After returning the girl to her deckchair and book with a subtle gap in her memory, I went out for a walk, contemplating the change in how I regarded Darren. He was no longer the bad guy who'd changed me; he'd redeemed himself by being so selfless and showing such care for me. I couldn't hate him, it was just too difficult. It wasn't as if I had to like him a lot, had to make a choice between two extremes, the degrees of liking him in between were perfectly acceptable to settle for, and I wondered why I'd always been so hesitant to not dislike him.
My random amble took me to the park. I passed people, flowers and a couple of children's play areas before I reached a random spot where I stopped to gaze wistfully up at a horse chestnut tree and reminisce about the days of conker fights.
I'd been there for a long time when I heard someone cough politely behind me. I turned to see a handsome boy of maybe about one year older than me with brown hair and green eyes. He was holding a clipboard and pen. He didn't look very unfriendly. In fact, he had a very warm, very broad smile which made me instantly trust him.
"Um, hi, I'm from the VRS. I'm doing a survey and couldn't help but notice your ... pallor and the way your chest doesn't rise and fall." His careful explanation showed he was a sensitive person who considered people's thoughts and feelings, even if they were a random vampire he'd never spoken to before in his life.
"Er, what's the VRS?" I asked.
"Oh, it's the Vampire Rights' Society."
"Vampire Rights? Wait, does that mean you're a... vampire rights activist?"
"It does." The boy smiled, proud of the fact.
I was amazed. I was actually talking to a vampire rights activist! No wonder he seemed like such a great guy: he campaigned for the rights of people like me who might have been deprived of a decent experience as a vampire.
"Wow!" I said, truly astounded. "That's great. I don't know much about you but I certainly admire you from what I've heard. Knocking on the doors of wealthy people and asking them to free their slaves. How brave yet... how wonderful."
The boy looked flattered. "I must say, many people use that example to tease us. I've never heard it described that way before."
"Well, people should describe it that way. I always respected charities as a human and a society for vampire rights must be just as good." I really respected this guy as well.
‘She's lovely,' came a stray thought of the boy's into my mind. I politely ignored it.
"So, how did you get into it?"
"Well, I went to a concert where the VRS were doing a similar survey to the one I'm carrying out today and I was inspired."
"Wow, I have to join you guys myself when I've sorted myself out."
The boy's brow furrowed. "Do you feel happy in yourself as a vampire?"
"Well, sort of. But it could be better."
"Do you mind if I write this down? All information is confidential; it just helps us work out how to help people in similar circumstances."
"Well, I'm not sure who else was changed by a vampire who loves them, but sure."
"The vampire who changed you loves you? That sounds intriguing. Shall we find somewhere to sit?"
I followed him to a nearby bench, deeply respecting this guy who was doing something useful.
"Oh, by the way, my name's Daniel."
"So, Taylor, when were you changed?"
"Three days ago, at night."
Daniel wrote this down.
"And how has being a vampire fared you?"
"Well, at first, I really didn't want to be one. I was changed against my will and I absolutely hated Darren (the vampire who changed me), but I've gradually gotten used to it."
The boy looked sympathetic. "So many vampires are careless when they change someone. They have no consideration for the poor victim. Unfortunately, there are many unhappy vampires today."
"I can see why. Living a happy, free life and then finding your will bound to some complete stranger."
Daniel put down his pen. He looked interested in what I'd just said.
"What do you mean?" he asked. "About your will being bound?"
"Oh, of course! Darren said you guys didn't believe it. Um, well, obviously you're not going to believe me, but when you're changed, you sort of feel like you have to do what the vampire who changed you tells you too. I think Darren said something about it becoming part of your purpose, which sounds terrifying but unfortunately makes sense."
The boy sighed. "I really feel sorry for these vampires who've been made to believe that. What you must understand is that the will is incredibly strong. Even if you feel like your life is worthless, your willpower will keep you going. The will can't be crushed or forced. Even hypnosis only manipulates it to a degree."
"See, I'd love to believe that, but the fact is that I've experienced feeling obliged to obey Darren."
"He's probably hypnotised you," Daniel said sympathetically. His concern touched me but it was related to something he didn't have to worry about.
You poor soul, I thought. You have no idea.
"I'm sorry, but I don't think so," I said.
"Well, we won't have a debate about it now, but maybe before the end of this conversation, if you were willing of course, I could try and undo whatever suggestion he's used on you."
I felt incredibly sorry for this optimistic idealist. "Maybe," I said, knowing I'd probably refuse so I wouldn't ruin his view of the world. I slightly envied him for being able to stand up against the evidence to maintain his belief.
"So, next question: what advice would you give to other vampires who, like you, have just been changed?"
"I reckon I'd tell them to hang on in there, and certainly not to get drunk and end up sharing food with another vampire."
"Oh, dear, that happened? You poor thing. And what, you didn't realise until it was too late?"
"Fortunately, it didn't happen that way. Darren came into the club and stopped me before I could cause too much harm, well I hope before then."
"That's lucky. Um, last question, do you feel this style of trying to help vampires is effective?"
I nodded, smiling. I had felt a wonderful release at finally opening up to someone, especially someone so good-natured with such a kind heart. "It certainly feels good to be getting a few things off my chest," I tod him.
"I'm glad you feel that way." Daniel put his pen in his pocket. "So, do you want to talk about anything else?"
"Well, not about being a vampire, in particular, but a normal conversation would be great."
Daniel smiled. ‘Wow. Focusing on her, she's really beautiful. Those dark curtains of her hair perfectly frame her face and provide a great contrast with her face so that her features are more defined. And such beautiful eyes, too.'
"Is there an aspect of vampirism that you like?" he asked, totally oblivious to the compliment he had unwittingly sent me.
"Well, not really, no. You?"
"Well, I like the ability to empathise with people better because you're constantly surrounded by their thoughts."
I nodded. "Darren's psychic abilities are particularly useful when it comes to me kissing him without actually being in love with him. He can tell I don't have the same feelings for him as he does for me and that's really useful because that sort of thing would be really awkward to voice."
I also smiled to myself at Daniel's comment. That was exactly the sort of thing I would have expected him to say. He'd probably seen the best in his situation and tried to help people where he could from day one.
"He doesn't sound too bad. I'm really surprised he made you believe he was your lord and master. Did you want to do anything about that, by the way? If you're uncomfortable with being entranced by a stranger, that's fine, but I think it's essential that people know they don't have to submit to anybody."
"Um, I'd be uncomfortable," I lied, hoping he wasn't listening to my thoughts.
Daniel nodded. "Of course. I would be too." ‘It's a shame that such a decent girl has this belief.'
"You're so charming," I said, unable to ignore his thoughts anymore.
"I am?" His brow furrowed.
"Yeah, calling me decent and beautiful."
"Oh dear, have I been letting down my mental walls?"
"It's fine," I said.
"It's not actually. That's really unprofessional."
"Don't worry about it. I'm flattered."
"Really?" he asked, gazing intently into my eyes, his own a lovely jade colour.
I nodded, truly charmed by the way he saw me. It made me feel more welcomed into this supernatural world I'd been carelessly thrown into. I wished that Daniel had been my friend from the start, I wished that he'd been the one to change me, though doubtless I would have actually wanted the change in those circumstances.
"Would you like to go out this evening?"
"On a date?" The question seemed natural after all the hints he'd given me about his feelings for me.
"If you like."
I felt I'd be only too happy to oblige. He was definitely a person I could grow to love even though I felt like he was only a close friend now. I wanted him: someone to be there for me, someone to confide in and open up to, someone that I could love without fearing he'd exploit any vampire powers over me. I just wouldn't develop those feelings of security around Darren and it was so important to have love in your heart. I didn't want to be full of bitter resent and hatred.
"I'd really enjoy that," I replied.
"Great. Where do you want to go?"
"I don't know. Is there anything going on in the local area?"
"Yeah, actually, there's a dance here around the bandstand. Would you like to go to that?"
I nodded. "Is it formal or like a disco?"
"Formal. It starts about six, so I'll pick you up. Where are you living?"
"I'll show you," I said, standing up. "I have to tell Darren the good news."
"And maybe I can give him a caution about changing unwilling people."
I nodded. "Yeah. Of course, I'm happy he did now."
Daniel grinned. "I am, too, but I'd rather there were less unhappy vampires in the world than lovestruck vampire rights activists."
"You're so selfless," I murmured. "And wonderful." I reached out to stroke his cheek. "A real ... star in terms of personality and actions."
Daniel brought his hand up to hold mine to his face, smiling contentedly.
"Thank you. You seem like a brilliant person, too."
I ran up the stairs, excited, almost forgetting Daniel was behind me. I let us into the apartment and bounded into the living room.
"Darren," I called happily. "You'll never guess what?"
Darren appeared behind me in the doorway, looking amused. "What?"
"I met a vampire rights activist today and he asked me out on a date!"
"Oh, that's wonderful. Wait, did you just say date?"
I nodded. "Isn't that brilliant?"
Darren looked slightly sad. "Of course. I'm very ... happy for you."
Daniel walked in. "Hi. Darren, is it?" He held out a hand.
Darren took it and shook it. "What's your name?"
"Well, have a good evening with Taylor."
"Oh, by the way, I wanted to tell you that the VRS frowns upon changing unwilling humans, so could you ensure it doesn't happen again, please."
"Oh, yeah, I only wanted to change Taylor."
"That's good. Well, I'll be back at about half past five to collect her."
"Bye Daniel," I said, bouncing from happiness.
"Bye, Taylor. See you this evening."
And with that he walked out, looking as happy as I felt.
Darren was frowning. "Um, so you've found love."
I nodded. "I'm really happy. And he's such a decent guy; the world needs more people like him."
"Yeah, I'm not really keen on hearing about how you feel about him, Tay. I'm going to go out tonight so here's a spare key."
I took the key he gave me, wondering what was wrong. Surely he was happy that I was happy? I'd been so miserable recently that this should be like a release for him.
Darren sighed as he walked out.
I shrugged and went to get ready.
As promised, Daniel was at the door at half-past five. He looked very dashing in a black suit, complete with cufflinks and tie.
"Wow, you look really smart," I said.
"You look ... stunning."
I smiled, flattered. I was only wearing a short black dress and tights - it wasn't anything special. I would have preferred my violet full-length dress, but that was at my old house in the wardrobe.
"Is it okay if we walk?"
"Sure; it's a beautiful evening."
Daniel and I walked to the park. We were early so he bought us a drink each from a table situated near the bandstand.
The band started playing, a smooth, gentle, relaxing classical composition. The song was a waltz and I, as a lover of the arts, was delighted to find that Daniel could dance it too.
As we began to dance, I absorbed my surroundings. I could smell the flowers around me, feel the breeze play with my hair and hear crickets chirping along to the music. Of course, I was concentrating on what I could see too. Daniel was smiling, with a look of adoration in his eyes that melted my heart.
"So, will we be having a new member in the VRS?" he asked.
"Oh, definitely," I replied.
His smile widened. "That's great. We'd really benefit from the contributions of a person like you."
"Are you sure it's not enough that you're a member? I couldn't imagine being more grateful of your help."
"That's sweet of you, but truthfully, we could never have enough volunteers. There's just too much strife in the vampire community for us to ignore it."
I nodded. "How annoying the ownership thing is."
Daniel looked sympathetic. "I definitely need to put a suggestion in for us to tackle the problem of believing that exists."
"Things will change, Taylor. I promise. In the future, there'll be no unhappy vampires and everyone will know they have free will and the strength to stand up for themselves."
"That's a comforting thought."
"And an achievable aim, I believe."
"Well, if the future looks bright, can I request something for here and now?"
"Can we only think about us tonight?"
"Of course. That is what a date is meant for."
And with that, Daniel leant down and kissed me, lightly and softly with such tenderness that my un-beating heart began to sing.
I kissed him back, wrapping my arms around his neck as his came further around my waist. Our bodies were touching so the waltz became more of a swaying motion, but this was more beautiful and graceful than any dance could ever be. I was totally lost in the moment as I felt wrapped up by the feelings of warmth and tenderness both Daniel and I seemed to be emanating like auras. We swayed the evening away and were still swaying when the music stopped and the band packed up.
Finally, we stopped under a star-littered sky.
"I love you," Daniel said sincerely.
"I love you too," I replied, with equal seriousness.
Daniel sighed. "Shall we get you home?"
I nodded, sighing too. "I fear melted hearts are more vulnerable."
"Tonight's been truly wonderful. Thank you."
"No, thank you. I haven't felt this happy since my human days."
"I'm sorry such an admirable person as yourself was deprived that contentment."
"I'm grateful for people like you who remind me what it is to be joyous."
Daniel held me tight to him as he escorted me home. I liked feeling his protectiveness over me; it was a comfort at this time of night. It was hard to believe it was summer as the wind whipped around the trees, creating eerie sounds which combined with the cries of owls and various other nocturnal creatures to form an orchestra perfect for a horror movie. No harm befell us though as we arrived safely at Darren's apartment.
"Oh dear, I'm a bit thirsty," Daniel said, as we stepped inside.
"Oh, there's some milk in the fridge," I told him. "Or you could have my blood."
"I've given up human and vampire blood," Daniel said. "But thanks for offering."
"I'll be in the living room," I called as I walked there.
I found Darren slouched on the sofa with a bottle of drink in his hand. He looked a state: his hair was unkempt; his clothes were untidy and there was bruising on his cheek.
"Are you okay?" I asked in concern.
"Wha'd'you care?" he asked, sounding very drunk.
"Why wouldn't I?"
"Oh, I dunno, maybe 'cos you've got a boyfriend now and you don't need me anymore."
"That's not true. I haven't forgotten this morning."
"And yet you walk in looking all cheerful and happy, and rub it in that I'm not the love of your life when you know you're mine."
"I didn't mean to come across that way, Darren. I just thought you should know."
"You didn't have to introduce me to him, though. That was really cruel. And the way you just expected me to be happy for you when I was fighting every urge to show how jealous I was. You're so unfeeling, Tay, so inconsiderate."
"I'm truly sorry."
"Well, sorry's not good enough. I want you to make it up to me."
"How? I'm evidently going to be stopping your hangover tomorrow."
"That's irrelevant to today's events. I want you to show you care about me."
Darren stood up.
"How d'you mean?" I asked nervously.
"I wan' you t'kiss me, Tay."
"You know I can't, Darren. I'm with Daniel."
"I don't care about that stupid vampire rights activist. All I wan' in life is you and that's what I'm gonna get."
"You can't just take me away from the person I love, Darren, that's not fair."
"Life isn't fair. I thought you realised that when I gave you the Kiss of Death."
"Darren, don't be like this," I said, exasperated. "You know you're better than this."
"I don't know anything anymore. I thought you were a selfless girl. You proved me wrong there."
"I'm not going to kiss you, Darren."
"Yes, you are. If not by choice, then by the power of the ownership thing."
"Oh, don't you dare. I can't believe you." I hurriedly covered my ears in case he was going in for an ambush.
To my annoyance, I could still hear him. "I can," he said. "Kiss me."
I was helplessly compelled by his tone to close the gap between us and start kissing him. I tried to hold myself back but Darren repeated the command with more authority so that my will was subdued. I kissed him submissively, not enjoying it and hating him for exploiting his power over me.
I heard footsteps behind me which came to an abrupt halt. What an odd sight I must look, kissing Darren while trying to push him away.
"Taylor... what are you doing?" Daniel whispered.