clock. Sharp. He truly was remarkable, and he never failed to prove it.

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Before our evening would commence, we still had our own errands to run and some miscellaneous work to take care off. So while Beau was off taking care of whatever he needed to, I ventured upstairs to girls room to fix up their beds and clean up any toys that they left out.But knowing that they weren’t exactly typical children since they experienced adolescence for the majority of their existence, their toys did not consist of dolls or coloring books. To be quite honest, they were not toys at all, but instruments, sheet music, and books they studied from since they placed in more advanced courses due to the acquired knowledge they had from the many sources they were exposed to from a young age. It was still so strange thinking about them not being the petite little girls that I was able to pick up and cradle in my arms. Perhaps it would have been right to admit that I missed that. I truly did. I missed having them run up to me and wrap their arms around my knees when they were scared or when they wanted to play. They were so little, so fragile and dependent on me. While I did love that they were now free to do as they pleased with their life while still being under my care, I could admit without hesitating that I missed having little ones clinging to me. Maybe this was finally what it felt like to be a mother who was getting used to the fact that her little birds were no longer flightless. It was something I was willing to expect, but perhaps it would take some time getting used to. They were the only babies I really needed, so I was thrilled that I could give them a good life.

Now I could focus on getting mine in shape. Perhaps that was how Beau was involved. Since meeting him, I shed my false façade and began to embrace who I really was. I no longer covered myself head to toe in makeup or even tried to pretend that I was anything but what I embodied: a pulse-less creature, who just happened to be a mother of two beautiful girls. I was not a pure creature and I was beginning to accept that. Some days were more difficult than the rest, but I knew that it would be a constant work in progress.

“Hiding from me?” chimed Beau as he stepped inside the room after knocking rapidly.

“I would not call it that. Reviewing, perhaps, and thinking, but not hiding. I can assure you.”

He knew what lingered in my thoughts and what I constantly struggled with, so instead of speaking in a comic tongue, he reached forward and rubbed my arm gingerly before I found myself wrapped up in his scent–the mixture of an elegant scent of cologne clinging to his flesh and the fresh air.

“I am okay, Beau,” I assured him. “I will be okay. Shall we move downstairs, or…?” I muttered with my eyes searching his for answers.

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“Don’t worry, hun. We won’t be skipping around with the courses of our evening. I’ll try sticking to our agenda, but you sure do make it tempting after that appetizer this afternoon. Had me racing to get finished just so we could spend some time together, but as I said, I think we should enjoy the evening for now. Are you ready for a movie date?”

Movie date.

Date.

Such words to others were as typical as words learned in primary school, but to me they held as much significance as names of the finest wines or the most eloquent dishes. Perhaps when they left Beau’s lips, yes. But to me it did not matter, because for once I felt my mind racing with thoughts of him and the time that we spent together. Sometimes I even felt myself repeating thoughts, words, and just being redundant altogether. For once I did not care. I was in love with a man who assured me that I could not hurt him. We were the same after all. Two fallen beings with skeletons in our closets, but at least we were no longer alone with all that. Now we were to relish in the emotions that brought lovers to their knees. Never did I think that I would ever be granted permission to feel it again with anyone but the father of my children. Though guilt emerged during my most happiest moments, I had hope that the soul of my wronged lover would forgive me for what I had done and allow me to move forward.

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To my surprise, the glasses full of crimson liquid were set out on the table and several DVD’s were spread out across the table for me to pick from. Everything was set up perfectly down to the intricate details of the lighting. They were dimmed enough for us to see where we were going, but dim enough for us to enjoy the movie that we would watch. Despite how awestruck I was, Beau managed to convince me to try picking out a movie only for him to recommend one for us in the end.

We ended up watching a movie that would now be categorized as a romantic comedy. It did catch me by surprise seeing as Beau was the one to pick it out, but I did enjoy it. It was a tale of a young woman living life with the belief that she would never find the significant other she longed for, but like all movies, Beau once said, the protagonist would always end up with the man and all would be well in the world. Of course, this viewing was slightly different, for when the man in the movie got down on one knee after proclaiming his love to her, I felt Beau stir beside me prior to mumbling something to himself.

“Hmm?”

“Just thinking out loud,” He admitted. “Sorry, sweetie.”

“Oh…”

Beau smiled shyly, wrapping his arm around my shoulder as he forced his chest to raise and lower slowly. A forced action, but perhaps he liked the charade as well? From time to time…

“Do you ever think about that stuff?”

I took one glance at the screen displaying the two individuals embracing and working on figuring out the details of their wedding. I felt my mouth dry up while I urged my shoulders to bob up and down. I guess he caught me off guard, for this was something I never expected to be asked about. Of course I wondered about what life would have been like if I  had settled down with someone back when I was still in Sunset Valley, living during a time before the outbreak of this dreaded curse. But now? At a point where my being was tainted with guilt? Who would ever want to have that sort of connection with me?

My fangs traced my lower lip slowly as I pondered my response. Was this a trick question? Since I did trust Beau, I guess there was no need to tell him anything but the truth. What use would there be in lying?

“I suppose I do.”

His lips twitched. “Do you like the idea of marriage? I mean, did you ever think about settling down like that? I know you mentioned the father of the twins, but…”

“I suppose that plan went out the window,” I tried to smile to keep him from worrying,”but  yes, Beau, I do. Of course I was against the idea of settling down mostly because my mother tried arranging my life for me, but now things are different. But I guess it is simply something that I missed out on due to this curse. What about you, dear? Is it something that you think about?”

He nodded slowly. “Yeah, I do. Sure, I’ve been through it a couple of times, but yes, I still think about it. I guess things like that really work out if they’re shared with that special person. Kinda cheesy, huh?”

Not being able to keep a single giggle from escaping me, I shrugged once more and flashed my ivories. “I do not find it to be ‘cheesy’, as you say, but romantic. It is an idea that is sometimes forgotten in this age, but it seems that you still have that idea, Mr. Merrick. That is a good thing…”

“I’m glad you think so, Lotus…”

As the credits began to ascend, I felt Beau’s grip on me only tighten. The topic of marriage seemed to make him stir but in a way that did not make him uncomfortable or even taken back. If that was the case, then maybe his body language would have been much different. As a matter of fact, Beau leaned his head against mine, almost making the effort to bring the topic up again, but as he opened up his lips to speak he was interrupted by continuous ringing of the door bell from the front of the house.

“The girls are out for a couple more days, aren’t they?” He inquired quietly.

I was just as confused as he was, but instead of offering anything else for us to consider, I whimpered when the weight on the couch shifted between us.

“I’ll go check it out, okay? No need for you to bother with some solicitors. And here I thought we would avoid some girl scout’s or whatever from bugging us during our movies,” Beau grumbled under his breath a he walked out of the room. Before he disappeared completely out of my range of vision, I noticed him throw his arms up in the air, angrily.

Other would have been taken back at the gesture, but I too found it rather frustrating. Our house was relatively hidden away from the city, so solicitors were not too common, but when they did stumble by, they made it their missions to get inside or attempt at persuading us into purchasing whatever it was they were selling. I must have been new to this since we tried to be “invisible” in Sunset Valley, because it was always I who ended up purchasing ten boxes of girl scout cookies while Beau politely fibbed that he did not have any money on him at the moment. Smiling at the thought, I tried to regain my focus so I could listen in on the sudden silence that froze the house when I heard the hinge of the front door creak.

Not even a greeting was heard.

All that echoed above the never-ending credits were the soles of shoes scuffing the carpet set out before the door. A single tap forced the door to swing far enough to even startle me.

“What are you doing here?” I heard Beau hiss. “Me? I live here. Now, cut to the chase, because you’re interrupting my evening.”

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I knew Beau was often a man who could speak quite sternly, but never to strangers. Well, at least not while I was around. From the sound of things, the visitor was a familiar being and perhaps one who was determined to visit? Though Beau instructed me to stay in the room, I could not help but sneak away from the couch to tip toe to the grand bookcase that lined the walls. Still, I could hear hushed chatter from the front.

“You live here? I thought you were situated downtown?”

“Years ago. What do you want?” Beau groaned once more. His voice was becoming more hoarse, more restrained.

“Well for one: I didn’t come to see you, Merrick. I just followed a familiar scent of someone I could trust, but wait–” The voice cut off, making me press against the bookcase once more not in fear, but shock. That voice was so familiar. No, it was not like the voice of my children or perhaps a neighbor that I often heard in the morning when I went  for walks with my umbrella to keep me safe. No, this voice was one that reached me way beyond my existence with the curse of immortality. T-that voice traced back to my origins.

“What now?”

“That scent is on you,” the man hissed. “Why the fuck would that scent be on YOU?!”

Beau cleared his throat loud enough for me to slam back into the bookcase. It could not have been him. I-it was not possible! It had been years, well over a hundred.

My trembling hands covered my lips while I worked on finding some way to piece my thoughts together. None of it was making sense, but that voice was one I had no trouble questioning or denying. Not when I heard it for much of my existence.

But was he not pronounced deceased after the murder of that poor woman? Was that not the talk of the town?

Now left with my hands at my sides, I could not help but remind myself of all that had happened between us. Each memory joined together and rushed into my conscious thought like a swift thrust against my gut. I could no longer remain in hiding. Not after all that he put me through.

I forced myself into the doorway to spot the navy haired man. The man I thought I would never see again.

His apparel was that of a common youth, but there was no doubt about his true identity. There was no doubt that his voice and being matched the only surviving blood relative that I had–one I could trace back to my mortal beginnings.

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“Brother, is that you?”

{ IX }

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“What is it?” I asked, eyeing the neatly wrapped package that Beau placed on the table we had only put together several days ago, making it our final piece of furniture that needed assembling in the house.

In a matter of weeks following the return of my children, we managed to find a house that felt like it was truly our perfect home. It had plenty of room for my girls to play, a room that had become my sanctuary, and even a beautiful den that Beau made into his study. All in it all, things for my family were slowly starting to come together and feel right. With Beau beside us, holding my hand, I felt that for the first time in a long time we were a family. And feeling his hand upon mine while we stood in the dining room, I was guided back to our present time, which happened to be Christmas Eve. Beau had returned to us after spending the day visiting his children, which I understood and found very admirable. He truly was a sweet man who never failed to prove that he was an excellent father. But I never doubted that for a second, of course.

“It’s something you’ve been waiting for, for quite some time now,” He smiled, slipping his arms under mine when my body refused to animate.

There was no use in further questions when I knew exactly what it was he meant. There was only one thing I had waited for that brought gargantuan goosebumps to my flesh. And I knew very well that inside that neatly packaged box, I would find something that would always be considered a miracle in my eyes and the key to a normal life for my children.

“Oh, this is it,” I giggled, covering my mouth to keep my voice from startling my children in the next room. “I cannot believe this is it, Beau…” I could have remained standing with his arms wound around me while I allowed tears to stream from my eyes, but it would not have been enough. No, I had to spring from his hold on me and face him, to wrap my arms around his neck and kiss him with what strength I had left after losing it to my excitement.

“Wow…”

“This,” I motioned around us. “None of this could have been possible without you, my dear. I am forever grateful for everything you have done for me and my girls. T-thank you so much.”

Beau’s eyes did not widen, but his brows furrowed before reaching forward to wipe the tears from me eyes. “Why are you crying, sweetheart? This is a good thing, right? You’re so welcome, but come on now,” He chuckled and leaned in forward to kiss my forehead, “Do you want to go tell them the good news?”

Of course I wanted to! Why on Earth would I want to waste anymore time crying and making it more dramatic on my end when my girls were so close to feeling the rhythmic beat of their little hearts?

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Beau led me away from the table with my hand hugged by his till we stopped in front of the archway that would lead us into the den. It was where Beau worked on grading papers and also where we all spent time together on most days. But what made that area even more special than it already was, was that it was home to our Christmas tree that we picked out and decorated together with beautiful ornaments and glistening lights. This holiday was made to be more special than any other day now that Mai and Mia was running around, so I made it my goal to make it the best. Now that I was offered some help, had access to  more resources, and had less fear of going out, I was able to transform our home into a warm and inviting holiday home. Of course, I was not responsible for all of the decorations around the house.

“My, my, hold on, Ms. Everglow,” Beau beamed.

“What is it? Should we not tell the girls of the cure?”

He shook his head only to cup my chin and nod up, to point out and thick bunch of green hanging above us. I was no stranger to the origins of mistletoe, for my mother used to have it around our old home as well. Ah, and that would meant that I was no stranger to the traditions that were tied to the leafy bunch.

My face was urged forward, nearly brushing my lips against cheek, but there was no rush. Beau hold onto me as long as he could before his lips parted and he smiled kindly, planting a gentle peck upon my lips. It was a small and simple gesture, but it meant the world to me coming from him. It was now clear by that point in our relationship that we were no longer mere acquaintances sticking together till a deal would come through. No–acquiring the cure was a great aid, but my feelings for Beau were on an entirely different scale. I saw him not as a businessman looking to settle with someone till his job was done, but someone who made me feel that way I used to–alive.

“Now then,” the man sighed happily. “When were you thinking of telling them about their long-awaited gift?”

I stood twisted, wearing a pondering expression, for I had not thought about it all that much. Having the cure to a new beginning for them present on that day was a surprise enough for me, so I had no way of jumping to a decision till an idea struck me like a bolt, electrifying me from the inside. My children were all too familiar with the traditions and tales of Santa Claus, magic, and Christmas morning, but they never truly had a chance to experience the full effect that I once had with my family. Not having to fall into a gentle slumber, my girls never knew what it felt like to wake up groggy, yet exited to run out of their room to see what Santa had left them.

“Does the cure take effect after they drink it?” I asked, murmuring to avoid being heard by the little ones.

“I think it should, but there are instructions and some warnings inside the box that I got from the facility. Why? What are you thinking of, hun?”

“Christmas morning, Beau,” I grinned widely. “Is that not every child’s dream? To wake up and wipe the sleepiness from their eyes only to find that they have been visited by Santa?” I stopped myself after Beau began to eye me with interest. “They knew from the start how it all works, but I have never wanted anything more than to surprise them on Christmas morning. Perhaps it is just silly. I apologize.”

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But by the time I got to explaining, or at least attempting to, why all the little moments meant so much to me, Beau and I were forced to step back with haste when my girls ran between us, snickering and squealing about how excited they were about having a nice holiday in a place that would now always be considered our home. Alright, I guess it would have been correct to say that Beau was the one who stepped back, even joining in on the snickering, while I jumped back as if I had seen a ghost.

“Where on Earth do they get this energy?” I exclaimed after my hand gripped the emerald trim of my dress.

“It must be the Christmas spirit, don’t you think?” Beau chuckled and nudged me before pulling me in close with his arm wound around my waist so he could walk us down the small step and into the study where the girls had already situated themselves without even paying any attention to us. Hectic as it might have been, I was still so happy to know that they had their innocence and childish antics despite their true age.

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We stopped to watch them from afar as they played on the couch, using their colorful imagination to pretend they were racing in cards that zoomed around at speeds reaching that of light. I could not help but smile at the sight, for I knew that it would not be long before their pale flesh would no longer be coated with a glow and their cheeks would be warm to the touch.

“You’re smiling,” Beau commented while I leaned against the bookcase to continue admiring my children. “I guess this is really important to you, right?”

I nodded. “More than anyone will ever know. This life that we have to exist with was never a choice to them and I only wished for them to be free of it. This cure is a beautiful gift to us and it makes me so happy to know they will be able to begin their life as normal mortal girls. Do you think they will be happy, Beau?” I asked when I turned my head to him.

“Nonsense. You mentioned a while back how they questioned their own existence after being in the presence of their mortal friends, right? Lotus, I have no doubt in my mind that your girls will be soaring on cloud nine when they find out what you got them.”

“W-what you got us,” I corrected him before  my fingers laced with his.

When the only sound that remained was the ongoing giggled of Mai and Mia, and the crackling soundtrack of the fireplace, I was led out of the den and back to the dining room to stare at the box I was anxious to open. Hmm, perhaps I was a bit nervous as well, for I could not help but think of my brother who had taken the same cure and allowed his existence to be wiped from this Earth. Part of me continued to wish for a pulse that perhaps even Beau would admire when his hand would brush against my cheek. Ah, the dream of being mortal once more was one that never failed to leave me.

After I forced myself from my still state, I did the honor of lifting the top off of the box and glanced inside it to find two vials–one for Mai and one for Mia. Inside the box were instructions and many pages of fine print that Beau took care off. Swishing pages between his fingers, I picked up the small vials that did not look inviting. If anything, they looked threatening, really. But while I admired the intricate design engraved into the glass, Beau leaned against the table and cleared his throat audibly to grasp my attention.

“Says here that the cure should take effect almost immediately after ingestion. It is a fast-acting liquid and should only be taken by the designated immortal child.” Beau read on. “Due to its quick results, the ones taking the cure should not be operating any heavy machinery,” He chuckled before continuing, “And they should not be forced to partake in any activity that requires too much energy, like running, jumping, or swimming.”

“Please continue,” I asked quietly while keeping my eyes peeled on the swirling liquid inside the glass.

“The main side effect that has affected nearly one hundred percent of users is intense fatigue, which makes sense, I guess. I mean they are gaining some weight and stress with their heart clicking back to work, right?”

I nodded.

With a quick rub of his chin, Beau muttered to himself before glancing at me. “Um, the cure doesn’t,” He bit down on his lips when I turned to look at him before he offered me a kind curve of his lips. “The cure is perfect the for girls, Lotus. Everything will be okay, so I think your plan to give them the best holiday is going to work. But to ensure that they actually wake up early tomorrow would mean that we would have to give them the cure soon.”

Beau was right about that, so we had to hurry with the preparations. Wanting to surprise my girls, we had decided to approach them with the cure once everything was ready, which meant having to make the liquid a bit more inviting. We tried to keep the holiday vibe by mixing the brilliant azure liquid, which was said to be tasteless, in with a cup of warm cacao. No matter what age, the warm liquid that trickled down the throat did nothing but soothe and warm even the coldest of creatures. Indeed, it was the perfect drink on a day where snow continued to fall, coating the green with a glistening, pure blanket.

After we mixed in the cure to the point not even the lightest tint of blue was visible, I placed the mugs on the tray that would be carried to my girls. My mind was already racing, reciting what it was I wanted to say. What speech did I have prepared in response to their reaction? What if they no longer wanted this and refused to take the cure? With each passing moment that I held the tray in my hand, I felt my thoughts being devoured by every negative scenario that was conjured by my mind till Beau’s tender grasp caught my hand while walked back to the den where my girls seemed to be in the middle of a duel of some sort.

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“Rock, paper, scissors, Mia,” Mai grinned while tapping her fist against the palm of her hand. “On the count of three, we will draw and then we will see who gets to be the one to come downstairs first tomorrow.”

Flustered, Mai’s twin allowed her brows to scrunch together while tapping her fist against her palm as well. “Why do I have the feeling that you find some way to cheat, sister? Let us play fair.” Before the girls duel commended, Mia caught sight of us standing with the tray of steaming mugs. “Mama?”

Now that the attention was turned to me, I lowered my gaze to them then back to the cure containing drinks. Now where would I start?

“My girls,” I began with trembling lips that wanted to much to curl and reveal my pointed ivories. “There is something I need to talk to you about, so I do apologize for having to ask you to cease your play time.” With their eyes now fixed on me and their hands at their sides, I stepped forward with Beau right behind me with the tray that he took from my hands. Perhaps he figured it would be best to keep the cure safe and away from my trembling hands.

We walked to the center of the den where the crackles of burning logs echoed and gave off warmth that even pinched my cold flesh.

“Is something wrong, Mama?” Mai inquired as she and her sister walked to me. “You have that strange look on your face? Did something happen?”

“I guess you could call it that, my beautiful girls. Perhaps you could. You do recall what it was that led me away from Sunset Valley in the first place, correct?”

They nodded slowly.

“Mr. Merrick…”

“Beau,” He chimed in.

“Yes, Beau, I apologize, dear. Beau has been so kind to us and made it so that today is possible.Mai, Mia,” I stumbled with my speech as I clenched my fists. “It is a bit nerve-wracking to me right now, to speak to you because I feel nothing but joy and excitement for you. I just hope that you two will feel the same upon knowing the contents of the drinks we have made for you.”

Mai sniffed dramatically and giggled. “It’s just cacao, Mother. It is not like it is laced with some magical witch’s brew.”

“Ah, yes you are correct about the absence of something that would hurt you, but there is something there that is a gift for you two.” I rubbed my eyes and smirked. “Goodness, I cannot piece my words together right now without making it sound strange. My darlings, what is inside your drinks is what we have been waiting to acquire for a long time. It is the reason that I left Sunset Valley and the reason why I am so happy today. By drinking this right now, you will be,” I stopped and looked back at Beau, smiling. “You will be like your friend, Atoli. You will breathe and do all the things that children with a pulse do…”

It was then that Mia chirped and gripped her sister’s arm tightly. “The cure, Mama? The cure is in the drink!?”

I nodded slowly, reaching out to grab the two mugs from the tray that Beau was holding. With no trace of the cure in the drink, I offered the mugs to my girls, who stared at them for a mere second before taking them in their hands. The look of uncertainty was evident on their faces, but it was clear that their desire to growth like their friends and have other mortal experiences was strong. They looked to me and even glanced at Beau before bringing the rim of the mug to their lips after muttering their thanks. The den froze when the mugs were tipped back and the girls gulped down every last drop of the drink.

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There were no spontaneous displays of lights or mystical smoke that engulfed the room. No, it was like a tea bag being placed in boiling water– slowly releasing its dye into the water that would spread and engulf it whole. It was exactly like that. Now that the cure taken with the warm drink, my girls stood before us while looking at their hands that slowly lost their glow. It started with their legs then their torso and their arms till it reached their faces. Flesh that once held minimal color was stained a rosy tint at the cheeks, which signaled that they had warm blood flowing within them.

“Would you look at that,” Beau smiled while I stood speechless.

My girls were transforming before my eyes and it all felt like a dream to me. The day had come and I could barely express the way I felt knowing that they would never have to wear the dreaded makeup to cover up their skin or even hide inside the house to stop the constant suspicion from our neighbors in our old town.

When it seemed like the transformation was completed, the girls stopped and brought their hands to their chests in utter shock. Could something have taken them by surprise? Oh how I hated not knowing what they were going through.

Coughing, that was soon followed by wheezing, made my girls start feeling each others faces before turning to us. At first I paid no attention to the movement of their lips, but to the expanding of their chests.

“Y-you are breathing?”

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They looked at me with eyes that I once saw in the mirror back when I was younger, back when I was what they were now: mortal. Their eyes did not glow or glisten in any unnatural manner, but with their own human sparkle, which led me to believe that was it. The days of sheltering them from suspicious eyes were over and they were now free like I had always wanted them to me.

“My darlings?”

“M–Mama,” Mia inhaled deeply before giggling. “We’re breathing, Mama!”

“We can taste the air!” Mai added, gripping her sister’s arm.

“Sister, we do not taste the air; we merely breathe.”

I must have still been in a state of shock because Beau squeezed my hand lightly before squatting down to get down to the same level as my girls. He looked them in the eyes and reached out for them to take his hands.

“How are you girls feeling? Does anything hurt or feel funny?” He asked, running his thumbs over their small hands that clearly warmed him.

Pondering for a moment, the girls shook their head and giggled before coughing due to how rapidly they were inhaling and exhaling to the point it was starting to look a bit comical. I guess breathing was a bit difficult to get used to since they never experienced it. I often wondered if I would remember what it was like to breathe if I was given that chance once more.

“Nothing hurts, Beau. Thank you so much!” The girls exclaimed before twirling and laughing. Within seconds they were looking around only to be scooped up into our arms. Beau, with Mai in her arms, held her close while I brought Mia against me when she ran to me. In that moment that her warm hands touched my arms, I escaped my trance and picked her up only to sway from side to side with her in my arms.

The warmth of her touch was enough to prove to me I was not dreaming and that we were in a moment that was very much real.

“T-thank you, Mommy,” Mia breathed against my neck. Her moist breath felt damp against my frozen flesh and it had my eyes gloss once more. What I thought would take forever to happen if ever at all, was now real and no longer a vision.

“You are so welcome, my love. A-and look at you,” I sniffled. “You feel so warm. You can run around and play with your sister and your friends without the sun hurting you. Is that great?”

“It is!” Mai squealed. “We can wear short-sleeved shirts and no more makeup will ever be needed!”

“T-that is right…”

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After standing with the girls in our arms, I turned to Beau who only offered me a wink before kissing Mai’s cheek who giggled at the chilled touch.

“Now, is there anything you little ladies want? Surely you must be craving something that’s new? How are you feeling?”

Mia remained quiet against my, only murmuring things I could not pick up clearly, which left the announcement to her sister.

“Mm, I feel a grumbling in my stomach that is something like our friend Penelo described. She once said that she was so hungry that she could eat a horse because her tummy was rumbling loudly.” She gasped. “Hungry! Mia and I must be hungry!”

Since I was unable to say more than a single word without tripping over my own words and sobbing hysterically, Beau looked at me again and adjusted his hold on Mai, slightly bouncing her against his side.

“Well, alright. I think this calls for a Christmas Eve dinner, right? I don’t know about you girls, but I do think that pizza sounds pretty good right about now, hmm?”

Immediately starting to wiggle in our arms to get down, the girls beamed happily while waving their arms around to express their sudden love for a food they were never truly allowed to enjoy because of their condition.

After the girls were let back down to the ground to rush out of the den, I was left alone with Beau who did nothing but smile after promising to join them in the kitchen where he would make the pizza he had promised. But before he followed through, he stopped to look at me.

I must have looked like a complete mess as I stood there crying as if I had not cried in ages. Perhaps it really did feel like that. I cried like a mother normally would when feeling the warmth of her baby’s hand against her skin for the first time. Mai and Mia would always be my babies and I felt more than blessed knowing that I was able to bring warmth to their lives with Beau’s help.

“Oh no, Lotus,” He chuckled before reaching forward for me to walk into his embrace. Though it was no the same warmth that I felt from my daughter, I still felt better the instant his lips touched my forehead. “Don’t cry, beautiful. Did you see how happy they are? It’s because they have a loving mother like you. You have done a wonderful thing for them, Lotus. Please don’t cry.”

I knew he was right about that and it only forced words out of my mouth and into the open. They were the words that had circled my mind since hearing the news of my brother’s demise.

“I-I want the cure too, Beau. Would it be possible for me to acquire it as well? I could pay you more if I had to.”

“Lotus…”

“I could be warm like that too. I could be like them and everything would be okay, would it not? Would you not like to feel a heartbeat when we are together?”

When my head lowered to his shoulder, Beau’s hold on me loosened and he helped me step away from him. He never pulled me away, so I knew that nothing good could come of it. Would he not let me be mortal? Was that it? N-no! I given the choice, I would have thrown away immortality for a mortal life with Beau. I would have done it without even thinking twice about it.

“I would help you, Lotus, if the cure worked for you.”

“What do you mean?”

Sighing, he brought his hand to his hair, to run his fingers through it slowly before speaking to me. “Look, I know how much you want this, but it read that it was not possible.”

“Excuse me? How is that so?”

“When I was reading the instructions, I noticed that it said that the cure was not only for immortal children–those who did not have a choice. Then there was the fine print that read that immortals who have been around twice as long since the age of their turning were not eligible for the cure due to distinct genetic mutation that was found to be irreversible.”

I stood still feeling like my dreams were being crushed repeatedly by words that I knew Beau would not make up just to keep me from abandoning the life I was finally beginning to embrace. Knowing very well that he had simply recited what was written in dark type, I lost every wish to speak of my now unreachable desire. I was not angry at him, but at myself for even allowing that ounce of hope to brew inside me like a virus–harmless at first, but lethal in the end.

“I’m so sorry that this happened, but if I could have told you sooner, I would. I didn’t know that it was like this, I promise…”

“It is alright, Beau,” I muttered.

He knew well that I was not okay and that it was not alright, but perhaps he understood that it was not something I wished to discussed when there was so much be thankful for. After all it was I who was to be punished for my sins, not my children, right?

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So all was right with my existence, perhaps.

For the sake of my girls and Beau, I gathered myself together and curled my lips, for I was not going to let the news ruin our holiday after we put so much effort into making it spectacular. Because despite some setback, I was still so incredibly happy to know that two  lives would now be able to move forward.

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Dinner, as promised, consisted of Beau’s homemade pizza that the girls shoveled down their throats at such rates that I had to reach over and ask them to slow down in fear that they would choke. Then again I was not surprised, for the food that they would ingest and use for energy was truly remarkable, especially since it was made by a man who did not need mortal food in order to survive. There never was a day where Beau did not impress me with his knowledge and ability to pull me out of a trench of sadness and confusion. So without dwelling on the news that ate at me, I sat back and simply took in that fact that I was lucky enough to be in the room with the three people who gave meaning to my existence.

Then when our meal time turned into a time for discussion, one of the side effects that Beau had mentioned earlier made itself clear in the faces of my girls. With eyelids that began to droop and cheeks expanding to keep back yawns, I knew that they were tired and what a sight it was. It was wonderful knowing that beds that were purchased as mere decoration in the past were now going to be used to ease them into a slumber where they would hopefully be sheltered by dreams that would leave them smiling while they slept.

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Dressed and ready for bed, Beau helped me get the girls settled into their beds for their first night where they would no longer have to pretend to sleep. Equipped with a story they picked out on their own, we began reciting lines by taking turns to turn a story told by two people into one complete tale that made my children laugh drowsily before they found more comfort in the cushion of their pillows than the tale of a brave knight who rescued a princess from an eternity of sadness.

Beau was in the middle of a line, reciting the knight’s heartwarming speech directed towards the evil sorceress who kept his princess from him before I turned and motioned to  Mai, who was already asleep and breathing deeply–a sound that was never heard in that room till that day.

“Wow, they really meant intense fatigue, huh?” Beau whispered and reached out for me to take his hand, but before I could get up, I felt a light tug on my dress.

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“What is it, sweetie?” I asked, but instead of her speaking, Mai motioned for me to lean in closer. Goodness, that girl. “Okay, hun. Is something wrong?”

“We’re mortal now, Mama,” She whispered with a smile on her face. “Are you happy?”

I nodded. “How could I not be?”

“Good,” She burrowed her head deeper into her pillow when I brushed her hair from her face. “Does that mean that you will marry Mr. Merrick now, so that we could be a complete family and you could always be happy? We like it when you smile, Mama, and we like it when Mr. Merrick is here.”

Feeling my body tense up at her hushed question, I formed my lips into a thin line so I could kiss her head before I could lean back and get up from the bed to take Beau’s hand.

“S-sleep well, my dears.”

With Mai and Mia hopefully drifting and exploring the land where their dreams would take them, I was brought back to realize why it was that I chose to give them the cure that evening and not in the morning with the rest of their gifts. Though they knew of Santa Claus and all that went into Christmas, I saw no harm in going all out this holiday. I wanted my girls to experience a real mortal Christmas without having to pretend that everything magically appeared under the tree. I wanted them to be surprised and smiling just like I had always imagined them–rose-cheeked and alive. So while was freshening up in the restroom, I took it upon myself to leave our bedroom and bring down the carton full of presents that I had wrapped the last week or so. I wanted everything to be perfect for them because they were my gift and I would do anything and everything to make sure they were safe and happy.

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“Woah there, Mrs. Claus, does Santa know you’re doing his job?” I heard Beau joke from behind me.

“I-I just wanted to set things up now that the girls are asleep.” Rubbing the soft fabric of the stuffed giraffe in my arms, I tilted my head to the side, wondering how many years would I have left to do this now that my girls would no longer remain the same age. Would they eventually find no joy in my effort and leave while I would remain the same?

“Lotus,” Beau started once I set the toy down and helped myself up from the ground.

In that moment I wanted to just drop my guard around him and tell him how awful it felt hating the skin I had to live in. I was sure he felt it, too, but he carried himself with such a collected temperament that I admired. I wished I could have felt beautiful when I could not imagine why he would want to continue to stay around me when I had to warmth to offer. I started muttering fragments of my worries and doubts that only became louder and more pronounced the closer he got to me.

“B-Beau, I–”

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Not letting me finish my thought, Beau wrapped his arms securely around me, pulled me into him, and planted his lips firmly against mine. He moved not with desire that defined some primal need, but with more passion than I had ever felt with anyone. His tender lips caressed mine while he waited for me to relax against him. He moved me deeper than anyone ever did and I never doubted that for a moment. With his hand resting securely on my lower back, Beau urged my body closer against his while our lips touched and moved lovingly–tongues performing the most sensual dance. All that time, Beau did not lead me to the couch or even to the ground where we would shed our clothes. In fact, he did nothing of that sort. We remained in the embrace beside the tree while we kissed as if there truly was no one else who could move us.

Feeling  the moistness of his lips touch mine, I sealed his kiss and forced my lips away from his, that stole a soft peck when I brought my hands up to his chest. I had nothing planned to say till I looked up into his eyes, feeling the only thing I was still and probably always would be certain of.

“I love you.”

I could have waited minutes if not hours to hear anything from him after I allowed such intimate words to leave me, but Beau cupped my face in his hands and kissed me tenderly once more.

“And I love you, Lotus Everglow.”

“B-Beau, do you?” I stopped to look down, making me question more obvious with each passing second.

“I love you just the way you are,” He smiled widely and traced his finger along my jaw. “I love how kind you are and how beautiful your soul is. Lotus, we share the same fate of being immortal and we have done things that we aren’t proud of, but believe me when I say this: being with you has made me feel more alive than I have in ages. I feel your warmth when we’re together and I don’t want that to go away. I don’t regret sitting down with you the day you showed up in Bridgeport, because you changed things, Lotus.”

“B-Beau, but immortality is not a good thing. Is it not a punishment?”

He smiled and tilted his head to press his lips against my neck. “I thought it was, but I’d like to look at it as a good thing now because with our still hearts and pulse-less bodies, I know that I could never lose you. Lotus, death can never part us…”

When we stopped to take in what we had just admitted, I did not hold myself back from bringing my hand to his cheek. I loved the way the palm my hand caressed him. We fit together in this world that was no longer truly ours. I was in love with Beau Merrick and I wanted him to know it, always. Without further hesitation, I reached forward to kiss him while my free hand reached to bring his to my waist, resting on the loops that would free the binding ribbon holding my dress securely against my skin.

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That evening that melded with the following morning, Beau and I found each other stripped to nothing but our cold shells that housed a passion left untapped until that moment. There was no rush with us when all we wanted was to feel the intimacy that we so craved.

Among the crackling and popping of firewood, the den enclosed the sounds of gentle sighs and hushed moans from both of us while our lips remained locked and our hands curious, exploring each other’s bodies as if we had never done before. I had remained in Beau’s lap with my hips grinding slowly into his to see his lips quiver, aching for me to bring us closer before he eased my back onto the pillow he plucked from the couch, so I was no longer situated with my eyes level with his but with him hovering above me, whispering that he did not wish for what we had together to end.

I think I smiled then, for I wished the same.

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When morning had come and Beau and I were forced to part from our bound embrace, we managed to catch the girls still very much asleep–giving Beau enough time to sneak upstairs to pick us up some sleep wear to make it seem as if we had been upstairs the entire night. Or at least to appear presentable for Mai and Mia by the time they would rush from their room and down the stairs to quickly peek into Beau’s study to see that Santa had not forgotten them.

Knowing that the girls would probably be starving with that breakfast being their second meal as living, breathing children, Beau offered to prepare them a breakfast of crepes with raspberry sauce and whipped cream to be swirled on top. They sure did enjoy that treat, but not as much as Beau enjoyed that morning’s conversation.

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“So,” Mai swallowed hard to keep herself from breaking out into a coughing fit as she did last night. “I saw Santa, Mama. I saw him last night!”

Quickly glancing at Beau, whose brows were arched, I questioned my daughter.

“Yes, I really did! See, I got thirsty in the middle of the night and I walked downstairs for some water, but I heard sounds coming from the den.”

didn’t believe her, Mama, so I came downstairs to see for myself that she was lying, but she really wasn’t! We saw you too, Mother!” Mia added.

As if some sudden burst of realization had shot through Mai’s body, she slammed her hand down on the table and giggled. “Oh my goodness! That was you, Mommy! We saw Mr. Santa Claus kissing you and you were saying how much you loved him!”

Now that was the moment where a piece of the thin pancake slithered down the wrong tube, resulting in me bursting into a coughing fit that Beau helped with by reaching to pat my back.

“So you’re saying Santa was kissing your mother?” He asked, taking another bite of his breakfast.

Both the girls nodded that time while Beau turned to look at me, to wink before speaking.

“Well, it looks to me like Santa sure does love you, Ms. Everglow.”

Oh, that man would have had my cheeks blazing each moment his eyes would land upon me if only I had a pulse, but I knew that all I would be able to do was pretend and remember what it was like to feel the warmth of my cheeks when gazed upon my a handsome man. But to be perfectly honest, I believed that I was beginning to accept that fact. For as long as I had my memories, I would be okay.

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And as all Christmases in my family ended with the smiles and giggles of my children, I was able to record that morning as one of my fondest memories, for we were no longer bound to a barn that only harvested moments of my existence that brought me ill thoughts, or even countless homes that were never truly ours to call our own, but to a house that was now truly a home.

With my girls given a chance to live the life I had always wished for them, and Beau, the man I loved, beside me, I was ready to begin anew with new memories that would carry me further along the road to accepting who I was bound to me.

{ VIII }

Mere weeks had passed before I decided it was finally time for my girls to come home–home being where we would be together in Bridgeport. Beau had been awfully kind to me and I knew he was right when he stated that it pained me to be without my girls. Being eternally cursed with immortality was not supposed to bring me this much sadness, he told me. I liked to believe him, but as much as I wanted to believe him, the inner demons within me failed to listen. But I was trying to let his words become to the only truth, I truly was. With Beau so close to me, I felt like I would be able to move forward and away from the past that refused me a minute of rest.

My existence was changing with each day that I spent trying to feel more comfortable in my own skin, and it was beginning to be worth it. I cut my hair and threw away every trace of foundation that I used to cloak myself in each day, for it was no longer who I was. I was Lotus Everglow, daughter of Darien and Eveline Everglow, and sister of Luca. I was once a young woman trying to prove herself to both her father and brother, but that was no more. Despite my sins, I had two beautiful girls who needed their mother, even if they were much older than their bodies perceived them to be.

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“Egg on toast,” I smirked as I wiped down the counter before walking to the fridge to reach up for the bread I picked up at the store earlier that week in preparation for the day.

I started refreshing my memory with flashbacks of childhood where my mother cooked us breakfast. Her food was always so crisp and comforting, especially on cool December mornings. I could still remember the scent in the air as she tossed the toast in the frying pan before planting an egg on top. The cure was nearly within our reach, so I had to prepare myself for role of a mother I never got a chance to play.

With some food that never failed to bring me a feeling of nostalgia, I figured that it would be a pleasant preview of the life they would soon have. No longer would mortal food serve the purpose of simple decorations, but nourishment that would help them grow. Mai and Mia would no longer be seen as wise young girls for the rest of their lives, for they would age. They would meet their wonderful match and have the life I had always wished for. Yes, if they could have that, then I would be able to exist in peace without feeling like I robbed them of their life.

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In addition to the domestic duties, I had come to realize that when my girls would finally be able to sense their own heartbeat, feel the differences in the natural temperature, and eat–I too realized that they would need to sleep. In a small house like the one I had grown to call my home, I knew that it would not be enough to house my girls. So it was after the decision to have them join me that I began my search for the perfect home for all of us, even Beau. I thought perhaps he would like to be close, if things would not change between us. My search was proving to be much more difficult, but Beau was there to help. He showed me where to look, how to look, and who to trust when being shown houses. To avoid unneeded situations that seemed to make Beau more tense than usual, he asked me to only look at houses with him because he did not feel it would have been wise for me to go on my own. Well, with my lack of knowledge about the streets of Bridgeport or how others would react to knowing their potential buyer would not be a mortal, I agreed to refrain from looking at houses on my own. Over the course of several weeks, we stumbled across multiple matches that gave the vibe of  potentially being the perfect home for us, but none of them seemed to sustain that warm feeling.

Ah yes, dealing with real estate was just as difficult for us night walkers as it was for mortals. But with the date of completion for the cures approaching with haste, our search had to become more serious.

Today would have been another day with the real estate work, but with the planned arrival of my girls, that business just happened to be the last thing on my mind.

Since the girls were still much to young, from their appearance and legal paperwork, they were not able to drive to Bridgeport. After countless hours spent researching different forms of public transportation, Beau was able to help me find a bus line that would bring Mai and Mia to a bus station after riding for a little over than hour. I had called them after sending instructions and tickets for the ride and explained to them how crucial it was that they make it to the bus on time. With their flesh being as sensitive to heat as mine, I feared for their safety and our secret that had been kept hushed in Sunset Valley. The bus was to depart in the evening after the sun would set so their fragile skin would remain untouched by the heat. That was what I admired about my old home, for the evenings were cool and refreshing, allowing us to venture out to enjoy the world we continued to cling to. Despite the intricate instructions that I provided my girls with, I was unable to be there for them because I could not operate a vehicle myself, and riding a horse down bust streets would clearly not go unnoticed, especially in a large city like Bridgeport. That was where Mr. Merrick, who was quite possibly the most charming and thoughtful man I had ever met, came in. While he usually taught evening classes at a college downtown, he offered to pick up the girls at the train station. To keep me occupied and safe, Beau insisted that I would stay home, which I did not mind, for I was able to tidy up the house and prepare a meal for them. But what truly made my dormant heart feel even a hint of warmth was the sight of him walking out with a sign that had both Mai’s and Mia’s names on it. He said that people at a place called an airport, where airplanes flew people all around the world, held them up for their loved ones, so they could find each other with ease. Goodness, that man was beyond anything I could ever ask for. With him everything was so new and foreign, making every day a learning experience in the bran new world I was learning to finally accept and adapt to. It was all possible because of him and I could not have been more thankful.

As daylight began to flee beyond the horizon and the hands on the clock migrated. I waited for any sign or sound of arrival. It was still much too early for them to get here, but I could only hope. I was a mother growing impatient for the arrival of her children. It was natural, was it not? I knew the girls would be safe with Beau since he made me feel safer than I had felt in years, but that did not stop me from wandering around the house like a lost hound in search of comfort.

I was nervous, excited, stressed to have them all back home. I too was afraid of seeing my girls, in fear that they would be upset with me for being with Beau and waiting so long to bring them to Bridgeport. It was all for safety and I could only hope they understood that. I loved them far too much to put them in any danger. It was then, when my still heart became nothing but a weight, that I quickly shifted my position to face the stairs.

“H-Hello?”

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“Lotus, you look like you’ve just seen a ghost,” He chuckled as I ran up to him to allow his hands to grip mine. “Sorry that it too so long.”

I chewed my bottom lip while shaking my head to push away all the nagging thoughts. “No, it is just because I was worried. I am quite the restless mother, correct?” I manged a dry chuckle while his eyes locked in on mine. “It did not take you so long, dear, which also puzzles me. I hope you did not speed with my children…”

“Speed? Oh no, don’t worry about that. I would have been home a little later, but it seems that there has been a bit of a bump in our plans with picking up the girls. In other words, I don’t think I have the best news for you at the moment.”

“W-what is it you mean?”

“Your girls didn’t make it to the bus station on time, so they weren’t able to catch the bus they were supposed to take. Don’t worry though, because I will be there to pick them up tomorrow. I-I’m sorry about this.”

The dormant organ inside me would have set ablaze if it had life pumping into it. Alas, it did not, but the worry and sadness was building up strong. I felt the numbing in my fingers and as far as my toes. My chest contracted and I could not bare to look away from him as my tranquil expression shifted to a mix of motherly rage and worry.

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“You mean to tell me they were alone?! All alone? Beau, how could this have happened?” I squeaked.

Beau shrugged, squeezing his lips into a thin line as my fists clenched tightly around the fabric of my skirt, which was when he brought his hand to his face.

“I-I know this wasn’t supposed to happen, Lotus, but look–look at me and allow me to ex–”

“Beau! This is not a joke. How could this have happened when I clearly told them how important it was for them to be present at the bus station after school. Are they back in the house now?”

How could he simply stand there before me without offering single word of explanation? He was there. He knew what had happened, yet he was not as worried as I was. Did I look like had lost my mind to him? Oh goodness. This was wrong! This was all wrong!

I would have stormed off, feeling like a fool, till I noticed the different glow in his eyes. He was not cowering in fear or frowning at my discomfort. In fact, he smiled before bobbing his head up in a direction that was past me. I did not know what it was he was so happy about till I felt his hand wrap around my arm. Pulling me into him, I felt my skin tense when his cool hand wrapped tightly around my waist as if to ignite a dance.

“Shh, I said I was sorry, Ms. Everglow, so now please allow me to explain,” He whispered against my neck as his arm wound around my waist.

“W-what are you doing?” I yelped when our dance ceased abruptly with him spinning me around to have me face the dining room. From what I thought a move of spontaneity or possible lunacy, turned out to be a wonderfully and perfectly synchronized reveal and the meaning behind the glow in his eyes. It was almost difficult to focus on the scene before me in fear of disappointment, but I was anything but that. My eyes scanned what I noticed in front of me, hiding behind boxes I began to fill with kitchen necessities: the two reasons why my eyes, my pools of time, began to overflow.

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“M-my babies…”

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They were in fact there and within reach after months of not seeing their perfect faces. As they smiled from ear to year, I bent down to welcome them back into my arms. When I reached out to pull Mai into me, I stiffened because she was really there. I took in the scent of wildflowers and our old home as I held her close with her sister reaching out to wrap her arms around us both. It all felt so surreal just hearing their gentle voices and seeing their chilled faces, cooled not with the crisp fall air, but the lack of a pulse. I wanted so much to keep them in my arms, rocking back and forth, but I pulled back slightly when I heard Mai’s coat rustle against me.

“I-is something wrong?”

Both of my daughter’s shook their head from side to side while their pale lips spread to form a smile.

“We missed you, Mama…”

Then it was that my eyes started pouring out tears like there was tomorrow. The sound of their precious voices brought me back so far–to the day they were born in the barn I thought they would perish in, but fate had other plans for them. Perhaps this was my purpose, to set them free of something they had no control over.

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Without hesitating, I sniffled and picked up Mia to cradle her in my arms while she held onto me, thanking me doing everything for them, but more importantly how much she missed me. Oh, how I missed my girls, but then I came to realize that none of it could have ever been possible without the smiling man in front of us. He knew it–he knew all along that they were inside the house without me knowing it. While my girls held onto me and chirped fragments of events that had occurred in my absence, I looked to Beau with my eyes overflowing with tears to mouth my thanks. When he bowed his head and offered me with sight of his beautiful smile, I felt it within me that I was lucky to have been found by him, and truly lucky to be admired by him.

When I looked back down to my daughter’s, I sniffled once more and kissed their heads. “Do not worry, my loves. You will be free soon.”

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After it has settled that my girls were truly back and they were not the mirage my mind was trying to convince me of, I led them to the living room so they could sit down and rest while they told me everything they were dying to talk about. I had almost forgotten how young they still sounded like children, but with such a profound vocabulary. My girls never ceased to amaze me, so perhaps that was why it was so difficult to grasp what they were talking about when all I could think about was how beautiful they were and how happy I was to have them with me once more.

Mia nudged her sister while she muttered quietly after cutting herself off from talking about what I believed to be a school play they went to see where their dear friend Atoli played the role of a French market owner. From the way they continued to giggle, it must have been amusing since their dear friend struggled with the foreign language.

Mia’s twin turned to look at me after peeking over her sisters shoulder to glance at Beau who stood in the kitchen, admiring the bottles of wine I had set out earlier.

“Is something wrong?” I asked.

“No, Mother,” Mia began. “We just wanted to ask if Mr. Merrick is that man over there. He said he was, but he wanted to hear it from you: is that the man who makes you so happy? Oh goodness! It must be! You are smiling already!”

I could not deny that fact, for I was in fact smiling at the very mention of the man who had given me everything, and I did not mean in terms of what mortals honored these days. What I meant was the feeling of almost being alive. He gave me meaning to my existence beyond my girls. He explained to me that I was allowed the happiness that he was gifting me with and for once I felt like it was okay. I…I felt things for that man that I had not felt for anyone in ages.

Mai giggled and crawled closer to me only for her sister to follow. “Can we practice sleeping, Mama? We will be able to dream soon, right?”

Mia gasped and nodded excitedly. “Yes, Mama! Can we? And could you read to us like you always did?”

Before I could even utter a word, my girls clasped their hands together and grinned. “C-Could Mr. Merrick read to us, too?”

After keeping silent since their arrival, I noticed Beau turn to us after my girls nearly shouted to the heavens at the request of a bedtime story from us. I parted my lips to begin telling him that he did not have to do that, since they were not his children and I did not want him to feel pressured to do something like that, but I never got a chance to do so when he stepped closer to us.

“You want a bedtime story, girls?”

Mai nodded once more and hopped off the couch. “We sure do! Would you read one to us, Mr. Merrick?”

“Nonsense, girls. Please call me Beau, and of course I’ll read you guys a story if your Mother doesn’t mind.”

My cheeks would have flushed a brilliant crimson if it was not for my lack of a pulse, but I swallowed hard and got up. “U-uhm, it is fine with me, dear. Should we head upstairs then?”

My girls did not wait for me to drag them upstairs, for it was they who did the dragging while I turned my head to thank Beau once again.

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Like every time that I sat down on the bed where my girls pretended to sleep, I opened up a story book that they had grown to love. It was filled with tales that my Mother told me, of  magic and true love  that I had only fantasized about as a child. Even now, my girls listened with their ears grasping each words and reacting excitedly and in surprise despite the number of times they had heard the story of Snow White or even Sleeping Beauty. There in the room that only recently began to feel like a bedroom, I felt like a mother. It would not be long before these bedtime stories would serve more of a purpose than simple entertainment, but until then I allowed myself to embrace the glow in their eyes and the gentleness in their tone. With three stories read with the help of Beau, Mai and Mia were putting on their best weary expressions, which urged me to run my hand over Mia’s cheek while Beau talked with Mai.

“Mama?”

I nodded, brushing Mia’s hair behind her ear.

“Mr. Merrick is a nice man,” She yawned forcefully. “We’re happy that you found someone so nice because it made us sad to see you frown. Now you’re always smiling and we could even feel it in your voice when you called us,” She muttered loud enough for me to hear.

“Thank you, my beautiful girl,” I sighed before leaning forward to kiss her head. “Thank you so much. He sure does make me happy…”

 Nodding lazily, she lowered her head to her pillow, motioning for her sister to do the same. Their subtle gesture did nothing but make me smile, to which Beau responded with wishing them a good sleep before motioning to me that he would wait for me downstairs while I would perform any other motherly duties that I had.
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After wishing the girls sweet dreams like I did every night even though I knew very well that they would not dream the way that mortal children would, I walked down the stairs to notice that Beau was already seated in the living room. So much had happened in the last couple of hours that I was still having trouble wrapping my head around. My girls were back after he had me worried sick that something had happened, and it was all to add an element of surprise and even more emotion than I was already expecting. No matter how flustered I was earlier, I felt nothing ill at that moment when I looked at him. I felt nothing but admiration and anything but anger.

“You had me worried sick, Mr. Merrick.”

“Oh?” He chuckled, holding out his arms for me to fall into. “I’m sorry about that, hun.”

My lips were already curled by the time that I walked up to him, but before I sat down beside him, I took his face in my hands and kissed him the way he always kissed me–with so much emotion I quite honestly believed that my heart would ignite and bring back my pulse. With his arms already snaking up my sides, I settled beside him while he grinned against my lips before either of us parted.

“T-thank you, Beau,” I whimpered. “Thank you for this.”

The man chuckled and brushed his hair with his fingers running through it. “Not a problem, Ms. Everglow.”

When he looked at me the way that he did at that moment, I could do nothing more but chew on my lip in though. I had wondered for so long why he continued to be so kind to me. Was it because we were now intimately involved? Was that all he wanted from me? Worried, I allowed the question to slip out to which he did not hesitate to answer.

“No.”

“Excuse me?”

Beau chuckled and brushed my hair behind my ear. “I said no. What we have is not solely based on what we share on that level. You’re special, Lotus, and you mean much more to me than a simple pretty girl.”

As much as it made me smile to know that my ill thoughts were banished, I had to know. I simply had to.

“T-then why did you do this for me? May I please know?”

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“Why do I do this?” He asked after wrapping his arm around my shoulder to ease me back closer to him, to let his lips brush against mine. “Because I wanted to, Lotus.”

“W-why did you want to, Beau?” I muttered quietly when he stole a quick peck.

“Because nothing brightens my day like your smile.”

{ VII }

“I am almost ready, Beau! Please allow me a minute to call my girls on the telephone.”

It had been a fairly short month since Mr. Merrick’s romantic gesture that left me still for many minutes following his departure from the front of my temporary home. Since then our companionship did not crumble, but perhaps became much more closer. Intimate, even. We spent more time together outside of restaurants, which did not bother me, for when I was with him it was about the company, not the food. We were pulse-less creatures with no need for mortal nourishment. All we needed was plasma fruit, in my case at least. On that particular evening, Beau suggested that we step out of the house for the evening instead of staying in and watching some of the classic films he wanted to show me. I was from a different time and I never truly caught up with technology.

“Take your time.”

While shuffling across the wood floor, keeping my feet close together to keep myself from tripping, I held my hand securely to my chest. When Beau arrived at my house that night, he came with a box containing a new dress he thought I would enjoy, just like he used to do. With him presenting it to me in person, it would have been extremely rude to turn in down. As wonderful as the gift was, it was a lot more revealing than I was used to, but he seemed to enjoy my struggle, offering me his sly smirk as I stopped in front of the telephone I had installed in my home.

“Thank you. It will only be a minute,” I motioned to him with my fingers immediately tangled in the coiled cord as I reached down to rotate the gold-tinted dial with neatly printed numbers which were slowly beginning to fade as a result of constant use. I made the effort to call my girls every evening to update them on the cure and to ask them how they were doing. Oh, how I missed my girls, but it would not be long before we would see each other once more. A school break would be approaching them soon, I was sure, and they would be able to come stay with me till the cure would be ready.

Each time I called them I made sure to act out my motherly duties that I had been doing for close to half a century, or was it over a century? In the end it did not matter as I would always be their mother, even if they would be off with their husband and children in the future.

“Good evening, my darlings!”

Smiling from ear to ear, I felt the tips of my toes tingle from the very of joy hearing their beautiful voices. They might have been much older than their bodies communicated, but I still saw them as the adorable twelve-year olds who had not had their growth spurts yet. Even Beau noticed my beaming expression that I offered him as well. He understood how important they were to me. Maybe it was because he had children of his own, children much older than my girls I was sure.

“You are brushing your teeth, correct? And using the makeup I have left you?”

“Yes, Mother. Teeth are brushed and makeup is applied every morning before we get on the bus and go to school,” Mai chirped before her sister chimed in.

“Every morning, Mama, just like you told us. I make sure that Mai doesn’t forget.”

“I am glad. I have been informed that it will not be much longer till your present will be complete and ready for you to take. Are you excited?”

Mia seemed to have fumbled with books before her voice became more prominent. A sisterly competition for the phone perhaps?

“Yes! We are very excited, but also scared.”

“Not scared!”

“Sister, I speak the truth. But we trust you, Mama. We know that you would want nothing more than the very best for us. We will be like Atoli’s family, correct?”

“Yes, my loves. We will be like her family.”

I did not want to keep Beau waiting any longer, so I politely bowed my head and clutched the phone gently, running my fingers down the long handle. I could not hug my girls, but I could pretend.

“Mother, are you going out with the nice man tonight?”

My girls knew of Beau and what part he was taking in my journey to attain the cure for them. They did not know of my feelings towards the kind man but they were not dull, for they were fully aware of the happiness I felt in the company of a man the same as I, the same as us. As I turned back to look at Beau, who seemed to have found an interest in the small decorations I had kept from our outings, I allowed my pointed ivories to peek out from under my lip.

“Yes, loves. I am going out with the nice man tonight. I am sorry to cut our conversation short, but I do not wish to keep you girls up late. Do your homework please and make me proud. I love you with every bit of my being.”

“We don’t sleep, Mother,” Mai giggled,”But we will get our things ready for tomorrow. Please have a nice time!”

“I am sure I will. Thank you,” My lips trembled just as they did each time we said our farewells for the evening. “Goodnight, darlings.”

As bittersweet as our conversations were, I was always welcomed back to my current reality with Beau’s  hand our for me to take. It was true that I enjoyed his company, for when I was with him I did feel comfortable enough to the point I shed my false facade to bear the flesh I was cursed with. Both with chilled exterior lacking the pigment of a mortal, we walked through the city without much care about what surrounded us. Beau’s attention was on me as well as where we were venturing while I did my best to do the same, despite the feel of beady eyes digging deep into me because it was obvious we were different. We were the night walkers who were often feared while others accepted without a single negative remark. We had those people to thank for accepting us.

“We have been walking a long time, Beau. While I do not mind, you mentioned that you wished to show me something?”

“Just wait,” He muttered, keeping the majority of his focus on the path before us. We snaked between buildings and past alleys similar to the ones I had walked through my first day in Bridgeport. The familiar settings were like a visual map of my memories that I had acquired since appearing in this edifice-filled city.

Was this the point of our evening walk? No, it was not, for I felt his fingers tighten their grip around my hand, pulling me to him as we approached a brightly lit building that I did not recognize as foreign. It was the restaurant we often visited when we wished to leave my home or even his.

“Dinner?” I asked softly.

“A little different than usual, hun, but hopefully you’ll like it just the same.” Wearing a smug smirk, he walked towards the front entrance before briefly looking at my dumbfounded expression. “I hope you aren’t afraid of heights.”

“H-heights?”

Of course none of his words were stated without a purpose for our dinner was in fact going to take place not inside the restaurant where we usually sat beside the stage where live musicians performed, but on the top floor of the building.

On the roof, to be exact. It was a sight unlike anything I had ever seen, for the sky was lit up with many glowing orbs without walls to block them. Each twinkling was like the glistening in the eyes of my children. Even the air was much different than it was down below. Everything was crisp and I could hardly believe this spectacular existed. Having only seen the buildings and nothing more since my arrival, I felt my knees weaken as I stepped forward without a word as I continued to take in the view. Not a sound was made above the clicking of my heels till I reached the edge where I rested on my hands on the concrete ledge.

“Beau…”

Startled at the sound of my voice, my evening companion stepped forward, chuckling to himself. “I was worried you froze.”

“This is,” I sighed before turning to face him. “This is stunning. Never have I seen something so beautiful in a place like this…”

He nodded slowly. “Exactly. I told you that I wanted to show you something new tonight. I take it you like it?”

The look on his face only allowed my ivories to show, even allowing my fangs to present themselves as I stepped forward so I could reach to touch his cheek. “You are a wonderful man, Beau Merrick. I love it, and I thank you so much for bringing me here.”

Obviously pleased, Beau nodded and leaned down to plant his lips on my forehead. “Well, the night is young, right? Want to sit down?”

“That would be lovely.”

He led me with his arm around my waist to a table that was set up at the far corner of the roof. Lit by the flame of a candle and covered in white cloth, everything about that moment kept my lips curved in what felt like a permanent smile. We sat in each other’s company while discussing his work and even the events so far of our evening. Never had I experienced a full moment with Beau, and I continued to thank him for that. But he did not accept my thanks, only turned them back on me–thanking me for spending time with him without the deal of the cure clouding our minds. He was correct. While my mind was filled with thoughts of a brighter future for my girls, I only focused on Beau’s smile when we were together. I did not know what it was I was feeling anymore, but I could not deny that I enjoyed each evening that we spent together to the point I found myself anticipating our next meeting.

“No really,” I giggled, placing the empty glass down onto the table, to bring my hands to the parted fabric. “I do believe this is rather distracting.”

Beau shrugged and winked at me before joining in with his low chuckle. “Distracting? What makes you say that, Ms. Everglow?”

I parted my lips to explain to him exactly why the dress I was wearing was a bit inappropriate especially for a mother of two, but his eyes were fixed elsewhere–most definitely not on my face. “Mr. Merrick!” Swatting him playfully, Beau smirked and stopped with his hands around my wrists.

“Alright, alright. I admit it. It’s quite a distraction, but quite a good one at that, don’t you think?”

“Perhaps for you, dear.”

“Exactly. I wouldn’t have it any other way. You’re my date, after all.”

When our chuckling ceased and his attention was back on me, we switched topics to my children. Though the cure was not ready just yet, Beau suggested that Mai and Mia should  come to Bridgeport to stay with me. Normally, I would have agreed immediately, but I automatically feared for their safety. Being in a place filled with many of our kind, I did not want my girls becoming part of that group. Their future was not with them, but with mortals like their friends. Beau knew that much, but when his eyes lowered and his hand found its way to mine, I had to drop my ill thoughts and turn to him.

“I could assist them with their commute from and to Sunset Valley, Lotus. It’s just that you always look so empty when you get off the phone with them.”

“Beau, that is too much,” I muttered before being interrupted.

“Nonsense. Lo-” He stopped himself, looking down with a smile that different from all the other times that he smiled in my presence. “Your kids would be safe with you, right? Children are safe with their parents…”

“Beau…?”

“For a parent to be without their child is rather sad, don’t you think? At least I can tell you that I agree with that statement because I love my children. Yeah, maybe some relationships didn’t exactly work out for the best, but I would never turn my back on my children.”

He stopped then and looked me in the eyes to search for some piece of me that would trust him to drop his guard just as I had dropped mine around him. The words that left his tender lips pricked my still heart as he explained the reason behind his speech.

“S-she took your child?”

Beau exhaled sharply, scooting closer to me. “Technically she’s her daughter as well, but she left without a word. She left with Mira without even thinking about what it would do to her, you know?”

I nodded. “I-it must hurt a child to live without having any connection to a father f-f-figure.”

“I wish I could change what happened, but I’ll just keep hoping that woman will let the past stay the past and allow my daughter to have a connection to me. Even Aponi, another one of my daughters–I keep in touch with her because I think it’s important for her to have a relationship with her father, right? I’m sorry for getting a bit too personal here, Lotus, but I love my children even if I’m not on the best terms with their mother’s. Lotus,” He repeated, “I know your girls miss you just by the way you respond to them, and I know you miss them too. Please allow me to help make this a little easier for you.”

Fiddling with the edge of the tablecloth, I bobbed my head to keep my thoughts at bay, but hearing Beau speak so fondly of his children, especially a precious gem he no longer had contact with, I felt guilty. And goodness, that guilt was shooting up through my veins like poison–burning and urging me to tear into my skin to make it stop. Beau was a kind man, but the longer I say beside him or even stood in the same room with him, I felt undeserving of his kindness. With that, I muttered quiet thanks before turning my head.

“Lotus?”

“I-I need to say something…”

Decades of total solitude were crumbling to reveal the life I had kept from many, even my children. The eyes of my companion were like the hand I once held for comfort during  time of great confusion and denial. Beau never asked me to tell him anything but knowing that he was helping me acquire something of great importance, I felt like he should have known. Or perhaps it was because it was beginning to eat at me more than ever before now that Beau’s lips met mine on numerous occasions and even more when I found out about the trust he had in me. Like Earth’s maggots cleaning bones, I had to speak to break free from a strangling lie.

“You once asked me of how my girls came to be.”

Beau placed his glass down and leaned against the chair seeing as I shifted my position in the chair away from him. “Yes, I remember.”

As difficult as it way for me to remember the sight of the lifeless man and nose-wrinkling stench of the iron in the air of the poorly decorated barn, I could not forget and swipe the memory aside as if it was nothing to me. Minutes went by following my question without any progression till I felt Beau’s hand settle over mine which rested in my lap.

“I was once close with another, a man much different from us. He had a pulse, a warm smile, and an unnatural acceptance of a woman such as I.”

Beau remained silent, running his thumb over my hand.

“His name was Wesley and he gave meaning to my grey existence. He did not question the lack of color to my flesh or the ominous glow to my eyes. That man could look into my eyes and pull out words I never thought I would hear from such precious lips.” The knot in my torso tightened like a hand against bare flesh, turning and twisting till I winced as I began to speak again. “I gave him everything because he helped me forget what it was I had become. I lost my innocence to him in the barn I took shelter in with my brother.” I could still feel Luca’s cold stare hitting my exposed back as I uncovered memory after memory.

“Lotus…”

“I-I never thought it could happen, but it did. I found out I was carrying life within my dormant shell.” I told Beau everything about the pain I felt to the horrible thirst I kept from my brother till the moment I could barely handle it. The mere thought of the moist plasma dripping from my mouth had me shake my head from side to side to the point Beau stirred in his seat. He did not speak, but I cold feel him closer, holding my hand tightly while my lips trembled just as they did when the blood lust had taken over me. “I took the life of the man who loved me more than I ever deserved. I took everything from him–his life, his future, the right to love his children. Beau, I murdered someone because of this curse! I did it and I-I am a monster, am I not?”

Part of me did not wish to know his answer as I feared he would rise and abandon me just as my brother had. But the fears in my head did not conquer the evening, for the hand of my evening companion left my mine and migrated to my cheek to guide my face to his. Though our lips did not meet, I felt my stomach turning in anticipation of his response to the truth I had revealed. Was he not appalled? Was he aware that I was a horrid creature?

“You’re not a monster, Lotus. What happened wasn’t anything you could control.”

“But…”

Beau shook his head, smiling as he did so. “Sometimes this life has a way of turning everything upside down, and I mean everything. I know it’s a shitty feeling having that guilt settled on your heart, but it wasn’t your fault. You need to realize that it was you simply acting on instinct just to survive.”

“We are not alive, Beau.”

“Well, for the sake of your children–you did what you had to do, right?”

I nodded.

“Then you are not at fault, my dear Lotus,” He muttered before leaning in to capture my lips. “You are anything but a monster. You never were and I know you never will be.”

When we parted, only his smile remained as I asked him why it was he thought that. Why was it that I was innocent when a mortal life was stolen for my own selfish needs? Why did he continue to look at me with nothing but admiration? His hand returned to my lap, bringing my full attention back to him instead of my continuous thoughts.

“I don’t exactly have a clean slate, hun, but I know that dwelling on it every single day won’t help. I made mistakes and lives were lost–precious lives, even, but we can’t turn back time.” His voice then became hushed, having me look straight into his glowing orbs. “Maybe some things happen for a reason. Whatever asshole is controlling everything down here must be getting a kick out of our misfortunes, but maybe they’re obstacles. Nothing is easy, right?”

I nodded once more now leaning to rest my head against his.

“We can’t control everything, dear, but we can make the best of our situation. Hell, maybe all of this was supposed to happen, really.”

Hearing him speak, I felt the weight on my heart begin to crumble, for I felt safe with him. Maybe even alive.

When Beau managed to make my lips curl once more, he stopped the bobbing of my head with his thumb under my chin only moments before we got up from our seats to leave our rooftop evening.

“Why did you tell me all that?”

I could have thrown together another lie, but it seemed that I no longer had a reason to build wall after wall to keep someone away, especially Beau, and I now knew why that was. The words readied at the tip of my tongue with no uncertainty for they were words from my still heart which mimicked warmth at the very sight of him.

“Because I trust you, Beau, and the last thing I would want is for you to hate me.”

When we arrived at the gate of my temporary home, I knew very well which order of actions would follow from past experiences with Mr. Merrick, but that night proved to be different. We stopped in front of my door once more as we did most nights before Beau would kiss me goodnight and venture past the gate to return to his own home. But after our evening spent atop the roof of our most visited restaurant, we waited the few extra minutes merely discussing our evening before words faded at the meeting of our lips. The mans lips were soft against mine, still housing fear, uncertainty that did not stop me from allowing his hands to touch my chilled cheek softly. Our kiss lasted much longer than it normally did, having a foreign warmth to cloak me at the parting of his lips from mine. The moistness of his breath against my lips shook me. This feeling was not foreign but ancient, and I knew that he felt it too, for the way his arm lingered on my cheek as if to hint at an invitation which I did not hesitate to announce.

“W-would you like to come upstairs for a drink?”

“A drink,” He muttered as his hand slid down to my arm, lazily wrapping his hand around mine, “A drink sounds nice, Ms. Everglow.”

The walk up the stairs proved to be more of a journey as my mouth dried out of pure anxiety. I was frightened having someone so close to me again, but with Beau it was different. He was the same as I and I would not hurt him. Part of me wanted to much to get closer to the man who was making it possible for my girls to have a wonderful mortal life in a matter of the next few months, but there too was a part of me that feared to allow someone close to me once more despite our mutual condition. I did not wish for him to know of my fear and uncertainty even though it was I who invited him inside.

“You looked wonderful tonight,” Beau whispered softly, yet loud enough for me to hear him from the kitchen where I was pouring us the plasma wine I had purchased. Though the probability of us actually bringing the glasses to our lips was becoming more slim as I was no longer left alone in the kitchen, but with Beau, whose arms reached forward, to touch my waist while he pulled my hair to the side so his lips could brush against my neck.

“I-I have our drinks r-ready, but if you do not want them, then,” I trailed off to purse my lips tightly as he began leaving trails of soft kisses down my neck, down to my exposed shoulder. “I am sorry–ah,” I whimpered, “I am sorry, Mr. Merrick. I have not…”

“Don’t worry,” He exhaled heavily once I turned around to face him. When his hands wandered down my dress, I could sense the hunger in his touch, which my body did not deny. In fact, it mirrored it from what seemed like curiosity. “Do you want to go upstairs?”

I nodded slowly, taking him by the hand to lead him to the only room he had not been in with me.

No more than two feet were traveled once we were upstairs before my evening companion captured my lips with his. Each movement of his tender touch made me tremble just like I did so long ago. As frightened as I was, my body ached for his. Beau must have not been a stranger to soft sighs and whimpers due to his kisses, because he urged me closer to him with his hand on mine moments before sneaking up my arm to gently touch the thin fabric clinging to my torso.

“Oh, Beau…”

“Don’t be afraid,” He muttered, reaching forward to sneak his hand under the fabric to cup my breast in his hand. “A beautiful flower deserves to be admired, Lotus.”

My eyes shot open when he pulled away slightly to run his tongue over my lower lip to silently ask for permission to have my lips part for him. When the hunger inside us intensified, I felt myself stumbling back with Beau’s weight on me towards the bed I mostly kept for decoration. Strange to think that I once thought that was all it would be. After kicking off our shoes, I reached to help Beau out of his jacket and vest while he untied my dress to let it peel away from my skin, leaving me completely exposed to him.

“I-I didn’t have anything to wear under the dress,” I whimpered as his eyes traveled down my chest to my legs without a single negative remark.  Beau’s eyes lit up longingly when he looked into mine while his hand ran down my slender frame, down to my hips where he stopped for a mere second before continuing to migrate south.

“For you to think you’re a monster is ridiculous, Lotus,” He whispered, lowering his head to my chest to sample me. “Please don’t say that…”

From the feel of his lips on my breast and his hand below, I could hardly hold back a soft whimper. “B-Beau, Beau…I haven’t,” I yelped. “I haven’t done this in a very long time.”

Beau’s lips left the crown of my breast for a mere moment so he could kiss it gently. “It’s just us tonight, Ms. Everglow. I’ll take care of you; you have nothing to worry about.”

Soft gasps left my lips each time I felt Beau’s touch. His hand was lingering between my legs, doing things I once was told were unholy. Denying the pleasure I felt when his finger touched me deeper, faster, was not possible. And the same went for when his tongue traced my breast with such precision I feared I would lose myself beneath him. In time his movements slowed, but the intensity increased, which made a stifled whimper sneak through my tight lips. Beau was chuckling when his lips weren’t admiring the crimson mark I was left with as a reminder of my dreadful existence while his body slowly shifted the weight on the bed. He pushed him himself closer to me, settling between my legs while his fingers slowed to a stop, only for his erection to brush against my inner thigh while he groaned in my ear.

“Lotus,” He started before sneaking a kiss that teased me, urged me to beg for more of his touch. “Do you want me?”

His orbs were penetrating the facade I tried so hard to maintain, but I didn’t feel weak or frightened with him hovering above me. His touch reminded me so much of what I used to feel so many years ago in the arms of a loved one. The look in his eyes made my lips curve and  nod slowly prior to his lips taking their place over mine. Beau had centered himself between my legs before he pushed forward, grinding his hips against mine. At first my body shot into a spasm of pain and sudden pleasure that soon eased when he pulled his lips from mine.

“You can hold onto me if you want,” He purred against my collarbone that he then nicked with his fangs, to which I did not object. My arms were slipped between his arms to hold him closer while he established a rhythm that worked for both of us. When I would moan or squeak, he would have his lips migrate back to mine before thrusting deeper. He was so in control, so passionate. I felt like an inexperienced fool beneath him till rubbed the palms of his hands against my hip that shuddered at the additional touch.

“Oh, Mr. Merrick!” I squirmed, instinctively lifting my hips, moving in sync with each motion of his hips firmly against me. The more I did that, the more labored my breaths became.

“Say my name, Lotus,” He asked, pulling me closer to him when he guided both of my arms above me head. With one hand he held them by the wrist while his free hand helped my leg snake over his.

“Mr. M-merrick! Ple-please don’t stop. I need you…” My back was arched, getting close enough to rub my chest against his. I needed more of him. I needed to lose myself in him, intoxicated in the euphoria that was Beau Merrick.

He moaned against my lips before I pulled them against mine so I could kiss him roughly, longingly. He wasn’t put off by my sudden desire and physical reactions. If anything, he enjoyed it. As his thrusts into me became more quick and fluid, my gasps only continued to grow more labored.

“Beau!” I cried out. “Oh my, I-I want–”

Beau grinned at the sound of his name leaving me in a frantic cry. He knew I was not hurt or upset. He knew very well that I needed more of him, that the very touch of his tongue against my skin had me biting down on my lip, piercing the thin skin of my lips.

“Careful, sweetheart.” Was all he said before he licked off the drop of my blood that oozed as a result of the small prick.

When our lips met again, I reached with my chest against his once more, and seeing as my wrists were till bound, I latched onto his bottom lip teasingly. In a matter of moments we we’re tossing between the sheets that were of no use to use when they were only forced off in the end. We ended up on our sides with my leg over his and his hand gripping my butt securely, pushing me up against him. Slowly, at first, we readjusted to the rhythm of his hips and his tongue exploring my mouth. But when his speed increased, I tightened my grip around his back, pawing at him. It felt good getting verbal responses from him. His groans and muttered phrases that slurred together every time he reached up to kiss me made my toes tingle. My whimpers slowed and I held onto him tighter, digging my nails into him, which made him grind his hips harder against mine. The more he did that, the blurrier my vision became. Feeling him so close to me, so precise in his movements, I felt my spine urge me to arch. Beau knew very well I was close, so he didn’t stop till my gasps became more pronounced and my fingers fell loosely against his lower back. When I felt my hips shudder in ecstasy, my moans were silenced by his mouth against mine.

“Lotus, do you want me to pull out?” Beau said while watching my cold sweat embraced chest rub against his at the continued affection from him. “I-I’m close and I-”

“Stay,” I muttered. “Let me feel you.”

Beau’s lips were pressed into a thin line that rested on my shoulder, gently leaving kisses. He continued swaying his hips into me while I ran my hands down his back. The firm muscles moved and tightened with each movement.
“You,” He muttered softly as he brought his hand into my hair that stuck to my skin in cold sweat, “You feel so good.” Beau continued to mutter without much though to focus on the swift motions of his body. Picking up speed once more was not a problem for him when I opened my mouth to whisper his name. He was hitting the spot within me that had my toes tingle and stomach ache for him. In a matter of seconds, the intensity of pleasure caused by him magnified, as did his. A low growl echoed in his throat like an uncertain hunger before he flipped us, so I was beneath him once more and he was over me. I could feel his hips each time he thrusted deeper, but much slower than he did better. With skin covered in our sweat, Beau reached to cup my breast in his hand while I helped drive him to ecstasy. He showed me the way to move and touch him while he focused on me. The curiosity in my touch nearly made the man lose it, having his hips presser deeper against me when he parted his lips to groan my name. My cheeks would have acquired warmth if blood flowed in my body, that was for sure. When Beau was back beside me with his arms around me, I could hardly believe that everything happened. The very thought of his lips against my flesh still brought me chills. At that moment I knew that Beau could have simply rolled off the bed and continued on his way home, but he did not. Instead of leaving me, Beau reached down from the ground and picked up his jacket so he could offer it to me.

“Your jacket?”

“To keep you warm,” He smirked, knowing that the cold did not affect either of us, but I welcomed the simple gesture.

“You truly are a kind man, Beau…”

Once I slipped my arms into the sleeves of the dark jacket, Beau helped me back down to the bed with his arm immediately around my waist so he could hold my body close against his. It felt good having someone holding me after many years of staying up alone where my only company other than my girls was Moon, our cat. That act Beau and I took part in did not distance us, for it only seemed to bring us closer.

“Y-you don’t have to go, do you?”

Beau’s cool sigh grazed my shoulder before he kissed it softly. “I’ll stay as long as you want me to.”

I bit down on my lip when his hand settled over mine. “I would love it if you stayed the night, Beau. I truly would.”

When he felt the soft squeeze of my hand, Beau adjusted his hold on me like a lover would to keep his significant other warm and close–feeling protected.

“Then, my Lotus, I will stay.”

{ VI }

“Lotus-

I hope that this small token of my appreciation will fit you well for when we meet tonight.”

It was my second full month in the city with towering edifices, a city where I was without my girls. Although we communicated using the telephone every night, I still missed them dearly, but they had school to attend and our facade had to be maintained while I was away. During the time that I continued to wait for any news on the cure for my girls, I spent many of my evenings in the company of a being the same as I. Mr. Merrick took it upon himself to help me obtain the cure faster than it would have normally taken. While he could have asked me for money, he continued to take me out of my temporary home for evenings in the city, dressed in whatever he gifted me with.

“Another?” I mumbled while gently lifting the lid from the cream-colored box that remained on my bed since it had been delivered earlier that day. “Mr. Merrick, why do you continue to send these?”

It was around quarter of an hour before my evening guide would show, and I was still staring at the contents of the sturdy container with eyes wide open. The first time we met, I wore the only clothes I had brought–which were the ones on my back the day I had arrived. After that, I would receive carefully wrapped boxes with an outfit he would ask me to wear. The fabric was beautiful, yes, but it must have been expensive! To spend a significant amount of money on a being such as I was absurd, but he did not stop and he refused to accept my money.

As much as it had bothered me to accept such gifts when I saw myself undeserving, I did not want to upset him, for the fate of my girls was very much in his hands. Even if I did suggest that he take the clothes back and accept my money, Mr. Merrick often laughed and offered me another drink or a new topic to converse about.

I did not truly understand the motive behind inviting me out to join him, but it would be have been a lie if I had said I did not enjoy it. Mr. Merrick was a very kind man and being able to enjoy his company was a wonderful addition when I already owed him so much.

I hesitated long enough, so without further delay, I slipped out of the hip-hugging skirt and loose sweater that I kept around the house when elegant attire was not needed. While I stood with my bare body reflecting in the mirror, my fingers scaled each crevice to make sure each spec of my skin was coated with fair concealer. Whether or not the soft fabric of the off-shoulder dress revealed anything, I never felt safe knowing I was left uncovered somewhere. My fear of being around other mortals had not ceased despite the many outings I had attended in their company. It was not so much a fear of losing control, but being found out and called something that I knew I was: a monster. With the century-old guilt lingering within my hollow heart, I could not allow myself an ounce of comfort or ease around them. That was why I needed the cure for my girls, so they would never have to go through what I had to go through each and every day.

Guilt and fear twisted me from the inside, but there were moments when all of that ceased to matter, and that began at the sound of the doorbell that chimed a chime as eloquent and crisp as I had remembered many years ago. The resonant echo of aged brass urged my hand to leave my hair, to slide down my sides. After I finished smoothing out the fabric of my dress that now hugged the subtle curves of my hips, I quickly glanced in the mirror before allowing the corners of my lips to lift. It was eight-thirty and Mr. Merrick was right on time, as per usual.

Instead of having him wait outside while I hopped around the house in search of my heels, I quickly glided down the stairs to invite him upstairs. I hated having him wait, but pondering if the outfits he sent me each time we met were serious, a lot of my time simply dissolved from existence.

“Good evening, Lotus. Am I early?” He began with a radiating grin that flashed his fangs while I waved my hand back as he went up the stairs so I could continue looking around for my shoes, which should have been in the living room.

“I apologize, Mr. Merrick, for you have left me dumbfounded once more. I could have put together an outfit with what you gifted me with last week. Is this not too much?”

He watched me trail my fingers along my sides to bring his attention to his most recent gift to me. “Oh no, this is definitely good. You look wonderful, Lotus. I thought that maybe you would’ve liked something nice like this to wear when we go out.”

After bowing my head politely and reciting my thanks, I motioned for him to give me a minute while I located my heels which thankfully were not far from where I had left them last. Behind the couch and to the side of the dresser, I was finally able to pick out the black shoes that protected the soles of my feet on my journey to the city. Seeing as I was ready, I turned my full attention back to Mr. Merrick whose grin was no longer gracing his luminous flesh.

“Is something wrong?”

Mr. Merrick reached forward after I stepped closer to him with orbs swimming with confusion and worry. He seemed fine a second ago, so what was it that erased his wonderful smile?

“You’re wearing your makeup,” He muttered while his hand brushed up against my hand before creeping up slowly as gingerly as he could. I could feel his gentle touch over the layer of concealer that I spent hours piling on that morning. “You mentioned how you admired the way I carried myself without hiding. You know that I wouldn’t let anything happen to you if you just let go.”

I looked normal; I looked mortal. It was what I strived for.

“Mr. Merrick, I am uncertain if letting everything about my routine in Sunset Valley slip from my grasp is indeed a good idea. I am uncomfortable with the thought of leaving without it.” Admitting that I felt my muscles contract–almost expecting him to get upset, but his arm migrated to my shoulder where his fingers traced my crimson mark on my neck, that I tried to hide with my hair. “Doing that is not easy for me. I have grown with this facade and erasing it from my life is just…”

Slowly, his lips parted and he nodded as he motioned towards the stairs.

“I understand, but do keep in mind that whatever you are shielding, whether it is your skin color or eyes–you really don’t need to do that. You’re a very attractive woman without all that, I’m sure.” The man cleared his throat audibly and reached for my hand before he gave me a chance to respond. With his abrupt end to that subject, I did not show any desire to reignite the conversation, so I followed him down the stairs, out the door, and past the gate that kept outsiders away.

Beau knew that I never operated an automotive vehicle of any kind, so he decided that we would walk to the center of the city while the sun set before us. With our energy due to our immortal state, walking from beyond the bridge to the downtown area took us no more than an hour when nourished with plasma–which Mr. Merrick constantly reminded me to indulge in so I would not end up weary and fragile as I was when we first met. What a thoughtful man he was. When we finally reached the center of the city, that was buzzing with the night life as usual, he did not let me gaze at the glowing buildings, for he took my hand in his, to lead me to where our evening was being hosted. The building differed from the small diners and lounges that we often ventured to. The very aura that oozed from beyond the doors reminded me so much of the eloquent parties mother took me to when I turned sixteen in hopes of finding a suitable match for me. But my belief in love and refusal to settle down with a man from a great family who had an ill personality got me to where I was the evening my life was drained from me. Sometimes I wondered how things would have played out if only I had accepted Luca’s disappearance.

“Lotus?” I heard Mr. Merrick call to me when we stepped into the large violet hall that was immediately enveloped by gentle tune flowing gracefully with each keystroke executed by the pianist while a young woman sang–pouring her entire soul into the microphone.

“Yes?”

Pleased to heard me respond, he shook his head and leaned forward while his eyes darted around the tray of sweets he ordered the moment a waitress approached us after giving us several minutes to get situated and to glance at the menus.

“You seemed to be off in your own little world for a moment there, but it’s nice to have you back,” He chuckled before pushing a fruit tart in my direction. He must have been imitating the pair beside us that was continuously offering each other the sweets by fork-full. His smile only widened when I guided a strand of my hair behind my ear.

“I am sorry about that. Perhaps this place brings back memories I never thought I would be able to retrieve seeing as I have been around long enough to have time merge into one speck in my mind. Mr. Merr–”

“Please, Lotus, you may call me Beau,” He laughed. “You address me like we’re on some business meeting when we’re just here to enjoy the ‘delicious and mouth-watering’ treats with some great wine. We’re good friends now, right?”

If I had a beating heart, my cheeks would have rapidly skipped several shades of red to get to a bright crimson, but instead, I slid the plate forward with such nerves that it squeaked against the polished glass of the table.

“Careful there.”

“Mr. M–Beau, I am so sorry. I just…”

“And don’t apologize so much,” Beau added, “You’re perfectly fine. In fact, you’re quite normal. See, we fit in with everyone else!”

The way he was trying to lighten up my embarrassment helped me collect myself and reconstruct what it was that I wanted to ask him in the first place. Sometimes it was a bit difficult to put words to my thoughts due to the things he said. His compliments, his lighthearted  remarks about my actions–just everything that he did made being away from home and spending time around mortals so much easier.

Parting my lips to giggle quietly, I looked back up at him while my eyes scanned the violet room. “I have wondered about something, Beau. I am uncertain if I am crossing boundaries, so do let me know if I should stop, but this has circled my mind for some time now. Do you often think of the way everything in your life played out? Do you ever wish you could turn back time to see what it would have been like if you evaded this curse?”

Beau’s smile faded into a tight smirk while his finger wrapped around the neck of the wine bottle only to let it go moments later.

“I guess I do, yes. I come from a different time where Twinbrook was nothing like it is now. Things were nice back then till I screwed up, so it’s inevitable for me not to think about it, I guess.”

Curious, I attempted to push forward. “You did something wrong?”

It was almost as if he had waited for me to ask.

“Yes, I did. The lifestyle choices I made didn’t exactly lead me along a path to a great life. I’m not proud of anything I did back then because my lack of control and greed at the time cost the life of my love and our child. Two lives could have been spared if only I had acted differently. It’s just something that I can’t erase from my memory because that would be wrong to do so. A very long time has gone by since I was turned, but to answer your question Lotus–yes, I do think about the what if’s. As horrible as some memories may be, they brought us to where we are today, right? Sometimes as hard,” He paused, glancing at his hand, “Sometimes as hard as it is, we have to force ourselves to move on in order to stop dwelling on something that happened years ago, no matter how difficult it is.” Beau sighed and leaned forward to rest his arms on the glass of the table while I remained with my teeth chewing on my bottom lip. “I’m sorry if that wasn’t exactly uplifting, but I don’t doubt you have something eating at you, Ms. Everglow. I can see that you understand what it feels like to lose something, someone close to you.”

I nodded slowly.

“But enough about me,” He smiled, “Since you brought about the topic of our past, may I ask where your true origins trace back to? Am I in fact the older one here?” Beau trailed off with a smile.

“My true origins?” I asked before my fingers slipped over the wooden tray holding the sweet treats that were slowly beginning to melt from the heat of the room. “Well, you mentioned earlier that you were from around the sixteen hundreds?”

“That sounds about right.”

“Then you are older, for I am from the very late eighteen hundreds, if I can still remember correctly. I  grew up in Sunset Valley when it too did not resemble what it looks like today. We had so much beauty around us and it truly blossomed around the fall when the leaves would turn a beautiful amber. It was not until the plague that the world around us started to fade to grey.” Beau noticed me look down to the empty plate that would not end up covered in chocolate frosting or bits of fruit.

“Well, what about your childhood? Do you remember that?” His suggestions were trailing from how our demise came about and circled around to something that brought us back to a more uplifting topic. “I used to have some hobbies before I was turned, but I don’t fancy them anymore, so I stick to reading books–mystery novels to be exact. What about you?”

I thought back to the things that kept me moving forward when I was younger and the only things that came to mind were not the high-class parties mother used to drag me to, but the times I spent with Luna and with Midnight, and then Crescent after everyone around us either passed on or fled to escape their imminent death if they chose to remain in town.

“Horses,” I muttered.

“W-what was that?”

“I used to train horses when my mother was not continuously pointing out each and every moment where I was not acting like a proper lady. In her eyes, she saw the horses as mere transportation, not as companions as I saw them. Maybe she was upset because I was not willing to marry for money,” I mumbled shielding the small smile that was slowly spreading across my lips.

Rubbing his neck with his index finger, Beau nodded and sighed. “So, you were never married, Ms. Everglow, or did you find your significant other later in your life.”

I paused to think.

“The reason I ask is because of your girls who seem to fit into you life somehow. I’ve been wondering about something, too: how is it that a polite and interesting woman like you is without a golden band around her finger?”

“I,” My voice trembled at the very thought of Wesley, but speaking of him to Beau was something I simply could not do. Why would I want to push away the only person I had left to converse with in this dark city? I needed Beau’s help and even his guidance because without him I would not be able to make it back home to deliver the cure to my girls. Without Beau, I knew that I would fail. “No,” I finally answered. “I was never married, but I was close. The father of my girls passed away shortly before I gave birth to them, so they never got to meet him. After that, I just stopped looking.” My teeth were gritting against each other as I continued to lie. Oh, how I hated the feeling of guilt that ate away at my sanity.

I was close to getting married? Nonsense. Wesley knew not of my strange condition and if he had lived after my blood lust outburst, he would have used what strength he had left to run away from me and from our children.

I stopped looking for my special someone, my soulmate? It was more like I did not deserve someone like that. A being such as I was meant to be cursed and punished for all eternity especially when the life of an innocent was snatched away by my hands.

“What about you, Mr. Merrick,” I swallowed hard to push back the night Wesley came for me to the back of my mind. “Did you ever have more children with a significant other?”

He seemed hesitant at first, but he ended up smiling to himself before answering me, confirming that he did in fact have more children after the sadness from his past life. While part of me wanted to ask more about them, I could sense a sort of distance in him that clued me in that perhaps it was not the time to inquire more about his life. I was merely a friend, after all, or even a business companion. I did not know. I pushed my boundaries, I was sure, but Beau reassured me that he just gotten distracted by a woman failing to spoon her food into her mouth.

Perhaps.

“Why don’t we go for a walk, unless you would like to stay and eat these treats?”

“No,” I replied,” A walk seems nice, Mr. Merrick.”

“Back to formalities, huh?”

We left the restaurant with me feeling like I had done more wrong than right in terms of our friendship. I did not know how to act around anyone other than my girls. Around strangers I had to lie and continuously conjure up stories of my existence because remaining in the same town for hundreds of years while remaining undetected took a mind skilled in disguise. But speaking with Beau was strange, for I did not have to hide. We were the same in the sense that our hearts were no longer beating, but it was something I was not used to. Having someone to speak to other than my girls was very foreign since Luca walked out, leaving me to push forward on my own.

But what brought me back to him was the feel of his fingers lacing with mine as we approached the door that would take us back outside. Had I not done anything wrong?

We stopped along the way several times to gaze upon the lit up buildings once we were outside the city and standing on the bridge close to my temporary home. While Beau’s hand was no longer holding mine, he continued to have his fingers glide over the palm of my hand as I allowed my thoughts to race. He had not said much about his or my children or anything regarding our past life, but he did not seem to distance himself from me. Understanding his actions was beyond me, so I remained quiet while he told me about the cure and what news he had received about the two vials I requested for my girls. Everything was going well, he said, and that having the cure in my possession by the end of that year was something I could count on. It felt nice knowing that the dream of giving my girls a normal, mortal life was attainable, and it was all because of Beau Merrick.

He grinned when my eyes lit up at the very thought of watching my girls grow and become young ladies that they already were at heart.

Even though our light conversation returned as we got closer to my home, I could not help but wonder why Beau had suddenly gotten so quiet. His eyes continued to watch me intently, but barely any words left past his smile.

Maybe something was wrong and I was too underexposed to notice..?

“I do apologize if I was not exactly the best company this evening, Mr. Merrick. I am not used to being around mortals or around anyone other than my girls,” I sighed, trailing off once we approached the door to my temporary home. It still puzzled me why he continued to ask for my company in the evenings when he could have simply asked me for money. And the gifts? I was not used to wearing dresses that revealed my shoulders or my legs. Was that truly the proper attire for Bridgeport?

“Lotus, you say this every time we meet and I always tell you the same. You are always wonderful company and I really enjoy the time we spend together. No apology is needed when you’ve done nothing wrong.”

Oh, goodness…

“Then I thank you for tonight, Mr. Merrick…”

Beau’s eyes glistened against the light hanging above the entrance as he stepped forward just as he did every time when he walked me home. While he normally bowed his head and kissed my cheek, that night was different, for Mr. Merrick did not bow his head but reached forward to brush his hand along my makeup-coated flesh. There was no warmth to me, yet he smiled as if my cheeks burned beneath his touch. Why did he do that? When my brows furrowed, his lips widened before leaning forward to plant a kiss on my cheek. That peck was different, for it lingered. I did not back away; it would have been rude to turn down a farewell from someone I needed greatly.

“Goodn-”

My farewell was suddenly interrupted by his chilled lips against my plump lips that he embraced so delicately. He did not pull me forward to further what it was he ignited, but reached to stroke my cheek once more before stepping back and bowing his head in farewell as he normally did.

“Goodnight, Lotus.”

As he walked away from me, waving his arm above his head, I stood in awe with my finger against my lower lip. My lips, dormant for so long were awakened with a gesture I had not felt in hundreds of years. What was it that Mr. Merrick  thought of me? The question took the place of worry and a subtle hint of comfort surfaced deep within me before I turned to venture inside.

“Goodnight, Beau.”

{ V }

‘Everything was different now.

I continued to go through the same schedule day after day with the most convincing grin I could manage. All of it was for my girls, who would never know the face of their father. They would never hear the sound of his contagious laugh or feel his warm hands against their cheeks. The girls did not know of his existence and I wanted to keep it that way in fear that they would grow to loathe me. I wouldn’t have been able to handle that.

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While my eyes searched for any sign of guidance in my reflection, I thought about my brother and the possibility of things ending up differently if he had stayed. Maybe we wouldn’t have to move around from house to house, or my girls would have been able to laugh and play without being sheltered by their mother. They deserved a normal life, but there wasn’t much that I could’ve done since I was alone. Who was to say that we were safe in a town that used to hunt down our kind like animals, like monsters?

Mia’s words continued to ring in my ear. ‘Will we ever grow up like Atoli?’

Like Atoli.

Will we ever grow up?

My fingers clenched the wood of the dresser tightly while I tried to rid myself of the deafening sound of my overlapping thoughts that reminded me of the guilt that would wrap itself around my being for the rest of my existence.

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“Immortality is not punishment for what I have done, Wesley, and I know that I will never be absolved of this sin, but maybe I can make things right for our girls. I need to set out and find what it was my brother acquired that returned him to a mortal state…”

Yes, that was what I was going to do.

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While my girls knew not of their father and what I had done, they knew very well what their uncle did. They also knew that we were not like Atoli and her family. Our hearts did not beat just as theirs did and we never aged a day. So when I sat them down and explained that I had to leave, they didn’t object or look to me with confusion swimming in their orbs. While trapped in the bodies of a children no older than twelve, Mai and Mia were much older and more cultured than anyone would have expected them to be–which was precisely why they wrapped their arms around my waist and wished me a safe trip without begging me to stay. They knew very well what I was after and what would happen if I were to acquire it. So with the promise of them having a normal life, I grabbed whatever I could carry, like money, clothes, and plasma fruit, before setting out for the destination that held promise.

My brother was reported deceased in a place called Bridgeport– which I found out was a little under two hours away from Sunset Valley. But with no vehicle to operate and me being  much too afraid to call for assistance from a paid driver, I decided to go forth on foot. That decision not only stretched out the two-hour travel time into a nine-hour journey, but it also resulted in me devouring all twelve plasma fruits that I hoped would last me at least a week. In addition to my lack of nourishment to soothe the burning in my throat, I was traveling under the burning star–which was never recommended for beings who lacked a pulse. The sun not only depleted my energy and slowed me down, but left me feeling like my cold flesh was only moments away from incinerating.  I dressed in a way that would hopefully allow me to blend in with the city population while I searched for the cure, without thinking about the horrid heat.

But by some miracle, the sun set only an hour or so before I was ready to collapse and give up on my goal. Though the heat no longer pricked my skin, I was still exhausted beyond belief. Never had I felt so slow; the rate at which I was traveling mirrored that of a weakling struggling against strong winds, something I never had trouble with. I had to put forth every once of effort I had left in my body to drag my feet across the rough grounds on the side of the road before even seeing a glimpse of the city’s skyline painted across the horizon.

When I was left with my mouth dry and legs that were about to give out under the pressure of my exhausted shell, I chewed my lip and growled in attempt to push myself further up the sidewalk that was moments away from reaching a large bridge. Seeing that massive structure ignited some hope within me that I was close and that my prize would soon be within my reach.

Hope was my drive, but the thought of my girls smiling and aging like every being should have resulted in being my final push.

My feet ached, but I continued to push forward up the bridge while keeping my eye on the image before me. My throat burned, but I had to keep control. The portrait of the towering edifices in the distance had my lips tighten, because I knew that I could not give up now that I was so close. The morning sun would be rising soon and my mission would officially begin. I would have to move with haste in order to acquire what it was I was after before I would be able to return to my girls. Another day of my flesh threatening to spontaneously ignite and I would not have been able to make it back in one piece. I sadly knew that allowing myself to bask in the suns rays would not result in my death–no, it would merely wear me down and tease me with the dream of  an eternal sleep. I knew it, for I tried. How cruel this fate was.

At the first signs of the rising sun, I mustered my final bits of energy to propel myself forward into the heart of Bridgeport, where I was greeted with nothing but blacktops and concrete. This city of lights and movement was nothing like Sunset Valley. Instead of taking in the fresh scent of nature and mother earth’s beauty, I was surprised by the horrid aroma of car exhaust and the sight of grey buildings.

“Why would you come to such a place, brother?” I muttered under my breath–continuing my walk across street after street once the darkness of the evening faded. It was not long before my head began to spin after I caught myself looking straight up into the sky where the buildings towered and where seagulls hollered in the distance.

“Hey, lady! Get off the street!”

My hands clenched tight at the sounds of the man bellowing from the yellow car that moved at  an inhuman speed. I stood dumbfounded as it approached me till I realized that he would not stop. So with a squeak sounding from my throat, I lunged forward to avoid colliding with the vehicle. While it would have not killed me, I did not want an audience of city-walkers to look upon a clumsy tourist who was untouched by a pile of metal that normally would have taken a life at such an impact.

But I was no ordinary tourist, was I?

Even tough I knew that I would have remained unharmed, I was still frightened. There was no warmth in the mans voice or in the gesture he offered me as he drove by. Was everyone in the city so cold and unkind? Oh dear Luca–you did not belong here. How could anyone belong to such a place that breathed not fresh air but fabricated chemicals that filled the atmosphere? I merely shook my head and continued walking up the sidewalk that spiraled around the city like a never-ending path in a labyrinth–never knowing if each turn led to the desired exit or another dead-end. I was hitting dead-ends left and right, for I did not know where to look for the only place that I thought to have promise of the cure I was after.

Wandering around aimlessly was proving to be more exhausting than productive, so I did the first thing that came to mind: I stopped and scanned my surroundings for anyone or anything that could offer me assistance. While the city-walkers were traveling with their expression twisted into a disgruntled mess, I gave up on contacting a mortal for help when all I could have been given was the impolite gesture that the taxi driver displayed for me not even an hour ago. I settled on walking in the opposite direction of the morning traffic and towards a brick building with flickering neon signs. It all looked like the buildings I saw in the movies. That meant that there were people in there–which would mean that I would be able to get direct help. Perhaps calling the operator would prove to be more help than asking any civilian in this place.

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I walked as quickly as I could in the heels that begged to be thrown off till I reached the building with the quickly fading flickering signs. All was well till I reached to turn the knob on the wooden door that would allow me to step inside and make the phone call that would hopefully direct me straight to the science facility. Hope was glistening in my eyes and I was prepared to fork over my entire life savings for the serum to free my girls of eternal life, only to be horribly disappointed.

“Is this a joke?” I screeched, stomping my foot like a child. After nearly a full day of being away from home and not getting any closer to getting the cure, I was on the very edge. Had I truly come so far only to be stopped by a damn door?!

“This cannot be real. This is ridiculous! Why won’t you open?!”

“Is there a problem, Miss?”

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At the initial sound of the being behind me, I felt my muscles freeze. Like stone, I stood rigid and waited for them to step away from me. I must have looked like a fool while yelling at the door. Oh, I should have seen this coming. How on Earth could my behavior go unnoticed when I looked like a woman on the brink of insanity?

“Miss?”

Having had enough, I spun around to face the man who looked at me intently. Little by little, the intensity of his gaze faded and transcribed into a grin as his eyes looked me up and down.

“Are you lost?” He asked as his voice trailed off when his eyes settled on my neck that I reached to scratch nervously.

“Y-yes, I’m perfectly fine. I was just–” I sighed and rubbed my head wearily. “I need to use a phone and the door to this building is locked.”

The man shifted his weight to one foot and nodded slowly. After he crossed his arms over his chest, he pointed at the board that remained plastered to the wall directly behind me. “Well sure it’s locked, Miss; this place opens up at sundown.” Noticing that I opened my mouth to respond, he arched his brow and nodded in my direction. “Is it not too hot to be out at this time? The sun is pretty brutal today.”

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It was then that I got a better look at the man who was talking to me. His eyes had that strange glow that I had when I wasn’t wearing my contacts, but they were not the only feature we had in common. His skin emanated a strange, inhuman glow just as mine did, and his teeth were as sharp as…mine. It only took me a moment to piece everything together. That man was no mortal; that man was like me, or was it I who was like him? I knew that he asked me something, but nothing was processing in my mind now that I realized what he was, now that I realized that he was eyeing me in a suspicious manner.

“Ah, I apologize if I’m making you feel uncomfortable. I assure you–I don’t mean you any harm. My name is Beau, Beau Merrick, if that makes you feel any better. I was just walking by to pick up a magazine and happened to spot you. You said that you need to use a phone?”

I nodded.

“I’m guessing that you’re not a fan of mobile phones?”

“Mobile?”

“Yeah, you know–” He stopped and clicked his tongue, “I would offer you mine, but I left it back at my apartment.” The moment he noticed my head droop, he stepped forward and rubbed the back of his neck tenderly,  “This place should open in a couple of hours and I was planning on coming here tonight anyway…”

“Oh, thank you. I’ll keep that in mind.”

“I was going to offer you my company while you waited, unless you would rather be here– alone in a place that you’re not familiar with, with all kinds of people.”

I would have made some remark about how absurd he was being and that I was perfectly capable of taking care of myself, but he was right. And he was going to be there that night either way, right? What reason did I have to shoo him away? It wasn’t like he could have killed me when neither of had a heart pumping life into our veins. We ended up with our backs against the dumpster while we waited for the bar to open. I would have continued walking around the city, but with my lack of energy I wouldn’t have gotten far. I needed that time to rest and to regain as much energy as I could without the help of the plasma fruit and without giving into temptation. While we sat, I kept my eyes away from him and continued to stare at my feet till the sound of his shoes scraping against the concrete startled me.

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“I didn’t mean that anything was going to happen to you,” He finally said.

“What?”

“I mentioned that you would be alone when I offered to stay.” Beau turned to me and did again. He smiled that toothy grin that showed off his teeth, his fangs. How was it that he smiled with such pride, such amusement as if all of this was normal.

Instead of continuing on with that topic, I kept my head down and pointed to my neck, tapping it gently. “You’re not mortal, are you?”

When the words left my lips, Beau simply smirked, as if he were waiting for me to ask him that very question. Without much delay, he leaned his head back against the dumpster and shrugged. “What? You don’t think I am? What gave it away?” He chuckled without much care. It didn’t seem to bother him at all. What if someone heard him? Did they not hunt beings like us? Were we not the monsters that mother’s told their children about?

“You just look a little different. So, are you or are you not, Mr. Merrick?”

His head turned slightly to face me as he offered me a short shake of his head. “No, Miss. I am most definitely not a mortal. My heart stopped beating long ago and I’ve been like this ever since. So, I guess I’m a vampire then, right? Does this answer satisfy you?”

“Vampire? Is that what you call yourself?” I asked through clenched teeth.

“I suppose so,” He smirked, “And if I may ask–what do you call yourself, Miss?”

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He did catch me off guard, that was for sure, but I had to keep my calm state intact, so I offered him a small smile without flashing my teeth before I pulled my legs into my chest. “Lotus.”

“What’s that?”

“My name. It’s Lotus Everglow.”

“Everglow?” He asked with an arched brow. “If you don’t mind me asking–are you here alone?”

“Yes, I am. Why do you ask, Mr. Merrick?”

But then it was his turn to shake his head and dismiss the subject only to point to the approaching vehicle that turned into the employee parking lot just to the side of the building. After running his hand through his hair and getting up, Beau offered his hand for me to take, to get up from the ground so we could be ready to walk into the bar. While I could have questioned him about the familiarity in his voice at the mention of my surname, I was much to focused on getting to a phone than to wonder about anything else.

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In no time at all I was at the bar asking the barely ready mixologist for permission to use the phone so I could call the operator to obtain more information from the science facility about the cure. But when my call was finally transferred, I wasn’t transferred to a secretary, but a machine that repeated the office hours on a loop. It turned out that I was only an hour late. I missed my opportunity to get what it was I traveled for, which meant that my trip to Bridgeport would have to be stretched out to the following day. I was going to be away from my girls for another day…

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“Hey, is everything okay?” Beau asked when I approached him at his table. Without a drink in his hand, he nodded towards the chair on the other side of the table and his mouth turned on a slant, a half-smile. “Here, sit down.”

With nowhere to go at that current time, I allowed myself to plot down onto the chair where the immortal man looked at me not with annoyance, but curiosity. I wasn’t sure why I did what he asked and answered him when he spoke to me. Maybe it because there was a preset level of comfort being around someone who was cursed like I was. But that would never come up to the surface. My presence in this city was not to prance around without my makeup on, but to obtain something that would ensure that my girls would never have to hide again.

“I heard you making that call,” He stated.

“Oh?” My voice showed little interest or surprise.

“The science facility, Lotus? May I ask what it is you’re looking for?”

“It’s nothing.”

Beau wasn’t going to push me any further, so he nodded and leaded back in his chair before turning his head in the direction of the bar. He was most definitely a man who was difficult to decipher. But while I remained in the chair with my mind contemplating my next course of action, I could feel his glowing aqua eyes on me. There was no doubt that he was trying to figure me out. No one would look to me with such coy curiosity. But even though he smirked when I ran my hand slowly up my neck, I refused to give into his suspicions.

“You must be thirsty, am I correct?”

Back to an alert state, I studied his eyes till I realized that he did not mean by primal thirst, but if I was in need of a drink, a beverage.

“I suppose so. I don’t recall drinking much today since I was looking around for someone to help me find a phone.”

“Ah well, now you can relax. Would you allow me to buy you a drink?”

I nodded slowly.

“What would you like?” It was then that he revealed his fangs when he smiled while listing off drinks. After each drink that he called off, his smile would grow wider and his eyes would never leave me just in case he would spot a moment where my facade threatened to give out. “How about a Bloody Mary?”

“No, thank you. I-I think I’ll just have some wine, Mr. Merrick. If that is alright with you?”

That man almost looked pleased as he leaned in to get a closer look at me. “Red or white?” He said, emphasizing the first word with added curiosity.

“White,” I answered plainly, remaining unfazed.

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When our drinks were ordered and brought to our table by a waitress, our conversation continued on. All of Beau’s questions were typical questions a new companion would ask. He asked me where I was from and how long I was staying here for. While keeping my true age and origins hidden, I managed to reveal enough for him to believe me without thinking I was tricking him, but with every drink that I consumed, I could see glow in his eyes and it definitely did not communicate that he was convinced.

“You’re good,” He finally spoke after several minutes of silence in a room that was buzzing with chatter of the people at the bar. “I’m not sure why won’t just admit it, but alright.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’m not blind, Ms. Everglow.”

That was the end of that topic and neither of us attempted to revive it. While it worried me that he would have me crack, I took my mind off it by finishing off three more glasses of wine before being offered a fourth. This time it was not white, but red, and it was offered to be straight from Beau’s hands while he smirked.

“I would recommend that you drink this.”

But at the scent of the wine, I felt my lips quiver, for it was not the distilled beverage that found its way into the glass, but it was the juice from a plasma fruit. My throat burned for a taste of it, but knowing that it was exactly what Beau wanted, I turned it down politely, stating that I had more than enough to drink for the evening. To avoid him trying to persuade me to stay, I got up from the seat and slid three folded bills in his direction. I thanked him for his kindness and patience, and then I turned in the direction of the door, to leave the bar and continue to wander. With the sun down, I had some time to figure out where I could stay before I could go to the science facility for obtain the cure. But the moment I stepped off the property of the bar, I heard the door swing open, and I smelled the scent of the man who seemed to have grown quite attached to me, seeing as continued to speak to me, trying to shatter the facade I spent years solidifying.

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“You try hard to conceal what you really are. Why do you do that?” He called out to me while I continued to walk forward.

Beau quickly advanced towards me before stopping in front of me. “Lotus, I would have normally allowed a fine woman such as yourself to walk past me, but you have caught my eye. You and I–we are the same, and yet you continue to deny it. You turned down something that could have  aided you.” His tone was not threatening and his body language allowed to keep my mind focused on keeping calm.

“You are mistaken, Mr. Merrick, for we are most definitely not the same.”

His head shook slowly before he reached out to wrap his fingers around my slender wrist. There was no force there; there was no threat. Beau’s touch was still one of curiosity, but it too held concern and care, something I didn’t think I would encounter in this city. Instead of standing in the middle of the street, Beau sighed and guided me into a fenced off backlot of the building directly opposite of the bar. He then let go of my wrist and rubbed his chin gingerly as he took a step closer to me. His dark hair fell over his eyes as he chuckled quietly.

“Is something the matter?” I asked.

“No-no, I’m just quite impressed. You go to such great lengths to hide something you shouldn’t. Why pretend, Lotus?”

“I-I’m not pretending!”

“Oh?” He asked, stepping even closer to me till I could feel his moist breath hit my neck from a distance. “Explain that peculiar mark you’re hiding under your necklace.”

“M-mark?” I rubbed my neck and shrugged, ready to force out story after story that I put together over the years. I was never unprepared. “I used to be into horseback riding when I was younger. My parents used to own a ranch, so I was used to being around horses. Well, we had a new horse on our property and it was my first time riding her. Her name was Crescent and she was a wild one. Well, knowing how wild horses can get, I was thrown off and left with a pretty bad burn from the reins. After that day, I had this thing on my neck.”

“Rein burn resulted in a crimson mark upon your neck? The design does not seem to match the typical rein burn that I’ve been in my day.”

I stood back, allowing my fingers to slip through the fence as Beau’s glowing eyes and wide smile inched closer to me.

“And your eyes? Why do you wear those things?”

“What?”

“Like I said before, I’m not blind. You’re wearing contacts.”

“I need them to see…”

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“Uh huh,” Beau’s lips curved into a sly grin. I could tell that he was enjoying this. He enjoyed having me so on edge because he probably felt that I was going to give in and tell him everything just because I was a..v–a monster. But just as I felt my body relax, Beau drew dangerously close to me. With his hand on my wrist and the other lingering on my neck, I stiffened while he chuckled. “If you are truly mortal, then you wouldn’t mind if I sampled you, right? I promise it won’t hurt.”

“W-what? Uhm, no. Please don’t!”

I could feel his lips brush against the lining of the necklace I wore to cover my mark and then I heard it. Beau inhaled deeply only to whisper softly, making me bite down on my lip.

“How strange, Lotus. Normally I would hear a lady’s heart beat at inhuman rates, but yours is silent.”

“I’m not afraid, Mr. Merrick. What reason do I have to be afraid of you?”

Beau continued to smirked, grazing his fangs against my neck. “You’re so quiet, so still. You can hide so many things, Ms. Everglow, but a pulse? That, you cannot.”

“E-enough!”

“Are you going to continue with this charade or can we speak normally?” He said, immediately stepping away from me. His voice was no longer hushed when he hopped on one of the crates before offering me his hand to take so I could sit beside him. Perhaps he was right? Was there truly any use in keeping something like this from someone who clearly understood what it meant not to live, but remain among the living. The constant internal battle I faced when being in the company of those with a pulse–he must have understood that. He had to. When I was seated next to him, I allowed myself to set the fabricated persona aside. From one immortal to another, I told him everything. I told my entire life story to a man I only met not even a full twenty-four hours ago, but I didn’t have a problem talking to him because everything I tried to hide, he understood. I then told him my reason for being in the city. I told him about my girls and how difficult it was becoming to hide in a town where everyone seemed to know everyone and where gossip spread like wildfire. Somehow talking made it seem a little easier.

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“So you want the cure, huh?”

“Yes, that’s right. It isn’t fair to my girls because this wasn’t the life they deserve to have.”

“I see. Well, I know you probably think this is a little out there, but I can help you. I know some people working there that would take your case into consideration instead of putting you on the list.”

“R-really?!”

He nodded, “If it’s something that you truly want, then I’m willing to help. I should tell you this: this won’t be an overnight type of thing. The cure takes months to create because it’s made specifically for the recipient. And since you need more than one, it’ll take longer. So that means that your stay here in Bridgeport would be dragged out a couple of months.”

“Months?” My eyes darted back and forth while I thought of what Beau mentioned. I promised myself that I would only return home with the cure in my hands, ready for my girls to take. I had no choice but to keep them posted while I stayed in the city, waiting for something that would change their lives. “I guess I have no choice, Mr. Merrick.”

“Do you have a place to stay?”

I shook my head no before turning to look at him. “I will find somewhere to stay, so worry not. I am capable of hiding. Finding a place to stay should not prove to be difficult for me.”

“Good,” He smiled and reached out to rub my arm.”Perhaps I could see you again?”

“H-huh?”

“Well, you’ll be here for a while, Lotus. I can’t imagine a woman like you staying cooped up in a house all day. I promise I won’t pressure you into proclaiming anything in public unless you’d like to. It’s just that you confused me today, that’s all.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, avoiding his proposition for the time being.

“I never had something like this happen. I’ve been around a lot of vampires throughout the years, yet none of them hid from each other. Then there you are, hiding, as if you’re ashamed.”

“Well, I am.”

Beau’s hand left my arm and he exhaled slowly while looking to the sky that flickered with evening’s stars. “Well, come out with me sometime while you’re here. I’ll help you get the cure either way, but maybe you’d like to explore the city with someone who knows where they’re going.”

At first, I could have said no, but he was right. It would be a couple of months before I could even think of leaving Bridgeport, so what harm would there have been if I decided to join Beau out for the evening. Without much thought, I nodded.

“Is that a yes?”

“Sure, Mr. Merrick, and I thank you. What you’re offering to do is very kind, and I promise you that I will repay you even if it takes me years.”

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Beau hopped off the crate and chuckled, dusting off his hands. “Well, let’s not think about that right now. But if it really means that much to you, then you’ll show up at the Prosper Room next week. Once you get settled in, I’ll contact you.”

“But how will you find me?”

“You may think that you’re great at hiding, Lotus, but I have my ways.”

“What do you mean?”

Before he stepped out of the fenced off area, Beau shook his head and offered me one last smile before leaving. “The phonebook, Lotus. You’ll be listed when you’ll settle in. Take it easy, alright?”

“O-okay…”

I stayed sitting on the crates for a little longer while I allowed everything to sink in. After a nine-hour journey to the city, I managed to be yelled at by a taxi driver, locked out of a bar that didn’t open when I wanted it to, and met a man who was the same as I was. His glowing eyes and pale skin didn’t make me feel better about myself, but it gave me some comfort that I wasn’t alone in this cold place. And as strange as it was for only knowing the man for less than a day, my gut told me to trust him. He knew this place better than I did and he promised to help me obtain something that I so badly craved. I needed his help and maybe even his company. I sighed quietly before stepping down from the crates before smiling at the sound of the voice I heard only minutes before.

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“Welcome to Bridgeport, Lotus Everglow!”