Ana’s niece went through men like vampires went through bags of blood. Ana would know; her immorality spanned centuries. She and her “family” had a strange arrangement. She shared the wealthy Bauer bloodline but was the only immortal in the clan. The rest of the Bauers came and went, generation after generation; yet, each generation accepted her. Each generation understood what she was and welcomed her. She was often invited to Christmas, birthday parties, and celebrity balls. However, Ana kept her distance—until Mary was born.
Mary was born on Ana’s own human birthday, June sixth. As soon as Ana met the child, there was a connection, and as years passed, she became the “favorite auntie.” Ana was the one Mary went to with her dirty secrets. As a child, those secrets included stolen candy from the grocery store. As a teen, stolen alcohol and messy make-outs with boys at debutante balls.
Although Ana lived in New York—Mary and her rich parents in Boston—they kept in touch over the phone. Then came things like smartphones and Skype, and it was when Mary turned twenty-one that the name Ethan first entered their lengthy conversations.
“I’m seeing someone, auntie.”
Ana had her smartphone leaned against the vanity; made it easier to pretend dear Mary was in the room with her while she sat in her New York flat, upper East Side, sipping a glass of iced blood. She brushed her long, black hair in the mirror and sighed.
“I saw that,” Mary said.
“You’re always seeing someone, dear.” Ana glanced at her young niece, already curled up in bed, staring back through her own smartphone camera.
“This is different.” Mary pouted; her voice whined. No matter her age, she still sounded like a sixteen-year-old. She was a woman, true; a very intelligent woman who would, in the fall, return to school at Brown where she studied psychology. Yet, Mary could never escape the cheerleader she once was, thanks to her Minnie Mouse voice and bright, blond hair.
“Who is he?”
There was a long pause on the line.
“Mary?” Ana looked at the smartphone screen, and Mary’s eyes crinkled around the edges.
Her voice lowered to a whisper. “It’s a secret, and you can’t tell anyone.”
“I’ve never told your parents a single secret.”
“I know. I know. But I think I’m in love.”
“Well. Who is he?” Ana asked.
“His name is Ethan.”
“Ethan?” Ana picked up her phone so she could fully focus on her niece. “Does he have a last name?”
“Is he a prince?”
Ana watched Mary’s flawless face smile. “I wish. Would make things a lot easier.”
“He’s not homeless, is he? A drug addict?”
Mary shook her head, and her voice sunk even lower. “He’s the chauffeur’s son.”
“Mary Elizabeth Bauer!”
“Shhh!” She looked around, as if sound traveled in the castle the Bauer family called a home.
“That’s not love; it’s a fling.”
“Ethan is not a fling.”
Ana shook her head and chuckled. If Mary’s father knew … “How long has this been going on?”
Mary shifted in her bed, laid down on her stomach and rested on her elbows. “A couple months.”
“A couple months hardly does love make.”
“I want you to meet him.”
“Darling, you know I don’t meet your beaus. It’s too much energy to explain who I am and why I’ve been alive since before electricity and running water.”
“I already told him about you.”
Panic welled in Ana’s chest. “What?”
“He knows what you are, and he’s fine with it.”
“Mary.” Ana stood up. “You promised never to tell anyone about me.”
“But this is the man I love.”
Ana paced the luxurious interior of her apartment. Then, a buzz from the front door: blood bag delivery. “Mary, I have to go.”
“I want to talk more about this.”
Ana looked down at her phone, and her beautiful, intelligent, man-eating young niece looked concerned. “We shall, but do not be a fool. Do not tell the chauffeur’s son anything else about me, and do not get caught schtooping in your parents’ home.” She paused and noticed Mary’s sad face. “I love you, darling.”
“I love you, too.”
Ana ended their call. She felt shaky; she finished the glass of blood on her vanity just as a text message arrived: from Mary, of course—a covert photo caught as a man slept in what was obviously Mary’s king-sized bed. He reminded her of Byron, a poet Ana once knew long ago: wild, black curls of hair; pale skin; and a long, faultless neck.
For the first time, Ana saw Ethan.
Over the next few weeks, Ana and Mary rarely spoke. Mary was busy back at school; Ana was planning an extensive tour of Europe, her home country. There were more photos of Ethan, some with Mary included, his arm around her, her lips on his face. The first video arrived early the week before Ana’s trip.
Shaky at first, Ana soon recognized Mary’s dorm room at Brown. The vantage point was from Mary’s bed, and for the first time, Ana saw Ethan in motion. He stood across the room and looked into the full-length mirror Mary kept against the wall. He wore a black suit, and he was much taller than previous photos foreshadowed.
“Tell me you love me, babe,” said Mary’s disembodied voice.
“I love you,” he said.
“Tell me again.”
At this, he glanced back at the camera. “Mary, I’ll be late.” He stood and faced her, trying to tie his tie.
The camera shook some more, danced even, as Mary got closer to Ethan. Ana could picture her, kneeing her way to the base of her bed. “Tell me again.”
“I love you,” he said. He smiled—a lovely smile that revealed matching dimples.
His fingers stopped fiddling with the tie, and he got so close to the camera, his face went out of focus.
It was obvious Mary had trouble keeping hold of her phone, but she giggled when the video went sideways, as she was tackled on her own bed. Soon, all Ana could see were figments of Ethan’s black suit. Then, the video stopped.
Ana found herself dreaming of Ethan. She had but fleeting images of him, from Mary’s photos and occasional videos. She found herself fixated on his neck and his hands. Thanks to a recent conversation, Ana knew Ethan was older—twenty-nine. Was a lawyer. Attended Harvard on full scholarship. All these details danced around his neck, his hands—the things his hands could do to Ana, the things she could do to his neck.
She woke up embarrassed, sweating. She showered after these dreams, guilty for using Ethan’s image this way—guilty for stealing from Mary. What would her niece think if Ana told her about the dreams? Would the pictures stop coming—the videos? But Ana needed both; they had become her only joy. She jumped at every new message from her niece and was disappointed when statements were general, like “Ethan bought me roses!” Ana wanted more pictures of his face. She wanted the sound of his voice.
One night, Ana could not sleep, obsessed with Ethan and the way he might smell. Did he wear cologne? Or did he smell simply of blood and skin? She knew then how much trouble Ethan was in—how broken Mary would be if Ana’s fantasies continued, so she forced herself to stop thinking of him, even deleting Mary’s media messages before being opened.
And Ana would have survived without him, Ethan, if not for Mary’s untimely death.
A wolf on the campus of Brown University? Suspicious, but then again, the wolf was escaped from the zoo. Of course Ana knew all this was a careful smokescreen, fanned to flame by Mary’s own parents. The existence of vampires was not generally accepted; therefore, admitting that a vampire had killed their daughter would put into question the Bauer sanity and the Bauer estate.
Ana stood on the edge of the cemetery and watched her niece’s ivory box lowered into the dark green grass. They had spoken but five nights before—the last time they would speak—and of course, the conversation was about Ethan, although Ana brought things round to school and family and future plans—of which, for Mary, there would be none.
Ana watched her human family, earned glances from but a few because only a choice few knew of her existence, those being Mary’s parents and a few old uncles, cousins. Ethan wasn’t there. But then, he was, away from the casket, away from the cold hole in the ground. She saw his hair first: that unruly mop of black. Then, his eyes: frigid, cold blue, ice. She put her arms around herself to shield his chill.
He was broken, very broken, but since his affair with Mary had been secret, only Ana knew why.
A luncheon was thrown afterward, in honor of Mary. Ana knew her niece would have hated the event: all somber faces, black suits. Mary would have much preferred a celebration, covered in pinks and baby blues.
Ana moved through the crowd, through the immense ballroom of the Bauer mansion, and past the disgusting smell of human food. She disappeared to the empty servant’s quarters, where she knew, thanks to Mary, of a secret entrance to her niece’s bedroom—the entrance only Ethan ever used.
Ana could still smell Mary when she entered: like flowers and sweet spice. Even though the bed was made, the room clean, she smelled something else, too: sex. She smelled the buttery scent of sex and something male. Cologne. The cologne could only belong to him.
The mournful auntie ran her fingertips over her niece’s hairbrush on the vanity. She touched stacks of psychology textbooks. She caressed a dress, tossed over the back of a wooden rocking chair. All so cold with Mary gone, killed by some monster, some blood-sucker who knew the Bauer family history—probably knew Ana.
Then, the door behind her opened. The cologne was more prevalent, as was the poisonous smell of cigarettes. “She didn’t tell me you smoked,” Ana said and turned to find Ethan, half revealed behind the secret door to Mary’s room.
“I don’t. Usually,” he said, alive, not on camera, his flesh right in front of her.
Ana stood at full height and looked at him. She pulled her small, black velvet jacket tighter around her small shoulders. She made a show of brushing a piece of lint from the edge of her dark red, floor-length dress. “Did you want to be alone in here?”
“No.” He shook his head, took a step, and closed the door behind him. He stood with his hands in his pockets, seemingly unsure of himself, although he’d never looked that way on Ana’s smartphone screen.
Ana’s boots made loud taps as she walked toward him. She removed her leather glove and touched his hair, pushed a piece behind his ear. A line of goosebumps began at her fingers and moved up to her shoulder, over her chest. “You’re more handsome in person.”
The side of his mouth turned up. He looked at the floor.
“Am I the only one who knew? About you and Mary?”
He nodded, but as he nodded, a salty tear fell down his face. She wanted to lick it off, but instead, she pulled him into her embrace and put her hand on the back of his head. He leaned against her. He held her in the vice of his long arms and shook in silence as the pain of his loss soaked her shoulder.
“Shh,” she said. Her fingers ran down the back of his neck. “Shhh.”
“Do you know who did this?” he said.
“I have my suspicions.”
“Was it one of you?”
“I believe so,” she said, and he tore himself away from her.
“Why? Why would one of your kind kill Mary?”
Ana shook her head.
Ethan stopped in his pacing, and his eyes found her, his gaze just as chilled as the cemetery. “Is it because of you?”
“Yes,” she said.
He was out of breath, she could see, when he said, “God, I wish I could …”
The expression on his face told her he didn’t mean it, not really, but she could hear the blood pumping through his veins. His anger was like a hot breeze through the room.
“I’m hurting enough,” Ana said.
“How will you find who did this?”
“There are places to go,” she said. She looked away from him to hide the added rouge to her mouth and cheeks. She realized coming to the funeral was a mistake; being alone with Ethan, a mistake. He was too close, and she wanted him too badly. The scent of his blood now filled the room as smoke fills a chimney, and Ana wanted him right there on her dead niece’s bed.
“Take me with you.”
“No,” she said.
“I’ll find the killer, with or without your help.”
“No, you won’t,” she said to the window that overlooked a lush, green backyard with a maze in the middle.
“Stop me,” he said.
“I can stop you.” The quietness of her tone made the words all the more menacing, but when she gave him another look, Ethan was not afraid of her. He carried the same blind trust as her niece. Even though Ana was a monster, they believed her incapable of hurting people she loved, and by proxy, the people they loved.
“I’ll go out tonight,” she said. “You can come by my hotel room in the morning.” Then, she used speed no human could see. She grasped his chin, and he jumped backwards at her unexpected touch. He knocked into the vanity, and Mary’s gilded brush fell to the wood floor at their feet. “If I sense you anywhere near me tonight,” she said, “I will lock you where no one can find you until this is over. Do you understand?”
“Yes.” His voice shook, and Ana left.
The next morning, she woke to the scent of him outside her hotel room door. She wrapped herself in a robe at the sound of his knock and opened windows, let the light in. Ana did not fear the sun; had not in over a hundred years when she realized she was too old to be harmed.
He looked younger, so much younger, without the suit and tie. “My God, you could be a college student,” she said.
“May I come in?”
She opened the door. She stayed in one of the old hotels in Boston that overlooked a square where witches once hung. Her room was lush, filled with antique couches, flowers in tall vases, and throw blankets for keeping warm in the New England chill.
“What did you find?”
Ana stepped past him, toward the phone. “Would you like coffee?”
“No.” He shook his head.
She hung up the phone. “Nothing. Yet.”
“I’m coming with you tonight.”
“No. You’ll get hurt.”
He took two long steps forward, and he had her back against the wall. “Who cares?”
Ana remembered all the sweaty dreams she’d had of this man—all the times she’d awoken, whispering his name, before Mary was dead, before his skin was inches from her teeth. She shoved past him, but the warmth of his chest lingered on the palm of her hand where she’d pushed him away.
“Mary would care,” she said at the window, facing the street below.
“Do you rush to meet her?”
“I can’t just do nothing.”
She felt him get closer, until he lingered, inches from her back.
“Please, Ana,” he said.
She wanted him to say her name again. She wanted him to beg. To quench her auditory longing, she turned and hugged him around the waist. She leaned her forehead against the side of his chin and took in a mouthful of scent.
She was surprised by the way his tension melted in her arms, as if they were old familiars. Perhaps Mary had shown him pictures, too—of Ana, of Mary and Ana. Perhaps he once dreamt of her.
“Just tonight,” she said. She pulled back and touched his face. So soft, just shaved. “Only tonight will you need protecting.”
She took him to a vampire bar—one where few mortals dared venture, especially without an escort. Ana would be Ethan’s escort, and she would be careful, because he was too beautiful to be left alone. The place was called Vlad; Ana found this trite; having once met the infamous vampire, Dracula, she found him stupid and dull.
The interior was black and red—black walls, red carpet. The place smelled of Old Country church incense and an undercurrent of blood no mortal could detect. Ana took Ethan’s hand as they stepped inside and whispered, “Pretend we’re together,” meaning not friends but lovers.
And he looked the part in a black suit and shirt, no tie. He looked the part: pale skin; bright, wicked eyes. He looked like a man a vampire would love.
Eyes turned when they entered because they were new and easy to admire. Ana dragged him to the bar; ordered a shot of blood for her, vodka for him. They toasted, and after they drank, her lips found the edge of his mouth; he didn’t pull away because he only pretended.
They allowed themselves to be touched, flirted with. Ana noticed Ethan was an old pro—had no doubt spent years being treated this way by many different women. She kept her nose open, waiting for the scent of Mary or perhaps the flicker of a gaze. Surely whoever killed Mary also knew of Ethan, her sexual secret; if Ana saw recognition in the eyes of an admirer, she would know whose throat to slash.
Yet, as time passed, no scent arrived; eyes did nothing but gaze adoringly on Ethan. There was no guilt here. No fear. Only the hope of a warm meal, which Ana was careful to dissuade with her hand on Ethan’s shoulder, her own stare planted on his neck that shined like a moonlit pond. No one doubted he was hers, but perhaps they hoped for a threesome—a hope she shook off when other monsters looked to her with their pleas.
Soon, he grew tired, and she told him it was time to go home.
Ethan trusted her because Mary, his love, trusted her, so there was no hesitation when she invited him up to her hotel room for a nightcap. After the bar, a quiet, relaxing drink was what they both needed. He sat on the couch and leaned his head back. Ana watched him, and her fingers shook as she poured two glasses of wine.
She approached, handed him his glass. His skin smelled like the cologne she now knew well, along with a tinge of laundry detergent on his dress shirt. She ran her hand through his black hair, and he closed his eyes against her touch—not in pain but in pleasure. He was comfortable with her, had proved as much since the funeral.
Then, he moaned softly, and she realized he was asleep. Before the untouched glass of wine could fall to the wooden floor, Ana removed the long stem from his fingers and set it on the lamp-lit table by his side. Her own glass joined his, and she watched him sleep until she was certain her movements would not wake him.
She removed her high-heeled shoes and set them on the floor. She kneeled on the couch and straddled his waist. Still, he did not move.
Ana pulled her smartphone from the side of her bra. She leaned back, on top of him, and saw Ethan through the camera lens. She teased herself with the distance the lens afforded—like all those photos and videos from dear, dead Mary. Ana even took a picture of the sleeping man, for old time’s sake. Then, she moved her camera away to remind herself he really was between her legs.
She placed her petite hands on his chest and felt the warmth there. She heard his heart beat and smelled the blood beneath his skin. Warmth began to spread through her own body, starting in her thighs and up into her stomach. Her head felt light, delirious with desire for this doomed man whose only mistake was falling in love with her favorite niece.
Ana leaned forward and brushed the side of her cheek against his. “Ethan,” she whispered.
She pulled back as his lashes fluttered. His blue eyes looked up at her, confused. “Ana?”
She put her thumb against his mouth. “Shhh. This won’t hurt a bit.”
He tried to stand up, but before his feet could find placement, she had the top two buttons of his dress shirt torn and her teeth against his throat.
He tensed when she broke skin. He whimpered, said her name. His hands pushed against her shoulders until the poison in her fangs spread through his brain and made him lazy in her arms. His head fell against the back of the couch; his arms went limp. He was a six-foot ragdoll, but at times, she felt him pull closer to her—perhaps running toward death to see his Mary once more.
His blood was all she hoped, knew, it would be. Ever since the funeral, the smell of him haunted her. Now, what kept him alive poured down her throat and made her dead heart … beat, beat, beat. Halfway through the meal, she found herself moaning against his flesh, because she knew this was not about death.
Yet, Ethan was near death—very much so. She pulled her teeth away and looked at his face. If she didn’t know better, she would think he was but asleep.
She rose higher on her knees. She used her own teeth to carve a hole in her wrist, and she dripped blood between his parted lips. Her job well done, she fell back on the couch beside him. She licked the lingering blood on her lips—her own mixed with that of Ethan’s.
She sat and waited, but she did not need to wait long.
He was suddenly awake at her side, bent forward, doubled over in pain. She wrapped her arms around his shoulders. “It’ll be over in a moment,” she said.
His new-found strength was difficult to manage as his humanity died. Becoming a vampire was not a pleasant process, Ana recalled. Yet she was strong enough to hold him, keep him from breaking the room as he fought to escape bodily hurt. When he shouted, she covered his mouth with her hand. She soon found herself kneeling on top of him, pinning him to the couch and holding him in silence.
Ethan’s breath then calmed. His body relaxed. He no longer fought her, and she leaned away, gave him space. “Ethan,” she whispered, and she touched his hair.
“God, what have you done?” He wouldn’t look at her.
“You’ll never lose the woman you love again.”
“I don’t love you,” he said.
“You will.” She pushed his hair behind his ear and saw his profile—wide open eyes and parted lips. “Let me see you.”
After long moments of nothing but background city noise, he finally turned to her. His skin was no paler than it had been before, but his eyes, even brighter. A drop of blood stood out like a beauty mark on the side of his chin; she left it there for him to find, and she held his face in her hands.
“I’ve wanted you since I first saw you,” she said. She kissed his parted lips, once.
“You remind me of someone I once knew.” She thought back to her beloved Byron. “And you made Mary so happy.” She paused. “Make me happy, too, Ethan.”
She still held his face in her hands, and for the first time since they met, his eyes moved to her lips and he kissed her. He was gentle, perhaps testing out the taste and feel of her, until she pulled hard on the back of his neck and opened his mouth with her tongue.
Ana pulled away long enough to say, “Touch me,” before her mouth once again found his.
She thought back to the innocent smartphone video from Mary’s dorm room—a video that ended like this, with Ethan on top and in a black suit. Tell me you love me, Mary had said, and he did.
One thing Ana would never tell Ethan: that she’d killed his precious Mary to have him all to herself. Mary was too unreliable with men; she only would have hurt him anyway.
The End – Happy Halloween 2013