I wandered in and sat on a chair in the kitchen while Darren pulled out a bottle of milk from the freezer and placed it on the table to defrost.
"So, what do you do in your spare time?" I asked. "Do you even have a job?"
"I've applied for university to read History and I'm going to teach. Before, I just used to have part-time jobs in newsagents and supermarkets etc. It was incredibly boring. I finished my A-levels last year."
"Those must have been really difficult. I mean, you didn't even do GCSEs."
"I read up on the relevant GCSE courses before I started at the sixth form college, so I knew most of what I should have known, but yeah, it was still tricky."
"Exams must have been a shock."
"Yeah, I swear my hair went grey from stress, though of course, that's impossible."
"Well, good luck in uni. Hey, d'you reckon I could finish my A-levels?"
"Oh yeah, of course. I doubt you'd have changed that much physically next year, so you could pass off as an 18 year old. You might struggle convincing people if you want to go to university though."
I sighed in resignation. "That's annoying."
"Just don't say that anymore, okay. I'm fed up with you believing that changing me was all right and maybe even a good thing."
Darren looked uncomfortable.
"So, your spare time?" I asked, out of boredom.
"I read and watch TV. My existence is tedious. I don't feel like going out and making friends because I know they'd hate me if they knew I was a vampire, so I'm just constantly stuck at home, almost dying from the monotonous nature of my time on the Earth."
"Ouch. Well, at least you have someone else around now. I'm great at thinking of places to go, fun things to do. Do you like the cinema?"
"It's okay, I suppose. I don't like being surrounded by my food source in a small, cramped theatre. I'm always worried I'll turn and start drinking from the person next to me."
"Well, next time, you can."
Darren nodded. "Yeah, I'll be able to do a lot more without looking like a loner now."
I sighed. "At the cost of my previous life."
Darren rubbed my arm. "I'm sorry. Well, I'm not sorry I did this, but I'm sorry you're upset."
I shrugged. "Oh well. At least I don't belong to a vampire like Matt. Life would be unbearable then."
Darren nodded in agreement.
I yawned. "I think my sleep patterns are messed up," I murmured. "It's only 5am, I've just slept and I feel I should be fast asleep."
"You should rest. You didn't exactly have the fullest night of sleep."
I shrugged. "I had six hours."
"Yeah, but you were tossing and turning all night long."
"If I had a nightmare, I don't remember it."
"Well, that's good. I still think you need more sleep, though."
"I'll see you in the afternoon," I said, standing and heading for ‘my room'.
"Love you, Tay."
"Don't love you," I reminded him.
I dreamt I was in the after-death phase again and saw the world simply, in black and white. I was a vampire, I drank blood and Darren was my master.
Being in this state, where things were obviously confused, I liked Darren. When I woke up, I remembered all the reasons to dislike him but my dream had involved kissing him under the stars after he'd said the words "You're beautiful, Tay."
I stretched and got out of bed feeling refreshed and ready for anything. I took a shower and changed before realising, with alarm, that I hadn't brought any toiletries with me. I wrote a quick note to tell Darren, who was nowhere to be seen, that I was going out shopping. I then grabbed my purse and hurried out. I walked to town, feeling incredibly self-conscious as I knew my hair was uncombed.
I bought all the essentials and found a public toilet where the cubicle contained a sink as well as a loo. I sorted myself out.
Once I was presentable, I left and went back to the flat, hoping Darren, if he'd got back, wouldn't be anxious or angry.
Frustratingly, he was the latter.
I walked in and made for ‘my room', intending to put my shopping down. Before I got there, however, Darren stepped out of the living room, looking furious.
"Where have you been?!"
"Did you not see my note?" I asked nervously.
"What, the one which said ‘I'm going shopping'? Three words, Taylor, three words! No anticipation of how long you were going to be, no indication of where you were going; it wasn't even obvious that you'd written it. You could've been forced to write it by a kidnapper or a slayer, and yes I did just say slayer, and I was so worried about you that I considered calling the police. But what would I have said? Oh, my friend's missing; she's deathly white and her chest doesn't rise and fall because she's technically dead? Being a vampire is far more dangerous than being human, Taylor. People you might think are your friends may actually want to send you to a laboratory to be experimented on for a cash sum."
He paused to glare at the offending items in my hand. "So, you practically risked your life for a shopping trip."
"I'm okay, though. You can rest at ease, now: I'm safe."
"So you're saying I should just forget my anxiety because you're okay now? What if you do this again? You know, some slayers like to torture their victims before giving them the mercy of death. And this time, death is final. No waking up as a vampire, your life, existence, is over."
"I'm sorry," I murmured, lowering my eyes to look at the floor.
"You're sorry? Is an apology all I get after worrying myself sick?"
"What else can I say?" I asked helplessly.
"You can't say anything else, but you can do something. You can never leave while I'm not here again, you can give me your mobile number so I can contact you, but first you can prove I can trust you. I don't think you know how much I care about you (unless you did this to spite me). I'm going to leave you here alone to fetch you some food so we can perfect your feeding technique and if you're not here when I come back, I'm exploiting my ownership of you."
"I'm hardly going to go out when I've annoyed you.""
"Well, I don't know that, and this is only the first test you have to pass for my trust. Before I go, I'm interested to know: when you were alive, did you ever put your parents through this sort of worry?"
I shook my head.
"Just remember, I'm supposed to look after you and I take my duty seriously because I want you to be safe."
"I'm sorry," I said again.
"Then prove it."
And with that, he left, looking more disappointed than angry now.
I sighed and wandered to ‘my room' feeling slightly guilty for hurting Darren but more bemused by the responsibility he felt for me than anything else. I put my shopping down and sat on the mattress to await his return.
I wondered how Darren regarded me. Doubtless I was an irresponsible teenager in his eyes, but did he see me as a girl who needed protection and even perhaps sheltering as if I were a younger sibling, or as a friend who needed the occasional tip to keep me safe? I was mystified by the way he cared for me. No guy had shown me particular interest before and, flattered though I was, I was curious about what attracted him to me.
I felt a little sorry for him, since his love for me was unrequited but things were surreal enough without me becoming intimate with the person who'd ruined my life. What I needed in a relationship was reality and a down-to-earth guy who'd want to get to know me rather than make me his against my will.
I was waiting for about an hour. When Darren returned, he was carrying an unconscious man with greying but predominantly black hair. He was a short man, slightly round with tanned skin and ruddy cheeks. He looked about three times my age and right now, I envied the rise and fall of his chest more than anything I'd ever been jealous of in my life.
Darren placed him on my mattress. I stood up and didn't like to think about what I'd surely be doing very soon.
"Right," Darren said. "I know you've hypnotised someone before, but there's a quicker way to put someone in a trance if you're starving or in a hurry. I'll teach you that, how to know when to stop drinking and anything else you want to know about."
"I don't think there's a lot that I'd like a wider knowledge on, thanks," I murmured.
And with that, he tapped the man's shoulder.
The man awoke, looking dazed but neither shocked nor worried as he gazed unseeingly into the distance ahead of him.
I suddenly heard Darren's thoughts.
‘I've hypnotised him already. Now, to induce an immediate trance, say "Sleep".'
"Sleep," I murmured half-heartedly.
Darren rolled his eyes. He leant down and whispered in my ear, in a commanding, self-assured tone, "Sleep."
The world turned black.
I woke up at contact at my shoulder.
"Like that," Darren murmured.
I was slightly annoyed that he had demonstrated the correct technique on me instead of the man.
Sighing, I imagined I could do this and, in a tone intended to convey authority, I said, "Sleep."
To my surprise, the man in front of me seemed to totally relax as his head slumped forwards. Besides me, Darren was also in a trance. Serves him right, I thought to myself. But then I suddenly panicked. I needed Darren to help me avoid tricky situations and get out of trouble. Scared that he wouldn't wake up, I hurriedly patted him on the shoulder. He came to life like an animated puppet. He crossed his arm and raised an eyebrow.
"Was entrancing me necessary?"
"I didn't mean to, sorry."
Darren looked slightly less annoyed. "Well done. Now, start drinking the man's blood and I'll tell you what to look out for when you have to stop."
I nodded. I sat on the bed and grimaced as I positioned myself where I could sink my fangs into the man's neck.
I tilted his head to one side and found myself instinctively lowering my head to brush the tips of my sharp, elongated incisors on his skin. Above a blood vessel of some nature or other, they hovered, waiting for my permission to bite down. In that moment, I became hyper-focused on the body next to me. I could feel the blood being pumped around as the vessel contracted and relaxed, could hear the gentle beating of his heart and feel the warmth being radiated from his body.
"Overwhelming, isn't it?" Darren said, grinning.
I lifted my head and nodded.
"Don't let me stop you."
I lowered my head again and cringed as it was too easy to pierce the man's flesh. Once the wounds appeared, I felt blood travel into my mouth. It was slightly more salty than Roger's had been, but nonetheless just as nice. Spicy, delicious liquid flowed down my throat and a thirst I hadn't noticed was being quenched. It was hard to believe that it was blood I was drinking, though nothing I'd ever drunk before compared to this rich, warm, heavily-flavoured yet subtly sweet, nourishing drink.
"Stop when the man's heartbeat begins to slow," Darren said.
The man's pulse was steady for another few seconds but then there was a definite point when the heart began to beat more slowly, beginning to find it difficult to get the lower amount of blood around the body. I gently extricated my fangs from his neck, marvelled as the wounds healed up and finally stood up and wandered over to Darren feeling slightly hyper and finding myself in a heady state where things seemed even less real before. I felt like I could fly.
"Thank you," I said to Darren, positively brimming with excitement.
"You're welcome. Now, was there anything else you wanted to know?"
I shook my head. "Don't think so."
Darren picked up the man as if he weighed less than a stone and carried him away. I sat and waited patiently, though containing my pleasure was difficult.
When he returned, he smiled mysteriously and beckoned me to follow him to the living room. I followed, curious.
"I bought you something in town," he said.
He picked up a bag I hadn't noticed on the sofa and handed it to me.
Inside, there was a small box, the kind used for jewellery and watches. I carefully prised off the lid and sharply drew in a breath, forgetting it was unnecessary, as I pulled out a gorgeous silver-chained necklace with a charm on it in the shape of a love heart. The charm was studded with tiny pink gems in the shape of a T. The necklace glittered beautifully in the light and carved on the back were the initials T.K.
"You shouldn't have," I said, looking up at Darren who was looking incredibly wistful.
"I had to get you something."
"You didn't, though."
"I'm taking you out this evening and I thought it would help you with coping with your new life if I showed you life can still be wonderful and full of those tiny but important surprises."
There was a tear in my eye. "Darren, I can't accept this. It's so beautiful... and all I've ever caused you is hurt."
"That's not true. There's a resounding sense of pleasure when you've merely accepted your situation. It's gratifying when you smile, even if the smile's not for me and I love you, so you'll never truly hurt me unless you break my heart."
The tear slid down my cheek. "Oh, Darren, I so wish I could make you happy. But I can't. This, all of it, is too strange and I'm sorry I can't love you because you truly deserve love. I'll wear the necklace to show I want you to be happy, but I don't think I can ever be your lover."
"That's okay, Taylor. It's great just knowing you and learning more about you - even if it's just little things like the fact that you get overwhelmed before you drink a person's blood too."
"Could... could you put this on me?" I asked, smiling while a couple more tears flowed down my cheek before drying up.
He delicately gathered my hair up so he could tie it with the hair band I handed him while he took the necklace from me and undid the clasp. He delicately placed it around my neck. I could feel the immense care with which he was putting the necklace on and recognised again that he saw me, like he had not long ago, as fragile. He stood behind me a while longer. His hands moved down to rest lightly round my waist as he leant down to kiss my nape.
"Darren..." I started but he was already moving. His hands came off my waist and he wandered over to sit on the sofa.
"I'm sorry," he murmured. "It's just that while you were standing there, looking magnificent, you were perfectly still and I wanted to enter that stillness, that world where breaking the silence is a crime against nature and the moment is the only thing that matters. It's so hard to stop myself when I'm around you. If I touch you just once, I'm drawn in and I forget myself. You're so incredible, Tay."
I came and sat down beside him. "I'm sorry, too. I should be more careful and consider what being around the one you love does to you. I shouldn't help you into situations I want to avoid."
Darren shrugged. "You can't help it. Even the simplest thing you do can provide an opportunity for me to desire to get closer to you."