I woke up in Darren's arms. He was carrying me up a flight of stairs. I smiled up at him, though was careful not to look directly into his eyes. He looked down and smiled back at me.
I laughed: a carefree laugh full of happiness and not-warm-warmth. "I'm not a princess."
"Oh, I don't know. I reckon you could pass for one." It was nice to see Darren happy.
"You'd have to find a castle, then."
"Hmm, true. I'd find that a bit difficult."
"Where are we?"
How disorientating. I felt like we were still back where I lived.
"Have you had the flat long?" I asked, guessing it was a flat that he lived in, judging by the fact that these stairs were in a cold, damp place, were made of stone and were too wide to be those of a house.
"Not really, no. I lived in your town about eight years ago. I started noticing you when you were about 10."
"How old am I now?"
"Can I ask your age?"
"You can ask me anything, Tay. I'm 21, but I've been a vampire for almost a century. I was bitten in 1924."
Part of me thought I should be bewildered by that but I just accepted it and continued to do nothing as Darren carried me up to the right floor. The next flight of steps led onto a balcony. To the left and right were the flats. I could see all the different doors and windows, some with pretty curtains and plants behind them and some a bit sparse but most with kitchen sinks.
We turned right and the second door was Darren's flat. I was slightly restless as he put me down and fidgeted while he opened the front door. I think I was bored. He led me to a bare room with a mattress on the floor and a duvet laid over it. There was a single pillow.
"This is your room. Did you want any more sleep?"
I shook my head.
Darren led me to the living room which looked rather cosier with a sofa and a TV. I sat on the former and watched the latter, mildly interested in a documentary about animals in the wild.
"I'm going to go out and hunt. Do you want me to bring you anything back?"
I shook my head. "I'm not hungry."
"Okay. Now, look at me, this is very important."
I looked up at Darren, only meeting his gaze because he'd asked me to and even then feeling slightly uncomfortable as if I was back-chatting.
"You are not to leave the flat, okay?"
"If you're thirsty, there's milk in the fridge in the kitchen which you'll find mildly tolerable but no hunting. Understand?"
Darren's serious expression faded as his face softened. "I love you, Tay."
Darren left, looking slightly wistful. I hoped he wouldn't be gone away too long. I settled back down to learn more about lions.
The doorbell rang. Strange. Darren had keys; I'd seen him take them. This must be someone else. I stood up and strolled to the door. I opened it but kept the chain across so I could shut it quickly.
Standing there was a guy with brown hair and friendly chestnut-coloured eyes.
"Hi, sorry about the late hour," he said. "I'm Roger."
"I was wondering... if maybe you had some milk. It's just that we've run out, and all the shops have closed early."
"Oh, um sure." I undid the chain and let the guy in - Darren hadn't said anything about allowing people in the flat.
‘Wow, she's beautiful,' came a quiet, awed voice out of nowhere. It was Roger's voice but sort of muffled and subtly different somehow. Less nervous, too.
Roger followed me to the kitchen, smiling. I opened the fridge and handed him a pint of full fat milk.
‘I should ask her name, get her phone number, or if not, at least ask how long she's staying here.'
"What's your name?" he asked.
"Tay," I replied.
"Tay. That's pretty."
‘I wonder where she's from. I haven't seen her round these parts before.'
"Are you doing anything interesting in London?" he asked, seeming to ignore his other voice.
"No, not really. I'm staying with a friend."
"Oh, that's nice."
‘She's really pretty. I should ask her out on a date. Wait, no I shouldn't. She'd reject me, naturally. She's way out of my league. I couldn't bear the embarrassment.'
"So, how long are you staying here?"
"I don't know."
‘Odd. And why is she staring at me? It's like I'm still talking to her. Have I got something on my face?'
I quickly looked elsewhere.
‘That was weird. As if she could read my mind.'
I suddenly realised where this other voice was coming from. It was Roger's mind! Oh dear. I should probably keep out of his private thoughts but I didn't know how.
"Um, so where do you live?" I asked, slightly flustered.
‘Is she okay? She seems a bit anxious. Maybe she's shy.'
"Are you okay?" Roger asked.
"Oh, fine," I said brightly.
‘Er, she definitely does not seem fine.'
"Do you need to sit down? Are you feeling dizzy? You look awfully pale."
"I'm great," I lied. "I'm probably just a little overtired."
"If you're sure..." Roger said dubiously.
"Certain. Don't worry about me. Won't you be wanting that milk?"
"Actually, no. I'd rather stay here until your friend gets back, if that's okay. Just to check you are okay." Roger looked genuinely concerned. Was I really pale enough to be worried about?
I wandered over to the living room. "We can wait here for him."
"Him? Oh, is he your boyfriend?"
‘Why are you sad or surprised? You know she's too good for you.'
"No, he's just a friend."
‘Don't be relieved! You don't have a chance with this one.'
We sat on the sofa. Silence reigned awhile as neither of us knew what to say. Annoyingly though, I could still hear Roger's thoughts. Thank goodness I could tell the difference, I thought to myself.
‘She's so gorgeous. Her hair's so silky - it must be lovely to caress... And her eyes! They're like emeralds, but then they're like grass and then they're as dark as ivy. I've never seen eyes change colour like that before. Would it be rude to ask why hers do? Or just embarrassing? She'd think I'd been staring. She must get that from loads of guys.'
I was surprised by how beautiful Roger thought I was. No one had never really said anything before, unless they'd just been thinking it. I suddenly felt thirsty. My throat was dry and there was a small pain in every part of my body.
I didn't know what to do. Darren had said not to hunt but I'd just given the milk to Roger. I could hardly ask for it back.
Something weird happened. My finger rose in the air at Roger's eye level and began tracing patterns. I had no idea what was going on. Neither did Roger. He looked surprised.
‘What's she doing?'
I drew circles. Roger's thoughts stopped as he sat, watching my finger and looking transfixed. His pupils had dilated slightly.
I aligned my head with his neck, finger still holding his gaze, and gently bit down. I drank slowly and deeply that wonderful liquid which flowed down my throat like a warm beverage I'd adored as a child. It was amazingly sweet and I struggled to stop.
When I did, I started to remember more. I lifted my head, horrified. I'd just hypnotised and drunk the blood of someone!
"Forget," I said in a voice that was mine, but somehow wasn't. I dropped my finger and watched as Roger's face blanked before resuming the expression he'd been wearing before I'd drunk from him.
He winced slightly. ‘Why am I suddenly dizzy? I feel a bit ill.'
"Thanks for sitting here with me," I murmured. "Are you sure no one will miss you at home?"
"Oh, no. I just live there with my mates. I'm going to uni next year so I'm preparing for living with other people."
"Oh cool." I felt a sudden pang. University was one of the things Darren was depriving me of. I hated him right now, despite what I'd said in my brief, dreamy after-death phase.
‘Wow, I don't think I can resist her anymore. Her eyes are blazing... On fire... She's stunning.'
Before I knew what he was doing, he was leaning in to kiss him. I sat still as his lips touched mine.
‘Hey, she's not pushing me away! Wow.'
His arms wound around my waist. I began to kiss him first, cautiously at first, unsure of how fangs would affect things, but then becoming more confident. I didn't need Darren, it was evident that I could make friends with other people and I felt comfortable and safe in Roger's arms. Maybe my life would be better than I'd thought.
Roger broke away, looking awestruck. "You ... you let me," he said in wonder.
I nodded. "And reciprocated," I said happily.
"Are you always this surprised when a girl kisses you back?"
"If they're as gorgeous as you, then naturally. I'm nothing special."
"Of course you are. Everyone's special. It just takes someone else to point that out for them."
Roger smiled. "I like you. You're really sweet."
Suddenly, the front door opened and closed. A few seconds later, Darren walked in.
"A guest, Tay?" he asked.
I nodded. "He's called Roger."
"Tay, you can't have human friends. They just freak out and hurt you."
Roger frowned. "Pardon. Did you just say you're not human?"
"Yeah, that's exactly what I said."
"Darren, don't!" I pleaded. "Haven't you ruined my life enough already?"
"He's upset you?" Roger asked, looking protective.
"Tay, tell him," Darren said.
"You can't have secrets like this from people, especially not from people who love you."
Roger looked embarrassed. "How did you know that?"
"You look totally relaxed around her and there's warmth in your eyes."
I was sad. "He loves me?"
"I suppose it's ... only fair I tell him, then," I sighed.
I turned to Roger. "Roger, Darren and I are ... vampires."
Roger's brow furrowed. "What?"
"We drink people's blood."
"What? No, that's crazy. You don't believe in that stuff, do you?" His eyes were imploring.
"I didn't before, but now... well, I drank yours, so it's evidently true."
Roger stood up, looking scared. "You what? But ... I don't remember! Why?!"
"I ... hypnotised you."
Roger backed away from me. "That's insane. That's not possible! You're mad!"
"Look, I have fangs! Please don't go!" I showed him my teeth but it was the wrong thing to do. He looked repulsed.
"NO! And I kissed you! I kissed a vampire! How gross!"
‘I definitely don't love her anymore.'
I started to cry. "It's not my fault!"
Roger ignored me, looking behind him to watch where he was going as he continued to back out of the room, always returning to watch me as if I was a tiger that might suddenly pounce any second.
Darren calmly took control of the situation. I looked away as he hypnotised Roger to forget about him and me and gave him the milk to take home.
I was still crying as the front door closed.
Darren came to sit beside me. He put his arms around me but I pushed him away, detesting him.
He sounded sad as he said, "I'll be in my room - that's the one next to yours."
"It's not mine," I muttered. "Mine is back in my own house."
Darren sighed, standing. "Tell me if you need anything."
"I need to be back at home with my family."
I cried myself to sleep on the soft but unfeeling couch.