A Specter Legacy Ch 8

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A Specter Legacy Ch 8

  1. 1. Ch 8: 2 Steps Back<br />Ch 8<br />Soundtrack/Inspiration: “2 Steps Back” by Craig David; “Who’s to Say” by Vanessa Carlton; “Pull Out My Insides” by Does It Offend You, Yeah?; “Who Knew” by Pink<br />
  2. 2. Aerith walked the dark city streets, a pulse of excited energy weaving through her veins. There was just something about walking the streets at night that awoke something inside her – a darker impulse, a sense of ownership, a thirst for blood. Recognizing the dark path to which those feelings led, Aerith squashed any traces of emotion and bid herself to concentrate and focus on the task at hand. She was searching for the one who did this to her, the Contessa.<br />
  3. 3. In the weeks since she’d graduated, she’d had trouble adjusting to a nocturnal schedule, but she’d finally managed. Early evenings where spent researching, reading every piece of vampire lore she could get her hands on, searching for any information on what she’d become and alternative ways to fix it. But it was hard to separate fact from fiction, to be oblivious to what she was really capable of. She felt herself changing rapidly but it seemed there was nothing to be done about it.<br />
  4. 4. Unless the Contessa knew something she didn’t and it already seemed likely that the woman was withholding a wealth of information from her – a fact Aerith meant to remedy when she found her. Problem was, the Contessa was proving to be increasingly hard to find. She had not seen her since the night she was bitten. In fact, since then she was hard-pressed to find any vampire, to catch a glimpse of or hear any rumor of those elusive creatures of the night.<br />
  5. 5. But she kept the search up anyway, spending the early hours before dawn haunting all those nightclubs and dark, dank places vampires always seemed to visit in the movies. But the Contessa was never there, just as she wasn’t this night. <br />Aerith sighed to herself and headed for the bar. She’d wait there a bit. Perhaps the Contessa might still make an appearance.<br />
  6. 6. She’d settled into a stool and ordered a drink when a guy at the end of the bar caught her eye. Had she seen him before? He looked familiar somehow. It was possible, she supposed, that she’d come across him in any of her previous visits to clubs. But that thought didn’t soothe the sense of unease creeping across her skin.<br />
  7. 7. Perhaps it was because he was practically staring at her. Perhaps because no matter what she did or which way she turned, she felt his eyes on her.<br />
  8. 8. Studying her. Questioning her.<br />
  9. 9. A wave of irrational anger swept over Aerith. Why did he keep staring at her? Why didn’t he look away? She didn’t know who this guy was, but she was through being gawked at. She rose and stalked out of the club, trying to calm herself down. He’s probably just some curious knowledge sim, she told herself, guiltily wondering what was coming over her. She was usually such an even-tempered person. She’d never experienced waves of emotion like this, over something so trivial. Just what the hell is happening to me? she wondered as she left the club.<br />*****<br />
  10. 10. Zeph ripped open the bag of chips with a savage hunger and stuffed a handful into his mouth.Ah, that hits the spot, he thought as he munched. He’d been unpacking boxes and moving furniture all morning and he was starving.<br />“Tell me you’re not eating chips when there’s a fridge full of food,” a voice said from the doorway.<br />
  11. 11. “Well, I could,” Zeph grinned at Liz, “But then I’d be lying.” It was all still a little surreal. Weeks ago he and Liz weren’t speaking to each other but now here they were moving in together.<br />Liz sighed, pulling Zeph away from his train of thought. “I want talk to you.”<br />“About my poor eating habits?”<br />Liz couldn’t resist a tiny smile.<br />
  12. 12. “No, about your family.”<br />Talk about a mood-killer, Zeph grumbled silently, focusing on his chips. He heard Liz sigh and move to the other side of the table.<br />“Look,” he tried to keep his voice even. “You know how I feel about my father.”<br />
  13. 13. “This isn’t just about your father,” Liz interrupted. “If you’ll recall, you also have a sister and a brother.”<br />Two brothers, Zeph couldn’t help but think. I should have two brothers.<br />“Asher’s getting married tonight.”<br />That interrupted Zeph’s thoughts. “What? To who?”<br />
  14. 14. “Melanie. His girlfriend. She’s pregnant and they’re rushing the ceremony a bit. At least that’s what I hear from your dad.”<br />“You’re talking to my dad?”<br />“He called this morning. To invite us to the wedding.”<br />“Hmph.” Zeph grabbed the last few crumbs from the bag.<br />“Zeph. It’s your family,” Liz said softly.<br />
  15. 15. Zeph rose, not trusting himself to speak, to keep from lashing out. He’d crossed the room before Liz spoke again.<br />“Think of Asher. Your twin. You haven’t seen him in years. …I know he’d like you there.”<br />
  16. 16. Crap. He sighed. He knew she was right. A nagging voice in his head told him that a reunion was past due. He could always tell when his twin was worried about something and that same sixth sense told him Asher cold use a friend right about now.<br />Sighing again as he stuffed the bag of chips into the trash, he decided to agree before he lost his nerve. “Fine,” he grumbled. “I’ll go.”<br />*****<br />
  17. 17. Asher had not slept well. He’d arrived home late last night and tried to settle in.<br />
  18. 18. But it was weird coming back home to his old room. He’d outgrown it in so many ways now and it didn’t help that around every corner of the house he was reminded of some old memory, of the way things used to be.<br />
  19. 19. The only small comfort was the dogs. He’d missed having pets around. They hadn’t forgotten him, either, and rushed forward to greet him the second he’d walked through the door. Still, he couldn’t shake the feeling of unease. He was starting to think this whole thing was a mistake.<br />
  20. 20. “Hey dad,” Asher began but was cut off as Andy engulfed him in what had to be the hundredth hug since he had come home.<br />“It’s so good to have you home,” Andy reminded him again. “I still can’t believe how much you’ve grown.”<br />
  21. 21. “Neither can I,” Ash said wryly. “My room seems about half the size.”<br />Andy laughed. “It was only for one night though. And look, you’ve survived.”<br />“Yeah, but-”<br />“Now when are you moving Melanie in, hmm? You two don’t have much time to waste.”<br />
  22. 22. “Well, um, now, I guess.”<br />“Good. I’ll make lunch. We’ll talk when she gets here.”<br />
  23. 23. Before Asher knew it, Melanie was there, moving in. His nerves didn’t get any better though. If anything, the knot in his stomach grew worse. Luckily, his dad was busy making Melanie feel welcome so neither of them seemed to notice his quiet demeanor.<br />“Melanie,” Andy exclaimed, pulling her in for a hug. “It’s so good to finally meet you! Welcome to the family!”<br />“Thanks, Mr. Specter.”<br />
  24. 24. *****<br />Melanie Wilson<br />Personality: Pisces 5/3/7/3/7<br />Aspiration: Knowledge; LTW: Max all skills<br />*****<br />
  25. 25. “Please, call me Andy. Why don’t you freshen up in the master bedroom and get yourself settled before lunch? Asher will show you where it is and give you a tour.”<br />
  26. 26. Fifteen minutes later:<br />“Geez, this place is huge.”<br />“Yeah. Well… Here’s our room I guess.”<br />“It’s beautiful.”<br />“Yeah.”<br />
  27. 27. “Hey,” Melanie turned to him. “Is everything okay?” she asked, a question in her eyes.<br />“Yeah.” And Asher put on a reassuring smile and pulled his fiancé in for a hug.<br />
  28. 28. Melanie squeezed back. “Did I tell you how much I love you, today?”<br />“You didn’t have to,” Asher replied. “I know. …Believe me, I know,” he said quietly.<br />*****<br />
  29. 29. “So Melanie, how do you like the room? I did a little remodeling so the nursery’s upstairs now, right next door.”<br />Melanie smiled. “I appreciate that. And everything’s lovely.”<br />“Good, good. Now about the wedding-”<br />
  30. 30. “Wedding? Geez, dad! She just moved in an hour ago. Give her some time to breathe. This is all probably very overwhelming,” Asher glanced nervously at his fiancé.<br />“But that’s exactly why we shouldn’t make any delays!” Andy insisted. “No need to spend time stressing about everything. Let’s perform the ceremony right away so Melanie can spend the rest of her pregnancy relaxing and easing into the house and the neighborhood.”<br />
  31. 31. “That makes sense,” Melanie agreed.<br />“I thought I’d help plan the party for you. You don’t have to worry about a thing – I even set up the yard already.”<br />
  32. 32. Ah so that explained the monstrosity he’d glimpsed in the backyard earlier this morning, Asher thought to himself.<br />
  33. 33. “All you have to do, really, is pick a dress and tell me who to invite. Stress free wedding, really. We can even hold the ceremony this evening.”<br />“You mean tonight?” Asher exclaimed.<br />“That’s great,” Melanie said at the same time.<br />
  34. 34. “I mean, if you’re okay with that, Ash?” Melanie looked at him.<br />“Yeah, of course, yeah. I mean, if you don’t feel overwhelmed or anything. I don’t want you to get stressed out. But yeah, I mean, tonight would be great cuz I’m supposed to start work tomorrow and everything, so… yeah.”<br />Silence fell over the table as Melanie and Andy sat and stared at Asher picking at his food.<br />
  35. 35. Finally, Andy broke the silence. “Well, okay then. I kindaalready invited Asher’s friends and all the family so if there’s anything else you’d like me to do, Melanie…”<br />Asher tuned out after that, not listening to Andy brag about all the stuff he’d bought for the wedding. He hadn’t expected to get married so soon. For everything to happen so fast. <br />
  36. 36. He couldn’t help feeling extremely tense and nervous so he just sat there, eating silently and wondering if he was ready for all this.<br />*****<br />
  37. 37. Aerith paced in her room, tense. She waited anxiously for night to fall, to be on her way. Tonight was Asher’s wedding. She stared down at her own hand. At her own ring. She shook her head and tried to clear her mind. Everything was changing so fast. She glanced at the empty mirror. She was changing. She was no longer the same, she realized. She picked up a strand of her hair, twirling it around her fingers. Perhaps it was time for one more change.<br />*****<br />
  38. 38. Aerith walked up to her old home, thankful for the darkness. Did she have Asher to thank for that? Was it his idea to hold the wedding at night, just so that she could come? It was weird; she hadn’t felt so nervous in a long time. She never felt more unlike herself. It’s the hair, she decided. It hadn’t been it’s natural color in a long time. Of course it’s the hair. My nerves couldn’t have anything to do with the fact that the last time I was here or actually saw dad was before the challenge. And speaking of people she hadn’t seen, Aerith stopped short in her tracks.<br />
  39. 39. “Zeph?”<br />“Hey little sis.”<br />Aerith was speechless for a moment. “Wh- I can’t believe…”<br />
  40. 40. She threw herself at her older brother. “It’s so good to see you.” When she finally pulled herself away, she gave him a good once over. “You’ve changed,” she said softly.<br />Zeph laughed. “I could say the same about you. I just got a hair cut.”<br />
  41. 41. “What’s all this?” he waved a hand.<br />“Ah, yes, well… I’m a vampire.”<br />“No shit?”<br />Aerith shrugged. “It wasn’t on purpose. It just… sort of… happened.”<br />
  42. 42. “But about you! It’s not just the hair, Zeph, you’ve… changed.” She cocked her head and looked at him, trying to name the difference. She sniffed the air.<br />Zeph grew uncomfortable under Aerith’s stare and waved her concern away. “I’m not that different, Aer. I’m as moody and brooding as ever. Tell me… Have you been back at all?”<br />
  43. 43. Aerith cocked a brow. She wasn’t so sure that moody and brooding were all that normal for her brother. But she let it go, shaking her head as she said, “I’ve talked to dad but… It’s so weird being back here,” she trailed off as she looked at the house. It didn’t look like it changed much. “I’m a little afraid of going in.”<br />Zeph followed her gaze. It looks the same, he thought. Like Mom and Skye and everyone else are still inside, still here.<br />
  44. 44. Aerith watched her brother, emotions shadowing his face. Finally, she suggested, “Why don’t we go in together?” Zeph looked at her. After a moment, he nodded. Slowly they walked up the drive and opened the door.<br />
  45. 45. Their father was there to greet them. He looked a little surprised but soon recovered, his mouth showing a tiny smile. “It’s good to see you –”<br />
  46. 46. “Oh, shut up dad.” Aerith and Andy stared at Zeph and his sudden out burst of rage. A part of Zeph knew he was being just a little irrational – unnecessarily rude. But he just couldn’t stop himself and the harsh words kept pouring out his mouth. “I don’t give a damn what you have to say. I’m here for one reason only.”<br />
  47. 47. Andy gestured with his hand as if to say go ahead. “He’s upstairs,” he said softly as he watched his son storm out the room. A moment later, he turned to his daughter. “What about you?”<br />
  48. 48. Aerith sighed. “Hi dad.”<br />“Look at you. A fine young lady, all grown up. And you’re no longer pink.”<br />“Dad!” She complained, a bit uncomfortable under close scrutiny. But then she straightened. “Wait…”<br />
  49. 49. “That’s all you noticed about me? That I don’t have pink hair?”<br />“Of course. It’s a pretty big change. What else could possible be different?”<br />“Dad!”<br />
  50. 50. “You’re not very surprised are you?” She said after a moment. “Why aren’t you surprised?”<br />Andy looked at her. “You all have a price to pay. It was meant to be, Aerith. Forever.”<br />Aerith was startled. “I- T-that- But-”<br />
  51. 51. “But it can’t be. I mean, it was random, it-”<br />“Was it? I know you kids are all upset with me – and I’m not saying your anger is unjustified,” Andy held up a hand cutting Aerith off before she could begin. “But I did try to be honest with you and tell you everything I knew. And I distinctly remember warning you before and after the challenge that all of you had a price to pay for surviving. Or at least I tried to.”<br />
  52. 52. “Asher is the heir,” Andy continued. “His burden is the legacy and seeing it through as far as he can. Yours is this. Being a vampire.” Aerith just stood there, blinking at her father. “Look, the way it was explained to me is that you all couldn’t survive on your own, not unless you had some help.”<br />“So you’re saying I had to become a vampire or die?”<br />“Basically,” Andy admitted.<br />
  53. 53. Aerith shook her head. “I can’t believe this. There has to be- I can’t be a vampire forever, Dad, I just can’t. I-I could kill people. I’m an undead killing machine!”<br />“Aerith, I think that’s a little dramatic-”<br />“But you don’t really know, do you? I mean, you’re not a vampire. You don’t know what I can and can’t do. *I* don’t even know what I can and can’t do.”<br />
  54. 54. “That doesn’t mean you should give up on the life you planned.”<br />“I don’t know what it means, I-” Aerith paused, looking closely at her father’s face. “Oh, dad you didn’t. Please tell me you didn’t.”<br />“He’s your fiancé, Aer. You have to talk to him some time.” Andy laid a hand on his daughter’s shoulder. “Yes, plans change. Life never turns out as you planned. But that doesn’t mean you should throw away the things that make you happy. Talk to him, sweetie. He’s worried about you.”<br />
  55. 55. And so Aerith found herself walking upstairs to the study and facing her fiancé. <br />
  56. 56. “Hi.”<br />“Hi.”<br />*Silence*<br />Aerith sighed. “Look, I’m sorry-”<br />
  57. 57. “Sorry enough to end this foolishness and come back?”<br />Aerith didn’t know what to say. “No,” she admitted finally.<br />“I don’t understand-”<br />“You can’t possibly. You’re not a vampire.”<br />“But you love me right? I know you do – and that’s all that should matter.”<br />
  58. 58. “But you don’t realize what’s at stake-”<br />“Don’t I? Aerith, when I asked you to marry me, I was making a commitment to you for life. Whether that’s for the rest of my natural life or eternity is up to you.”<br />“You don’t get it! I can’t just bite you-”<br />“Why not?”<br />
  59. 59. “Because I don’t know anything. Taz, I don’t know who I am anymore. I don’t know what being a vampire means. I don’t know what’s normal or what’s not normal, so how could I inflict my curse onto you before I even know what it really means? I’m not even sure how to turn someone else. Plus, I was bitten in an unusual way – what if that means something? What if I have some deadly anomaly that-”<br />“Fine. So don’t bite me. That doesn’t mean we still can’t be together.”<br />
  60. 60. “I just don’t see why you being a vampire means we have to give up on us.”<br />“Because I’m dangerous-”<br />“You-”<br />“Seriously, Taz. And even more so because I don’t fully understand myself and these new powers. Don’t you see? What if I hurt you? Or if- if I kill you?”<br />
  61. 61. “I could never forgive myself if something happened to you.”<br />“You’re assuming I can’t take care of myself-”<br />“No, I’m assuming that you and I are facing something we don’t fully understand. Not just about me – my vampirism, but…” Aerith took a breath. “But also my family. I- There are so many things I don’t fully understand. What if this means I can never have kids? Then you and I could never start a family. You’d never have children. You don’t deserve that.”<br />
  62. 62. “You can’t make that choice for me. Aerith I love you. I know I want to be with you.”<br />Aerith sighed again.<br />“I know you, Aerith. And I know you’re scared. But you don’t have to do this alone.”<br />“But that’s the thing. I think I have to. At least this part.”<br />“Aerith, wh-”<br />
  63. 63. “Here me out, Taz. I-I still feel that it isn’t safe for you to be with me. Not until I know for sure that I won’t hurt you. Please try to understand that. I know that you would do anything to protect me. Try to think about what you would do if you were me.”<br />Taz was silent for a moment. “So what are you saying?”<br />“I’m saying… That we should break up. Maybe-” Aerith took a breath.<br />
  64. 64. “Maybe not forever,” she continued softly. “But at least until I can learn more about myself.”<br />“Aerith, no… H-How can you even-”<br />“But there are so many reasons,” Aerith smiled sadly. “I mean, we’re young. We’ve never dated anyone else before. And I’m a vampire. It- It could be good for us to take a break. It could be good for you. You could have a normal life.”<br />
  65. 65. “I rather have you than a normal life.”<br />“Maybe. But you’d never know for sure if you didn’t at least give it a chance,” Aerith pointed out. She could see Taz getting annoyed; he was biting his tongue, probably to keep himself from saying something he’d regret.<br />“So how would we know?” He finally said. “I mean, just how long is this break supposed to last? Who knows when you’d find the answers you’re looking for?”<br />
  66. 66. “How long are we supposed to take a break, Aer? A few months or a year? Two years, ten?”<br />“I-”<br />“Don’t you see? Your plan is flawed.”<br />“I still think it’s the best course of action.”<br />“And I don’t.”<br />
  67. 67. “Well, it’s not just up to you! It’s not just your choice. I… I don’t want to marry you anymore, Taz. I can’t. I can’t stay together; we – we are through.”<br />“Aerith-”<br />“Look, I’ve thought about it. And yes I love you. But right now, my life’s going in a different direction. I have to do this. I have to find out who I am and what’s happening to me. And I can’t do that with you.”<br />
  68. 68. “But why?”<br />Aerith shrugged helplessly. “I’m sorry. So, so sorry. But I can’t make a commitment to you right now, Taz. I have to be sure. And right now, I’m not sure of anything.”<br />*****<br />
  69. 69. Asher sank into the couch. He was dressed but far from ready. He’d been hiding out upstairs in the quarantine room. Nobody ever went in there so it seemed like the best place to hide. Secretly, a part of him was hoping he wouldn’t be found. That everyone would just go home and –<br />A sound interrupted his thoughts. Someone was coming in.<br />
  70. 70. “Well, well, well. Look who’s hiding out like a baby. And after I came all this way, too.”<br />Asher just sat and stared for a moment. Then suddenly he was out of his seat, embracing his brother.<br />
  71. 71. “Zeph? I can’t believe it’s you. After all this time… I kind of thought that well… I’d never see you.”<br />Zeph looked away. “I know. I’m sorry. I just. I just had to be alone for a while. It was all a bit much, you know?”<br />“Yeah, tell me about it…”<br />
  72. 72. “But enough about that for now! It’s your wedding day. And I’m here for a reason.”<br />“I know, I know. To see me get married.”<br />“Hell no.”<br />“Um. What?”<br />
  73. 73. “Look, if it were that simple, you wouldn’t need me here. No, I’m here because I know you. And you, bro, are a worrier. Always have been and always will be. So I’m here for the pep talk. To call you on your shit and tell you to get a grip. To tell you to relax and well, stop worrying.”<br />Ash smiled. “Kinda like old times.”<br />“Yeah. Kinda.”<br />
  74. 74. Asher cocked his head. “So what brought on this sudden visit, then? I’ve been worried for years.”<br />“Yeah, well… This is big stuff. And… you know…”<br />“Liz dragged you here, didn’t she?”<br />“Maybe.” Zeph sighed while Ash chuckled.<br />
  75. 75. The two brothers collapsed on the couch.<br />“Women, eh bro? When did our lives get so complicated?” A second later Zeph snorted. “Never mind, stupid question. But geez! It’s just like- like your walking along, doing fine and then suddenly-”<br />“They’re taking over?” They both laughed.<br />
  76. 76. After a beat of silence, Zeph turned to Ash and asked, “What’s she like? She worth it?”<br />Ash smiled again. “Totally. She’s… she’s amazing. Reminds me of you a bit.” Zeph raised a brow. “She always knows what I’m thinking. She never lets me get away with anything, either. She’s patient. Very patient.”<br />“So what’s the problem?”<br />
  77. 77. “What isn’t the problem? She’s pregnant.”<br />Zeph whistled. “And I always thought I’d have the shotgun wedding.”<br />Asher nudged him with an elbow. “You know what it was like. I mean, for a while it was great growing up. But we didn’t really understand what the legacy was all about. We didn’t know what was going to happen. But now we do. Now I do. I don’t know if I can put Melanie through that. Or the baby. Crap. I mean, I’m going to have a baby.”<br />
  78. 78. Zeph was quiet for a while before he spoke. “You know, mom died trying to save us.”<br />“How could I forget?” Ash asked wryly.<br />“No, what I mean is, she would have done everything she could to prevent the challenge. Only this time, you know way more than mom did. And you have more time. What happened to us doesn’t have to happen to them. …You had better make damn sure it doesn’t happen to them.”<br />
  79. 79. “Our legacy doesn’t have to be dad’s legacy. It doesn’t have to go that way. If there’s one thing mom taught us, it was that we can choose.”<br />“But dad-”<br />“Dad choose for us. It’s time to choose for your kid. Your fiancé. Would staying away from them make things turn out different? Negate the legacy stuff?” Zeph shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe.”<br />
  80. 80. “I do know it seems like a cop out. I mean, no one ever said you had to do things the way dad did, right? Why can’t you change things?”<br />“I suppose…”<br />“And if you love her – you do love her, right?”<br />“More than anything.”<br />
  81. 81. “Right so… Look bro, you can’t let fear take over you’re life. Sometimes… Sometimes you just have to have a little faith… It’s too late for me and Aer. But it’s not too late for you and this Melanie.”<br />Asher raised his brows as Zeph rose. “Where-”<br />“Downstairs to wait with everyone else.”<br />“But-”<br />
  82. 82. “I know you. And you, sir, are the marrying kind. Not to mention a nice guy. You’d never break someone’s heart.”<br />
  83. 83. “Huh.” Ash couldn’t help smiling a bit. Zeph always made everything seem so simple. And though he still had some doubts, he knew that a lot of what Zeph said was right. He could never leave Melanie. And what’s more, he didn’t want to. He wanted to tell her that.<br />
  84. 84. Rising, Ash rubbed the back of his neck. Surely seeing his brother again was a sign. Maybe, just maybe, things might be sorta, kinda okay.<br />*****<br />
  85. 85. “Melanie! I need to talk to you. Right now.” Asher found his fiancé downstairs and pulled her into the music room. He saw the fear in her eyes as he approached, watched her brows furrow and her mouth tighten. He needed to say something, to reassure her.<br />
  86. 86. “I love you,” he blurted out. Strangely, her expression only became more guarded.<br />“But?” She asked hesitantly.<br />“No buts. I just – I just wanted you to know that. I – I haven’t always been honest with you, about my family, I mean. And things, things may get kind of crazy – more that crazy, dangerous even.”<br />
  87. 87. “Asher-”<br />“I know there’s not enough time to explain everything right now. But I will. One day. One day I’ll sit down and tell you everything. If you want. If you still want me. I just want to let you know – to give you a chance to walk away. Because I am dangerous. And Melanie – I’m serious. So, so serious. You could die. This baby,” Asher touched her stomach. “Could die. You might hate me. My mother, when she died, she had stopped speaking to my dad.”<br />
  88. 88. “Ash-”<br />“I know. I know that that doesn’t mean it will happen to us. But it could. And I just wanted you to know. You have to know. I love you Melanie. And I’ll do my best to make you happy but-”<br />“Ash you already make me happy,” Melanie interrupted.<br />
  89. 89. “And I’m not going anywhere.”<br />Asher nodded. “I thought you might say that.” He held out his hand and took a breath. “Shall we?”<br />Melanie didn’t hesitate to put her hand in his. “Next time, though, don’t scare me like that. I thought-”<br />“I know.” Asher kissed her cheek. “But I’m not changing my mind. Let’s do this.”<br />*****<br />
  90. 90. Tension was definitely in the air that night, but everyone seemed to decide to put their problems aside to let the couple celebrate. And when Melanie and Asher said their vows, the rest of the party and the guests fell away as they looked into each other’s eyes.<br />
  91. 91. Asher didn’t know what would happen in the future. He didn’t know if he’d be able to keep his family safe, but by Plumbbob he would try. That was one thing he did know. But not just that; he knew in his heart that he would never regret that night, this moment.<br />*****<br />
  92. 92. He wanted her back.<br />Taz sat on the floor of his new living room. He’d rented a flat in an apartment complex close to the center of town. He didn’t know where Aerith was staying, but it wasn’t where she should be: here. With him. He sighed and looked around. Everything was still in boxes. He should do something about it, but he couldn’t bring himself to. It was an effort to get up and shower every day, to remember to eat. He never thought he’d be going through this. He never thought he’d be dumped by his life-long best friend.<br />
  93. 93. He looked out the window. The sun was up. So she’s probably asleep, he couldn’t help but think. He sighed and looked back at the bed, the only thing he’d managed to put together. Was there really any point in leaving it? In putting anything else away? Maybe he should just throw everything on the floor and get back in it, he wondered for what seemed like the hundredth time.<br />The doorbell rang. I guess I’m staying awake a bit longer, he thought as he pulled himself off the floor.<br />
  94. 94. Opening the door, he barely got out a ‘hello’ before he was assaulted by peppy blonde sunshine.<br />“Hi! I’m Dagmar! You must be Taz! Is that short for something? It’s an unusual first name, right? Well anyway, I’m your neighbor and I just came over to say hi and welcome to the neighborhood. So hi! Welcome to the neighborhood! I live in 2B – I’m right above you! The building’s pretty quiet what with the Johnsons on the first floor and Rocklands on the second – the Johnsons are elderly and almost never leave their apartment while the Rocklands are almost never home – workaholics, I suppose. So when Jenny told me that you were moving in, I got excited and baked a cake. I figured everyone likes cake – you do like cake, don’t you – so I said to myself, ‘Dagmar, you should fix up something go on over and introduce yourself. So here I am!”<br />
  95. 95. “…Um… Hi.” Taz was frozen to the spot. He’d never seen or heard anything like her. He slumped against the door trying to process what she’d said.<br />“So can I come in?” He didn’t have time to get out a word before she barreled through. It was like she was on a mission, determined to get the scoop on him. “I see you haven’t unpacked much. I remember when I first moved in – I was living out of boxes for a week and eating taking out for a month – Oh!” She suddenly whirled around. “I should make dinner for you!” She exclaimed.<br />
  96. 96. “Uh, that’s not really necessary-”<br />“Oh, nonsense! I bet you’re so busy you haven’t had a decent meal in days. You probably don’t even know where your dishes are. I always lost that box. I’d find it, then lose it, find it again, only to-”<br />“Really,” Taz blurted out before she could go on another rant. “I’m fine.”<br />“Oh. Oh, okay.” She looked crushed. Taz felt like he’d just kicked a puppy. He tried to reason with himself. He hadn’t had a decent meal in a while. And he didn’t have a clue where the dishes were. Surely dinner with a neighbor couldn’t hurt?<br />
  97. 97. Taz sighed. “It’s just, I don’t want to inconvenient you. And everything’s still a mess in here…”<br />She smiled again. “Oh, I don’t mind a little mess.”<br />“Well, then… Okay. Dinner would be great, um, what did you say your name was?”<br />She smiled again and Taz felt a shiver go down his spine. “Sorry, I tend to get excited and then I ramble…” She shrugged apologetically.<br />
  98. 98. “I’m Dagmar. Dagmar Philippine. And I’m not crazy, I swear. Just a little too energetic. And okay, maybe I’m a little pushy.”<br />Taz laughed. “Well, Dagmar. It’s nice to meet you.”<br />“Likewise,” she said, smiling again.<br />He couldn’t help another shiver.<br />*****<br />
  99. 99. The Specter household, meanwhile, was settling into a quiet routine.<br />“Asher, if you don’t stop making faces at my belly, I’m going to have to slap you.”Being pregnant put Melanie in a bit of a cranky mood.<br />“I’m sorry – I just can’t help it! I’m so excited. And there’s not much else to do around here but wait for the baby.”<br />
  100. 100. It was true. The house was getting quieter and quieter. First Charlie died, going off to that big doggie park in the sky.<br />
  101. 101. Then Andy finally grew up one evening after work. And since his and Melanie’s lifetime want was to max all skills, there was a lot of quiet skilling and noses pressed to books during Melanie’s pregnancy.<br />
  102. 102. So naturally, everyone was overjoyed when some new noise finally made it’s way into the household.<br />“Hello baby Rose. My what a cutie you are.”<br />“Let me see, let me see.” Asher was perhaps the most excited.<br />
  103. 103. “Alright, Mr. Family Sim, here ya go.”<br />“Oh, wow. She is a cutie. My red hair and her mama’s amazing green eyes…”<br />“Asher?”<br />“I-I have to give it – her – abottle! And cuddle it! And-”<br />Melanie laughed. “Okay, you do that. I’m going to take a nap. Here.”<br />
  104. 104. Asher wasn’t the only one who wanted to smother Rose with love.<br />“My first grandchild! It seems like just yesterday I became an elder. Boy, time does fly. …Kaylynn would have loved you…”<br />
  105. 105. “Well, little one, you may not have a grandma, but you’ll never lack for love. I promise you that.” He kissed Rose’s forehead. “I promise you that…”<br />
  106. 106. Later that evening, Mel finally dragged Asher away from the baby.<br />“I’ve been thinking,” she began.<br />“That we should have more kids? We should definitely have more kids soon, before Rose grows up too much.”<br />Melanie laughed. “Yes. That’s what I was thinking. But what happened to ‘I don’t think I can do this’ and-”<br />
  107. 107. “Well,” Asher admitted. “I’m still a bit worried. But I’m willing to risk it.” He touched her nose with his. “Because some things are worth fight for. So come here Mrs. Specter- no, wait scratch that. That makes you sound like my mom-”<br />Melanie laughed and put her hand behind her husband’s neck. She loved this guy. “Just shut up and kiss me,” she said. So he did. And for once, he wasn’t worried about anything at all.<br />*****<br />
  108. 108. It was hard to see. His eyes were tearing; flames and smoke filled his vision. He could still hear the fire jet, though. Every few seconds there was another WHOOSH and then more flames. The rugs were all gone now – the scent of burning rubber and linen the only sign they’d been there. WHOOSH. The fire jet spout up again. It was hot. Too hot and it smelled something awful. Rubber wasn’t the only thing burning. WHOOSH. There was an acrid smell in the air. It was flesh. His flesh? He tried to take a breath, to clear his nose. But now he could taste the ash as well as smell it. WHOOSH. He started to cough again. Or had he been coughing all along? He didn’t know. WHOOSH. He breathed deep again, heaving. But there was less and less air and more and more smoke. WHOOSH. It was getting dark now. It was harder to see. He reached out with his hands, looking for the floor. Breathe, he told himself. But it was hard. He kept gasping, but still there was no air. Breathe, said the voice in his mind again. He closed his eyes. There wasn’t anything to see anyway. Breathe. Another gasp, a cough instead. He sorta felt numb. He was tingling all over. Had he always felt this way? When did he stop focusing on the pain? Breathe. That’s right. He had to forget the pain, he had to focus. Concentrate. Breathe. Another gasp. But there was nothing. Nothing.<br />
  109. 109. Breathe.<br />Zeph suddenly jolted awake. He sat up, gasping for air. He was sweating and shaking. He gripped the bed as he took great big gasps for air. It took a minute to remember that he didn’t need to try so hard. He swallowed and immediately tensed. His mouth tasted like ash. His nose told him something was burning. He needed to cough, but he tried to resist it. He didn’t want to wake up Liz. Liz. He glanced beside him. She was already stirring. He untangled the sheets and tried to lay back. Relax, he told himself. He coughed instead.<br />
  110. 110. He closed his eyes. Flames. He opened them instead. He had to get out of there. He had to make it go away. He got up to get dressed. He tried to find his pants.<br />“Zeph?” He heard Liz mumble. She was probably only half awake. Her eyes would be half closed and her limbs would be heavy with sleep. “Zeph?” she said again.<br />“I’m going out,” He managed to say. Liz didn’t like to see him get drunk.<br />
  111. 111. “What? Where?” She was sitting up now. Concerned.<br />“Roxie’s,” he spat out. “I’m going to Roxie’s.” He grabbed his shirt.<br />“But…” He heard the disappointment in her voice. The hurt. He hastened his steps and ran out into the night. He tried to block Liz’s voice from his mind. Just another thing to feel guilty about.<br />*****<br />
  112. 112. Aerith walked briskly through the streets, her night patrol just beginning. There was still no sign of the Contessa, or of any vampire at all, save for herself. It was weird and unnerving – like everyone knew something she didn’t.<br />
  113. 113. She gave the area a quick scan but the small park was mostly empty as there was a slight chill to the air. I guess I’ll just move on, she thought. To the next club. She was beginning to hate clubs.<br />
  114. 114. Suddenly, she spotted a familiar figure. No. It can’t be. But she was sure it was him. It had to be. Different shirt but same jacket and hair. A chill ran up her spine. It’s just a coincidence, she told herself. He probably lives somewhere nearby. <br />
  115. 115. Still, as she passed him, she couldn’t help averting her eyes. She couldn’t help but feel like he was watching her, scrutinizing her.<br />
  116. 116. Like maybe, just maybe, he wasn’t what he seemed and that she ought to know who he was.<br />*****<br />
  117. 117. “Happy Birthday!” Partygoers shouted as Rose grew up in a shower of confetti. She had a big smile on her face as she bounced in her mother’s arms.<br />
  118. 118. And why not? She may have been the littlest one there, but there was no doubt in her mind that she had the run of this place. Everyone was wrapped around her finger – doggies and humans alike. There was no end to the baby talk and cuddling. Rose was going up fast and, as far as she was concerned, there was nothing to fear.<br />*****<br />The End.<br />
  119. 119. So I bet you’re wondering, if that was the end, why are there more slides? And, I bet you’re also wondering what the hell happened to that cake Dagmar mentioned. Well, I’m sorry to say that the cake was a lie. Ahem. But anyway, since this chapter was supposed to come out oh, two, three months ago, I thought I’d do something extra – some foreshadowing! Everyone likes foreshadowing, right? You wanna know what happens next, who this new mystery guy is! Okay, so I’m not actually telling you that yet, but still! If you’re anything like me, you want a hint of what’s to come, a peek of what may or may not – okay definitely will – happen in the near or distant (or very distant) future. So here ya go. <br />
  120. 120. Somewhere in Crystal Springs – you do know this story is set in Crystal Springs, don’t you? – several months ago:<br />*Murmurs of conversation*<br />“Yes, it’s almost complete… It’s practically ready already, it just needs some finishing touches, decorations… Well, do I look like a bloody construction worker? How the hell am I supposed to know? … Yeah, Yeah.”<br />
  121. 121. “Look, I know what I’m doing. It’s why you hired me. … Yes, I know that. I was there, remember? But that’s not likely to happen this time. … Because we have a deal. And because this little punk is so not worth it. … Do we really need to? I think I have it down. It’s not like it’s hard. …Please, he’ll never know what hit him. They never do.”<br />
  122. 122. “Now that’s just ridiculous rambling. You know I’m perfect for this role. I’ve practically done it be– … Oh, shut up! This is a piece of cake. … Because I’m older, now. Wiser. … Shut up! Do you want me to do this or not? ... Good. Now about our deal. Is everything – … As soon as – that’s not what you said before! … Fine. Whatever, as long as it gets done. … Of course I remember. No mistakes. That’s your job. … Well, I am here cleaning up your loose ends, am I not? Taking out your trash, eliminating your – … Uh-huh. I thought so. … Like I said, it’s almost done. We start tomorrow. … Okay, already. I’ll contact you when it’s done.”<br />
  123. 123. *Click* <br />“Stupid, annoying, narcissistic, know-it-”<br />“Um, Ms. –”<br />“Huh? Whadda you want kid?”<br />“I was sent to –”<br />“Right, right. I don’t need anything further. Project’s underway.”<br />
  124. 124. “You still here?”<br />“Well, yes. I – I was hoping… That I could talk to you? She said that… That well, you of all people… That-”<br />*Sigh* “Right. She mentioned you. Over here then.” *Mutters* “I swear I should charge extra for this crap.”<br />“Huh?”<br />
  125. 125. “You’re concerned about being a villain?”<br />“Uh, well, she didn’t really put it like that-”<br />“Really? Do you kill anybody?”<br />“What? Well…”<br />“Yes or no? Know what, doesn’t matter.”<br />
  126. 126. “How can it not matter? I mean… Someone’s life is in your hands-”<br />“No, not your hands. Her hands.”<br />“Huh?”<br />“That’s the difference between me and you, kid. It’s not you, not really. It’s her. You’re squeaky clean, I can tell.”<br />“But still… I’d know… I – I couldn’t do that to someone.”<br />
  127. 127. “Look, in this world, it’s every sim out for herself. You should know that. We townies don’t get coddled like –”<br />“You’re a townie?”<br />“Used to be.”<br />“How-”<br />“I made a name for myself on the last project. I was pretty freaking hard to ignore.”<br />
  128. 128. “That was back in the day, though. I had to work my way up, earn this spot. But you, you’ve got it easy. A star role handed to you on a platter.”<br />“Role? But it’s not. It’s my life! And someone else’s.”<br />“It’s a role.”<br />“But-”<br />“Look, what do ya want kid? Out of life?”<br />
  129. 129. “Well…” *Scratches foot*<br />“Oh, my Plumbbob, you’re one of them.”<br />“What?”<br />“You want the dream.”<br />“Huh?”<br />
  130. 130. “Look I get it, I really do. I used to be like you.”<br />“Really?”<br />“Oh, yeah. Pining away in subspace hoping some CAS sim would appear out of nowhere and whisk me away to Plumbbob city, playable suburbia.”<br />“How did-”<br />“Every townie dreams of that, sweetheart. Everyone. But let me tell you something, something no one told me. It ain’t happening. Not without her, or someone like her.”<br />
  131. 131. “But that’s not what I-”<br />“To get inside, you need a connection. Someone with a key. And she’s got all the keys. In this neighborhood, anyway.”<br />“But –”<br />“Look, she likes you.”<br />“Huh?”<br />
  132. 132. “She sought you out right? She could have chosen anybody to be an extra, used some playable with a disguise on. But she didn’t, right? She choose you. And what’s more, she took you with her. Gave you a job, custom hair.”<br />“Yeah, but –”<br />“Again, she could have chosen anybody. She didn’t need you. But she wanted to put you in. That means she likes you.”<br />
  133. 133. “So?”<br />“So? So it means you’re golden, kid. Look, this thing –” She gestured around at the set. “It’s all an act. For the project.”<br />“Huh? But-”<br />“Oh, plumbbob, you’re slow. It’s an act. She’s really a big softie. If she likes you, she’ll keep you around.”<br />
  134. 134. “But what about the Specters? I mean –”<br />“You’re not like them. You have immunity.”<br />“Still. I mean… I just… It’d be lying.”<br />“Would it? Who’s to say how you’ll really feel by then.”<br />“But then I’d have to-”<br />“Not-uh. She’d owe you. Trust me.”<br />
  135. 135. “… Well, thanks. I think I – I just need to think about it. Things.”<br />“A word of advice, kid?”<br />“Yeah?”<br />“Save your favors. Trust me. She’ll owe you. Or she’ll feel like she does. Use that. Think of it as your get out of jail free card.”<br />“But I don’t want to get out of jail. I want –”<br />
  136. 136. *SIGH* “A free pass, then. You can use it to save what you want. To get what you want. Your dream.”<br />“I wouldn’t get a do-over.”<br />*Shrugs* “Who knows? Maybe you would. It’s really up to you. Just know there won’t be other opportunities like this.”<br />“There are other ‘hoods.”<br />
  137. 137. “But she’s invested in this one. It’s just not likely, kid. You could spend a whole lifetime waiting.”<br />“Maybe. Maybe it would be worth it…”<br />*Shakes Head* “Worth waiting in that hellhole?”<br />“…. I …I need to think.”<br />“Take your time, sweetheart. Take your time.”<br />

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