It was autumn, but not at all cold and blustery. It was the kind of day you could feel on your cheeks and refreshed your lungs. It was spectacularly cool, crisp, and invigorating. I woke up early that day and decided that I would forego breakfast and visit The Spark coffee shop for a delicious cappuccino. I was on my way to the library. The Spark was deserted, I
|Awakening by A.C. Deen|
was the only customer in the whole place. I meandered up to the counter and ordered my usual beverage of choice from the handsome barista Jonah. Jonah was one of those people who emanated charisma out of every pore. I was never quite sure if he liked me or if he was just being nice to me because he was my best friend Juneâ€™s older brother. I was a poor judge of character and even more so when it involved someone who was so self-assured. Even though I had known him for practically my whole life, he still made me nervous. Cappuccino in hand, I continued on foot to my intended destination, the library. Turning the corner, I fiddled with the plastic tab on the top of my coffee cup which refused stay open. To get to the library, one has to walk through Swan Park. Itâ€™s a nice park, nothing extraordinary. There are squirrels and pigeons and blue spruce trees. I have to admit, I really do like pigeons. I think they might be my favorite bird, with their inquisitive eyes and interesting voices. On this particular day, I took my super secret shortcut. I veered off from the beaten path and walked down a hill until I reached the underside of the park bridge. I would often go there when I wanted to admire the pigeons. Maybe I shouldnâ€™t have stopped. If I could take it back now, maybe I would. Iâ€™m not sure. I donâ€™t even know anymore. I stared up at the pigeons flitting about under the bridge. It was then that I heard a sequence of quick footsteps running up behind me. They were light and fanciful. I turned around to see who it was. I was astonished to find a young girl with flaxen curls, cherub like features, and a dubious look on her face. Our eyes locked and then she spoke. She asked me what I was doing under the park bridge all alone. I assured her that I was a very grown up seventeen-year-old, who was about to start university in a week, and that if she, a young girl of maybe seven was old enough to be alone in the park, well I certainly was too. She scoffed at my retort, then extended her arm and took my hand. Her skin was so cold. That is when everything went blank. I never did make it to the library. I was intending to borrow some reference books on vegetarian cooking. I had been gaining interest in vegetarianism but wanted to do some research first. I always analyzed my decisions fully before committing. I was in no way spontaneous but that was all about to change. When I awoke I was still under the bridge, flat on my back. It was night time. The path light above me was blinding. I felt like my retinas were being scorched. I turned my head away. My neck muscles were stiff and sore. I could barely move. I contemplated what happened. Did I fall and hit my head? My head didnâ€™t feel especially painful. I laid there for a while longer trying to get my eyes to cooperate. I stared off into the distant night. Thatâ€™s when I realized something was terribly wrong. I could see in the dark. I could see the green grass, the leaves on the trees, and the stars. I saw with more clarity than I normally would even during the daytime. I turned my head away. I felt unsure of what was going on and was feeling very uneasy. I closed my eyes tightly. I figured that I was either dreaming or hallucinating. Perhaps someone drugged me. They must have. I couldnâ€™t remain lying there any longer. I ground my fingers into the rough rubble below me and pushed my body up, with all the force I could muster, until I was in a half seated position. I scooted over and propped myself up against a leg of the bridge. I let my head hang down. I had to avoid looking into the distance until this weird drug wore off. I closed my eyes and tried to gather my racing thoughts. While sitting in the quiet, it dawned on me that I was holding my breath. I used to do that when I was going to have an anxiety attack. I waited patiently for the moment to arise when I couldnâ€™t hold my breath any longer. Time passed but the moment never came. I tried to take a deep breath in, but I couldnâ€™t. I was not able to breathe, but I wasnâ€™t suffocating. I felt fine. How can I not need to breathe? I was shaking, incredibly confused, and scared by this point. I wondered if maybe I had died. I lifted my right hand up from the leg of my jeans and shakily brought it to my throat and felt for my pulse. If I really was dead then I wouldnâ€™t have had a pulse, I thought to myself. I felt around on my throat just below my jaw. I used to run track in high school and never had a problem finding my pulse before. That day however, I just couldnâ€™t. I switched hands and really concentrated. All I could feel was stillness. I had no pulse. So, if I really was dead, how would I know for sure? I was still in my body. Donâ€™t ghosts typically abandon their bodies in favor of a more transparent version of their former selves? I glanced down at my wristwatch, it was nine o'clock. I decided my best course of action would be to get up, keep my head down, and walk back to The Spark. Jonah would likely be closing up for the night. He always worked a split shift on Tuesdays. I wasnâ€™t a stalker, I swear, just a lonely girl with a penchant for coffee made by the man of her dreams. I needed to find out if Jonah could see me, to prove to myself that I wasnâ€™t in fact a ghost. Chapter 2 I pulled my knees up into my chest and pushed my feet firmly into the ground. I pressed my back against the smooth steel leg of the bridge and pushed up with my legs until I was standing. I grabbed the bridge leg and steadied myself. I kept telling myself that I was perfectly fine. I actually felt pretty good. The stiff muscles in my neck had eased up and were no longer bothering me. I wasnâ€™t cut or bruised in any way. I wondered if perhaps I had just fainted. Do people faint and then stay unconscious for an entire day? It wasnâ€™t something I had ever heard of happening before. I reminded myself that I had to stay focused if I was going to get to The Spark before Jonah went home. It was already ten minutes after nine. I kept my head down and started to walk. I picked up my pace and started to run. I was fast. Faster than I was before. I knew how fast I could normally run because I would time myself during track practice. It took me barely a minute to reach The Spark. It was incredible, I could hardly believe it. Such a distance would normally have taken me at least fifteen minutes to walk, less if I was running, but definitely longer than one minute. At any rate, I had made it there. I stood outside the door and contemplated running right back the way that I came, but I didnâ€™t. I had to find out the truth, was I alive? I knew the front door would be locked, so I walked around to the back. Jonah would likely be in the office doing the cash out for the night. I grabbed the door handle and pulled, the door came open with ease. I slipped inside. The lights were off, but I could see perfectly. The door to the office was closed, but I could see faint light emanating from around the door. Jonah was in there. I called out his name, hoping that he would hear me and come out to see what was going on, but he didnâ€™t come. I opened the office door. Three piles of receipts and a small stack of cash were laid neatly on the desk. Where was Jonah, I wondered. Was I trapped in an alternate universe where all of the living and breathing human beings had disappeared? I sat down at the desk facing the door in an attempt to gather my thoughts. Then I heard footsteps from outside the room and down the hall. I listened carefully, they were getting closer. I noticed that I could also hear two more sounds in addition to the footsteps. I could hear breathing and a heart beating. My mind began to race. With every nearing footstep a feeling inside me began to swell. It was a desire deeper than anything I had ever felt before. Every cell of my body yearned to be close to him. I wanted to touch him, I wanted to taste him, and I wanted to hurt him. I had to get out! In a split second I stood up, ran out of the office, and out the back door. I kept running. I ran until I was back in Swan Park. Chapter 3 What was happening to me? Why did I want to hurt Jonah? I knew deep inside that I didnâ€™t just want to hurt him. I wanted to consume him. It didnâ€™t make any sense to me. I was back standing under the park bridge, far away from The Spark, but the urge was still very present. It was a hunger that I didnâ€™t know how to describe. I thought about it for a while. Did I feel like a jaguar? No, I didnâ€™t want to eat raw meat. Maybe I was more like a wolf? No, the idea of tearing out the belly of a beast made me nauseous. I pondered for a minute. I thought of another animal. What if I was like Darwinâ€™s Finch. I remembered our biology teacher Mrs. Bronson teaching us about this bird. It wasnâ€™t like any other type of bird I had heard of before. This little bird would fly around searching out a larger bird to use as a host. When it found a suitable host, it would proceed to peck a hole on the other birdâ€™s back and then drink its blood. That was what I wanted to do to Jonah. I wanted to drink his blood. I needed to. It was all I could think about. I laid my body down on a piece of grass under the bridge and stared up at the pigeons who clearly must have called it a night as they werenâ€™t cooing or flitting around. I listened harder. I could hear them breathing. I could hear hearts beating. The sound intensified. I could hear them with every fiber of my being. I stood up. I remembered that one of the nests was situated on a ledge that was lower than the others. I could easily climb the bridge leg and reach that nest. I placed my foot on one of the bolts sticking out of the bridge leg. I held on tight with my hands and hoisted my other foot up onto a higher bolt. I started to climb. I could see the nest sitting precariously on the edge of the ledge. It was so close, I could touch it. My body was no longer clumsy. I was agile, nimble, and dare I say even stealthy. I listened. The pigeon was in his nest breathing steadily. He was sleeping. I reached my left hand into the nest. I felt feathers and I grabbed the bird tightly. Wings began to flap and I lost my balance. I tumbled down onto my back and smacked my head hard against the ground below. I dropped the bird and quickly brought my hands to the back of my head. There was a large gash. I could feel it. I looked at my hands, I wasnâ€™t bleeding. How could I have a cut without any blood? Then I remembered, how could I have blood when I didnâ€™t have a beating heart. As I held my hand to the gash on my head I felt something very strange. I felt the skin start to move, migrating towards the cut. My body was healing itself. I pulled my hand away in shock. I felt again, the cut was gone. It was as if it had never happened. I sat there quite stunned for a moment. Beside me, I heard a groan, it was the pigeon. His breathing was labored. I must have crushed him when I grabbed him so forcefully from the nest. I rolled onto my stomach and got up onto all fours. The desire was back. I crawled over to the pigeon, picked him up and examined his body. His feathers were pure white. He was a dove that had taken up residence with pigeons. I brought his small body to my mouth. My teeth sank deep into his flesh and I drank. As I drank, I cried. I had wanted to be a vegetarian for Godâ€™s sake. Now every fiber of my being was telling me to drink blood from my favorite bird. I couldnâ€™t stop myself, and I didnâ€™t until there was nothing left. The pigeonâ€™s body went limp, devoid of the life that just minutes before it had possessed. Everything around me fell quiet, still, and suffocating. I was a monster. I sat down on the grass and turned away from the bird. I was shaking. What had I done? Why wasnâ€™t I able to control myself? I had never felt such an insatiable desire before. I sat still for awhile until I became awash with calm. It was midnight now, but I was wide awake. In fact, I felt incredibly energized. I thought about going home. I remembered how I felt when Jonah came near me. I feared that I might feel the same way when I was near my mom and brother, David. But where else could I go? I didnâ€™t trust myself around people but I couldnâ€™t hide out in the park forever. It would be daylight in seven hours and I couldnâ€™t risk someone finding me, for their sake. I wasnâ€™t a killer. I had to get this under control. Chapter 4 I thought about my options and realized that there were very few places I could go. My grandparents had a cottage just a few miles north of town. On one side of their cabin was Reindeer Lake and on the other was boreal forest. It was remote and secluded. If I could get my thirst under control anywhere, it would be there. I wouldnâ€™t have to worry about running into my grandparents because they had gone away for the winter. I stood up. I walked slowly from the park to my house. My car was parked there. It wasnâ€™t a long walk. I guess thereâ€™s no such thing as a long walk when you live in Reindeer Woods, a town of only five thousand people. Luckily, my car keys were in my pocket so I wouldnâ€™t have to go in the house. When I reached my car I opened the door quietly and slipped into the driverâ€™s seat. I thought for a moment. I reached over to my glove box and pulled the lever. I rummaged around until I procured a pencil and a piece of paper. I had to leave a note for my mom. I didnâ€™t want her to worry about me. Mom, Iâ€™m staying at Juneâ€™s tonight and maybe tomorrow night too. Love you, Ellie I hated lying to my mom, but I was dangerous. I threw the pencil in the back seat, opened the car door and ran up to the house. I stealthily opened the mailbox and slipped the note inside. My mom always checked the mailbox every morning, so she would surely find my note. I walked back to the car, got in, closed the door, and started the engine. I drove away quickly but quietly, so as not to alert my sleeping family. I guess I should formally introduce myself to you now. My name is Eleanor, but I go by Ellie. Donâ€™t ever call me Lenore. My grandma who is also named Eleanor goes by Lenore. I guess my mom thought it would be cute to name me after my grandmother. I guess she was right. I love my name and I love my grandma even more. I feel that because we share the same name, we are linked in a way that nobody else in our family can be. Now that the introductions are out of the way, letâ€™s get back to the story. I drove out of town and turned onto the number four highway. I was on my way to the cottage. It would be good to stay at my grandparentâ€™s cabin. At least I wouldnâ€™t feel totally alone. Grandma Lenore loved pink peppermints. Maybe she had left some in our secret hiding spot, the drawer by the kitchen sink. I was hopeful. The night was dark, but I could see just fine. I pulled off the main highway and onto the dirt road that would take me to the cabin. The sound of the gravel beneath my tires was nostalgic and comforting. I turned into the driveway, parked the car, and killed the ignition. I stepped out of the car and walked up to the front door. I bent down and felt around under the siding of the house. Thatâ€™s where grandpa kept a spare key hidden. I found the key and unlocked the door. I opened the door and stepped inside. I flicked on the lights, out of habit, not because I needed them. Everything looked the same, just how it always had. It was me who was different. I ran to the drawer by the kitchen sink and searched for the tin of pink peppermints. I found them. I popped open the lid and snatched a peppermint up and into my mouth. My whole mouth started to burn immediately. It felt like battery acid. I spit the mint out into the sink. I picked up the tin of mints to examine them up close. They appeared normal enough. I dumped them out onto the counter to get a better look. Along with the mints, fell a piece of paper, folded into quarters. I unfolded it and read. My dearest darling granddaughter Ellie, I hope this letter finds you well. I just knew you would find it in the peppermint tin, our little secret. If youâ€™re reading this then you have found your way to the cottage. Iâ€™m glad you are here. You will be safe here. What I am going to tell you will not come as a surprise. You are changing Ellie. Iâ€™m sure you are wondering how any of this can be real. I want you to know that it is very real. I know that it is real because it happened to me. There are many things that you donâ€™t know about me, not because I didnâ€™t want to tell you, but because it wasnâ€™t the right time. The time has come now for me to share my secrets with you. I have known you for your whole life, but you havenâ€™t known me for all of mine. When I was sixteen, I was outside doing chores on the farm. It was early September and we were experiencing a heat wave. It was the kind of heat that makes it hard to breathe. I was digging up potatoes in the field when I began to feel dizzy. I could see spots before my eyes. I had been working very hard and assumed the heat was getting to me. I sat down and hoped that I would start to feel better. I hung my head down between my knees and took some deep breaths. I looked up. There was a young blonde girl standing before me. She had the face of an angel. I lost consciousness. When I awoke, my life was changed forever. I never saw the young girl again. You must be wondering how I can live around normal people without causing them harm. It all comes down to patience and practice my dear. Self control takes time. I worked hard for over a year before I could be around people. I sincerely hope that with my guidance your acclimation will be much quicker. When I was your age, I lived on a farm with a lot of animals. I used them to my advantage to curb my insatiable hunger. You however do not have this luxury and will have to be a bit more creative. I am sure that by now you have already procured your first meal. I hope that it wasnâ€™t of the homo-sapient variety, but donâ€™t stress if it was. We all have our moments of weakness. As Iâ€™m sure youâ€™re well aware, the woods behind the cabin are full of deer, rabbits, squirrels, and birds. Go hunting and have a feast. Use your stealth, cunning, and strength. These are the only weapons you will need. Your senses are all heightened. You can see, hear, and feel exponentially better than you ever could before. Ellie, you must find the restraint inside of you to only take what you need. Listen to the animalâ€™s heart and stop drinking before itâ€™s heart stops beating. Your conscience will thank you. Hold on to your compassion. Donâ€™t let it get lost in the chase. Love always, Grandma Lenore There it was written on paper. This really was real. I wished that my grandmother was home so I could talk to her. I had two days to get these urges under control. I had two days before my mom would start to worry about me. I turned around from the counter where I was standing. I stared up at the cuckoo clock by the door. It was almost midnight. The deer would surely be resting in the thicket by now. I pulled my long hair back into a ponytail and headed for the door. Chapter 5 I can do this I kept telling myself. After all, what choice did I have? I walked down the lane and stared up at the sky. It was a pitch black, perfectly clear, starry night. The air felt crisp on my face. If I could have taken a deep breath I would have. I peered into the forest and stepped into the trees. I began to walk. I could control every bone in my feet to create incredibly silent steps. The farther I walked the denser and darker the forest became. How would I find my way back out of here? I should have left a trail of breadcrumbs. It was too late for that now. There was no turning back. I continued to walk. I started to feel a force arise from within me drawing me to the left. It was strong and I couldnâ€™t control it. It pulled me faster and faster until I came upon a small clearing. I looked around and then I saw them. It was a mule deer and her fawn. They were so beautiful resting in the tall grass. Their bodies were cozily nuzzled up against one another. My mind was telling me that what I wanted to do was wrong. The desire in my gut however was not going to take no for an answer. In the blink of an eye I was right beside them. I grabbed the mother. She was strong, but I was much stronger. The fawn rose quickly and dashed for the trees. My teeth pierced her warm flesh and I drank. Time stood still. I knew that I had to stop. If I didnâ€™t stop I would be taking the lives of both the mother and her nursing fawn. I concentrated, listened to her heart beating, and then I stopped. I released the deer. With a grunt she dashed off into the woods after her fawn. I stood up. My hands were shaking and bloody. My mind was racing. It all happened so fast, but I did it. Grandma was right. I was strong. Maybe I was even stronger than her. My body was telling me to chase after the deer and her baby, but I could control it. I walked back through the forest. I didnâ€™t get lost. My feet knew exactly which way to go. Once out of the forest I stared up at the sky. The northern lights were out, whispering secrets to one another. It was so beautiful. Chapter 6 I went inside the cabin and sat down on the chair beside the door. It was my grandpaâ€™s chair. He sat in it every day to put his boots on before he went outside. I let my hands hang at my sides. I could feel the dried blood caked under my fingernails. I got up and wandered down the hall to the bathroom. I propped myself up against the sink. I stared at myself in the mirror. I looked at my pale face and blood streaked jaw. I guess the whole no reflection thing was just a myth. I turned on the water and washed the blood from my hands and face. I opened the medicine cabinet and took the nail brush down from the top shelf. I ran it under a stream of warm water and then rubbed it against the familiar pink soap in the soap dish. I proceeded to scrub my hands and under my nails. The water turned pink as it combined with the dry blood. I scrubbed until I felt like my skin was going to come off. My hands were perfectly clean but I felt tarnished. I rinsed off the nail brush and went to place it back on the shelf. There, was another piece of paper, folded into quarters, in the spot where the brush had sat. I must not have noticed it before. It was another letter. Dear Ellie, I hope that your hunt was successful. Iâ€™m sure that it was. My faith in your abilities never wavered for a second. I want you to know just how proud I am of you. Make sure that your hunger is always well satiated and soon you will be able to return home. It takes a lot of willpower to exist around normal humans, but I know you will find the strength. Now, let me tell you a little more about me. A few years after my transition, I took up a job at an infirmary. It was the wartime and there were many injured soldiers needing attention. By working in a medical setting I was able to procure an adequate amount of donated blood to keep my needs under control without harming anyone. While assisting the physician on his rounds one day, we were given a new patient. The patient had fallen ill during a tour overseas and had to be returned home. He had developed a disease of the blood. The doctor told him that he had very little time left to live and that his disease would surely be the death of him. Over the course of the next little while I spent the majority of my free time with this patient. I grew very fond of his stories, his sincerity, and kindness. I could feel myself falling in love with a man that I knew I would most certainly out live. One night as we sat on his hospital bed he told me how much he had grown to care for me and always looked forward to the time we spent together. He held my hand and and pressed his lips against it. He pulled me into a warm embrace. He kissed me tenderly as tears tumbled from his eyes. I could feel them against my cheek wet and icy. I hugged him tightly and buried my face into his neck. Then it happened, I couldnâ€™t control myself, I bit him and drank. It took every ounce of my strength, but I managed to stop myself before causing him too much harm. Before I could speak to him, he fainted. Ellie, the patient Iâ€™m speaking of is your grandfather. I ra----// I stopped reading right then and there. I thought I was going to be sick. My own grandmother seduced my grandfather and then kept him around all these years so he could be her own personal blood bank? I crumpled the letter and threw it against the wall. How could she do this to him? How could the woman who has played such an important role in my upbringing be such a monster? I guess Iâ€™m no different. I was a monster now too. I kneeled down on the ground and grabbed the letter back. I smoothed the wrinkled paper flat against the parquet flooring. I started to read again. Ellie, the patient Iâ€™m speaking of is your grandfather. I ran out of the infirmary and went home terribly worried. I hoped that he wouldnâ€™t remember what I had done to him. The next day I returned to the infirmary to begin working my shift. The doctor called me into his office. He wanted to show me something that he was referring to as an absolute miracle. He showed me the results of a blood test that he had just taken from your grandfather. All of the disease within his blood was gone. The doctor advised me that he would run some more tests but it was looking like the patient was going to pull through. I couldnâ€™t believe it. I rushed to your grandfatherâ€™s room. He was sitting up and eating his breakfast with a vigor that I had never seen in him before. He was excited to see me. He didnâ€™t remember what had happened the night before beyond our kiss. He was certain of two things though, he knew that he was feeling better and he knew that he loved me. Over the years your grandfatherâ€™s sickness would return and each time I would drain some of his blood and he would become healthy again. I reckon it is the venom in my teeth that keeps curing his malady. To this day your grandfather doesnâ€™t know my secret. I love you so much Ellie and I miss you dearly, Grandma Lenore I couldnâ€™t believe it. She wasnâ€™t a monster after all. She saved my grandpaâ€™s life over and over again. Iâ€™ve never seen anyone look at someone the way my grandpa looks at my grandma. Itâ€™s the purest love I have ever witnessed. I hope to find something like that myself someday. I folded up the note and got up off the bathroom floor. I walked down the hall and back into the kitchen. I placed the letter on the kitchen counter next to the first one. I turned around and looked at the clock, it had just passed four oâ€™clock in the morning. I was exhausted. I exited the kitchen and went back down the hall to the spare bedroom, where David and I used to sleep when we came to visit during the summer. I laid down on one of the single beds. It was lumpy and the old springs creaked under my weight. I closed my eyes and went to sleep. Chapter 7 I awoke the next morning feeling refreshed and optimistic. It must have had something to do with my grandmaâ€™s letter. I felt so thankful that she was able to help me through such a difficult time. I wished she could be here in person. I counted on my fingers, there were only six more months until she came home. I would have to figure things out on my own until then. I felt confident that it was time to go home, but not without breakfast first. I had no problem finding a meal and releasing it afterwards. I locked up the cabin, got in my car and headed back to town. I turned around the corner of our block and pulled into the driveway. The lights were on in the house. I hoped that my mom had checked the mailbox and found my note. I felt so nervous. How would I ever be able to live with myself if I hurt the two people that mattered the most to me? I had no choice. I couldnâ€™t just take off again and disappear. They would be devastated. I got out of my car and walked up to the house. I unlocked the door and stepped inside. My mom was sitting at the kitchen table sipping her coffee and reading the newspaper. She told me that she had found my note and hoped that I had had a good time at Juneâ€™s house. I hated lying to my mom. She was my best friend. We always told each other everything. I guess things had to change. I told my mom that June and I had stayed up so late talking that we had forgotten to sleep. She told me to go upstairs and get some rest. As I was climbing the stairs I could hear her voice from the kitchen telling me that I wouldnâ€™t be able to stay up all night once university started. I had forgotten all about university. How would I explain to my mom that university was no longer an option for me, not right now anyway. I couldnâ€™t fathom being around that many people at one time and still remain in control. I could hardly stand to be near her. My body wanted me to hurt her and that made me feel sick. I was trying so hard to suppress my feelings. I shut my door and paced back and forth a couple of times. I could hear my brother breathing from the room beside mine. He was asleep. Heâ€™d probably spent another night staying up late playing video games on the computer. I stopped pacing. I focused my senses on his breathing. I could feel the pang in my stomach. It was so strong. I opened my door and stepped into the hall. I padded down the hall and into his room. I tiptoed over to his bed and gently perched myself on the edge. His breathing was labored and his heart was racing. He must have been having a terrible dream. I reached over and placed my hand on his leg to comfort him. He arose with a jolt and snapped at me, wondering what I was doing in his room. He started to whimper and told me that I was hurting him. The gentle touch of my hand on his leg had turned into a fierce grip. I didnâ€™t even realize it. I pulled my hand away. I told him that I was so sorry and that I had only woke him because I could hear that he was having a nightmare. He told me to get out. I went back into my room and collapsed onto the bed. Maybe I shouldnâ€™t have come home so soon. Maybe I wasnâ€™t as strong as I thought I was. I had to keep trying. Chapter 8 I spent the next few days slowly building up my tolerance around my mom and David. I tried my best to act as normal as possible. Each day I would allow myself to spend more time with them to test my strength. When I felt overwhelmed I would lock myself back in my room until I felt it was safe to come out again. Things were progressing smoothly more or less. Iâ€™m not certain as to why, but I actually had more difficulty spending time around David than I did my mom. One day I decided it would be a good idea to try leaving the house. I had been going out through my bedroom window during the nights to hunt, but I hadnâ€™t left the house during the day yet. My mom had been bugging me to rejoin the land of the living and get some fresh air. Those were her words, not mine. It was Saturday. I thought a nice jog around the block might be doable. It was early in the day so there werenâ€™t too many people around. I laced up my sneakers and headed out the door. I started to jog. The warm autumn sun felt so nice against my cool skin. The day was sunny, but subdued by the familiar haze of harvest. I turned around the corner and was feeling pretty good about myself. I had already passed one fellow jogger and was even able to nod a friendly hello. I maintained a slow jogging pace, so as not to appear unnatural. I rounded another corner. At the far end of the block I could see a man walking his large black dog. As I got closer the dog started to growl, then the growl turned into a whimper. The man was concerned and knelt down to comfort his dog. I knew the dog was crying because of me. He knew I was a strong predator. I jogged past them and the rest of the way home. I went into the house and back up to my room. Well that went okay, I suppose. I guess being a dog owner in the future was out of the question for me. I was more of a cat person anyway. I wonder if cats would be frightened of me as well. I went downstairs to see what my mom was doing. She was baking banana bread. I walked over and grabbed a spoon. I stirred the batter while she added the ingredients. I took this opportunity to tell her that I was not ready to start university in the fall and that I hoped she would support my decision to defer a year. She was not happy with my choice but agreed on one condition. I had to find a job and contribute to the household finances. I agreed, but wasnâ€™t sure what type of job I could do. I was determined to find something. I knew how difficult things were for my mom. Chapter 9 I sat down at my desk, grabbed a pen, and began to write out a list of jobs that had minimal face to face interaction with other people. Potential Jobs for a Darwin Finch Night Janitor Telemarketer Graveyard Shift Security Guard After Hours Shelf Stocker Truffle Hunter I mulled over my list. None of the options particularly appealed to me except truffle hunter. Unfortunately my knowledge of wild edible fungi was nonexistent. I picked up my pen and drew a big X through the job list. Mom had brought me the newspaper to check out the classifieds. I flipped to the job postings. I scanned the page. And there it was, the perfect job for me. ### Believe it or not, I managed to secure the job from the paper. A couple of weeks after applying, I had an over-the-phone interview and was hired on the spot. My new job title was Sterilization Technician. I began working for a local clinic sterilizing medical equipment for four hours every evening, three nights per week. It wasnâ€™t a glamorous job, but it provided me a copious amount of time for introspection. Best of all, I wasnâ€™t a risk to anyone else. Chapter 10 Months passed and I was feeling a lot more confident with the new me. I could control my hunger. My acquired skills became more acute with each passing day. I could hear occurrences from blocks away. I could see better than a hawk and my night vision also improved. My speed increased. I would practice all of my talents while hunting. I mastered the gifts bestowed upon me. Sometimes I would walk past The Spark and watch Jonah from outside the window. The mere sight of him would cause such intense feelings to arise within me that I would have to leave. I had mastered being around everyone else, but I still couldnâ€™t handle being around him. I needed more practice. ### It was the last Tuesday in February. I was happy to have a night off from work. Regardless of how hard I tried, I couldnâ€™t stop thinking about Jonah. I had been watching him for days, slowly building up my tolerance. It felt impossible. I knew I had to face my greatest weakness head on. Jonah had such a strong power over me when I was a human, and now that I was a vampire, it was even greater. In order to avoid other possible customers, I would walk to The Spark near closing time. Jonah would be alone. I wouldnâ€™t have to deal with other people distracting me. I thought back to how poorly things turned out the first time I tried to see him. I was hopeful that it would go better this time, but I still had my doubts. It was a quarter to nine. I left my room and went downstairs. I put on my winter jacket, hat, scarf, mittens, and boots. I felt a bit ridiculous as I couldnâ€™t feel the cold, but thought it would be best to blend in. I left the house and began to walk. The snow crunched under my boots. The night was clear and the moon was full with a bright moon dog encapsulating it. I reached the coffee shop in just a few short minutes. The lights had already been turned out. I went down the alley to the back door. It felt like deja vu and I became very nervous. I pressed on. I opened the door. The light in the office was on. I walked to the door and pushed it open. Jonah was sitting at the desk working on the cash out. He looked up startled. He was very surprised to see me considering I hadnâ€™t been around in ages. He assumed I went away to start university. I tried to speak, but my body felt frozen. I wanted to run. I decided to stay. I opened my mouth and words just came pouring out. I told him that I had decided to hold off on university and that I was working evenings to save up some money. I cautiously moved closer and sat down in the chair opposite his. The desk was acting as a safe zone between us. My mind kept whispering to me, urging me to drink his blood. I suppressed those thoughts with all my might. Jonah was beautiful. He seemed so happy to see me. He wondered what I was doing at The Spark past closing time as all the coffee machines were turned off for the night. I explained to him that I wasnâ€™t there for coffee, I was there to see him. I told him that I had feelings for him but I was never sure if it was mutual. I regretted telling him the second the words came out of my mouth. He was flattered. I could tell by the way he smiled at me with crinkles forming by his eyes. He admitted that he had feelings for me as well. He convinced me to let him take me on a date. He said we could go anywhere we wanted as long as it wasnâ€™t a coffee shop. We decided to go snowshoeing on Reindeer Lake near my grandparents cabin. With that, I decided it was time to go home. Jonah stood up and walked me out the back door. We faced each other. I could tell he wanted to hug me. I wasnâ€™t ready for his neck to be so close to me yet. I picked up his hand and held it close to my chest. My fuzzy mittens acted as a good barrier between us. Through them I could still feel his warmth. It was intoxicating. Our eyes locked and I told him that I couldnâ€™t wait to see him again but that I had to go home now. I could feel him watching me until I turned the corner. I didnâ€™t look back. Chapter 11 It was finally Saturday. It felt like I had been waiting an eternity. I woke up early and sprang out of bed. I walked over to my calendar and flipped the page over to March. I spent the rest of the morning deciding what to wear on my date. I settled on skinny jeans and a red and black plaid flannel shirt. I thought I looked cute, cozy, and ready to take on the outdoors. Jonah picked me up right on time. He came to the door and presented my mom with a bouquet of tulips. He joked that pretty soon flowers would be springing up all over the neighborhood but he wanted to get a head start. I laughed at his nervous banter. We got into the car and headed for the lake. I turned my head and peered into the backseat. Jonah had packed a large cooler. I asked him if he was planning on staying at the cabin until summer as he had brought a ton of food. He furrowed his brow and assured me there was only enough food in there for the two of us to have for supper. How would I explain to him that I couldnâ€™t eat the food that he had so thoughtfully prepared? I considered feigning sick. We reached the cabin a few minutes later. We unloaded the car and went inside to find the snow shoes. I entered the hallway. I reached up, and took hold of the chain that pulls down the attic staircase. I climbed up into the attic. It smelled musty. Cobwebs obscured the light from entering the octagonal window. I found the snowshoes hanging from the rafters. I passed them down to Jonah. I took one final look around. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a box that I hadnâ€™t seen in a very long time. It was the box of toys that David and I used to play with when we were kids. I called down to Jonah and told him about my interesting find. He came up to take a look. Inside the box were some books and a set of wooden farm animals, among other treasures. The thing that interested me the most was an old jewelry box. The blue velvet had worn away from repetitious opening and closing. I lifted the lid and the springs squeaked with joy. The interior was lined with white satin, stained red by a little girl who loved to play with lipstick. Inside were three items which brought back so many fond memories. A tarnished ring holding a large white pearl, a colorful sailboat brooch, and my favorite piece, a long necklace. The necklaceâ€™s pendant was made up of two almost flat circles that could be unscrewed from one another to reveal a secret compartment. I told Jonah how I loved to play with this necklace for hours as a child. Grandma referred to it as my talisman. It always made me feel like I had a special secret because nobody else knew what I had hidden inside it. He suggested that I should wear it now because I was special and I should feel that way all the time. He took the necklace from me and spun me around. He swept my hair back and over my right shoulder. He undid the clasp of the necklace, put it around my neck and then locked the clasp. His touch sent tingles through my whole body. I turned around to face him and placed my hands on his cheeks. His eyes were glistening in the pale light from the window. We kissed. His lips were soft and tender. I had never felt anything like this before when I was a human. I was scared, but I liked it. I pulled away and suggested we go snowshoeing before it got dark out. We climbed down from the attic. Chapter 12 We bundled up, grabbed the snowshoes, and headed down to the lake. The snow was was light and powdery. We began snowshoeing down along the riverâ€™s edge. We walked for quite a while. We talked about our lives while exchanging frequent smiles and glances. It felt wonderful. We decided to take a break and sat down on a fallen log. As we visited, I began to experience an overwhelming thirst throughout my whole body. I was unable to ignore it. I couldnâ€™t figure out why it was happening now when I had shown so much restraint earlier. I turned away and closed my eyes for a second to try to calm myself. I couldnâ€™t. Instead, the feelings got stronger and stronger. Something was near us, I could feel it. I opened my eyes and scanned the lake. Then I saw it. A huge grizzly bear staring at us. Our eyes locked. It started to run straight for us at full speed. I had to act quickly. I told Jonah to hide behind the log as there wouldnâ€™t be enough time for us to run away. He objected when I refused to hide with him. I told him that no matter what he saw to just stay put until I came back for him. I prayed that he would listen. I whipped off my snowshoes and took off straight for the bear. I was faster than ever before. We squared off in the middle of the lake. He wasnâ€™t going to back down and neither was I. He crouched down and pushed off into the air with all his might. He landed on top of me and pinned me against the ice. He was heavier than any other animal I had ever hunted before. I could hear Jonah in the distance screaming my name and the sound of his footsteps as he started to run towards us. I had to act fast or he would be in grave danger. I wrestled the bear onto his back. His eyes were gleaming and his teeth were snarling. I leaned in to take a bite, but he was too fast. He grabbed a hold of me with his large paws. His claws slashed through my jacket penetrating deep into the flesh on my back. It was agonizing but I had to focus. Jonah was getting closer. I grabbed a hold of the bear and threw his writhing body to the ground again with all the force I could muster. I could hear the ice begin to crack around us. The water began to swell. It was frigid. I forced myself to run. I met Jonah and we ran to the edge of the lake where it was safe. It was too late for the bear however. We watched as the water crept up around his limp body, swallowing him alive. I laid down on the side of the shore. I reached my hand to my back. I was already healed. Incredible. I was very tired though, after expending so much energy. I needed to feed. It wasnâ€™t safe to be around Jonah when I was this hungry. I had to get away from him but he was frantic. He was as pale as a ghost and his eyes were like saucers. I could see the white all around them. He asked me what had just happened. His mind was unable to comprehend what he had just witnessed. I promised him that I would explain everything later. I told him to go back to the cabin right away and get warm. I assured him that everything was alright. He probably didnâ€™t believe me. I wished I could have comforted him more, but I just couldnâ€™t. I had to go. I ran into the forest as fast as I could. My hunt was brief but I was satiated. I headed back to the cabin and went inside. Jonah had started a fire in the fireplace and was sitting in front of the fire. I was surprised that he hadnâ€™t gone back to town leaving me stranded. He turned to me and demanded an explanation. He asked how was it possible that I, a one-hundred-and-ten pound girl, overpowered a seven-hundred pound grizzly bear. I was at a loss for words. I decided it would be best to tell the truth. I told him that I wasnâ€™t the person he thought I was. I used to be, but something had happened that changed me. I was no longer a human. His eyes became wide again. He began to back away from me. He asked me what I was, if not a human. I explained to him that I was a vampire but tried my best to assure him that he was not in any danger around me. He couldnâ€™t believe it. He didnâ€™t want to either. I assured him that it was the truth and explained that I fed mainly on forest animals, but that I would only take what I needed and then let them go. He started to pace back and forth. I begged him to please keep my secret as he was the only person who knew the truth about me. He stopped pacing and looked into my eyes. He told me that he needed to go, to clear his head, but that he would come back. His voice was shaking. He was terrified of me. Chapter 13 Jonah left the cabin and got into his car. Stones flew up from the ground beneath his tires as he sped away. My heart sank. I didnâ€™t think he would come back. I went back inside and sat down in front of the fire. It was scorching. I preferred the cold. I picked up my talisman and stared at it. I wished that I could go back in time to when I was a little girl. Everything was so complicated now. I laid down on my side and pulled my knees up close to my chest. The sheepskin rug beneath me was soft and warm I fell asleep in front of the fire. While I slept I had a dream. In my dream I was sitting on a bench in a garden surrounded by beautifully kept flowers, vines, and hedges. I breathed deeply, the smell of the rose bushes was intoxicating. I watched as doves flitted around in a stone birdbath, preening their feathers and splashing in the water. I looked down at my hands. They were wrinkled and aged. From across the garden I could hear a beautiful voice singing. It was angelic. I got up from the bench and headed towards the magnificent sound. A young woman was knelt down tending to the garden, her long honey-blonde hair curling delicately at her waist. She had a basket of white roses sitting beside her. She gazed back over her shoulder. She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. Her skin a milky satin with ruby cheeks flushed from the heat of the day. She looked at me. Her silver eyes danced in the sunlight. She asked me if I thought father would like the roses she had chosen---// I awoke to a hand gently shaking my shoulder. It was Jonah. He had come back. He told me that he had driven around for hours trying to figure things out, but that he couldnâ€™t. He was questioning everything that he thought he knew about life. He felt very lost. He said that the only thing he knew for certain was that he cared deeply for me. He thanked me for saving his life. He laid down beside me in front of the fire. We stayed that way for a long time with our legs intertwined and our eyes anchored on one another. I told him all of my secrets. Chapter 14 Hours passed. I could hear his stomach start to grumble and asked if he was hungry. I explained that I could not eat the food that he had packed for us, but that he should eat, as he hadnâ€™t eaten all day. He grabbed a sandwich from the cooler and started to eat. I watched him happily. It felt so nice to do something sort of normal for once. I realized I was still acquiring new instincts that I had to get accustomed to. I thought back to when I had fought the bear. The urge to protect Jonah was so incredibly strong. I would do anything for him. I was willing to die for him. It was getting very late. I suggested we stay at the cabin and return home in the morning. I told Jonah that he could sleep in my bed and that I would sleep on the hide a bed in the living room. We turned out the lights and went to sleep. I fell asleep quickly as I was still quite tired from fighting the bear. Hours passed and then I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was Jonah. He couldnâ€™t sleep and wondered if he could stay with me. He slid under the covers. I laid still beside him listening to him breathe. His heart was beating steady and perfect. He laid his palm on top on mine and our fingers interlaced. I listened. His heart started to speed up. He wanted to be near me just as much as I did him, like the invisible field pulling two magnets together, polar opposites drawn together. I turned onto my right side to face him and placed my left hand on his cheek. I slid my fingers down to his jaw and pulled him towards me. We kissed. I wanted more. Every cell in my body was stirring. I explained that I was a lot stronger than him. I was so afraid to lose control with him as I would be absolutely devastated if I hurt him. He told me that he trusted me and that if by some mistake I did kill him that it would be one hell of a way to go. I told him that I was being serious. He said that he was also. We kissed again, his warm lips melting into mine. He laid me down onto my back and pressed his hips rhythmically into mine. I couldnâ€™t resist any longer. We proved our feelings for one another that night. It was the most meaningful thing I had ever experienced. It had intensified our bond. I hadnâ€™t harmed him. I knew now that I was a lot stronger than I gave myself credit for. Chapter 15 I was having so much fun spending time with Jonah. I hardly noticed when winter turned to spring. It was April. I woke up early one morning. The light of the day was shining happily through my bedroom window. The phone began to ring downstairs. I jumped up from the bed, scattering my blankets on the floor. I sped downstairs to answer the phone. It was grandma. She was home. I was so excited to hear her voice. We had so much catching up to do. She was at the cabin. She told me to meet her there in a few hours for tea and a much needed visit. It was April 25th tomorrow, my birthday, they always came home in time for my birthday. I was over the moon. I went back up to my room to get ready for the day. I pulled on some clothes and put my talisman necklace around my neck. Iâ€™d worn it everyday since the day I had found it. I wanted grandma to see me wearing it. I floated down the stairs and out the door. The drive to the cabin was vivid and beautiful. The sun was shining and the birds were singing. The trees were heavy with buds just waiting to burst open. It really was spring. I wished I could smell it. Spring was always one of my favorite smells, so fresh and intoxicating. At least I could feel the warm sun shining through the driverâ€™s side window. My grandparentâ€™s were home. The cabin was full of life once more. It was a good feeling. When I pulled into the lane, the first thing I saw was my grandpa. He was chopping wood. It was still cool during the night, so they would need wood to light fires in the wood burning stove at night. I hopped out of the car and ran up to him. He gave me the biggest hug and told me how much he had missed me and that I should go inside to see grandma because she was waiting. I ran up to the cabin and flung the door open. Grandma was sitting at the table by the window sipping from a tea cup. We exchanged a long hug and then she asked me to join her for a cup of tea. I protested, knowing full well that I could not consume any liquid besides blood. She chuckled and assured me that I would definitely be able to drink this tea. She was right. It was a warm, inviting drink, dark red in color. She asked me how I had been managing with the transition. I told her that everything was fine with me and that the letters she had left for me really helped me. She was so pleased. She noticed that I was wearing her talisman and commented that she had not seen it in such a long time. I slid it over my head and placed it in her hands. She brought it to her ear and gave it a small shake. I could hear something tinkling inside. She grasped the talisman and unscrewed the top. Inside was a small black stone. She explained to me that it was an obsidian stone. She advised me that it symbolized great self control and would protect its carrier. She told me that the stone and necklace had found their way to me for a reason and that I should wear them always. We sipped our tea and sat in silence for a moment. Grandma told me that I was very fortunate to have a loving grandmother in my life. She was not so lucky. She had not known her grandmother when she was a young girl. She did not have anyone to help guide her through her transition. She explained to me that she was abandoned as an infant. Years later, when grandma was thirty, Iris, her biological grandmother came to see to deliver a message. Iris told her that although she felt invincible, her life was finite. She would cease to live when her granddaughter became pregnant. Grandma never saw Iris again. Shortly after their meeting, grandma was sleeping one night. She had a dream, where she was visited by a young girl with blonde hair. When she awoke the next morning, she felt different. A few days later she found out that she was pregnant. I asked her if she knew who the girl was in her dream. She did not and had only experienced her presence twice. I asked her if her grandmother died after she became pregnant. She was not able to tell me because she never saw her grandmother again. I was confused and scared. I took comfort in the fact that I was only seventeen and would still have plenty of time to spend with my grandmother. We spent the rest of the morning telling each other stories of our powers and experiences. I felt so close to her. Just then the cuckoo clock went off and chimed twelve times. It was noon already. I was supposed to meet with Jonah. He was moving and had asked me to help him unpack. I told my grandma that I would come back and see her tomorrow. I suggested that we could even go hunting together for my birthday. She was so pleased. She warned me that vampires get stronger and faster with age. She was excited to give me a run for my money. Chapter 16 I left the cottage and sped back into town. I pulled up out front of The Spark, Jonah was waiting. He got into the car wondering what had taken me so long. I explained that my grandmother was home. He understood. I asked him the directions to his new apartment. He told me that we were already there. I didnâ€™t understand. He explained that his new apartment was above The Spark. I asked him if it would be weird living so close to his workplace. He explained to me that he had purchased The Spark and that he was the new owner of both the coffee shop and the apartment above it. He had had to take out a mortgage in order to afford it but he was so excited to be the new owner of the coffee shop that we both loved so much. We got out of the car. The door to the apartment was right beside the entrance to The Spark. We walked up a long flight of stairs. When we reached the top Jonah asked me to close my eyes. He opened the apartment door. We walked in and I opened my eyes. I was speechless. The apartment was absolutely stunning. It had an open concept, with beautiful wide windows, original hardwood floors, and crown moulding. I couldnâ€™t believe my eyes. We began unpacking and putting away his possessions. We worked for hours. Before we knew it the sun had set and the day had turned to evening. I was getting very hungry and wouldnâ€™t be able to ignore it for much longer. I left the boxes in the kitchen and headed to the bedroom to tell Jonah that I needed to go to the park to hunt as I was famished. He was in the living room sorting through a stack of papers. He had his finger in his mouth. He pulled it out to tell me that he had gotten a paper cut but had no idea which box the adhesive bandages were in. The cut was small, but I could sense it just the same. I could hear his pulse squeezing more and more blood through the tiny gash. I was beside him. I grabbed his hand and watched the blood that was now dripping down to his wrist. He tried to pull away and protested my actions, but I couldnâ€™t hear him. I lost control. I lifted his wrist to my mouth. His blood danced against my tongue. The sweet red nectar aroused feelings inside of me that I had never felt before. His warm skin was intoxicating. My teeth broke through the tender flesh of his wrist. His body relaxed into mine as my venom surged through his veins. I guided his body gently down to the ground. I knelt beside him and drank. Each swallow even more addictive than the last. I couldnâ€™t stop myself. Suddenly, a burst of energy rained through the talisman and flung me away from Jonah. I hit my head hard against the brick wall. What had just happened? I couldnâ€™t believe what I had just done. I had no control over myself. I ran to him and shook his shoulders trying to get him to wake up, but he wouldnâ€™t. I put my head to his chest and listened for his heart. It was still beating and he was breathing. He was going to be okay, but he was going to hate me. I rummaged through the packing boxes until I found a first aid kit. I carefully bandaged up his wrist. I couldnâ€™t just leave him laying on the cold floor. I picked up his body and carried him to the couch. I covered him with a blanket. I sat down on the floor beside him and waited for him to wake up. Hours passed without change. Panic was taking over my whole body. I regretted not calling an ambulance as maybe I had taken too much blood after all. It was getting very late and I had grown tired. I was feeling both physically and mentally drained. Just when I thought things were going well for me, everything had to take a turn for the worst. I stared down at my talisman, wondering where the power it was emulating came from. Grandma had said that it would offer me protection, but I didnâ€™t realize that it would be protection against myself. I laid down on the wood plank floor beside the couch and stared up at the ceiling. I let my eyes close and I fell asleep. I was awakened to the feeling of Jonah laying beside me in his bed. He must have woken up and carried me there while he was sleeping. I sprang up and placed my hand on his arm. I asked him if he was okay. He was fine. He was better than fine. He told me that he awoke feeling more alive than ever before. He leaned in close to me and kissed my jaw. His warm lips caressed against my neck and collarbone. He wanted me. He was full of my venom and I his blood. I couldnâ€™t resist him. He pushed me onto my back and slid his body on top of mine. He pressed his lips into mine. My lips melted open and the tip of my tongue danced against his. I had to have him. Our passionate encounter ended with Jonah holding me in his arms. We fell asleep together. I couldnâ€™t sleep. I felt restless. Jonah was fast asleep beside me. I poked him in the side to try to get his attention, but he just mumbled something inaudible and went back to sleep. I sat up and swung my legs over the side of the bed. I groggily opened my eyes, and there she was, the little girl. She brought her finger to her lips and told me to shush. She extended her other hand towards me and pressed her index finger against my stomach. I fell back against the bed and fell back to sleep. Chapter 17 I awoke the next morning to the feeling of Jonahâ€™s arms wrapped around me. He kissed my head and wished me happy birthday. I turned over, kissed his cheek, and then closed my eyes. As I laid there relaxing, the memories of the night came back to me. I remembered seeing the little girl and her touching my stomach. What did it mean? I felt fine, no actually I felt great. Could I be pregnant? And then it dawned on me, if I was pregnant, then what about my grandma? I jumped out of bed. I told Jonah that I had to go home but that I would explain everything later. I flew out the door, drove home, and ran into the house. Mom was in the kitchen with the phone to her ear and then she dropped the receiver. Her eyes began to well up with tears. She told me that it was grandpa on the phone and that grandma had died last night in her sleep. I ran to my mother and we grabbed hold of one another. She cried in my arms and told me how she wasnâ€™t ready to lose her mother yet. I felt like someone had just stabbed a dagger through my heart. I comforted my mother the best that I could. I went up to my room, closed the door behind me, and threw myself face down on the bed. I broke down. It was all my fault. If it wasnâ€™t for me, my grandma would still be here. I couldnâ€™t imagine life without her. I didnâ€™t want to. I held my talisman close to my heart and cried. I felt completely gutted and utterly alone. This was the worst birthday ever. Later that evening Jonah came over to see how I was doing. We sat on the edge of my bed and he comforted me. I told him how grandma had passed away in her sleep. I rested my head against his chest and he smoothed my hair. He slid his hand into his pocket and pulled out a small brown paper box. He told me how sorry he was and how he wished that my birthday could have been a much happier one. He handed me the box. I held it in my palm. It was very light. I slipped off the lid to reveal a small lock of brown hair tied together with a tiny lavender ribbon. Jonah explained to me that when we stayed at the cabin he had found a sandwich bag of my grandmotherâ€™s hair in the medicine cabinet. He picked up my talisman and unscrewed the lid. He gently placed the lock of hair inside the compartment beside the obsidian stone, and then replaced the lid. I began to cry. He placed his fingertips on my chin and drew my quivering lips to his. I kissed him back deeply and passionately. He kissed my neck and whispered that she would always be with me. Chapter 18 The next few days were very difficult. My grandpa came to stay with us as he couldnâ€™t bear to stay at the cabin without grandma. He and my mother spent a lot of time making funeral arrangements. My brother was sleeping on a roll out cot with me in my room. It was safe for him to be around me. I was feeling so depressed that I didnâ€™t even have an appetite. The funeral was set for Friday. Grandpa asked me if I could speak at the funeral. He told me that he knew how close I was to grandma and that it would make her so happy to look down on us and hear me speaking so fondly of her. I agreed. I hadnâ€™t spoken to Jonah in days. When I finally scrounged up the energy to pick up the phone, he wasnâ€™t at home. He must have been at work. He was working a lot more now that he was the owner. I left him a message inviting him to the funeral. I told him that grandpa had asked me to speak at the funeral. I sat down at my desk and stared out the window at the beautiful spring day. I tried to imagine what grandma would want me to say about her. How do you put onto paper the most indescribable feelings about someone. I had a lot of work to do. I had to push the pain aside and think of all the good times we had together. I thought being a vampire was hard. It didnâ€™t even come close to this. I put my pen to paper and started to write. Dear Grandma, I have been on this earth for eighteen years now, and for all of those years I have known you. You have loved me in a way that nobody else ever could. The bond between a grandmother and a granddaughter is a very special thing. There are no words that would ever be worthy enough to describe its significance. Now you are gone and I am forced to live the rest of my life without you. I want you to know that I will think about and love you everyday, until the time comes when we are together once more. When I was a little girl, I remember spending time in the garden with you during the summer. You taught me how to gently pluck the wilted flowers from the petunia plants. The plant, in return for my service, would reward me tenfold by producing even more beautiful blossoms to enjoy. You showed me that all life was significant and that a gentle touch and helping hand is all it takes to make magnificent things happen. The impact of a good deed ripples out far beyond what a person can see. You were such a caring person. This was evident through your lifeâ€™s work as a doctorâ€™s assistant. You helped so many people throughout your career, including grandpa, who was a patient that you cared for. I have never met two people who loved each other more than you and grandpa. You taught me what it truly means to love and care for someone with your whole heart. You were a free spirit who taught me that dreaming, imagination, and keeping my mind open to a world of possibilities was very important. During the past year, I became closer to you than I had ever been before. I could feel myself becoming more and more like you with each passing day. You were the single most important person in my life. I canâ€™t see you anymore, but I can feel you in my heart. Please wait for me. Love always, Ellie I wrote it. The paper was moist from my tears. I decided to leave it just as I had written it. I could rewrite it one hundred times and always find a flaw. There is no perfect way to tell someone goodbye. Their significance far surpasses anything that can be written. I leaned against the back of my chair and stared blankly at the wall. Chapter 19 The day of the funeral came quickly. When I bought the knee length black lace dress that I chose to wear to the funeral two summers ago, I never would have imagined that I would be wearing it to my grandmotherâ€™s funeral. But there it was, laid out neatly on my bed. I put on the dress and stared at myself in the mirror. I was so pale and my eyes were red and puffy. I slipped my talisman around my neck. I needed all the strength it could provide me to get through this day. Wearing it made me feel like my grandmother was with me. I grabbed the speech from my desk, carefully folded it into quarters, and headed downstairs. My mom, brother, grandpa, and Jonah were all waiting for me in the living room. It was a fittingly dreary day, as if our moods were able to dictate the weather. Cold, clammy, and raining. We rushed out to the car and drove to the very same chapel where my grandparents had gotten married so many years before. It was a small service. The people who came were all very important to my grandmother, and she to them. The chapel had tall stained glass windows. I could hear the raindrops driving against them. We sat in the front row. Her casket was front and center. I was glad it was closed. I couldnâ€™t bear to see her that way. She was the type of person who was always so full of life and thatâ€™s how I wanted to remember her. When I walked up to give my speech I had so many mixed feelings, nerves, fear, and an overwhelming sense of nausea that rose up from the pit of my stomach that I just couldnâ€™t shake. My voice wavered as I spoke the words I had written. Cold tears tumbled down my face as I tried so hard to keep it together. It was the hardest thing Iâ€™ve ever had to do, but I did it. As I left the podium and went back to my seat, grandpa rose from his chair. He hugged me tight and then handed me an envelope. He told me that grandma had left it on her night stand the night before she passed away and that he had noticed it there the next day. I hugged the envelope close to my chest and went back to my seat. We exited the chapel after the service. I looked up at the sky. It felt like a new day was being born. The clouds were clearing exposing vivid blue sky and the warm sun was shining down. I could hear birds singing. I told my family and Jonah that I would meet them at home. I wanted to go for a walk in the park to clear my head and read the letter that grandma had left for me. I decided to go back to my favorite spot in the park, the place where my new life had started, under the bridge. I leaned against one of the bridge footings and carefully opened the envelope. Inside was a letter printed on pink paper with a floral watermark, and of course it had been folded into quarters. My dearest granddaughter Ellie, I fear that this will be the last time I get to write to you. The time has come for me to leave this reality. I want you to know how much I love you. I am so proud of the amazing, strong woman you have become. I want you to believe and understand that my death is not your fault. It is but the circle of life. If there is one thing in this life that humans and vampires alike can all be certain of, itâ€™s death. We all have to die eventually. I want you to know that I had a very good life and consider you to be my greatest accomplishment. Let me speak now about that feeling in your tummy. Iâ€™m sure that by now you are well aware of it. There is magic happening inside of you. A little person has taken up residence and is growing more and more with each passing day. Nine months from now he or she will come into this world. Please love your child with all the love you felt for me as this baby is natureâ€™s greatest gift and deserves all of it. Any time that you feel scared, lonely, or just wish you could speak to me, please know that while you cannot see me anymore, I am still here. Always wear your talisman. It will protect you in ways that I am unable to explain right now. I love you so much Ellie. Until we meet again, Grandma Lenore I set the letter down on the grass and placed my palms on my stomach. I had been trying so hard to ignore the sensations I had been feeling. I closed my eyes and listened. I could hear a repetitious whooshing sound emanating from my belly. I could feel it too. It was a heartbeat, quick and steady. It was my baby. What would I tell my mom and Jonah? How could I explain any of this to them? I couldnâ€™t. Jonah would assume the baby was his and maybe that would be okay. Mom would also assume it was his. Was the baby really Jonahâ€™s though, I wondered. Perhaps my pregnancy was inflicted by the child in my dream. I remembered grandma mentioning something about that to me before. I walked home from the park with all of those thoughts swimming around in my head. By the time I reached the house, I had made up my mind. I wasnâ€™t going to say anything about the pregnancy and just let everyone assume whatever they wanted to. Chapter 20 Over the course of the next month, I moved out of my momâ€™s house and into Jonahâ€™s apartment. My mom was so pleased that I was working hard and making my own way in the world. Of course I still came to visit often, but it was nice to have a sense of independence. I loved living with Jonah. The more time we spent together the closer we became. Spring turned into summer and my jeans had become too tight to do up. I couldnâ€™t hide my expanding belly under big sweaters any longer. One night after The Spark had closed and Jonah came home I told him that I was pregnant. I was so scared that he would be mad, but he wasnâ€™t. He grabbed me around the waist and hugged me tight. He looked me in the eyes with a smile so big that it showed in his eyes. He told me that he had always wanted to be a dad and that there was nobody else in this world that he would rather share this experience with. At that moment, it felt real. It was no longer a secret. It was happening. I was so relieved that Jonah took the news so well. I was not so sure about the next person I had to tell, my mom. In the end though she was very supportive. She knew that I was in a loving relationship and felt like we had steady incomes and would be able to make it work. She was looking forward to being a grandma and was already busy picking out nursery decor. She asked me if we were going to find out whether the baby was going to be a boy or a girl. I told her that we were going to keep it a surprise and find out when the baby was born. Chapter 21 Months passed. It was autumn now. My favorite season. This was the first year my grandpa flew south without my grandma. He had left about a month ago. My belly was getting quite large. One day I thought it would be a good idea to head out to the cottage to spend some time alone and get some fresh air. Jonah was working that day anyway. I hauled my heavy body down the stairs and into the car. My seat belt could hardly fit around me. It looked like I was carrying around a watermelon under my shirt. I started the car and headed for the cabin. Once there I unlocked the door and went inside. I sat down on my grandpaâ€™s chair by the door. I slipped off my shoes and looked around. Everything looked the same, just as it had always been. My grandpa refused to get rid of any of grandmaâ€™s possessions after she had passed away. I closed my eyes and enjoyed the feeling of a place that was so palpably nostalgic. I began to feel something brushing against my pant leg and pushing against my calf. I opened my eyes and looked down. It was Minou. She was a feral tabby cat that my grandma started taking care of over twenty years ago, before I was even born. She had even installed a small cat door so that when they were gone away that Minou would always have a warm place to stay. She looked up at me with her large greenish-yellow eyes and started to purr. She wasnâ€™t afraid of me. I reached down and tousled the fur on her head. She was so frail. Her legs were shaky and lacked the coordination that they once boasted. Her formerly colorful fur had become dull and gray with age. She purred at me as I scratched her thin, fragile neck. I could feel her bones. I got up from my seat and padded over to the kitchen. Minou trailed after me slowly. I opened the cupboard door above the sink and fished out a long silver tin of sardines. I lifted the pull tab and peeled back the lid. Inside the can laid a row of six shiny sardines. I placed the can on the floor. Minou walked over to the can and started sniffing. I carefully lowered my body down onto the floor beside her and leaned my back against the cupboard. She wouldnâ€™t eat. Her body was wasting away but she wouldnâ€™t eat. She looked up from the sardines and walked over to me. She climbed onto my lap and began to paw at my talisman and rub her head against it. She started to purr. She laid down. She was so frail that I could barely feel her body on my legs. She couldnâ€™t have weighed more than a couple of pounds. I ran my fingers gently over her fur as she purred with gratitude. We stayed that way for quite some time and then the purring stopped. I listened closely for her heartbeat. It wasnâ€™t there. Minou had died. I carried her body out to the flower garden where she used to lay down and enjoy the warm sun. I carefully dug a hole in between the peonies. I placed her body gently into the hole and then covered it with earth. My chest felt heavy with sadness. I had not known a life without little Minou. I hoped that she would find grandma, so that they could be together again. Chapter 22 Months passed and my belly grew and grew. It was December. I had been a vampire for over one year now. I was in the bathroom drawing a bath to have some relaxation time. I climbed into the claw-foot tub and leaned back against the side. The water was warm and silky. I concentrated and listened for the baby. I could hear the heartbeat echoing through the water around me. Suddenly, like a tidal wave, I began to experience the most excruciating pain rise up from my stomach and reverberate through my whole body. The baby was coming and it was coming fast. I called for Jonah and he came rushing into the room and grabbed my hand. He insisted that we call for an ambulance, but I assured him that there would not be enough time for that. I started to push, the contractions were very close together. The bath water began to blush from the plumes of blood emanating from my body. I could feel the babyâ€™s tiny body stretch and tear its way out of my body. With one final push, it was over. Jonah grabbed a towel and wrapped up the baby. He told me that it was a girl. He handed her to me. She was beautiful. It was love at first sight. We had decided that if we had a girl that we would name her Olivia.