Ch 14 Soundtrack: Out Alive by Ke$ha; World Filled With Love by Craig David; Canvas (Instrumental Version) by Imogen Heap; Bleed American by Jimmy Eat World; He About To Lose Me by Britney Spears; Hear the Bells by Vanessa Carlton; Anybody by Brandy
Warning: This chapter is huge. I thought about breaking it up, but I don’t wantchapters in multiple parts and I did want everything that happens in this chapter toactually happen in this chapter because seriously, it’s time to move on. So,readers, you all get to enjoy a massive update with lots of twists and intrigue andDEATH. Sorry if you feel that too much is happening all at once, but honestly,sometimes life is like that. Plus, that’s what the Specters are feeling! Also, sectionsof this chapter have foul language—some of the characters get a bit testy. Sorry ifthat offends, but here’s your warning. I think that’s it, so go on ahead and read tosee which Specter makes it Out Alive. Happy reading.
Taz woke up that morning with a feeling of dread. Things had been going goodlately. He liked his apartment, he was starting to break out of his funk and makefriends, hell he’d even managed to land a job he actually liked doing. Things werelooking up for him. There was just one problem. It was the same problem he hadbefore, actually, only now with extra added drama: Dagmar.
Taz rolled his shoulders, trying to ease the tension in his body. He liked Dagmar—he really did. She was funny and nice and so positive and upbeat—she was just agreat person to be around. But the whole dating thing? Well, that wasn’t so good.Because the fact of the matter was that she wasn’t Aerith. And he simply had nointerest in being with someone else or even pretending that he could be withouther.
He honestly couldn’t figure out how he could’ve forgotten that, but that didn’tmatter anymore. What did matter was that he was going to break up with Dagmarthat night. He had to. He couldn’t lead her on anymore, not when things werebecoming more and more serious. He couldn’t pretend he was okay witheverything. He would just have to sit her down and talk. Set her straight.
Too bad she didn’t really feel like talking much.How the hell does she always get her way? He couldn’t help thinking. I mean,seriously, when did she have time to take off my shirt?“Um, Dagmar,” Taz spoke up. Finally. “We, uh—” Taz broke off, temporarilydistracted. “N-need to talk,” he managed to get out after another minute.
“O-Okay, stop.” Taz managed to pull Dagmar off of him a bit and even get back inan upright position. “Dag—”“Is this seriously necessary right now?” she complained. “I mean, I thought whenyou invited me over that tonight would finally be the night.”Crap, Taz thought. “Yeah, uh, that’s not what I had in mind.”
Taz gently pushed Dagmar off his lap and onto the couch. He needed a littledistance.“Listen, Dagmar…” he trailed off. For all his thinking and rehearsing, he didn’tknow where to begin. “You’re a really—”“Okay, let’s stop before we head down that road.” She sighed. “I think I know whatthis is about.”
“You do?” Taz was surprised and a bit relieved at the same time.“Yes. I mean, I get that you want to go slow, but come on, we’ve been going glacialhere. Every time there’s even a hint at us becoming more intimate, you freak out.”“Well, it’s just…”Dagmar waited for the rest of his response but there wasn’t one.
“You’re not over her, are you?”“No,” Taz admitted sheepishly.Dagmar began shaking her head. “I just don’t get it. The girl dumps you, breaks offyour engagement, and you’re still hung up on her.”“Technically, she just put it on hold.”“Ugh, so what?”
“Either way, it’s pathetic! She’s not coming back. They never come back. You haveto move on.”“You don’t understand—”“Oh please, that’s just an excuse.”“No, it’s not. There were unusual circumstances.”
Dagmar rolled her eyes. “Whatever that means.” She sighed. “Look Taz, do you ordo you not want to give this a go?”Taz swallowed. “Like I was saying before,” he said slowly, “You’re really great. AndI thank you for everything, but… But you’re just not the right girl for me.”Dagmar stared at him. “You cannot be serious.”“I’m sorry,” he said simply.
“Fine!” Dagmar exclaimed, jumping up.“Dagmar, I really am sorry. You’ve been such a—”“Save it!” She practically screamed as she snatched up her shirt.
She got ready to storm out, then stopped and turned to look at him. Taz couldn’tmeet her eyes.“Ugh,” she made a sound of disgust. “You are so weak, Taz. You want to spend allyour time pining after some girl who doesn’t want you? Fine. Be pathetic. Make thebiggest mistake of your life. But you’re going to regret it, mark my words.”
And then she was finally gone.Taz knew he should be upset, but all he could feel just then was relief.*****
“Hey!” Asher pulled Liz into a hug as soon as she entered the kitchen. “I heardeverything! How are you?”“Um, okay I guess, considering.”“Really?” Asher pulled back to look at his old friend.
She gave a long exasperated sigh. “Okay, not really. Things are just… a mess.Even without the whole not-speaking-to-my-husband thing.”“What’s going on?” Asher cocked his head.“Well…” Liz was a little reluctant to share her problems, but at this point she waseager to talk to somebody. “It’s the house, actually. It’s way more than we canafford.”
“When we got it, we thought we’d be okay because both of us were working, but…But Zeph hasn’t been working. I did get a promotion and I thought it’d be kind ofokay, but then as I was cleaning out some stuff this morning I found a stack of billsZeph stashed in a drawer…” She sighed again, torn between being polite abouther husband and going on a rant. “Long story short, we owe a lot more than Ithought. I don’t think I can keep living there.”“Maybe it’s for the best.” Asher said gently.
“It’s not that I’m not okay with moving…” Liz ran a hand through her hair. “It’s justone more thing on top of everything else, you know? It’s like, why now when I feelnauseous and tired all the time. Most days I feel so sick I just want to stay homefrom work and sleep all day.“Maybe you should.”“I can’t,” Liz shook her head. “There’s just too much to do.”
“You need to rest, Liz. You don’t want to risk hurting the baby. Not to mention yougot to watch your own health too.“I know,” she sighed. “I’m just a bit overwhelmed, I guess.”“Hmm.” Asher stared at her thoughtfully. “You know, why don’t you move here for alittle while?”“What? Why?”
“Think about it. You wouldn’t have to worry about bills while you’re here and Meland I can help look after you and the baby, once it’s born. You don’t have to stayforever, but just until you figure out what your next move is. You can rest.”“What about the house and—”“Let Zeph figure it out, clean up his own mess. Pay off what you owe and leave itat that. If Zeph wants to keep staying there, he’ll figure something out.”
Liz stared at Asher thinking. The longer she thought about it, the better it sounded.Here was her chance to remove herself from all the mess and drama. Here washer chance to rest and focus on the baby.“I wouldn’t want to inconvenience you…”
“Nonsense, you’re family. Plus the kids are practically off to college alreadyanyway. The house will be empty in no time.”“Well… Okay.”“Great!” He patted her shoulder. “Look, don’t worry, okay? Everything will work outand be fine—you’ll see.”*****
“Okay, everyone, I have an announcement,” Asher said as he shared plates.Breakfast was pretty much the only time the whole family was together.
“We’re not going on another vacation, are we?” Rose asked.“Haha. But no. Actually we’re having someone come visit us. Your Aunt Liz.”“Aunt who?” was pretty much all the kids’ reactions, except for Rose.“Is she your sister?” Paige asked, interested. But Asher shook his head.
“No, she’s my brother’s wife. My twin’s—”“You have a twin?” Paige, surprised, couldn’t help interrupting.“Yeah.” Asher looked at his daughter. He hadn’t realized how little the kids knewabout his family. “We’re not identical or anything. We were all twins. My parentshad two sets of twins, Me and Zephyr and then Skye and Aerith. Skye died whenwe were younger.”
Paige listened intently between bites of food. Asher regarded her, a bit worried byher lack of knowledge.“Didn’t I mention any of this before?” he asked her. “I mean, you have met them—”“I did? When?”
“At our birthday parties, duh.”Paige scrunched up her face. “I don’t remember seeing any family at parties…”“How could you not recognize them? All of dad’s family has red hair; they’re prettyeasy to pick out of a crowd.”“Well, I still don’t remember them,” Paige retorted, a little miffed.
“I guess you were pretty small,” Asher trailed off as he rubbed his chin. “And therewere a lot of people there… I guess we haven’t had any family over in a longtime.”“How come?” Paige asked.“Well…” Asher furrowed his brows, unsure of what to say.
“We stopped having family over after Dad had a fight with Grandpa and theystopped speaking.”At this pronouncement, everyone turned and stared at Rose.“What? Just because none of them,” she pointed at her siblings, “remembersanything, doesn’t mean I don’t.”
“I think we’re getting off track,” Melanie chimed in. “Your Aunt Elizabeth ispregnant. She’s coming to stay so she can get some rest before she has the baby.That means everyone on their best behavior and no being loud or causing a fuss.Okay?” She looked at all her children and they all nodded and murmuredagreement.
“Don’t worry mom,” Spencer spoke up, “I’ve got so many dates lined up, I’ll hardlyeven be here.”“Oh, that’s comforting.”Everyone laughed and the conversation moved on.
Rose just shrugged. She didn’t expect to be around much often either. She andHeath spent all their spare time together, talking about the club they were going toopen.
In fact, they got together that very afternoon to do homework and come up withbusiness plans.“Yeesh,” Rose said after an hour. “Who knew business plans would be this dull?This nightclub sounded way more fun in my head.”Heath smiled. “Come on, it’s not that bad, we’ve barely gotten started.”“Why don’t we just ask my parents for a loan?”
“We could, but we should still have a plan. It’d show them we’re serious.”Rose nodded. “Right,” she half sighed as she looked at all the books in front ofthem. “I know you’re right.” She sighed again.“We could take a break,” Heath suggested.Rose perked up. “Wanna make out?”
It was how all their homework/business planning sessions ended.*****
Spencer was on a date. No surprises there, really, except that he had decided togive the whole conversation thing a try. Problem was, his date was as boring ashell. Honestly, he didn’t quite know what he saw in her. He must have beencompletely out of it when he asked her out because they had absolutely nothing incommon.“So.” He took another sip of water.
“So,” she responded.“How’s work? At the grocery store?”She shrugged. “Okay.”Wow, this girl, he thought. She’s some conversationalist.
“And school?” He tried again. “You go to the public school, right?”“Yup.”Spencer nodded. There was just so many places to go from that statement, really.He tried again. “Do you—”“What is this, an interview or something? I thought we were going to have fun.”
“We are. I just—I mean I thought we should get to know each other a bit.”“Right. So we’re just going to sit and talk all night?” she raised a brow.“Well no. I just figured we could talk while we eat, then find something to do.”“I can’t believe everyone says you’re fun to hangout with…” she muttered.
Spencer sighed and pretended to browse his menu. This wasn’t going well at all.He thought about that night in Three Lakes. Talking with Renee was so easy.They’d laughed and had a good time even though they didn’t go anywhere or doanything particularly exciting. He sighed again. Maybe it was just the person.Maybe, with the right person, even doing nothing at all was fun.*****
Paige woke up that night in a cold sweat. She gulped and rubbed her eyes as ifshe could rub away all traces of the dream she was having.Except she wasn’t so sure it was a dream.
She tossed and turned ever since her head hit the pillow and the voice kept talkingthrough it all, as images raced across her mind. Its words were like a chant,demanding her attention and paralyzing her with fear. It repeated the same wordsover and over, only this time there were pictures to go along with the words. Therewere images of many places and faces. Some were strange.
She didn’t know what it meant or why the voice seemed to be starting up again. Allshe knew was that each time she heard it she felt a sense of doom.And so she stayed awake. She curled up in her bed and wished she could runaway from her head and get away from the words.*****
“Hey!” Houston smiled as he spotted Sydney. “How was the trip? I’ve barely heardfrom you since you got back.” His smile faltered when he realized Sydney didn’tseem to be listening to him. “Syd?”“Hmm?” She looked up. “Oh, hey Houston. Sorry. I guess… I guess I didn’t reallyfeel like talking much lately.”
“That’s okay. Anyway, what are you doing this weekend? Are we going to rehearseor…” he trailed off as he saw Sydney shake her head. “What?”“I dropped out of the Battle of the Bands.”“What?! Why?”Sydney shrugged. “Because there’s no band. Because it’s pointless now.”
“Sydney, what’s going on?”“Nothing. Everything.” She sighed. “I don’t know.”Houston gulped. “Well… Whatever is going on… I just… We should still hangoutand stuff… before we graduate, you know? Unless…”
Sydney sighed again. “Look, can we talk about this later? I don’t want to thinkabout graduation.”“But.. But if we don’t talk about it… Then… Well, I mean what about us?”“I don’t know! I don’t know anything, okay? I just… I need some space right now.”
“What? Sydney what is going on?”“Like I said, I don’t want to talk about it.”“So, what? You’re just going to ignore me?”“There’s just no point, okay? For anything. It doesn’t mean anything anymore!”
“Sydney, I know I usually don’t have a clue what’s going on, but right now I reallyhave no idea what the hell you’re talking about.”She just shook her head. “It doesn’t matter. Nothing matters.”“Wha—”“Just leave me alone for a while, okay?”
“I just need space. I—I need to think.”“Wait! Sydney…”Sydney grabbed her books and hurried to her next class.*****
“Wow, you’re getting big already.”“Hey!”Asher laughed. “It’s a compliment, I assure you. How are you feeling?”
Liz shrugged. “Terrified, nauseous, angry, tired, stressed...” She shrugged again.“The question is, what aren’t I feeling?”Asher tried to reassure her. “That’s normal though.”“Is it?” Liz raised her brows.“Well, most of it.” He paused. “He still hasn’t called?”
Liz shook her head. “I just don’t understand it. This just… I never would havethought that this was like him at all. I would have thought that he’d at least—”“Try? Yeah, I know; it doesn’t seem like Zeph to me either.” He stared at the floor,trying to remember the brother he grew up with. “Look,” he finally said, “why don’t Itry talking to him? In the meantime, you rest.”
“You really think that’ll work?”He shrugged. “Maybe he’ll tell his brother something he won’t tell you. In any case,you don’t want to upset the baby, dealing with all that stress. Just relax and rest asmuch as possible. The guest room is set up for you; it has a connecting bathroomand you’re right next to Paige’s room so it should be very quiet and peaceful.”Liz smiled. “Thanks. I’d like to relax for a change, actually.”
She headed upstairs to check out the room. It was nice. Small, but nice.
It had everything she needed in case she decided to lounge about all day. Ashersaid that they still had some stuff from when Paige was a baby and that they couldset up a nursery next door when she got closer to her due date.
She breathed slowly, taking it all in. She wasn’t quite sure what she was doinghere, but she didn’t know where else to go. She didn’t want to go home—if shecould even really call it that. And she didn’t want to be alone. Just the thought ofgoing apartment hunting made her tear up. It would be like giving up and admittingthat everything was over.
She sighed and eased herself into the chair next to the bed. She didn’t know if shecould really do this alone. She certainly didn’t want to. Everything was such amess and she was tired. So, so tired. She closed her eyes and took a deepbreath. She just wanted a break from it all. Was that really too much to ask for?*****
Paige slid off the bed and onto the floor. She couldn’t sleep. No voices this time,thank Plumbbob, but even so, she was wide awake.She reached for her journal and shakily picked up a pen and began to write.There has been another incident. Once again, I heard the voice. Onlythis time, it was during a nightmare, accompanied by scattered images.
It talked of a son and of a mother and a founder. It talked of a gameand—and of death. I heard everything quite clearly, but I confess, it didnot make much sense. I don’t remember the exact words, but I doremember the images.
There was a well. It was featured quite often. Also, there were manyfaces.
The one face that stood out the most, however, was my brother’s. I didnot recognize the other faces, and, in any case, the faces flashed by ina blur.
Lately, every time I close my eyes to sleep I see these same things. Ihear the voice speaking its words. The same exact ones, I’m sure. Itfills my brain, the sounds and images thrum through my skull, poundagainst my head, consuming all my energies and attention, every sparethought. I wake up shaking, with an indescribable migraine.
I’ve read that some believe dreams to be prophetic, symbols of what isto come or what has been. Others say dreams are pieces of yoursubconscious, people and things you have been thinking about in the backof your mind, pulled together in a sort of randomness. If either is thecase, I do not know what to make of mine, for they fit neitherdescription.
I am unsure of what to do. Some nights, though they seem rare now, Iam fine. I sleep fine. Whole days pass with no voices. And yet othertimes… Other times they haunt me. But what would I say? What would Itell someone? That I had a nightmare? Such things are not usually thecause of great worry. They go away in time. I must simply wait it outand hope the images and the voice go away.*****
Aerith sighed as she sat down. She just needed a moment to herself—her headfelt like it would explode. She was now a leader of a clan of vampires. And yet, shewas far from getting anything she wanted.
She and the Tricous disagreed on everything—well, actually, that was not quiteaccurate. She and Tina disagreed on everything. Andrzej and Lila were muchmore ambivalent and usually tried to stay neutral. However, went put pressed tovote, they usually sided with Tina—just like she thought they would. And so she’dspent the past few weeks arguing, even over trivial matters. She was goinginsane.
“Hey.” A voice pulled her out of her thoughts. It was Wes. “I’ve come to check upon you.”
Aerith just shook her head. “Remind me why I agreed to this again?”“Things going that badly, eh?”“It’s hard. We have so many different views on how to approach things.”
“But you’re Regent.”Aerith snorted.Wes shrugged. “Well, you are.”“Yes, but we need to agree—”
“Why?”“Because.” Aerith just looked at him. “We need to learn to trust each other.”“True. But that doesn’t mean you always have to agree.”
“Right but—”“And right now you all are just getting started. You need to be making decisions.”“Of course, but—”“You not only need to establish the clan, but yourself as a leader.”
Aerith nodded. “I know—”“They’ll never take you seriously if they think they can always steamroll over youall the time.”“Exactly, so—”“You’ve got to learn how—”
“Will you stop interrupting me?!” Aerith said icily as she stood up, a little annoyed.But Wes only smiled. “Now you sound more like a leader.” When Aerith lookedconfused, he went on. “You have to learn how to take control. You don’t need tovote on every little detail. You’re Regent—start acting like it.”Aerith frowned. “I don’t really want to boss anyone around, though. I was hopingwe could agree on things. Decide things together. Become friends and—”
Aerith was interrupted by Wesley’s laughter. “Oh, sweetie,” he grinned. “You’llnever survive if you don’t learn to toughen up and fight dirty.”Aerith narrowed her eyes. “Wha—”“You’re vampires. You’re going to be spending centuries together.”
“Friendship can come later. Right now, you need respect.” With that, Wes pattedher on the shoulder and left her to her thoughts.*****
Aerith and the Tricous were having another meeting. As usual, things were notgoing so well. Only five minutes in and the bickering had already begun.“I don’t understand why we keep talking about this,” Tina declared.
Neither do I, Aerith couldn’t help but think. To her, the path was clear and simple.“We need to make a name for ourselves—” she began.
“Which is why we should come up with a name for the clan as well as dress codesand pick styles and décor themes,” Lila cut in.
Aerith ignored her, as did everyone else. “We need to establish ourselves. Weneed place, wealth, and power—”“And numbers is the way to do that. We need more vamps.” Tina stated bluntly.“With more of us, we can get more money and get more influence in this area.Aerith shook her head. “I still don’t think we should be turning other sims yet. Weneed to be more established. Settled.”
Tina rolled her eyes. “What’s to settle? The more vamps in the coven, the morepower we have, and the more power we have, the easier it’ll be to get what wewant and to build up magic.”Aerith disagreed. “That’s not the only way. And there are other things we could beworking on now.”
“Oh, yes,” Tina cut in. “Like finding a new lair,” she said sarcastically, mocking theidea Aerith came up with last meeting.“It could give us identity—”“It’s a waste of time and resources we don’t have. Wes already said we could havethe House of Fallen Leaves when he and Dom leave—”
“And when will that be?” Aerith shot back. “They won’t be done training us for awhile. We don’t need to rely on them; they have their own agenda. Let’s establishour own order now, make up our own rules, our own place.”“This place is perfectly fine, you’re overreacting.”Aerith sat back, tired of trying to prove her point. “You two are quiet.” She noddedat Lila and Andrzej. “What are your thoughts?”
Andrzej spoke slowly. “I can see both sides. I understand why you want to move. Anew place for a new order, with no attachment or dependencies on anyone. We’dbe our own force. But Tina’s right too—we need power. And getting more numberson our side would definitely help.”“But we don’t need to turn any new sims,” Aerith persisted. “Not yet.”
“Then where would we get more members?” Lila asked.“There are already vampires in the area,” Aerith reminded. “Gran Vampires. Let’srecruit them. They have the power and knowledge we seek.”The trio shook their heads.
“You’re the one talking about making a name for ourselves,” Tina scoffed. “Can’tyou see that if we side with them, their power and knowledge would overshadowours?”“They’d want to run the show,” Andrzej added. “There’s no compelling reason forthem to join with us now.”
“You have to admit that newbies—vamps we’d turn ourselves—would be easier tomanage. Sure, we’re hardly experts, but to the fledglings, we’d be powerful.”“We should work on the gran vampires later, when we have the numbers to makeus a force in this town,” Tina finished.
Aerith sighed. “We can’t turn sims right now. Don’t you see? We barely knowanything—”“No, you barely know anything,” Tina interrupted. “We know plenty.”Aerith glared at her. “We’re still new at this. We’d barely know much more thanthem and as leaders, we’d be poor idols.”
“Right now,” Aerith continued, “We can’t even function as a group. How would thatlook? We bicker all the time, we’re indecisive. In time, they’d want more power oftheir own; they’d think they were better than us or our equals. We need more timeto be more cohesive and secure in our power.”
There was silence for a few moments until Andrzej finally spoke.“You are right. Partly. But we just can’t do any of the things you want to do yet.”Lila shrugged. “Sorry.”
Aerith sat back as the others talked on and discussed other ideas. She knew shewas right. The problem was, she believed, was that she was coming from a verydifferent background. She considered Wes’ words once more. She had to takecharge. She was Regent. She was supposed to be running the day to day things.Did she really need approval to do most of the things she wanted to do? She didn’tthink so. She needed the three to back off a bit and let her run things. She had toshow them she could lead, make them understand that they shouldn’t be involvedin more than only the most important issues.
Aerith thought about what Andrzej had. As she sat there half listening to theconversation around her, she came to a realization. Tina had said she didn’t knowanything, but they did. The opposite was true about resources. They didn’t haveresources, but she did. She wasn’t like them, former townies. She had a degree.She had family in the area. A pretty wealthy family, too, thanks to her dad’sbusiness. She had connections. Inheritance. Surely, she thought, all that couldcome in handy? She narrowed her eyes and began to think of a plan.*****
“Hey.” Roxie put her plate on the table and nodded a good morning to Zeph. He’dbeen staying with her for the past few nights.Zeph grunted in response. He hadn’t really been talking much.
The two sat and ate in silence for a while.Zeph munched mechanically, staring into space.Finally, Roxie put her bagel down and looked him in the eye.“Can I ask you something?”Zeph shrugged.
“It’s just…” She wasn’t quite sure how to say this. She wasn’t sure she wanted tosay this. “Are you sure? About… this,” she finished.Zeph raised his eyebrows in an unspoken comment: Criticism? From you? What,are you siding with Liz? You?“I’m not judging,” Roxie blurted on. “It’s just… Well, you married her.”
Zeph looked at Roxie. “What does that have to do with anything?”She shifted her weight. “You love her, Zeph. She’s the one… She’s the one thatyou always go back to. Even though you two had a whole bunch of problems andnever saw eye to eye… You married her. You were going to ignore all that. Youwere going to try—”“I did try! You, of all people, should know that!”
“I do know that. And I know you.” Roxie paused trying to find the right words. “It’sher… And it’s a baby… You’re really just going to let her walk away?”
“And how would it work?” Zeph asked softly. He shook his head, looking at thekitchen tiles. “She would still be up in the middle of the night, alone. Wonderingwhere I am. She could never count on me; I’d still be unpredictable. And whatabout the baby? Maybe she’d understand, but it wouldn’t. It look up at me and seea monster. Because that’s what I am. And what if… What if I really loose control?What if next time it’s more than my temper, it’s more than a black out? What if Ihurt someone?” He shrugged a shoulder. “This… This is the best way.”
Roxie sat in silence, torn. Her heart ached for him.“But you didn’t even tell her,” she blurted. She had to say it. “I mean, you let herthink—”“It’s better this way!”“How?”
“Because this way, she gives up. This way she moves on. This way, she knowsthat I’m not coming back and nothing’s going to change and that she can’t rely onme. She had to learn! She had to see that you can’t fucking fix me! I’m not goingto change for the better, I’m going to get worse. And this way’s better thandragging things out and giving her hope—because all that hope’s just a lie.”
Roxie took a deep breath and sat back.“You really believe that?” She looked at him.“Yes,” he replied forcefully.“Okay,” she said slowly. “Okay. I just… I wanted to make sure that you were--”
Paige jolted awake, pulled herself out of her dreams. She took deep breaths; triedto clear her mind.
But it didn’t stop. No matter how hard she tried, no matter how many times sheshook her head or rubbed her eyes, the voice didn’t stop.
She clutched her pillow and curled up in the corner of her bed.She’d wait. Wait until it stopped, until it finally went away. It was all she could do.*****
“Alright, I’m up next! Prepare to get creamed!” Rose taunted as she picked up herbowling ball.A few days later, it was the weekend and Rose had dragged her siblings out forsome fun downtown.
“Aw sweet, a strike!” She did a cheer and a small dance. “Did you guys see that?”“Um, no,” Sydney snorted. “Some smelly townie was in my way.”“Oh yeah, okay. I get it—you just can’t stand to watch my awesomeness in action.”“As if.” Sydney rolled her eyes. “Move out of the way so I can show you how it’sreally done.”
“Take that!” Sydney still had a competitive streak it seemed, and was also happy togloat about her success.“Alright, Syd, I think ten minutes of dancing is enough. It was only a spare,”Spencer said.“Shh.”
“Alright, my turn. Let me show you ladies how it’s done,” Spencer strutted to up tothe lane and easily made a strike. “Booyeah!”
“Paige, you’re up!” Spence shouted.“Okay, okay.” Paige sighed. She hated these sorts of things. She wasn’t reallyinclined toward physical activity, but couldn’t escape all three of her siblingsbegging her to go out that night. She dropped the ball down the center of the lanethen sat down. “There. Turn over.”Rose just shook her head. “Well, three out of ten is better than last time.”
The quartet had a good time bowling and hanging out that night. They almostnever hung out all together like this. After a few more games, they went to a dinerto grab some dinner.
“Hey guys, I wanna say thanks for coming tonight,” Rose looked at her siblings.“It’s just… We’re all growing up and I’m going to transition soon, so, you know. Iwanted to spend some time with all of you before I move out and you head off tocollege.”Sydney sniffed disdainfully. “Well, whose fault is that?”Rose sighed. “Syd, not you too.”
“I’m just saying, you wouldn’t need to spend time with us now if you went to theAcadémie with us. You’d see us every day.”“Syd—”“I mean, if you don’t actually want to abandon us, then, well don’t leave.”
“Sydney, come on. You’re being a little harsh.” Spencer spoke up.“Thanks,” Rose smiled at her brother. “Sydney, I’m not abandoning you. I’m stillgoing to be around.”“Then why the outing and the dinner?” Syd demanded.
Rose sighed again. “I just wanted to spend some time with you guys. A ‘we’re allgrowing up dinner’ if you will. Look, Syd, this is my dream, okay? I’m sorry you’redisappointed I’m not going with you but college just isn’t for me. But just becauseyou’re in school doesn’t mean we’re not going to see each other or anything. We’llstill hang out. You’ll come down to my club, I’ll come up to your campus,” Roseshrugged. “This isn’t the end.”
“Well, it doesn’t feel like it.” Sydney said. “Who’s to say what any of us are going tobe doing years from now? We could all be split up and never see or talk to eachother.”“Syd, that’s not going to happen—”“Sydney, that’s ridiculous—” Both Spencer and Rose objected.“Oh, yeah, well what about dad and his siblings? It happened to them.”
“Yeah. About them—what happened? How come we never see them?” Paigefinally spoke up. She was a little tired and didn’t want to talk much, but she had toadmit she was curious about her family. “I mean, I definitely don’t rememberseeing Aunt Liz before.”
“Well, she and Uncle Zeph just got married recently,” Rose said slowly. “But I thinkshe and dad went to college together. At least, she was at my old birthdays partieswith all of dad’s college friends. I’m sure you’ve seen her before; you probably justhad your nose in a book or something and don’t remember.”Paige frowned. “But what about dad’s siblings? We never see them either.”
“Yeah, at least not in a really long time.” Spencer added. “Not since we moved.”“We moved?” Paige asked, incredulous.“Uh huh—we used to live in this crazy big house,” Spencer turned to Paige.“Yeah,” Sydney’s forehead crinkled. “I guess that was before you were born.” Shesmiled. “I remember we used to have this huge nursery. Mom was pregnant withyou and she was huge, or so it seemed.”
“That was back when we used to live with Grandpa in Dad’s old house,” Roseexplained.“Grandpa?” Paige raised her brows. “I always thought… That you know… Momand Dad’s parents had died or something.”Rose shook her head. “Nope. At least, Grandpa didn’t. He and Dad and UncleZeph and Aunt Aerith had a fight and after that everyone sorta stopped speaking.”
“Why?” Paige asked.“Over what?” Spencer added.“I don’t know,” Rose admitted. “All I know is that they fought. It was right after Itransitioned to a kid. We were celebrating and then next thing I know everyonewas fighting. Then, we moved and I hardly ever saw Aunt Aerith and Uncle Zephand we never saw Grandpa again.”
Everyone fell silent as they let that comment sink into their brains. The waitresscame and went, plopping food down on the table, and still the silence was uneasy.
“It doesn’t have to be that way for us, you know.” Finally Rose decided to breakthe silence. “Just because Dad and his siblings drifted apart doesn’t mean wehave to.”“True,” Spencer cocked his head.“Let’s make a pact,” Rose suggested. “That we always stay together.”
“And how would that even work?” Sydney rolled her eyes. “You’re staying here,remember? Unless you suddenly changed your mind.”
“We don’t need to be together all the time to stay together,” Spence commented.“Right,” Rose agreed. “It just means we promise to stay close, to talk and check upon each other and stuff.” She paused. “That we won’t forget each other.”“That we’ll help each other,” Paige blurted. “If we need it.”“Right.”
“So do we have a deal?” Rose raised her eyebrows and one by one, her siblingsraised their glasses. “To us,” she said.“To us,” they all repeated and clinked glasses.
“Great. Now nobody tell Dad I let you drink, ‘kay?”They all laughed.
They spent the rest of the night talking and having fun and just being with theirsiblings.******
“Hey, there you are!” Melanie exclaimed as she cornered Liz.“Oh? Were you looking for me?” Liz responded.“I just wanted to make sure you were settling in okay. See how you were doing.”Liz smiled. “Ash checked up on me this morning, too. I swear you guys are alwaysin sync.” Melanie laughed in response.
“Seriously, though, I’m fine,” Liz told her. “You guys have done so much for me andI’m so grateful. I really do feel more at ease.”“Good. Our home is your home.” Melanie touched her shoulder. “We just want youto be healthy. We know how stressful having a baby can be and we want to makesure you’re doing okay.”
Liz gave Melanie a tiny smile. “I’m fine, honest. I mean, I’m tired all the timeand…” She shrugged, unsure of how to put it. “I feel sick most of the day. But Iguess it’s just morning sickness, huh?”“Oh, then you should be resting!” Melanie exclaimed.“There just so many things I should be doing,” Liz sighed.
“Just let it go and do it later.” Melanie declared.“Really?”“Yes. I remember when I was pregnant with the twins, I was so nauseous all thetime. The best thing to do is just rest. Go straight to bed and I’ll bring you sometea.”“I don’t know, I really think I’m fine—”
“Liz?”“Yeah?”“Stop. Go rest. Everything will still be there tomorrow. You have to take care ofyourself first.”After a moment’s hesitation, Liz nodded. “Okay, you’re right. I’ll just go to bed.”
*****The next night, Asher went visiting. He got out of his car and walked up to thehouse. It was quiet and desolate. He didn’t think anyone would be home but itdidn’t hurt to check, right? If Zeph wasn’t there, he could always try Roxie’s. ButAsher spotted Zeph’s truck parked in front of the house so he went up to thehouse and knocked.
There was no answer after several minutes. On a whim, Asher tried the door and itwas open.“Hello?” He called out. “Zeph?”His phone rang and he glanced at it. Melanie. He’d call her back later; right now hewas on a mission.
The place was an empty mess. There were huge empty places, like pieces offurniture were missing and something smelled awful. Asher stuck his head in thekitchen.
Ah, that explains the smell, then, Asher thought. And headed back out to the livingroom. It was weird; he didn’t think of Zeph as a sloppy person but there haddefinitely been a sink full of dishes and smelly leftovers on the table.
Let’s try upstairs, Asher thought. “Zeph?” He called again. “You here?” Maybe he’sasleep?His phone rang again and he silenced it.
“Zeph!” He called again as he climbed the stairs. This time he heard a growl inresponse. Or else, he thought he did. His pocket was vibrating too. He continuedfumbling up the stairs, reaching for his phone. It was kinda dark up there.“Stay back!” A rough voice growled at him and Asher froze, forgetting all about hisphone.“Z-Zeph?”
“I said, stay back. I’m dangerous.”“Wha—Who—Zeph?” Asher stammered, not sure to believe what he was seeing.
“Zeph, what happened?” Asher started forward but stopped because his brotherwas growling at him. His brother was growling. At him. It was a deep growl, too.Low and threating. “What the hell, Zeph?”
“I’m serious, man, stay back,” Zeph managed to growl out between pants. “I’mdangerous,” he said, “to everyone.”But Asher moved closer anyway. It was his brother. His phone vibrated again and,exasperated, he pulled it out, ready to tell off whoever it was. It was a text.“Look, don’t be an idiot,” he told his twin.
“Excuse me?” Zeph looked up sharply.“I get it now,” Asher explained, ignoring the phone in his hand for a second. “ButLiz needs you. She loves you, Zeph. You can change things.”
Zeph laughed darkly. “Maybe you haven’t noticed,” he said slowly as he rose, “ButI already have changed.”
“You know what I mean.” Asher’s phone vibrated again and he looked down. Thetexts were from Melanie. One of them said Urgent. Sighing, he dialed home. “Youdon’t have to let this wreck everything,” he continued talking to Zeph. “You canmake it work. Get Liz back and make everything okay.”But Zeph growled again.
“You don’t get it. There’s no way I can get Liz back now.”“But—”“Asher?”“It doesn’t even matter anymore; I have to stay away for her own good.”
“Asher, you have to come home—”“I have to stay away or I’ll hurt her. Hurt her more than I already have,” Zephsnorted.“Whoa, whoa, hold on. Listen, Mel, Can I call you back? I have—I mean there’s asituation and---”“Situation? Is that what you’re calling it?”
“Zeph—”“No, you have to come home now—”“You really have no idea, do you? This isn’t some little game, some puzzle to solveor problem to fix. People are getting hurt.”“There’s been an accident, Asher. Spencer—Spencer’s dead.”
“What?!”“People can get hurt, Ash. There’s no turning back now. I’m a fucking werewolf—”“JUST HOLD ON!” Asher shouted, his heart pounding. “WAIT!” He screamedagain, motioning at Zeph. “Just—Can’t the world just wait one fucking second?!”He took a deep breath and clutched the phone to his head. “What did you say?” hewhispered to Melanie.
“There was an accident,” Asher heard his wife sob, “And Spencer… Spencer’sdead.”“I’m coming home. I’m on my way right now.”
“Leaving so soon, are we? And you didn’t even get to fix anything. Make a proper‘get your shit together’ speech.” Zeph mock sighed. “Oh well, I guess there’s nolecture today.”
Asher just looked at his brother. A wave of rage washed over him.“No,” he choked out. “No lecture today. Someone sorely needs to yell your ear offabout what a whiny asshole you’re being, but it won’t be me. I can’t deal with youand your stupid, insignificant shit right now. I can’t even think about your shit rightnow.”
Zeph, taken aback, looked his brother up and down. Deep down, some part of himsomewhere knew his brother wasn’t normally so nasty, but, at that particularmoment, he didn’t care what was wrong. Zeph’s emotions always ran high—a partof him was always looking for a fight now.“Well,” Zeph said slowly. “Look who’s put on his big boy pants today. That’s okay, Imean, you already forgot about one brother, why not make it two? Just go back toyour perfect little house and perfect family and—”
“Perfect family? My son is dead!”“What?”“Excuse me if I don’t have time to baby you—”“Baby me?” Zeph asked incredulously.
“Yes, baby you.” Asher shook his head. “Grow up Zephyr. Your wife is pregnant.She loves you—she needs you—but all you can do is think about yourself andwallow in your own despair.” Zeph opened his mouth to speak but Asher cut himoff. “So you’re a werewolf. So what? Find a way to deal with it.”
He turned to go.“Life goes on, Zeph, and if you keep doing the stupid shit you’re doing, you’regoing to miss it,” Asher warned over his shoulder as he left.*****
There had been a terrible accident that night, just as Melanie said. Spencer hadbeen in the backyard, out by the wishing well as usual, perhaps tossing in a coinfor luck before a date.
All they knew was that Spencer’s body had been found lying next to the well.And that he was dead.
And their world would never be the same.*****
Melanie came over and put her arms around Sydney. “It’s okay,” she cooed softly.“Okay?” Sydney practically screamed, pulling away. “How can you say that? Howcan anything ever possibly be okay?” she yelled.“I—” Melanie gulped. “T-That’s not what I meant… I just…” She trailed off, chokingdown responses. She didn’t know what to do. What to say. No one close to herhad ever died before, yet here she was, trying to manage her children’s grief whilemasking her own. I wish Asher were here, she thought, desperately hoping herhusband would come in from his grave watching outside.
“Hey,” Rose spoke up. “Don’t take it out on Mom; you know that’s not what shemeant.”Melanie smiled at Rose. “What I did mean was—”“Well, that’s what she said!” Sydney yelled over her mother. “But it doesn’t matter.Nothing you say matters—will ever matter. It’s not right and it’s not okay and neverwill be, ever. Spencer should be here,” She sobbed.
Melanie reached for Sydney again, but Sydney pulled away.“Leave me alone. Just go away,” she shouted as she ran upstairs.Melanie stared after her helplessly. Rose and Paige looked at Sydney then back ather.“I… She just needs some space. And time,” Melanie said weakly.
“Listen girls,” she said quietly. Cautiously. “You know that I would never suggestthat—”“We know Mom,” Rose said again as Paige nodded. “You just meant it was okay tocry, right? Sydney always jumps to conclusions.” She frowned, looking up thestairs where Sydney had ran off. Her little sister’s antics weren’t making thingseasier for anyone.
Melanie looked at both girls then pulled them in for a hug. After a moment shepulled back and looked into their eyes, unsure of what to say. Should she tell themhow much she loved them? Should they talk about Spencer? Should she givethem space?“H-How about some dinner?” she finally settled on a response. “Let me whipsomething up. It’s almost time for it anyway.”
Rose and Paige shrugged.“Actually, I think I’m just going to go to my room,” Paige said quietly. “Lie down,you know?”“And I invited Heath over.” Rose suddenly looked worried. “Is that okay?”
“Of course, of course,” Melanie assured them. “Just… Let me know if you needanything.”They nodded and both went upstairs to their respective rooms.*****
Melanie put dinner in the oven, then decided to check up on everyone again. Shedidn’t really expect anyone to be okay at this point; Spencer had only diedyesterday. Still, just seeing everyone’s faces and asking after them seemed tomake her feel better and gave her something to do.She ran into Liz in the hallway.“Liz!” she exclaimed. “I was just looking for you.”
“Really?”“Yes. I wanted to check in, see how you were feeling.”“Are you kidding?” Liz raised her brows. “I should be checking on you.” Shepaused. “How are you holding up? I… I’m so sorry for your loss. I can’t imaginewhat you’re going through.”
She gave Melanie a hug. They weren’t particularly close, but it was nice all thesame.“Thanks,” Melanie said and gave a weak smile. “I’m… okay. Not great, but just ok.I… I think I need to keep busy.” She shrugged. “So I’m making dinner and checkingup on everyone.” She took a breath, trying to regain her composure. “Besides, youare still pregnant. Babies wait for no one and take orders from nobody. How areyou? Still nauseous?”
“Well…” Liz still hesitated, unwilling to burden her host. “I don’t really thinknauseous is the right word.”“Oh?”“I have been feeling… unwell. Sick all the time. But… It’s more like… an ache.”Melanie raised her brows. “I didn’t really want to say anything, but…”“Oh, Liz.”
“We’re here for you too, you know. Even if… Even if things aren’t exactly normalaround here.”Liz nodded. “I’m not sure how to describe it.”“Are you in pain?”“Not all the time but, sometimes, this… this feeling will wash over me and—”
She frowned and Melanie could see the pain on her face.“Is it happening right now?”“Yes,” Liz managed to say.Melanie stared at her, unsure of what to say.
“I never really had any pains when I was pregnant… Maybe we should call adoctor.”The two looked at each other.“You really think that’s necessary?”“Well… We don’t want to risk anything happening to either of you, right?”
Liz nodded.“Look, you go lie down. I’m sure it’s nothing serious, perhaps… Perhapssomething you ate or—or something. I’ll call the hospital and see if they can sendsomeone to look at you. That way you don’t have to move around too much.”Liz nodded again.“Just… Just go rest.”
As Liz walked off to go lie down, Melanie felt her heart drop. It felt like a leadweight had sunk deep in her stomach.Please, please don’t let anything else happen right now, she thought. Please justlet everyone be okay.
Little did she know that Liz was thinking the same thing.*****
“Oh my gosh,” Sydney whined as Rose came into their room. “Go away.”“This is my room, too you know.”“How can I forget?” she rolled her eyes. I just want to be alone, she thought. Whycan’t I have my own room? But that last thought only made her want to cry.Spencer was gone. Now she really could have her own room.
“Look, I wanna be on my own right now, so just leave, okay?” Sydney pushed herthoughts aside and focused on her sister.Rose shook her head. “You know, we’re all hurting, Syd. You don’t need to takethings out on everyone else.”“You don’t get it!”“I think I do! He was my brother too.”
“But not your twin! He was my twin. You have no idea what I’m going through, sojust butt out and leave me alone.”“Oh my---Ugh—all you can think about is yourself! You’re so selfish. You don’teven know how much you hurt Mom. She was just trying to—”“Arrgh, fine! I’ll leave!”
Sydney got up and stomped across the room.“Sydney—”“Shut it—I don’t need you preaching at me. Just leave me alone.”Rose stared after her, fuming. Maybe Mom’s right, she rationalized. Maybe shejust needs some space.
Sydney didn’t just go downstairs, however. She went outside.I need to get out of here, she thought.She had to get away, out of the house and out of her head.
So when she got outside she kept going. Her steps got faster and faster until shewas running. She didn’t know where she was going but she knew where shewasn’t staying. She ran and ran and didn’t look back.*****
Paige wished she could run away too. But she already knew from experience thatyou couldn’t run away from your thoughts. They were there when you wished theyweren’t, reminding you of all the things you wished to forget.Night fell as she shuffled up to her room and Paige had never felt more relieved. Ithad been the longest day ever.
She went to her room and closed the door, nearly collapsing as she did so. Finally,everything she thought and felt all day bubbled to the surface and erupted, tired ofbeing held in.
She sobbed and sank down to her knees. Every time she thought about what hadhappened, about what she had seen, she broke down again and a new wave oftears and sobs came out.I killed him. It’s all my fault.*****
“Rose, have you seen Sydney? I went to tell her dinner’s ready and she wasn’t there.”Rose shook her head. “I was upstairs; she ran off when I came in. I thought she wasdown here.”“Uh, hello?” Heath stuck his head in the door and Rose’s heart soared.Melanie saw the look on her daughter’s face. “Perhaps outside then; I’ll leave you twoalone.”
Rose ran over to Heath as Melanie went outside. Heath pulled her in for a tighthug and the two stayed that way for a few moments.Rose felt the tears she’d been holding back all day. “I’m so glad you’re here,” shewhispered.*****
“Ash?” Melanie walked around to the backyard. Asher had been brooding all dayby the well. Staring at the spot where his son died.“Ash?” Melanie tried again. This time Asher’s eyes flickered in her direction.He shook his head in disbelief. “I just don’t get it, Mel.”
“Asher, have you seen Sydney?”Ash looked at his wife confused.“Sydney. Rose said she ran off. I was wondering if you saw her.”Asher paused for a moment then shook his head. “No,” he said. And went back tostaring at the well.
“Asher!” Melanie said sharply. She stood in front of him. “She’s not in the house!”He shrugged. “She’ll be back.”Melanie furrowed her brows, upset. “How can you just stand there? One of kids ismissing!”“More than one is missing,” Ash pointed out, causing Melanie to blanch.
“I’m sorry,” he said after a second, “But it’s true. Sydney will be back. Just give hersome space.”“She’s a young girl, Ash! She could be anywhere. She could be hurt!”“Maybe. But probably not. She probably went to Houston’s or a friend’s orsomething.”“So you’re not going to do anything?”
“She’ll come back on her own.”Melanie stood there a moment, silent. “So… So you’re just going to stand here,then?” In response, Asher went back to looking at the well.Melanie felt a wave of anger wash over her. “I didn’t say anything. I didn’t sayanything all day, but…” She trailed off, shaking with anger. “You are really being aninconsiderate ass.”
“What?”“You’ve been out here all day. Staring. Saying nothing, ignoring everybody.Meanwhile I’m inside. I’m trying to console our daughters and look after Liz andmake lunch and dinner and—and you’re just standing here! I need you Ash! Youkids need you! This isn’t only about you, you know—you’re not the only one who’slost someone.” Suddenly, she started crying. “Everything is falling apart, Ash.Didn’t you ever think that I could use just a little help?”
Ash didn’t answer. He couldn’t.Melanie sighed and left.
Asher watched her walk back to the house. Seeing her like that, hearing her saythose things, made him hurt—like someone had wrapped a hand around his heartand squeezed. But he couldn’t go to her, not right then. He knew he’d only feeldirty and guilty if he tried to comfort her, or any of his family, just then.Because it was his fault. Of that he was sure.*****
“And where are we off to, all dressed up?” Wes asked as he spotted Aerith comingdown the stairs. “Don’t tell me the Tricous have run you off already?”Aerith smiled. “No. I’m just going to visit my brother.”“Your brother? You have a brother?”“Yes,” Aerith chuckled, sure that she’d mentioned this at some point. “I have two infact,” she said quietly.
“Oh. Um… Are you sure it’s such a good idea? To go visiting, I mean?”Aerith looked at Wes. “Yeah, why?”He took a breath. “Look, Aerith, I’ve seen it hundreds of times. Newbies stillclinging on to the past, reaching out to family… It’s best to just let things go.”“What’s that supposed to mean?” Aerith demanded, taken aback.
“It’s hard for you to understand now, but you have to let go of those old ties. They’llonly hold you back.”“Excuse me? This is my family, we’re talking about here. And they’re going througha particularly rough time, in fact. I need to—”“Let them go. Let them deal with things on their own.”Aerith opened her mouth to speak, but Wes held up a hand.
“It’s a hard concept to grasp, I know. But you are a vampire, Aerith. Your family isonly going to keep you grounded in the past, make you wish things were different.Take advice from someone who knows—it’s hell watching someone you careabout grow old, wither and die. You need to distance yourself—”“From my family?” Aerith scoffed.“They’re not really your family anymore. This, here,” Wes pointed to house, “Me,the Tricous, we’re your family now. Your vampire family—”
This time Aerith cut Wes off.“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”“Aerith—”“No. I know exactly who my family is and right now, I need to be with them andsupport my brother.”
Shaking her head at Wes, Aerith turned and continued down the steps. Wesley,meanwhile, only frowned and crossed his arms, knowing that eventually she’dhave to learn for herself where she really belonged.*****
Aerith made her way to Asher’s, stewing over Wesley’s words. She couldn’tbelieve what Wes had said to her, what he had been implying. And yet, asfrustrated as she was, all thoughts of that conversation flew out her head asreached her brother’s house. She was at the mailbox when, suddenly, she froze.Her heart pounded in her chest and emotions she’d thought she’d buried clawedtheir way to the surface, leaving scars on her heart.She gulped. “Taz,” she said calmly.
He smiled. “Aerith. It’s good to see you.” He paused. “Really good.”The two stared awkwardly at each other.
Finally, Taz reached out and kissed her cheek in a greeting.“How’ve you been?”“O-Okay. You?”“Same.”They fell silent again.
“I wish we weren’t meeting under such tragic circumstances, but…” He trailed offand cocked his head, taking all of her in. “I’m really glad to see you.”Aerith gulped. “So…” She started, not sure how she was going to finish.But Taz read her mind as he so often did. “Shall we?” He gestured toward thehouse. She nodded and they walked up the front porch together.
Melanie answered the door. Her face light up when she saw them and you couldsee relief wash over her, pushing down her shoulders.“Thank you,” she gave them a tiny smile. “Thank you so much for coming.”“Of course,” Aerith said.“How is everyone?”
“Funny you should ask,” Melanie told Taz. “I know normally people say that they’refine and that the family’s holding up well and… Well, that’d be a lie. Everything’s…Everything’s a complete mess,” she blurted, raking a hand through her hair.“Asher… I don’t know what’s going on with him. He’s not saying anything; hehasn’t moved since this morning. Liz is sick and something might be wrong withthe baby and—and—” She stopped, trying to take a breath. “And one of the girls ismissing. She ran off and I have no idea….”
“Alright, calm down—”“And take deep breaths,” Taz added.“I’ll handle my brother. I think I know what’s bothering him anyway. I’ll talk to him.Where is he?”“Out back,” Melanie gestured and Aerith turned for the door.
“And I’ll look for…” Taz raised his brows expectantly.“Sydney. Sydney’s missing.”“Sydney then. Since I know next to nothing about babies,” he smiled. “Any ideawhere she might have gone?”Melanie shook her head. “Maybe a friend’s?”
“Okay, I’ll start there, then.”“Thank you so much. I—”Taz held up a hand. “It’s what we’re here for. To help. To lend a hand or shoulderor whatever you need.”Melanie smiled. “Thanks,” she said again, then went to call a doctor for Liz.*****
Aerith walked around the side of the house to where Asher was. He was standingin the cold, staring at his son’s grave.Coming up to him, she touched his shoulder then pulled him in for a hug.“I started to think no one was coming,” he whispered, fighting back tears.“I’m here, big bro,” she told him. “And it’s not your fault.”
Ash looked at her, then laughed awkwardly. “You know I won’t believe that, butthanks all the same.” He paused. “I think we’ll always feel that way. Even if it’s justa little, tiny part. We’ll always feel like their deaths were our fault.” He’d spent a lotof time out there, thinking not only of Spencer but his mom and little brother.Aerith nodded. “I know. A part of me still feels like mom’s death is my fault. I wasalways the reason for her and dad’s fights. Maybe if I wasn’t… Maybe if I wasdifferent, things would’ve turned out better.”
“You know that that’s not true, right?”Aerith shrugged.Asher cursed. “Today was so messed up. I just wished there was someone to talkto, you know? Someone who got it, but no one showed up, not even dad.” Hepaused. “I’d never felt more alone,” he whispered.“Really?” Aerith asked, surprised. “That’s not like dad.”
“I know. It just figures. The one time I wished my dad was around, he doesn’tshow. We haven’t spoken since, what, Bonfire Night, all those years ago. Still, Ithought he’d be here. I wished he was here. That… That I didn’t have to be thegrownup.”Aerith squeezed his arm.
“What if…” Asher whispered, “What if it wasn’t really an accident? What if it reallywas my fault?”“Oh, Ash, no. I mean, come on. Of course it was an accident.”“A freak wishing well accident?”“Yes. Sometimes, things just happen. Sometimes—”
But Aerith trailed off as she spotted Melanie coming out. The expression on herface was grim.“It is just an accident,” she finished softly as Melanie walked up to them.
Melanie looked at Asher questioningly but she didn’t have time to figure outAerith’s statement.“We have a problem,” She told them. “It’s Liz. I went up to check on her after Icalled the doctor but she’s gotten worse.”Aerith and Asher looked at each other.“Define worse,” Aerith said.
She rubbed the back of her neck. “She’s been having pains and now she’s curledup in her bed, barely able to move. She says she feels sick and everythinghurts…” She sighed. “I don’t know. From what she told me, it sounds like she’shaving contractions.”
“Contractions?” Asher exclaimed. “But it’s way too early for that!”“I know. The baby could be premature or…” Melanie trailed off.“Or?” Aerith prompted, looking at each of them.“Or it could be a miscarriage,” Melanie finish uncomfortable. “Either way, she andthe baby aren’t safe.”
Aerith gasped.Asher pinched the bridge of his nose. “Alright, well, there’s nothing we can doexcept make her comfortable. You said you called a doctor, right?”Melanie nodded. “I did. Someone’s on the way over. The thing is though…”Melanie looked down. “She’s a little out of it. She keeps asking for Zeph. I did trycalling him but… There’s no answer.”
Asher shook his head. “He wouldn’t answer. It’s too dark now; he’ll never comeover.”“What does that mean?” Aerith asked.Asher paused and took a breath. “Zeph’s been turned into a werewolf. He’ll neverlet Liz see him that way.”This time Melanie gasped. “What? When did this happen?”
Asher shrugged while Aerith said, “It doesn’t matter. If Liz is as sick as you say,then he needs to be here. We have to get him here.” She looked at Asher.“I’m in,” he responded. “Liz,” he turned to Melanie. “Is she stable? How long do wehave?”Melanie shrugged. “I don’t know, but right now she’s sleeping. I’ll see what thedoctor says.”
“Good.” Asher gestured to his sister. “Come on, Aerith. Let’s go visit some family.”*****
A little while later, Asher and Aerith stood in front of Zeph’s house.Asher was pacing by the mailbox. “I can’t believe this,” he muttered.“He’s just not here,” Aerith said quietly. “It’s not like he knew we were coming.”“He should be here anyway!” He exclaimed, then stopped, rubbing the back of hisneck. “I just don’t understand.”
“We’re family. We’re supposed to come together in troubled times, but all we seemto do is split up,” he continued.“I… don’t really know how to explain that,” Aerith responded. “We certainly weren’traised that way. I guess we each just follow our gut, our instincts.”Asher raised a brow. “So despite being raised in a loving family, everyonebasically feels the urge to shun others when things get difficult. Wonderful.”
“Ash, what’s really going on?” Aerith paused. “Are you really upset that Zeph’s nothere?”“Yes,” Asher said forcefully. “I shouldn’t have to go hunt down my brother, nottoday. He should have been there. Dad, too. They both should have been there forme today but they’re not. And no matter what I tell myself, I can’t help but thinkthat this is all—” Asher stopped abruptly, then narrowed his eyes. “Did you seethat?”
Aerith whirled her head around. After a few seconds she could make out a figureshuffling toward them, crashing through the trees next to the house.“Is that…” She trailed off, unable to finish her question.
But soon it became irrelevant, because as the figure came closer and her sensesheightened, the answer became clear.
It was without a doubt, her brother.“What are you doing here?” Zeph demanded gruffly.There was silence for a beat. Then—“Can I touch you?” Aerith blurted. She was absolutely fascinated.Zeph glared at her. “Only if I can inspect your fangs.”
Aerith pouted. “Well, I mean… It’s just so unexpected.” Zeph didn’t reply andAerith continued to stand there and inspect her brother, making ‘hmm’ noisesevery so often.“What?” Zeph finally asked. He didn’t really have much patience anymore.“It’s just—well, you know the stories about our kinds.” She shrugged. “I guess I justexpected to be a little more bothered by you. But I don’t have the slightest urge tokill you at all.”
“Lucky me,” Zeph said dryly.“You know, we did come here for a reason,” Asher reminded, though he’d beencurious as to how his siblings would interact now too.Aerith nodded. “Right. Zeph, you have to come with us. To see Liz.”“She’s… Not doing very well.” Asher added.
Zeph took a deep breath, then said calmly, “No.”“But—”“You can’t be—”“Stop, both of you. I’ve already made this decision and I’m sticking to it.”
“Come on, Zeph,” Asher blurted, “You really think she would care that you’veturned?”“I care.” Zeph said firmly.“He thinks he’ll hurt her,” Aerith explained.“I know I’ll hurt her. I already have.”
“Oh, BS, Zeph. I’m not buying it. You’re a coward, plain and simple.”Aerith brows rose at Asher’s comment and when Zeph started to growl, shesuddenly realized she’d have to be the referee. “You guys—”Zeph cut her off. “You don’t know a damn, thing, Mr. Perfect.”“I know that my son just died. That it would have been nice to see my twin at thefuneral. And I know that Liz is having complications and that she’d like to see you.”
“Did you ever think for one second about why I didn’t show? I’m a werewolf, Ash—I’m not exactly fit for company. Everything is heightened for me—every emotion,every feeling. It wouldn’t take much to snap and hurt some, break something. I—”“I’m just hearing more excuses,” Ash interrupted stubbornly. “After all, Aerithshowed up, didn’t she?”But Zeph just glared. “Being a werewolf is a bit different than being a vampire, Ash.”
“We know that,” Aerith cut in. “And we’re not trying to trivialize anything you’refeeling or experiencing,” she said with a pointed look at Asher. “But Liz really issick. Something might be wrong with the baby and… And well, she’d like to seeyou. That’s not so much to ask, is it?”Zeph was silent. “I-I don’t know if I can see her like this, okay? I just… I can’t.”Asher rolled his eyes. “This is pointless. We should just forget it and go to Dad’s.”
“Dad’s? You’re going to see Dad?” Zeph suddenly looked interested.“Yes,” Aerith. “No one’s heard from him and we were going to check on him.”“Oh.” Zeph said.“Did you… I mean, have you heard from him?” Aerith asked delicately.
“Of course not.” Zeph replied instantly. “I haven’t seen him in years. I don’t evenknow where he lives now.”“Did you… Did you have something you wanted to say to him?” Aerith asked.Zeph snorted. “I have a lot of somethings I want to say to him.”“You could come with us…” Aerith suggested.
“Uh huh. And what’s the catch?” Zeph asked.“You have to see Liz.” Asher told him.“No. No way. I just told you how I felt about that.”“Zeph,” Aerith pleaded softly. “We’ll be right there. You need to do this. What if—What if something happens to her? You’ll never forgive yourself.”
“And what if I hurt her? I’d never forgive myself then either.”“We won’t let you,” Aerith promised.Asher sighed. “You’re not giving yourself enough credit, Zeph. You’re stronger thanyou think.”Finally, Zeph nodded in agreement. “Fine. But only because I want to talk to Dad.”
Asher rolled his eyes. “Fine.”“Whatever gets you there,” Aerith agreed.The pair hoped the detour was the right thing to do, that Liz wasn’t as bad asMelanie made it seem. It wasn’t like they could do anything anyway and Melaniehad called a doctor. So Liz should be fine, they reasoned.*****
“Thank you so much for coming,” Melanie said as she answered the door. She’dcalled Crystal Springs Medical Center and they’d promised to send someone over.A half an hour later and she’d arrived.“I know it’s short notice,” Melanie continued, “And it’s getting late—”“Nonsense,” the woman cut her off. “I am happy to be of service. Where is thepatient?”
“Oh, she’s upstairs. The door right behind the staircase, Doctor…”“Dr. Philippine. And don’t you worry, Mrs. Specter. Everything’s in good handsnow.”*****
Dagmar followed Melanie’s instructions and walked up the steps. Her face was aperfect mask, she was sure; she’d been preparing for this for quite some time.Finally things were moving and she had something interesting to do.With a short knock on the door, she entered. “Hello, Liz?” She called out. “It’s thedoctor. I’m here to check on you.”*****
Liz sat up slowly. Everything ached. She barely had time to say ‘Come in’ beforethe doctor burst through the door. A bit too loudly, too, if you asked her.
The woman strode forward into the room.“Hello, Elizabeth,” she said. “How are you feeling?”
But Liz just blinked up at her. “Aren’t… Aren’t you the psychologist I asked to seemy husband?”But the woman, instead of being upset or shocked or worried or something, justsmiled.“I’m so glad you remember me,” is what she did say.
Liz grimaced and stood up. “What—What are you doing here? I thought Melaniecalled a doctor. An obstetrician. Or someone—”“That’d be me yes.”Liz paused. “But you’re not—”“No. I’m not.”
The woman—Dagmar—stepped to the side and closed the door.“Here’s the thing, Elizabeth. You’re not doing so well.”“I’m not?”“No. In fact, the only thing we can do now, is to make you comfortable. And that’swhat I’m here for. To make you comfortable in your last few hours.”
Liz felt a chill creep up her spine. “Wh-What?” She took a few breaths, tried tocalm her worry. “Even—even if I wasn’t doing so well—and I have to admit, I’d feltbetter—but even so. How could you possibly do anything? What are you here for?”“Indeed. That is the question, isn’t it?”“Huh?”
And that’s when Dagmar pulled out a wand.Is this seriously happening? Liz thought. “What the hell? You’re crazy.”“Oh, no. I’m not. And I assure you, all this is real, including the wand. What do youthink? Not very menacing but It matches my outfit, right?”Liz stood there speechless and grasping for words.
Finally, she settled on, “Get away from me you freak!”Dagmar temporarily lowered her wand. “So, we’ve resorted to name calling, havewe? Pity. I did hope we could be mature about this.”“I don’t know what you’re talking about but you need to—”“Oh, enough. Listen sweetie, this is how things are going to go: You are going todie.”
“Wha?”“Of tragic pregnancy complications.”“My baby—”“Don’t worry. He’ll live.”“How—How do you know it’s—”
But Liz never got to finish her sentence.Dagmar began her spells, her voice continuing to explain the upcoming chain ofevents. Not that Liz could understand or would even remember in a few moments,but then, she did love a good monologue.“You, my dear, are going to waste away and finally pass away sometime beforedawn. No one will really understand what happened…”
Which, Liz thought, could be said of her just right then.“But don’t you worry. It’ll be peaceful—unfortunately, I was told to be gentle—andtragic and heartbreaking. You won’t feel a thing, I promise. Or remember any ofthis. We’ll just keep this little interlude between us girls.”And that was the last thing Liz heard before she fainted.
Dagmar only smiled, continuing her work. She didn’t worry about the noise—she’ddone a few quiet spells—or the time; she was told she’d have most of the night. Soshe took her time. She had a baby to deliver and a death to orchestrate andeverything needed to be perfect after all. By the time she was done, Liz would benear death and everyone would be too late and no one would think to ask aboutthe sort of help the doctor had provided. It was an odd assignment to be sure, but,just like her boss had told her, it was fun to mess with people.*****
It wasn’t really all that far, Andy’s new house. Asher, Zephyr, and Aerith came upthe walkway and stood in front for a moment, staring. The house was very unlikethe one they’d grown up in, more modern and polished and—”“It looks empty. Are we sure this is it?” Aerith asked.But Asher nodded. “Yup. It’s probably quiet because it’s just Dad. No one else liveshere.”
“It’s strange,” Asher continued. “Has either of you talked to Dad since… well, youknow?” Aerith shook her head and Zeph snorted. “I did try calling him recently.Before Spencer… died. But he didn’t answer. And he never called me back.”Aerith glanced back at her brother. “Really? Do you think he’s okay? Perhapssomething—”“Well, only way to find out is to go in,” Zeph cut her off and marched toward thehouse.
After a moment Asher and Aerith followed. The trio knocked and found the dooropen. Someone was inside. Waiting for them.
He was sitting on the couch, watching tv. At their noise, he looked over at them.
“Come in,” their father smiled and turned off the tv. “I’ve been expecting you.”The trio looked at each other, shrugged, then moved closer to Andy.
“If you’ve been expecting us,” Asher said as he walked around the couch to meethis father, “then surely you know why I’m here. Why I’m upset.”Andy nodded.“Then why weren’t you there? Why didn’t you come today? Surely you heard—”
“I heard. And I’m so sorry for your loss. It’s not easy, losing a child.” Andy pattedthe seat next to him. “Sit down, all of you.”One by one they each sat down on the couch. It must be said, however, thatZephyr was perhaps the most reluctant to do so, but, after a moment’s debating,he did elect to sit—on the other end of the couch, as far away from his father aspossible.
“Asher, please, don’t take it personally. I didn’t come because I am not well, notbecause I didn’t wish to be there for you.”“Are you sick?” Aerith asked.Andy shook his head sadly. “Not sick, exactly. Just… old. These bones aren’t whatthey used to be. I can’t get around as easily anymore. And ever since I got backfrom my last trip, I’ve been having more aches and pains.”
“Trip?” Zeph asked as he sat.Andy nodded. “I had to do something all these years. Anyway, I think my time hascome. Which is why I’m glad you’re here. I started to fear I wouldn’t get a chanceto say goodbye.”“Wait, what?” Aerith frowned.
“Dad, we just got here. We came here to ask you things. Talk to you about thelegacy maybe and now you tell us that—that you’re dying?”“Asher, I’m an old man. My grandchildren are teenagers, almost adults. It’s mytime.”“But—” Asher began again, but Andy stopped him.
“Don’t worry so much about it. In fact, it’s probably best we get straight to thepoint. I have thought about what I’d say to you all, if I had the chance.” Andylooked at each of them. “And it’s that I love you. So much. And I’m sorry, for all thepain I’ve caused, past and present. I know that it’s my fault. I know how muchyou’ve been hurting. I just…” He trailed off, absently looking at the floor. “I hadwanted a family. A chance for love. And I was desperate, thinking I’d never get it.KB gave me that chance. And even though my choice caused a lot of pain… I’mnot sorry that it gave me all of you. That I got to have a family, if only for a while.”
“Dad, it’s okay. We didn’t come here to make you feel guilty. We just wanted to seehow you were doing.”Andy shook his head. “It’s not okay. And I know why all of you came: you havequestions—or at least your brothers do.”
Andy turned to his eldest. “I’m sorry, Asher. But it was the legacy. Spencer’s deathis and was a tragedy.” He paused. “But it was not an accident.”“But… But… It can’t be. There was no challenge. No heir. No… I haven’t doneanything legacy related. The kids don’t even know about it.”“That may be so,” Andy spoke slowly. “But that doesn’t mean the challenge didn’thappen.”
“I think I would have noticed if there was a legacy challenge going on in mybackyard, Dad.”Andy smiled sadly. “Would you? Did you ever read the book on the legacy that Igave you? The one I wrote before you left? Did you ever learn what the nextchallenge was?”“Next challenge?” Zeph spoke up.
Andy nodded at Zeph. “The challenge is not the same each generation. Someare… Much…. Easier than others,” he said reluctantly, not sure how to explain. Heturned back to Asher. “Do you know what their challenge was?” Asher shook hishead and a pained look crossed Andy’s face.“I hate to tell you this,” Andy spoke. “But the challenge was… Well… Rock, paper,scissors.”
For a moment there was nothing but silence.“Are you fucking kidding me?” Zeph blurted.“Dad,” Asher said, annoyed. “This isn’t funny.”“No,” Andy said sadly. “It’s not.”“The fate of the legacy resting on a children’s game?” Aerith was skeptical too.
Asher sat back and stared at the wall, listening to his siblings talk to his dad,listening to Andy explain how each challenge was meant to be random and fair.Asher almost laughed at that. Fair? According to Andy, his son had died becausehe lost a game of rock, paper, scissors.“Dad, this is insane. You’re insane. There’s no way—”“Are you sure?” Andy interrupted Asher.
“Are you positive that the kids never played the game, that Spencer never lost?Look, I know how it sounds, and I know it hurts to believe it. But the way thislegacy was explained to me is that it will happen, whether you want it to or not.The challenges will happen, an heir will be named, and a loser will be lost. Thelegacy will go on. No matter what. How many of your children will have to die, howmany loved ones do you have to lose before you finally realize what’s happening?”
Asher did not respond, he could not. He sat there, staring at his father, trying tomake sense of his words.But Andy didn’t give them time to ruminate. The clock was ticking and he still hadmore things to say. He turned to Zephyr.“The legacy is also why you cannot be cured. I know why you are here, Zephyr,and the answer is no. It cannot be undone. You are to remain a werewolf.”
Zeph swallowed. “There has to be a way. You said you knew a witch and—”Andy was shaking his head. “It cannot be undone, son. It’s the same as I toldAerith all those years ago. You are meant to be this way. There is no cure.Something, I’m sure, Aerith has learned for herself by now.”Zeph shook his head. “There is one. There has to be. Aerith’s been looking and…”he trailed off as he spotted the look on his sister’s face.
Aerith sighed. “I don’t… I don’t think there is one. Not for me, anyway,” sheadmitted quietly. “From what I’ve learned, from what I’ve been told… There isn’t acure for me. If there is one… Well I certainly haven’t found it.”
Zeph looked crestfallen. “Why didn’t you tell us this?” he asked.“I haven’t seen you. And I guess… I didn’t really want to admit it yet,” Aerithconfessed. She tried to smile, but her lips quivered instead. “I don’t see a way out,Zeph.”
“Dad,” Asher finally spoke up but he had no idea what to say. “This isn’t… It can’tbe right. And it… You just can’t…”Andy gently placed a hand on Asher’s arm. “I’m sorry. For so many things. But thisis the way things are. Read the book, Asher. Learn from my mistakes. Learn aboutthe legacy.”
“And remember that I love you. All of you, so much.” He stopped suddenly. “That’sall I wanted to say.”There was silence again.After a while Asher opened his mouth to say something, but he never did figure outwhat he’d meant to say. It was too late anyway.
Back at the house, Melanie had went upstairs to check on Liz again. The doctorhad shooed her away each time she went to ask after Liz, but this time, it seemedthat the doctor was done doing whatever she had been doing. She had gatheredher things and was coming out of the guest room.“Hi,” Melanie said a little hesitantly. “Just came to check in again.” She smiled.
“It’s been a while. How… How is she?”“Not good,” the doctor admitted. “The baby was premature, just as I feared.”“Oh, no—does that mean—”“The baby is fine. Surprisingly well, actually. Elizabeth, however…”
Dagmar trailed off sadly. “The pregnancy was much too hard on her, I’m afraid.She lost a lot of blood and... There is no easy way to say this I assure you, but Ibelieve she will not last the night.”“What?” Melanie exclaimed. “There—There has to be some sort of mistake. Simsdon’t just die in childbirth. Not anymore.”Dagmar was a little taken aback at the force of Melanie’s words. “I’m sorry.”
“But this is the sad current state of affairs,” she continued, steeling her voice.“There were probably several complications since the beginning of the pregnancy.Had someone been notified sooner, perhaps other measures could have beentaken. As it is, consider it lucky that at least the baby will survive.”Melanie’s jaw dropped a little and she stood there, unable to think of anything tosay.
“What do we do now?” She finally managed.“I have done my best to make Elizabeth comfortable. She is very weak and verytired. I suggest you gather her family and have them say their goodbyes. As I said,she is not likely to survive the night. Now, if that is all…” she gestured to the stairs.“What? You’re leaving? Now? But—”
“Mrs. Specter, I have done all that I can. I have done my best to ensure thatElizabeth will feel little pain and right now, there is nothing more to be done.”“But—”“And I have other patients to attend to. I am still on call for the hospital.”Melanie sighed. “I see.”
“Thank you then. For everything.”“You are welcome,” Dagmar nodded, then turned and exited, leaving Melanie tostare after her.Several moments past before Melanie finally pulled herself together and calledAsher, steeling herself to prepare for one more death.******
“What the hell just happened?” Zeph growled.He and his siblings had been standing there in shock for quite some time. Eachneeded some time to process what had happened.
Asher rubbed his neck. “Our father just… died.”“You gotta be fucking kidding me,” Zeph muttered. “Bloody convenient timing, isn’tit?”
“I think he was holding on for us,” Aerith said softly. “Waiting to talk to us one lasttime.”“He holds on for all these years just to sprout some gibberish at us before hecroaks?” Zeph snorted. “Least he could do was say something profound.”“Didn’t he, though?” Asher thought aloud.
“No. All I heard was a stubborn old man selling the same old lies, trying to get ridof his guilt,” Zeph said harshly. But Asher wasn’t so sure. “Look, forget him,” Zephcontinued. “What are we supposed to do now?”
“See Liz.” Aerith spoke up.“That’s not what I meant.”“So? This,” she waved her arm around, as if to say ‘this whole thing with Dad,’ “itdoesn’t change any thing. You still have to see her, Zeph. A deal’s a deal.”“She’s right,” Asher said, trying to pull himself together, trying to focus. “She’s sick,Zeph. She wants to see you.”
“I’m sure you’re exaggerating. She’s probably fine.”“Zeph…” Aerith moaned.Asher’s phone vibrated. A text from Melanie. He scanned it, then raised his headto look his brother in the eye. “She’s… It’s not good, Zeph. You need to see her.Now.”“I can’t,” Zeph swallowed, turning away from them.
Asher rolled his eyes, but Aerith stepped forward to touch her brother’s shoulder.“Zeph,” she began softly. “I know things, too. Maybe I’m not a werewolf, but I knowwhat feels like to lose control, to feel like every sense of who you are is slippingaway slowly. I know what it’s like to fear yourself, to be terrified that you might hurtthe one you love the most.” At this Zeph met her eyes. “So believe me when I tellyou that I won’t let you. That we won’t let you hurt her. Trust us, Zeph.”
Zeph took a breath. Finally he nodded and they went to see Liz.When they got there Melanie filled them in on the doctor’s visit, on her prognosis,and abrupt exit. Thoroughly scared now that he was aware of the impendingdanger, Zeph rushed up to see Liz, his stomach doing all kinds of flips. Maybe, hethought, maybe things aren’t so bad. The doctor was wrong and she’ll be fine…He could only hope.
After a few deep breaths, Zeph nervously entered the room, frowning as he spiedLiz sleeping. She looks paler than usual, he thought. His ears prickled and pickedup her breathing, a soft staccato. Her forehead crinkled as if in pain.Looking at her, he couldn’t help but feel guilty. After a moment’s hesitation, hekissed her forehead and she stirred.“Shh, go back to sleep—I didn’t mean to wake you,” he said softly.
“Zeph?” In a daze, Liz tried to sit up. Zeph helped her and as he did so, shecouldn’t help staring at him. Blinking, she slowly realized what she was reallyseeing. She licked her lips as she thought of something to say.“Well, you’re a lot hairy than I remember, and loads warmer, but that’s okay.” Zephlaughed. “Is this why… Why you took so long?” She said after a moment.“Yeah.” he responded, his voice barely a whisper.
“I didn’t—I don’t—want to hurt you,” he tried to explain as he sat on the edge ofthe bed.Liz was silent for a moment. “I think I get it.” She sighed. “I wish it didn’t have to belike this…”“What do you mean?”Liz gave him a tiny smile. “I don’t think I’m going to last much longer.”