The trip out turned to be a visit to the park, where a local pop group were going to perform on the bandstand at its centre.
Darren and I arrived a bit early so we sat and waited on a nearby bench. Already, people were milling around, either eagerly anticipating the concert or starting the pleasant evening with muted conversation and various reunions with friends and family.
I felt slightly awkward as I didn't really have anything I wanted to talk about. I hoped Darren didn't see this evening as a formal event, like a date, rather than the casual night out as friends that it was meant to be.
Unfortunately, even if Darren did realise the true nature of the evening, he seemed to forget himself as he looked directly into my eyes with such an intense gaze that my thoughts briefly scattered. Recovering them, I felt my stomach clench into a knot of anxiety and discomfort. If I'd had a heartbeat, it would have accelerated as Darren reached out to gently run the back of his hand down the side of my face.
"Darren, please," I whispered.
"Shh. Don't be scared," he murmured.
"Don't do this."
"Last time I kissed you, you enjoyed it."
"I'm not ready. I need some reminder of reality before I totally immerse myself in unreality."
"I thought reality was harsh and cold. A dream is a release."
"I thought so too but when I woke up after the Kiss of Death, everything was different. The world was upside down, roles were reversed (I was hunter rather than prey), and I wanted to wake up."
"I love you, Tay."
"I have to experience something that makes sense before I consider entering a relationship with you."
"What are you saying? You want to go out with someone else first?"
Internally, I winced at the look of hurt surprise on his face but ignored this and nodded.
"How... how can you say that? When you know how I feel about you, how can you want to give your heart to someone else? Do you know how tough it is just to respect your wishes to be nothing more than friends?"
"I'm sorry," I said in a pleading tone. "I can't deal with this - with you- until I've seen some sign that normality still exists. Otherwise, I'll go insane."
"I could try and make things seem more real - I'd do anything for you."
"You're part of the dream: inextricably interwoven with it. You couldn't make things seemed real if you tried."
The look of implore in his eyes matched the tone of my voice and tore at my heart.
"I hardly know you," I murmured. "And you don't know me that well either. How much can you have learnt about me from mere sightings of me around town?"
"Let me get to know you; show me your personality, your tendencies, likes and dislikes. I'll tell you anything you want to know about me, just reveal a tiny bit more about you. You're the girl I want to be with, Taylor, and I can't stand your reluctance to even talk to me sometimes."
Something suddenly occurred to me. Something I wanted to know and which might throw a few things into perspective on this rollercoaster ride which claimed to be reality.
"You'll tell me anything, right?" I asked.
Darren nodded, looking startled by my change in tone.
"Did you...?" I hesitated. "Did you enjoy changing me?"
Darren cringed. "Now? In public?"
I nodded. "I'm sure no one's listening."
"You might react badly."
I sighed. "You liked it, didn't you? You drained the life out of me and you enjoyed it."
Darren's tone was pleading. "Tay, you've tasted blood. How could I ignore the fact I feel like singing after a meal?"
Seeing my face, he gently asked, "Would you prefer I lied?"
I shook my head unhappily, disconsolate.
"You... I'd never tasted nicer blood. I could swear my heart was singing from joy as it floated down my throat, strengthening me, invigorating me; it even felt like enlightenment. I wanted to drain you; I was drowning in such bliss. It took an effort to stop even when the concentrations of vampire and human blood were balancing."
I felt sick. I didn't know if I wanted to hear any more.
Darren looked agonised. "I felt so bad afterwards. It was like I'd stabbed myself in the back and pierced right through my heart. I'm sor-"
"I don't want to hear it," I interrupted, feeling helpless and lost.
I stood up. Darren remained seated as I shouted at him. "Shut up! I hate you. You monster, you evil, foul creature, you fiend, you, I hate you! I could never love you, not even if my life depended on it. Just go away!"
Darren looked as if I was the one doing the stabbing now. There was such pain in his eyes that I couldn't bear to look at them anymore.
"How can you say you love me and yet enjoy almost killing me?! You sick, twisted, horrid beast."
"I couldn't help it! Tay, doesn't it say something that I told you the truth? You know you can always trust me, now."
"Trust you?! Trust you? In what universe does telling someone you wanted to end their life result in trust? You're delusional as well as monstrous!"
"Don't even call me Tay anymore. It sounds like we're friends! I would never make friends with you."
"Taylor, come on. I've said I'm sorry! What else can I do? Have you ever tried to change your nature? Could you make yourself hate chocolate?"
"Don't you dare compare my blood to chocolate!"
"It's a good comparison. They're both sources of food..."
"Except my blood keeps me alive!" I interrupted again.
"Fine then. We return to the question can you change your nature? Can you say you hated Roger's blood, could you make yourself not want it? Let's ignore the fact that not drinking it would kill you here; could you deny you liked it without lying to yourself?!"
"Really?" Darren looked slightly mad now. He brought his wrist up to his mouth and bit himself. He then stood up and offered me his blood. "Go and deny your nature then. Drink some of this and spit it out. Tell me how horrible it tastes."
Believing strongly that I could, I took up his challenge and started to drink his blood. I instantly collapsed to the ground, pulling Darren down to his knees, as I was overpowered by the taste of the liquid fire that burned my throat. It was like nothing I'd ever felt before and it was more of a feeling than a taste. Mini volcanoes erupted in every cell of my body as I felt revitalised by this addictive drug. It seemed to be toxic though, as my thoughts were enveloped by the incredibly wrong desire to not stop. I couldn't notice it was cold; it was just so ... delicious.
Darren looked triumphant as he allowed me to be a hypocrite. But, he also looked... euphoric, as if it was wonderful for the girl you loved to be wanting to empty your veins and arteries of what kept you alive. I wondered what was going through his head. He was definitely crazy.
"I told you so," Darren said half-heartedly.
His voice brought me back to the real world. I yanked my head away from his arm, horrified.
"What have I done?!"
"Oh, come on, you've drunk blood before."
"I've contradicted myself! I've become a monster! Oh no, I'm just like you!"
"You make that sound like such a bad thing."
"It is. I hate you. And now I've forced myself to hate me too!"
"You don't have to, you know."
"I do, though. I don't want this. I nearly killed you. Oh gosh, I nearly committed murder- I have to hand myself in!"
"What? No! Taylor, don't! You can't. They'll send you straight to the nearest scientists and you might end up dying. Please, Tay, you can't help what you are."
"I told you not to call me Tay. And no, you're right: it's not my fault. It's yours and I hate you for this. Take me back to the flat."
"Don't you want to see the concert?"
"No, I do not want to see the concert! I want to leave this place right now." I paused as another thought struck me: a scary thought which made me want to run screaming through the park.
"I'm a danger to the public," I whispered.
"Taylor, NO! I refuse to let you believe that."
I turned on him. "Then stop me. Change my view of myself! You know you're perfectly capable. Say the words in that compelling tone and change who I am as well as what I am!"
Darren looked shocked. "I would never... Why would I want to do that? Taylor, you're hysterical. Snap out of it."
"Wrong tone," I said. "You need more conviction; you have to believe you can make me see sense."
Darren seemed to be talking to himself now. "She needs a shock. What can I do to surprise her?"
"Nothing," I laughed. "I'm beyond the state where things startle me - I think I've had all the surprises in the world."
Darren suddenly looked straight into my eyes. I was half-scared by how they seemed to see right through to the most vulnerable part of me. They were dark with fierce intensity.
He said to me, "Close your eyes." He didn't need the tone of the vampire exploiting ownership over another; his eyes were enough to scare me into submission.
I did what he said, worried that I had gone too far with my expectations of the future and that he was about to punish me.
But the next thing I felt was lips on mine. Surprise exploded in my mind. He was kissing me! And then, as I rose out of the state of panic and uncertainty, he was kissing me!
I opened my eyes, shoved him away and slapped him.
"How dare you take advantage of my fear, you egocentric opportunist!"
Darren looked satisfied. "Let's get you home."
He stood up. I followed suit, grumbling.
"Stop complaining," he said half-heartedly. You could almost hear his smile. "At least I didn't hit you."
"I'd rather you had done, actually."
Darren rolled his eyes. I looked more closely at the way he was walking. There was a definite spring in his step.
"You should only be happy I'm not hysterical anymore," I reminded him.
"Oh dear, I'm such a bad person, aren't I?" he said grinning.
"I bet you're wishing I'd get hysterical more often," I muttered.
"No, actually. It might be nice from time to time, but I love you how you naturally are."
I didn't really listen. Instead, I was thinking about all the times he'd kissed me and how I hated him for it. I stopped walking. "You've always been opportunistic, haven't you?!" I realised. "Oh my gosh, how did I not realise? You made me a vampire to give me the Kiss of Death, you created an opportunity for a kiss when I was feeling suicidal and if you weren't opportunistic just now, I don't know what you were. All this time, I never really considered how you were subtly closing in on me, pushing my heart into awkward situations so I can only turn to you."
Darren's grin widened. "It certainly seems that way, doesn't it?"
I glared at him. "How can you be so ... happy, so indifferent?"
"Well, it could be that I'm not thinking straight 'cause you drank a lot of my blood, but I reckon I'm still recovering from that kiss."
"I hate you."
"You said." Darren chuckled. I wanted to punch him. Instead, I started walking again and strode ahead of him, desiring more than anything to lose him before I'd have to endure a whole evening with him in this ridiculous mood.
At the door to the apartment, I had to wait for him while he strolled up the stairs, whistling now. He smiled at me as he finally appeared on the long balcony.
He came up to the door where I was standing, arms crossed.
"Oh, I meant to tell you, I trust you now. You can have your freedom. Just give me your number and you can be as independent as you like."
"What's the catch?" I asked suspiciously, as he unlocked the door and let us in.
"There isn't one."
"Why the change in attitude?"
"I just reckon you're the sort of person who wouldn't want to betray my trust after I allowed you to come so close to killing me."
"I'm sorry," I said, my conscience getting the better of my anger at his happiness.
"Sure I didn't deserve it?"
"Of course not! No one deserves that. Where does hurting people get you? I may not like you, but I don't want to kill you."
"No, you're right. You're far too decent to want to cause pain."
"You know, I'm truly sorry for what I nearly did. I feel so terrible. Are you okay?"
I looked up into those warm brown eyes and wondered if I really hated him as much as I told him I did.
"That's one thing I would try to like you for," I murmured. "If I hurt you and the only way to make you feel better was my friendship, I'd willingly give it."
"I'd rather you gave it without feeling you had to," Darren said. "I promise I'm okay."
I looked away, reluctant to let myself be drawn in by him.
"Night," I said, wandering to my room."
I didn't object to his use of his pet name for me.