By Laura Feltyberger
Martine’s pager buzzed one night as they were enjoying a chamber recital. She excused herself to make a phone call. She returned and whispered in Michael’s ear.
"Something has come up. I have to go. I’m sorry." Michael took her arm and led her into the lobby.
"What’s wrong? Can I help? Let me come with you."
"No, you can’t come with me." she seemed preoccupied, anxious. "I have to go. I’ll call you tomorrow. I promise." She rushed down the steps and out the door.
Michael stood looking at the door wondering what had prompted her flight. He’d never seen her this distressed before.
The next night she showed up at his place. She was unnaturally calm as she explained her abrupt exit at the concert.
"Sedrien volunteers nights at an AIDS hospice. One of his patients died last night, someone he cared about. I had to be with him. I’m sorry I couldn’t explain last night--"
"It’s okay, I understand. I’m sorry about your friend." he held her hands loosely in his, stroking her fingers. "Was it bad at the end?"
She took a deep breath. "He suffered a lot at the end. But all his friends were with him, and when he died he had peace." Martine’s eyes were shut.
"You were there for him. I’m sure he knew that and he appreciated it."
She looked up at Michael, eyes glazed with moisture. "I’ve never told you how much you mean to me. I can’t thank you enough for being here for me, and for putting up with my strange habits and schedules. I love you Michael. I don’t know what I’d do without you. I can hardly remember my life without you in it."
"I love you too." he slid to his knees in front of her chair, gathering her in his arms. "I’m not going anywhere. I’m right here, whenever you need me." He’d never said anything he meant more than that.
"I’m afraid I’ll lose you."
"You won’t, I swear it."
Later in the night, Michael helped her put her coat on as she prepared to go home. He noticed a dark stain on the cuff of her shirt.
"What’s on your sleeve? Is that blood? Did you cut yourself?"
"No, I haven’t. I had a doctor’s appointment tonight. He drew some blood.
I didn’t realize I’d gotten any on me." She pulled her jacket cuff down over the stain. There was a strange light in her eyes.
"Are you feeling all right?" he asked with concern.
"Of course." she said lightly. Again she was not going to broach the subject of her health. She kissed him soundly before she left him. She didn’t allow him to take her down to the elevator, let alone put her in the cab. He needed his rest, she said.
But it was still early by her standards. He’d taken a later shift at work so he could be up at night with her. He couldn’t place her distance with the confessions she’d given him earlier. He suspected something had happened- was happening ?-that she wasn’t telling him. He wanted to know what it was, and why she couldn’t trust him with it.
Michael didn’t call her in the next few days. He knew she had work to do. One night he decided to surprise her and bring her dinner. He had turned the corner at 85th street and headed toward her building when he saw her running toward the park with Sedrien behind her. He called her name, but she didn’t hear. He checked the traffic carefully before he crossed the street.
Michael saw Martine’s shadow disappear around a bend in the path and he ran to catch up with her. When he turned the bend there was no one there, the path stretched out in a silver ribbon before him. He heard something that sounded like a man groaning in pain but from which direction he had no idea. When he would have turned and gone back someone whipped him around and fastened a choking arm around his throat. Michael tried to thrust his elbow back into his captor’s rib cage, but he was held too fast.
"No! Michael, what are you doing?" Martine screamed. She appeared on the path out of nowhere, disheveled and out of breath. Reaching out, she frantically yanked at Gavriel’s restraining arm.
Once Gavriel let go of him Michael braced his hands on his knees and coughed several times, trying to clear his breathing. "That is an awfully good question. I was wondering the same thing." he said when he could speak again.
"He’s gone." Gavriel said to no one in particular, his eyes scanning the underbrush.
"Let me take you home, Michael."
He’d recovered sufficiently to fight her. "I can take myself home when I’m good and ready. I want an answer, Martine. What is going on here?"
"We had a break in." Sedrien interjected. "Gavriel managed to chase him out here and lost him in the trees. We came looking for him." He took Martine’s arm and steered her toward the street and the apartment. "Let’s all go back upstairs, shall we? I think we need a cup of tea before we call the police."
"Did he get anything?" Michael asked.
"Not that I saw, but then again when you see a burglar leaving your apartment you don’t always have the time to check."
Michael followed a step behind Martine and Sedrien; Gavriel covered the rear and watched for stray clues of the vanished thief.
Up in the apartment Sedrien unlocked the door and ushered Martine in. She dropped down on the couch with a weariness that worried Michael. Sedrien disappeared into the kitchen. Gavriel surveyed the pair on the sofa before he went up the stairs. Sedrien reappeared with a tray bearing a glass teapot and four cups. He poured with the ease of a matron at a garden party and offered the cup to Martine, who refused it. Michael took the cup and sipped the brew.
"Aren’t you going to call the police?" he asked, wondering why Sedrien seemed so unconcerned.
"Gavriel is taking care of that. I’m sure he will handle everything." Sed took a cup of tea and perched in a wing-backed chair. "Martine, you should go upstairs and rest."
"Are you all right?" She had been silent as the grave since she encountered Gavriel holding Michael on the path in the park.
She glanced warily at Michael. Her eyes held a strange haunted light that chilled him. "I’m fine. I think I should rest, and you should go home, Michael."
She stood and stalked up the stairs, slamming the door to her room.
Sedrien regarded Michael with interest, wondering what he would do. Michael followed her up the stairs. A whisper of Sedrien’s laughter wafted up with him.
"Martine, I just want to make sure you’re okay. Tell me what happened."
There was a crash as Martine banged a closet door shut. "I don’t want to talk about it. Let’s just forget it, shall we?"
He was confused, his head spinning. He wanted to console her. She seemed angry at him, though he couldn’t tell what he’d done wrong.
"Sit down. You don’t have to tell me anything you don’t want to. Just calm down."
"Maybe I don’t want to calm down." she threw a garment onto the bed. Her face was red and she avoided his eyes as much as possible; her hands clenched at nothing at her sides.
Michael walked up to her and put his arms around her unyielding figure. She shook against his chest and clawed at his shirt as the tears finally came. He cradled her as close as he could, supporting her body as she leaned into his warmth and cried. He closed his eyes in pain when she wailed and her knees buckled. How a simple act of burglary could terrify her like this scared him.
He braced his back on the end of the bed and let her sob out all her tension. Her face was flushed and eyes were red when her head finally rolled back against the mattress.
"I have never been so scared in my life," she managed between gasps," Then the moment when I saw Gavriel grab you in the park. He might have killed you, Michael."
This was not the answer Michael had expected. "Promise me you won’t ever do anything so stupid again." He agreed. It wasn’t a difficult promise to make.
Michael turned down the sheets on her bed. He stripped her clothes from her and dressed her in her nightgown. She went to the bed like a doll with no will of it’s own. Then he removed his own garments, not caring where they fell on the floor, and crawled in beside her. He pulled the sheets and coverlet over them and held her close until she fell asleep. He dropped off only seconds later.
In the middle of the night Michael stirred at the sensation of weight on his chest. Martine had rolled over onto him, but she was not asleep. The terrors she’d felt earlier had given way to need. She needed to reaffirm that Michael was okay and she hadn’t lost him. He was more than willing to reinforce that need.
As he returned her feverish, desperate kisses he couldn’t help the feeling that she was devouring him, feasting on more than flesh and sensation. He imagined she’d taken his soul inside her as well as his body. Just as well, he thought, she already has my heart.
He awoke just before dawn and left Martine sleeping. He stopped in the living room to put on shoes and socks and heard voices from the upstairs hall.
"He’s a nuisance. He’s in the way." Gavriel bit out savagely. "Martine loves him." Sedrien’s moderate tone sounded like the voice of reason.
"I didn’t think she’d take it this far. I thought she’d finish with him and move on."
"She’s been alone a long time. I had no inkling she was ready for another mortal lover."
What!? Michael almost dropped a shoe, but caught himself in time. Gavriel and Sedrien had no idea he could hear them, or did they?
"I’m willing to wait and see if she tires of him, though I don’t see it happening. I must admit, I like Michael too. He’s brought her out of herself again. She’s happier than I’ve seen her in years."
"Last night was damned inconvenient."
"Yes, it was too close. We’ll have to be more careful. Unless Martine thinks Michael can be turned."
"I’d kill him first. I’ll not share this life with that brat riding my coattails."
"If worse comes to worse, I’ll take him on. But this is Martine’s decision. I’ll ask her tonight. You’re right: we can’t go on this way.
It’s too dangerous, for all of us." There were two solid clicks, signaling that Sedrien and Gavriel had gone to bed.
Michael sat dazed on the white sofa, trying to decipher what he had heard. Sedrien and Gavriel were not the only ones who would have serious questions for Martine after sunset. He’d be back, and he would have nothing from her but the truth.
He arrived at the apartment before sunset, let himself in with Martine’s key, and watched the red-orange haze burn and fade over the skyline. He used the time to plan what he was going to say. He wanted nothing but the truth. The only trouble was this time the truth might not set him free: it could kill him.
He remembered the tone of Gavriel’s voice when he said he’d kill Michael given the chance. Martine had warned him: Gavriel was a predator, and he was wary of a rival treading on his territory and property. Sedrien was another matter; he did not fit the predator profile. But what had he meant by "If worse comes to worse, I’ll take him on."? That statement also sounded vaguely threatening, though in a fight he’d rather have Sedrien at his back than Gavriel. And exactly where did that put Martine?
He thought back to the night he’d met her. He’d been drawn to her from the start, like a magnet. For weeks he’d thought of no one and nothing else. Now he wondered how many of her stories had holes in them, holes he’d blissfully ignored. His mind turned to the events of the previous evening and he replayed it over and over, looking for gaps in their story. What were they chasing in the park?
Twilight lingered over the city as Sedrien and Gavriel rose and descended the staircase. Both men were surprised to see Michael sitting on the sofa sipping coffee.
"Did you and Martine have plans this evening?" Sedrien recovered more quickly than his counterpart.
"No, actually, we did not. I needed to talk to her about something very important."
"Martine is not up yet. Perhaps you could come back,..."
"I’ll wait, thanks."
Sed and Gav steered clear of Michael until Martine finally came down herself. She seemed happy to see him, sitting down next to him and kissing him sweetly. Michael, perversely, refused to encourage her.
"What’s wrong? Are you all right?"
"Of course I am. The question is are you all right, Martine?"
She backed off at his nasty tone. "Yes, I’m fine."
"That break in last night was rather unsettling."
"Yes, it was."
"Especially considering the burglar had a key. I noticed when Sedrien unlocked the door last night that there was no forced entry. He must have had a key." Michael’s eyes seethed with anger over her deception.
Martine said nothing but looked to Sedrien for an explanation. Michael would not let him speak.
"Don’t ask him to explain it away like you do everything else. I’m not buying it anymore."
Martine sat back against the cushions and stared at the carpet. Sedrien took the seat next to her.
"What do you want me to say, Michael?"
He slammed his cup on the coffee table. "I want to know everything, from the day we met. I want to know the truth behind every lie you’ve told me."
He stalked to the window, only to be met with Gavriel’s menacing glare.
"Are you sure you really want to do that?" Gavriel growled.
"Do I have a choice?" Michael challenged.
"No, you do have a choice," Martine said tiredly. Suddenly she seemed much older, world-weary. "And you have yet to make it. You can walk out the door right now and you’ll never have to worry about seeing me again. If you stay to hear my story you can still walk away. You’re not the one who has to live with my secrets."
"I’ve had to live with your lies instead." the accused.
Sedrien laid a hand on Martine’s arm. "You don’t have to do this."
Her eyes glowed with unshed tears. "Yes I do. I’ve never needed to tell anyone about myself more than this."
"But you’re telling our secrets as well and putting us all in danger." Gavriel pointed out.
"I’ll show you danger if someone doesn’t start explaining right now!" Michael snapped. Martine took a deep breath as she rose from the sofa.
"Michael, I’m a vampire."
Michael blinked once or twice in disbelief before he burst out laughing. It was the most ridiculous lie he’d heard yet.
"Michael, it’s the truth this time."
Sedrien chimed in. "It is the truth. We are all vampires."
"Do you need proof?" Gavriel growled in Michael’s ear. Michael shoved the other man away.
"I have all the proof you need." Martine drew a small knife from the pocket of her jeans. She extended the blade and sliced her palm with a careless broad gesture. As she held out her palm to him Michael saw the gaping edges of the cut close and seal themselves. There was no scar, no line left on her.
Reality finally struck him. "That’s not possible."
"It’s true, Michael. I’m a vampire and I have been for over fifty years. It’s the reason I can’t go out in the daytime, it’s the reason I have to leave you in the middle of the night, it’s the reason that every time you’ve needed me I’ve been there to take the pain away. I wanted to tell you, but I loved you too much to let you leave me."
"Yeah, it must be really convenient having a nice warm body to feed on when you wake up hungry. I guess I was just the type you were looking for: O positive."
"Is there anything wrong with that?" Gavriel asked distractedly, his attentions elsewhere.
Michael’s heart rose into his throat at the thought of what she might have done while he slept. "God, tell me you didn’t."
"Never." Martine was quick to reassure him. "Michael, I’m not that kind of vampire: I don’t have to drink blood. There’s something different about us that you need to know,..."
Gavriel looked out the window, staring intently at the park across the street. "He’s back. I think he’s back."
Martine and Sedrien exchanged glances. "The one from last night?" Sedrien asked. Gavriel nodded and the two men ran for the door. Martine clutched Michael’s sleeve. Her demeanor had changed completely. A moment ago she’d been pleading and open; now there was an urgency about her that had nothing to do with him.
"I wish we could stay and talk about this, but I have to go. I’m sorry I had to lie." She dashed after Gavriel and Sedrien.
Michael waited one minute before he followed them into the hall. They had taken an elevator down. As he waited for the other to arrive he wondered why a vampire would use an elevator; couldn’t they just fly off the roof?
He had no idea where they had gone once he reached the lobby. Gavriel had been looking down at the park. He left the building and nearly got hit by a car trying to cross the street; traffic was unusually heavy. On the sidewalk he hesitated, wondering which way he should go now. A scream in the distance told him where they’d gone.
Michael rushed down a dirt path away from the street lamps on the main walkway. He came to a bend in the path and stopped behind a tree, watching the grisly scene unfold before him.
Sedrien and Gavriel had grabbed a man in a dark jacket and cap. Gav shoved the man’s sleeve up past his elbow, while Sed held his arms, preventing a struggle.
When Gav looked up Michael saw his fangs bared in the faint light.
"So you like pretty girls, do you? You like to scare them, to hurt them?
We like to scare people and hurt them too, but we like criminals. Their blood tastes so much better." Sedrien intimidated the man with words while Gav threatened with looks. Sed forced the man down on his knees. Gav sank his teeth in the exposed flesh of their victim’s arm. Sed concentrated on the fear and pain washing off their victim in waves, and he devoured them.
When Michael couldn’t look anymore he turned toward a whispering voice just beyond him. Behind a bush, out of sight of the blood-feast, sat Martine with a young woman in her arms. They rocked back and forth as Martine attempted to calm the woman’s hysterical sobbing.
"He won’t hurt you again. He won’t hurt anyone." she kept repeating, stroking her hand over the woman’s forehead. The woman’s dress was torn in several places, with a huge gash in the front; evidently the man Sedrien and Gavriel were working on had attacked her, attempted to rape her. Martine’s face tensed, her brow creased, and tears fell from her tightly closed eyes.
He couldn’t tell if Martine’s intensity was for the woman or for herself, because she was surely feeding on the terror of the rape victim.
End of Chapter Three
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