"Back at you…and so do a lot of people down there, too. I'm expecting you out soon for dinner, okay?" Dani rose and walked out without a word. I took a bit to freshen up before I sat back on the bed, closing my eyes. I counted to ten, ready to go back down, when I heard something.
A scratching sound came from the wall, a 'skritch-skritch,' something moving behind there. I could hear the tap of tiny paws. Rats, I thought. We'd once had an issue with them in the attic. In the winter, they'd congregate to a warm place. Long as they stayed out of my room.
I heard the noise again, scratching, something moving there. It began to creep me out, I confessed. I walked from my room there, passing in the hallway as I recognized one of the girls from earlier. Dana, I thought. She was glancing away, into her room, a look of sullen and shy discontent on her face. I blinked.
"Hey, Dana?" I said. Her room was right near mine. "You alright?"
"Fine," her voice was strangely toneless, her eyes not meeting my own. "See you."
"Hey…" I said. "Look, um…if something's up…can I drop by in a few? Just see how you're doing?"
She looked at me then, giving a shrug. Her sleeves slipped and I saw the beginning of a dark scar on her arm. She must have seen me looking, and I cursed myself for the insensitivity when she pulled her sleeve up. "Come by in an hour," she said. "Could be a storm later tonight."
The forecast had said nothing about storms, thank god. It was cold enough as it was. Still, she seemed to be opening up. She was slight, almost tiny, with pale skin and black hair. I was surprised she was a Sister, come to think. Most of the girls accepted were outgoing, quick and eager to make friends. Had something happened to her in the past? "I can come in now- "
"An hour. I need time," she said. I followed her gaze past the hallway to the old ladder at the end of the hall, leading to the attic, or the creepiest place in the house. I had been up there plenty and we had even used it for storage when closets got full. Between the old, musty scent, the rats and the cobwebs, nobody liked going up there.
"Sure," I said. "Not a problem." I tried to shake a feeling of slight unease. We were at MIT, I told myself. I wore a crystal around my neck as well, one that tended to thrum if it detected any trace of supernatural happenstance, a gift from my sister-in-law, the queen of hell herself. I let my nerves calm a bit as I made my way back to the others. It was silly, I told myself. College girls have issues like any others. People get freaked out, lord knows I did, without any hint of monsters or magic.
So relax, I told myself. I was at MIT, for god's sake, one of the least supernatural places on the planet. Sure, Boston had its own supernatural council, but nothing of note ever happened overmuch there. Hardestadt had almost laughed when I had asked if there were any dangers in Boston and Cambridge and he had been keeping an eye on Boston since the 1700s.
"Erin?" I heard my voice as I went down the hallway. I recognized it instantly, not bothering to turn.
"Alicia," I returned, keeping my voice level. "Glad you could make it."
"I…didn't want there to be any issues with us," She started.
"Why would there be any problems?" I faced her, my expression still neutral. She flinched there. I think she would have preferred I yelled at her. We hadn't spoken in nearly a decade, nothing remained of our old friendship. She was rubbing her alumnus ring. "So, what've you been up to?" I asked after a moment. Alicia wore her black hair loose, looking every inch the sorority girl. She had probably done more than most to help me out of my shell, even encouraged me and Ian at first.
I know it sounded pathetic, hung up on someone so far in my past. Ian Saxon had been six months out of my life. I should have been over this, but in some ways I felt Alicia had been worse. Irrational perhaps, but everything with Ian and I had been doomed, spiraling lower and lower with every stupid remark he had made. I was furious at myself for it, always telling myself I wasn't the girl to stay with a man who made me feel terrible, that I would break away early. My parents had been high school sweethearts and while they had fought at times, they had always been so happy together. I'd had boyfriends in high school, little by the way of anything serious, and Ian had been the first I had been dedicated to. I should have known he was cheating on me, but Alicia had been my friend. I was standing here hating her for something years ago, without giving her a chance. It was unfair, but I couldn't stop, my anger like a drug that just kept fueling me.
"Working at a bank…" Alicia said.
"Must be nice," I said quietly.
"I heard you're working in an investigation business?"
"With my husband. It's how we met," I said. She smiled then, her face lighting up. I could see genuine happiness for me there. "We've been together a while," I said.
"That's…that's great! I was seeing someone for a bit, but it didn't work out…you're married? Congratulations, I didn't know- "
"Let's stop, okay?" I said curtly. She stopped talking immediately. "I'm not interested. You understand why I may not want to let you know I had a husband, Alicia."
She reacted like I had struck her, her mouth forming a line. She glanced away from me, a sullen anger forming on her face. "…That isn't fair," she said.
"Neither was screwing my boyfriend," I said.
"It's been nearly ten years," she said. "How many times can I say I'm sorry? It was a mistake- "
"Losing that book I lent you was a mistake. Ordering pizza with onions when I said I didn't like them was a mistake. What you did was deliberate." Part of me wanted to stop. What was this side of me? She wanted to make peace, but I was keeping the thorn lodged in, breaking out the salt for it. She was upset, but I wasn't letting myself stop.
"Erin…it was once…"
"Valentine's Day," I reminded her curtly. "After he said he'd meet me." Our first Valentine's Day date. "And only once. Wow, I guess that makes everything just fine and dandy then, don't it? You clearly have something to say, so say it." Alicia was silent and I folded my arms. "Well?"
"I just…I was hoping you're doing okay," she said. "…Erin, if I could take it back, I would. I liked Ian, too, and I thought you weren't working out. I was stressed, I was tired, and it's before I knew the kind of person he was. I screwed up- "
"Interesting choice of words- "
"How long until I can be done apologizing?!" she snapped it at me suddenly. "I'm trying to- "
"You don't get to take everything back," I said. "Sometimes, when you screw up, it's forever. I'm sure it was really hard for you after." I remembered sitting back in my room, frantic when the test had come back, pacing for what had seemed like hours as I had ignored everyone else. The clinic hadn't been far off campus and they had seen plenty cases like mine; girls who had tried to be careful but weren't careful enough. Cathy and the others had been there for me.
She seemed to deflate, the burst of her own anger out. It wasn't fair, a part of me protested. Holding this over her, when she had been younger, for a stupid mistake. I was projecting too much to her, I knew. But rationality often departs when one is angry and this was no exception. "I'll play nice, Alicia," I said. "I'll be cool and everything else with everyone here. I won't tell them, but don't act like we're still friends."
"I want to be," she said.
"You want to be friends or do you just want to be able to feel better about yourself?" I watched her. "That's what I thought." How much had I been holding on to? Who was this person saying this? I had known my husband had once been a monster. His family had started wars in heaven. This was such a small, petty, personal thing, but I couldn't find it in me to say anything else.
"I'm sorry," she said. "That's all I can say." I didn't say anything else. I was just angry that I hadn't considered this. I had been so eager to get away and enjoy myself that I had not bothered to consider bad memories attached here. There weren't many, but what did exist were intense.
I had thought I was in love. First time away from home and there I was. I had hated myself for a while after. I had not even thought of this in so long, so busy were we with saving lives, and with the life I had in southern Florida. Hardestadt had never betrayed me, had never given a hint he would do so. I was over this, I reminded myself, in every way that counted.
Except possibly one. I made my way back to the common room, seeing Emma as the center of attention. My vampire bestie had her hands on the table, telling a story in a quiet tone, the others listening with full attention. Emma slapped her hand down on the table to enunciate her punchline, everyone exploding into laughter.
"Erin!" Emma glanced up. "Hey, hon, you alright?"
"Yeah, fine! Gonna check on Dana in a few, but fine," I said. Dani had an arm around her wife, Sharice waving me over.
"We've been getting to know your friends…everything alright, Erin?"
"Yeah, fine!" I let my irritation melt away and enjoy being with them. "Everything alright with Dana there?"
"She used to be pretty involved…she got bullied here and there, though. Some girls who got kicked out from what Jane told me," Cathy said. "She had a weird family, keeps to herself now…she spoke to you?"
"Briefly," I said. I frowned with concern. "Yeah, I'll head back there. Hopefully she'll join us for the party. Feels weird doing an old college one here and now…" Hardestadt and I occasionally went to friends' house parties, even hosted some of our own. Granted, his friends tended to be in the supernatural side or other interesting areas. "At least we're not around minors."
"Come on, we're less than a decade older than them!" Candice said. "Everyone all settled?" I saw them give the nods when Nour's phone rang.
"One sec, let me take this," she checked the number and answered. "Dr. Egale." She waited a moment. "Hello? Hello?" She paused. "Hello? Okay, goodbye." She hung up.
"Who was it?" Candice asked.
"The number was my receptionist, but…I just heard breathing," she said.
"Really heavy breathing, nothing else." She shrugged. "I don't know, maybe someone called me by accident off speed dial."
"Weird," Sharice said, Candice shrugging.
"Don't let it bother you…just worry about having fun. Little snow later, but tomorrow, we can go around the city. Some of our favorite spots are still there, there's the mall, the book shop, we can hit Boston's east end…okay, it's been commercialized to hell and back, Cathy says, but…"
"Some of the old Italian joints are still there, the nice mom and pop ones?" Cathy said excitedly. "It'll be fun! And we can go around campus, maybe even meet the kids around!"
"Kids," Candice scoffed. They're college-age. And don't say they're kids to us, I don't want to feel that old."
"Seconded," Sharice muttered.
"And thirded," Nour agreed. I laughed a bit.
"Yeah, don't age me like that…my husband's already older, even if he looks fantastic for his age…"
"Not a rhino, is he?" Emma asked sweetly. I held up my middle finger with a playful scowl as Emma giggled. Hardestadt and Emma were alone almost all the time at work, when dealing with the field, but I knew them both. Even if I didn't trust my husband, I sure as hell trusted Emma. Ever since leaving that prison, she was moral to a fault. Ever since she had gotten with Dani, there was nobody in existence for her but her wife and Dani returned the feeling utterly. I loved seeing them together, seeing every smile, every kiss, every glance that passed between them. It made me happy to see them, to go on a good double date with them and just be happy couples together.
"Emma was telling us about a lot," Cathy said. "And that you work with…you know, 'weird' stuff?" Candice looked over at me.
"Yeah, like…you really know vampires? Werewolves? I've never even seen one."
"Maybe you have," Dani said pleasantly. "You'd never know, right?"
"Not up close I mean, just on TV. It's crazy!"
"I couldn't believe it…not when it got so cold," Nour said. "It just feels…like everyone's used to it now, though."
"Well, they're not going anywhere, are they?" Sharice asked. "My folks were freaked though. They didn't even flinch when I came out, but undead monsters who drink blood isn't the same thing."
"Yeah, but…they're people, too, aren't they?" Cathy asked. "I just mean you get good and bad like any other." I caught Emma's pleased smile at that, Dani cuddling closer.
"Didn't a few of them try to destroy like the whole world?" Candice asked. "With those blizzards…and again with the tsunamis?"
"Yeah, but everyone saw others saving people in Japan," Cathy returned. "Look, people are probably gonna be arguing this our whole lives, Candi, but…"
"I've known a lot," I said. "And yeah…they're like people. They have their own laws, their own systems, their own personalities…people hurt one another worse than vampires do."
"But when they do it, isn't the damage worse?" Nour asked. "the death toll was…"
"Yeah, but they helped stop it, right?" Sharice asked. "It's just…it's easy to get freaked out sometimes."
"Partially why I wanted to set this up," Candice said. "I mean, has this affected any of you?" She glanced between them, Cathy shaking her head. Nour repeated the gesture and Sharice shrugged a bit.
"I mean, I hear talk about legal hang ups with some things, but that's it…and a lot of these weird movements spring up. How about you, Erin?"
"Err…" I tried to choose the right words. "Well, yeah. We get a lot of business involved with that stuff, my husband and I."
"No kidding?" Candice asked. "What's it like?"
"Well," I said. "Some are nicer than others. Same as any people. Craziest thing is how the justice system is going. But hey, we didn't come to talk about that sort of stuff. Let's talk fun, huh?" I didn't feel quite right lying to them too much. As common knowledge as the supernatural was, I wasn't ready to inform everyone I knew outside my family that Hardestadt was an immortal devil. It might bring scrutiny neither of us wished to deal with at the time, and he had a fair number of acquaintances throughout the underworld who may not have been overly friendly. It was only after we got together that I realized how deep his reputation went across the world.
In a moment, I felt strangely aloof from the people around us, with the exception of Emma and Dani. I didn't like it, not one bit. I wanted to be able to sit back and enjoy normal things, wanted to talk and catch up, and appreciate acting like a normal person there.
"I mean, you ever feel in danger?" Cathy asked, all eyes now on me.
"A few times," I said. "But, I mean, I feel really fine with a lot of them. Most aren't too different from us." That sounded lame, I thought. It was like every silly piece of racist apologia known to man. "Most werewolves are like people, most vampires, too." The knowing smile I gave Dani might have been a tip off, but nobody seemed to catch on.
Time passed quicker than I thought, without Alicia showing up. I remembered Dana and excused myself, heading back to her room. I knocked on her door and heard an invitation. I walked inside to see her sat back at her desk, several textbooks open in front of her. "Hey," I said gently.
"Hey," she didn't look up. "Thanks for the interest."
"You looked…" I searched for the right word. "Like you needed someone to talk to. Were you okay with Jane and Leslie?"
"We used to be close. Before things," Dana looked up, brushing her hair back. I walked closer.
"Things?" I asked.
"Things," she muttered. "Thought it would be nice to join here. Other people had different ideas of friendship than me. Or different ideas of what to do with their time." She was being purposefully vague, I could tell.
"Look…Dana…" I knelt by her chair. "I know we don't know one another. I'm just here on a vacation, I used to be a Sister here, but that means something. I don't turn away from people who need help. Do you need help? Even if it's just to hear you out?"
"It's not about a boy in case you're wondering," she said.
"I didn't say it was." My mind drifted briefly to Alicia, probably still in her own room. "Dana…"
"Why do you care?" She asked me.
"I just do," I said. "I don't turn away from people who need help."
Her sleeves had been rolled down and I saw several scars on them, crossing over one another in a strange pattern. "I had…issues with someone," she said. "Someone who wasn't who I thought they were. I don't want to say much else…"
"You don't have to," I said. I smiled. "You going to just stay inside at the party tonight?"
"Probably just study," she said. She hesitated. "I…thought a few people were my friends. They weren't, not like I had thought. There was a joke. They thought it was funny. I didn't," her voice was so soft I had to strain to hear her. Dana's room was not like a typical sorority girl; she had decorated with dark colors, shelves of comics and novels on her walls. I saw a pentagram on her desk, her hand by it. I reached out on instinct and put a hand to hers. She did not pull from my touch, keeping her head down.
"What kind of joke?" I asked. She did not respond. I wanted to pursue the question, but I was no longer certain about pushing her. "It hurt?" I asked. She nodded.
"They didn't know how much…someone else noticed. Someone I didn't want to see it." Her voice was bitter. "They haven't talked about it much at all. They don't even act sorry…They didn't even know how bad it was."
"That's awful," I said. "Dana, you don't have to be here…if people hurt you, nothing says you have to stay around them."
"It's easier than being alone," she said. "Safer too, here." MIT had always been a safe school when I had been there, I thought. But even so, girls our age on their own would travel together, look out for one another, make sure we didn't leave our drinks unattended. "Are you going to the party?"
"I was going to," I said. "But if you're not up to it…I wouldn't mind coming to keep you company instead?"
"Yeah? What kind of company is that?"
"Well," I glanced across the shelf. "We have some of the same tastes here. We could just hang out, talk fun stuff? Screw any phonies, huh?"
"Phonies…" she said the word, hanging on it. "Yeah, I guess they are…"
"Weather's clear, too. I'll be spending some time with the girls, but maybe we can fit in some time?" I said. "I know a great place for sushi…"
"And if it snows too hard?" she asked.
"Hey, can't always snow. Sometimes the weather stays clear!" I tried a grin. She smiled at that, her lips pulling up.
"Sure," she said. "If everything's alright later…"
"I'll come check on you with the party. Confession? I was never too into them either," I said. "I mean, sure, they were fun, but some Friday or Saturday nights, you just- "
"Want to sit back by yourself with a good book?" Dana asked. I laughed at that.
"Bingo!" My Fridays and Saturdays now typically consisted of Tabletop gaming and spending time with my husband, though every so often we stepped back and gave one another some space. Hardestadt always appreciated when I needed that time.
"Just watch out, okay?" Dana asked.
"Relax. I've bene up and down the block here. Multiple times. And my room's right close to there," I said. "Want some time alone?" She nodded in response and I left here there, glad I had seen her smile. I returned to my room as I took a seat. My phone rang suddenly and I glanced, seeing my sister's number.
"Kira?" I asked as I picked up. Only dead silence greeted me. "Little sis?" I said. "Hello? Pocket call?" Silence again, and then…
Breathing. Heavy breaths on the end of the phone. I frowned. "Not funny," I said. I hung up and rolled my eyes. I was the eldest of four, and my little sisters, love them to bits or not, could play stupid little jokes from time to time. My one brother had lost his hearing when he was young after getting sick, and they sometimes acted out for attention. Granted, they hadn't done anything like this in years and after what mom and I had been through in the last few months, I was in no mood for it. I saw a text there from Kira, reading only 'sorry.' I shook my head, not bothering to respond when I heard the door.
"Come in," I said. "Not lo- " I stopped as I saw Alicia there.
"You mind if I'm at the party later, Erin?"
"Free country, do what you want." I averted my eyes, frowning. "Could have given me a heads up, Alicia."
"I don't want there to be…trouble here, Erin," she said. "I came here because I wanted to see everyone again, too."
"Even me?" I asked.
"Especially you," she said. "Can I come in?"
"Yeah," I thought of Janet briefly and what she had said.
"Your friends seem nice. Spoke to them downstairs. They look happy together," Alicia said as she walked in.
"They are. They're great people," I said. "They've been with me through a lot."
"Erin…I'm not saying I can be your best friend anymore," Alicia said. "But I don't want this hanging over both of us our entire lives…"
"That why you came to talk to me right now?" I asked.
"Yeah," she admitted. "I know part of it is selfish…"
"You don't say."
"You think I ever forgot the look on your face?" Alicia asked. "It wasn't shock, or horror, or anything like that…it was just…resignation." She put a hand to her head. "What can I do, Erin? I just don't want you to hate me."
Hate. She had used the word 'hate.' I had met a vampire who used women for torture and snuff films, two survivors having come with me. I had met a werewolf who ate children and his sociopath of a daughter who dissected people while they were still alive. I had met a mad god who held entire worlds in thrall to torture them eternally. I hated them. I had every right to hate them. Hatred was suddenly a strange emotion for this situation. I was bitter, angry, resentful, but hate?
"I don't…hate you," I said quietly.
"You don't?" She asked.
"Nah," I said softly. "I don't hate you, Alicia…"
"What you said earlier…"
"I meant it," I admitted. "I wasn't ready to see you. I'm not sure how I feel about all of it, but I don't hate you." She had been right about one thing. Part of me had known about Ian. I had known deep down by then he wasn't faithful, wasn't a nice guy like I had thought. My relationship had been toxic and unhealthy.
But it had still hurt. It had hurt all the worse that a woman I considered a friend had assisted in the betrayal. I was under no obligation to forgive her, no obligation to help her cope with a personal desire for catharsis. But obligation wasn't what I should be worried about.
"We've…got a few days," I said. "Maybe we can talk then. A bit."
"I'd like that," she said. "I'd thought about you. Sometimes. Wondering what you were doing after you went back to Florida."
"A lot happened," I said simply. "Can't even begin to sum it up. You're happy with what you do?"
"Yeah," she said. "I am. You?"
"Very," I said. It was fulfilling, it brought me genuine happiness in spite of the danger. I had friends from it. "
"I'm happy," she offered a hand. I took it after a moment.
"Talk later?" She asked as she stood when she released me.
"Sure," I said. I saw her apologetic, wanting to make amends, even as a part of me was ready to cling to the grudge. Didn't I have that right? Wasn't I the wronged party here? I had every right to be angry, upset, to hold to it.
But was having the right the same as being the right thing? The healthy thing? I wanted to say no, wanted to say something else before she left. I had no idea what to say, and so I remained silent as she left.
The only sound was my own breathing, and then the sound of rats in the walls, growing louder and louder.
The party was fun, I had to confess. We had eaten beforehand, the younger students enjoying drinks, games and dancing in the halls. Some girls had brought their boyfriends as Candice and I stepped back with the others. "Feeling old?" I asked Candice over the music. Nour rolled her eyes, still not touching a drop of alcohol. Sharice was sipping calmly in moderation while Cathy had downed hers cheerfully.
"Night's still young," she said. I saw Jane and Leslie laughing with some other girls, Dani slipping to my side as she slung an arm around me.
"Been a while since we've seen you party, Miss World Class," she teased playfully.
"Gonna be a while longer," I said. Alicia was nearby as well, socializing. We had a whole day planned out for after, seeing the city and spending time together with checking out our old sights. Dani was excited to see Cambridge, practically leaping for joy on it. Emma was the exuberant one, her wife always quietly more enthusiastic. Dani possessed a gentle sweetness to her that being a vampire had never managed to erase. I knew Dani had a hard life even before her abduction by Rich Jacobs' ring, but she had never allowed it to remove her zeal for living. Dani approached every day with a happiness that she had a new day to face, even being a vampire was just a challenge she could rise to meet.
Emma was much more loudly joyous, and was currently pretending she was enjoying several cups' worth of alcohol. She could imbibe it, though it did little good for her. The only way a vampire could experience the effects of drunkenness would be to feed on the blood of someone well and truly intoxicated. I noted that might have been well in the cards from how some of the young men were admiring her, and Emma seeming to return the affection with laughs and suggestive looks.
"Isn't she married?" Sharice raised an eyebrow. Dani's smile was pleasant.
"I don't mind," she said simply. "Emma likes being the center of attention. It's all in fun, that's all."
"If you say so," Nour said. Emma threw her wife a wink and Dani giggled softly. I shook my head. It was a behavior that was half instinctive, half learned for vampires. The best could ensnare food, while others resorted to attacks. Emma adhered to the rules of their society: just several mouthfuls, leaving someone with no memory of what had transpired. Between that, deals with blood banks and willing donors, vampires could continue as productive members of society. Granted, selling that to the public had not been easy.
"Babe, gonna just get a few things from our room," Emma said as she threw a wink at one of the boys. I suppose it made me a bit uncomfortable to see one of my best friends on the 'hunt' so to speak, but I raised no objection. Dani simply leaned back as Emma left, the young man following shortly after.
I had rarely seen Emma or Dani at work like that, and even knowing that nobody would be harmed save a bit of lethargy the next day, I had little appetite for it. None could see why Dani seemed so casual about it.
Not even that, Dani seemed rather entranced by it, I realized. There was a smile on her face, a dreamy look in her eyes when she watched Emma there. Maybe it was a vampire thing, but who was I to talk? Some things about Hardestadt tended to act as strange turn-ons for me as well. Toe ach their own and all that.
"Guys, just gonna check on something upstairs, okay?" I said over the music.
"You okay there?" Nour asked me. She had never been much of a party girl, not caring much for alcohol. I admit to partaking in solid drinking from time to time myself, though some of my friends here had been more heavily into that. They could see I had not taken nearly enough to be lightheaded.
"Fine!" I said. "Beautiful night and all!" I excused myself to walk down the hall. A boy who had been drinking too much leaned against the wall, barring my path, a dumb grin on his face.
"Hey," he said. "Ain't seen you 'round before."
"I'm nearly ten years older than you, and I'm married," I gave him a look at my wedding ring."
"I like older ladies," he said. "Come on. He doesn't have to know…" Yeah, this was not particularly something I had missed about college either. I had occasionally gone to parties with intention of meeting people, but drunken frat affections were plainly unwanted and unreciprocated, even if it took them some time to get that message.
"What's your name?" I asked.
"Phil," he grinned at me wider.
"Phil, honey? Go sleep it off, and asking a woman to cheat on her husband is a pretty bad icebreaker. You seem like a nice guy. So we'll chalk it up to too much to drink, okay?" I saw his friends over and gave my best 'get over here gesture.' They saw me and hurried over with Phil almost slumped against the wall.
"Sorry about that," one young man said, a bashful smile on his face. "He's not a bad guy, honest."
"Just get him to a place where he can take a load off, okay?" I didn't want to deal with drunken frat boy culture at the moment. I wanted to get up the stairs and see Dana.
My phone rang and I picked it up, seeing the number having the local area code. "Erin Hasegawa," I said. "Can't talk right- " I paused, hearing the breathing on the other end. "Okay, not funny- "
The words were raspy, hurried and frenzied. "Have you checked in the mirror?"
"Excuse me?" I whispered.
"In the mirror. Have you checked yourself out? Bet you're wearing something hot."
"Who is this? This isn't funny." I said. Something about this felt strange. "I don't have time for- "
"What are you wearing?"
"I don't have time for this," I said. "Thanks, never call back- "
"Wanna lick it!" The voice suddenly sounded excited. "Lick it- "
I hung up instantly, gritting my teeth. Now I was roundly pissed off. I was now far from the mood to deal with frat boy shenanigans. I wanted to get up and see Dana. Some warning bells were off in my head, even as I tried to push it down. I checked my necklace, the crystal dead against my chest. Nothing to worry about, I told myself. Some pervert with my number. I scowled again, shaking my head as I made my way to Dana's room. Emma's door was open a bit and I glanced in. Her 'date' seemed in a trance, Emma's arms about him, her face against his neck, holding him upright. She lifted her head, and I saw her dab at her mouth before she leaned in to lick the young man's neck clean. Vampire wounds heal quickly with their saliva, I had also learned. He would have no marks, little memory of the event save only pleasant sensations.
Emma turned and I saw her eyes shift from gold. "Sorry," she said as she guided the young man to sit on the bed. He was handsome, short blond hair slightly spiked up. I saw a little red drop trickle from the corner of her lip and her tongue darted to catch it. "Hope me eating didn't disturb you, hon."
"I'm good," I said. In truth, it still weirded me out a bit, despite that Hardestadt and I occasionally indulged in the same. Emma had grown more comfortable with her inhumanity, casually referring to it just as 'eating' in the same way I would describe grabbing a taco. "You need any…?"
"I didn't drink much," Emma said. "Loverboy here'll be right as rain in about ten minutes. Not gonna deny I am buzzed as shit now." She put a hand to her head, chuckling a bit. "….You sure you're okay?"
"Fine, fine!" I said, suddenly worried about offending my best friend. Miss cultural sensitivity, that's me, I thought sourly to myself. I raised my hand, giving her a disarming smile like I hadn't just seen her drinking someone's blood. "You and Dani having fun?"
"Honestly, having a ball," Emma said. "Stoked for Cambridge. Lydia's gonna be so jealous when we get back, too! Hoo boy, definitely feeling it…" she giggled a bit and sagged against me. I caught her and laughed.
"You're a nice drunk, right, Ems?"
"I'm a fuckin' congenial drunk," she said. "You are so my best friend, Erin. I love you. Super love you."
"Back atcha," I said as her 'date' stirred, looking up to see Emma on me.
"Whoah," he muttered, rubbing his neck. "Musta…passed out a bit…did we- "
"You. Were. Great," Emma said cheerfully. "Thanks."
His smile was a very pleased one, even if he apparently couldn't remember anything, but I didn't quite want a drunken Emma to say anything anyone might regret. I steered them both out and back to the party, leaving Emma in the company of her wife. Dani rolled her eyes and accepted her.
"Did you have too much to drink, Corazon?"
"Maaaaybe a teensy bit?" Emma grinned nervously. Candice laughed and shook her head as I finally made my way to Dana's room. I knocked once, hearing no response.
"Dana? It's me." I tried the doorknob. It was not locked, I realized as I opened it. "Dana?"
Only a dark room greeted me. I could see her in the bed, covers drawn up, back to me. She must have been napping, I thought. I quieted myself and closed the door swiftly. I began to step back when something slid under the door. I saw a piece of paper there.
"Dana?" I asked. No response again. I reached down and took the paper, seeing an odd symbol drawn there. It was jagged, with strange angles. I knew many symbols and many signs of a variety of strange beings, especially after a god of knowledge had infested my head years ago. But this? I didn't recognize it at all.
"Dana?" I asked gently. She must have gotten up to give me this. "What is- " I stopped as I tried the door, finding it locked. This was setting my senses off now. Something was up. I snapped a photo with my phone and texted it promptly to my husband.
"Can you tell me what this is?" I asked. I waited for his reply. Nothing. I frowned a bit. Of course I hadn't wanted Hardestadt to be hanging by his phone and I hoped he was having fun, but now my curiosity was piqued. If something strange that I needed to know about was happening, he was the best source. After all, he was a devil, with an education that humans could never hope to rival. Hardestadt knew of so many eldritch deities and strange beings that it made my head spin, never mind what he had picked up through thousands of years of experience on earth. On a weekend night like this, what would he be doing? Maybe going on, seeing friends or his brothers and sisters, maybe his father? When we stayed in, sometimes Nyx would lurk under the bed and I would put a hand down so he could lick my fingers to reassure me, my sweet little emerald fluff ball.
Of course it could be nothing. Dana had troubles, and this could be how she reacted. But it might not be nothing. It could easily be something, and I had been through far too much to just idly brush it off. I could hear the party winding down, checking to see others passed out. The girls were heading to bed within hours, and my friends were happily bidding one another goodnight. Dani had taken Emma off while I helped clean up.
"Just leave the decorations," Candice told me with a laugh. I took care of the common area. Jane had told me the same thing and I simply gathered up cups and any trash. There were streamers, toys and pictures around, one big inflatable clown propped up in the chair that I passed by as well before I threw everything away.
That complete, we all bid one another good night before I retired to my room. I lay back on my bed for a while, staring at the ceiling. I was trying to relax, trying with all I had. I was even angry I couldn't, suddenly feeling anger towards Dana, and her tormentors as unfair and selfish as it was. I counted to ten, closing my eyes as I heard the wind howl outside, the sound of falling snow. I undressed, washing my face and checking my phone to see nothing from Hardestadt.
He had to be out, I thought. I sighed and calmed myself. Just relax. I was seeing my friends tomorrow, seeing Cambridge again. Emma and Dani were right there, even if Emma was sleeping off a bit of intoxication. Everything was fine.
I made my way to the bed, lights off as I considered the paper, checking my crystal to find it dead. I lay down, finding the bed comfortable. I shut my eyes as I thought of home.
The sound of scratching came from the walls. Rats, I thought angrily. I needed to have a chat with the current president about this, with something in the walls. I yawned, not letting it bother me as I rolled over. A haze settled over me as I began to drift. I was back home, in our bed. My husband was laying beside me, propped up on an elbow as he looked at me, both of us wrapped in sheets.
It was vivid, real, and I forgot where I was, carried back home as I stared at him. My wrists were slightly sore, marked red from the ropes he had used. Hardestadt and I could be rather adventurous at times, and I freely admit I have a few kinks here and here. But my husband is an incredible dom, always mindful of limits while never acting shy about it. Aftercare is one of my favorite parts, the gentle and loving kindness that comes next, indulging in gentle affection and warmth in one another.
In my dream, my eyes are on his, the beautiful violet color staring into me. We've showered together, nice and clean to curl into our sheets. He raises a hand, covering his face with it before he raises his fingers to let his eyes through, doing it several times. I laugh and grin at him.
"Hey you," I get closer to kiss him. I hear something underneath the bed and kiss my husband again. Nyx has a tendency to make himself scarce and roam the house when we're busy, returning to our room after. Don't ask me how the little green fuzzball knows, he's a faerie dog who's able to slip in and out of places with ease. I lean to the edge of the bed and hold down my hand, feeling his tongue greet my hand affectionately. "Awww, Nyx," I say happily. He's too cute, really. Affectionate, sweet, friendly, everything you can expect in a magic pet. I love everything about him, from his thick fur to his braided tail, to the little spiky collar I got him to make him look more intimidating. Hardestadt keeps smiling there at me, watching me shift affection from him to give to our beloved Nyx. I'll make it up to him later, always do.
In my dream, Hardestadt doesn't speak. He just smiles at me, before I snap awake as Nyx keeps licking my fingers. My head is swimming and I realized I had almost jolted off the bed, my arm hanging off. I shook my head, the vivid nature of the dream in my head.
The wind was howling outside, the snows falling. I couldn't even see the darkness of night outside for the thick layer of snow and frost obscuring the rest. It was a blizzard, I realized. That hadn't been on the weather forecast. Bad luck, but at least it was at night.
My dream remained sweetly within my mind, the thought of Hardestadt and home remaining. I loved travel, but how long had it been since I had slept alone in an unfamiliar bed? Had this trip been a mistake so soon after our honeymoon and the trauma we had been through? Was I just making too much of this, or was I ignoring my instincts? I did have to smile considering how I dreamed of Nyx. I'd tell him over a nice treat when I got back and get his kisses for real.
I swung out of bed, taking in breath after breath before I made my way to the bathroom. I smiled to myself as I thought of Nyx, his big eyes and his eagerness to hand out doggie kisses like they were going out of style. His soft green fur, his love for cuddling and-
I stopped short as I turned on the light. There was a message scrawled on the mirror there in red.
PEOPLE CAN LICK TOO.
My hand was wet, the memory of Nyx's tongue on it in my dream racing through my mind.
In my dream. I froze in place, my heart thundering in my head. I remained in place, trying to hear something nearby. My hand was sticky and wet, glistening to my eyes.
The words remained there despite my attempt to will them into the realm of nightmare and unreality. I was breathing in and out, staring at myself, something skittering within the walls. Something thumped there, and I could hear something move, something shift behind me.
Something was under my bed.