By Laura Feltyberger
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Sedrien leaned forward in a chair in the director’s office at the hospice. He wondered what the new director would be like. His old friend Howard had left to start a new hospice in his hometown in New Jersey, and the new director had requested to see him tonight. Sed flipped the pages of a file on the desk looking for a name.
He was interrupted by the entrance of a woman he’d never seen before. Her strawberry blonde hair swung in a smooth arc in front of her face as she slipped past Sed’s chair and dropped into the warped wooden chair behind the desk. He found himself face to face with charcoal eyes and a wide smile.
"You must be Sedrien West. I’m Lalie Wyatt, the new director. Howard has told me a lot about your work here, and I can tell I’m going to need your help to get settled in." Her clothing practically crackled with energy. Sedrien found himself uncomfortable with the amount of bounce she had brought into the room.
"I don’t know that I can offer a tremendous amount of assistance, but whatever I can do,..." he reasoned.
Lalie broke out into bell-like laughter. "Howard warned me about that."
"About what?" Sed asked, not sure whether he should be insulted.
"About your Englishness. He said that sometimes you reminded him of a butler: staid and stoic and very polite." The way she said it gave him pause. Had he become so cold? "I like it though. It suits you somehow."
Sedrien self consciously straightened in his chair. He hadn’t thought that any remnants of his former self had remained, but she’d seen right through him. How was he going to learn to deal with this woman?
"Now, to business. I want you to give me your insights on every patient no matter how small the details,..."
* * * * *
Michael walked to the subway station near the hospital where he worked as a night attendant in the detox ward. He inhaled the crisp air of autumn and felt the bite of winter coming. It was a year ago that he’d been reborn to his nocturnal life, and Martine was frequently in his thoughts. He walked past a club that was kicking out the last few patrons after closing. A blonde woman bundled in a voluminous black coat swept past him, the sound of her laughter hung on the air like crystals of ice. He thought if he turned around she’d be waiting for him, but Martine waited elsewhere.
When he reached the penthouse on Central Park West he fell exhausted on the couch, face down on the cushions. He heard voices approach the door, the scratching of a key in the lock, and the click of shoes in the marble entry. Gavriel headed for the study.
"Michael, get up before you fall asleep out here in the open." Winni prompted. He looked up into her evergreen eyes. She’d blossomed since she left her former trade as a blood donor and taken up as a shift manager at The Captive. Gavriel had allowed her to keep her multiple earrings, but she’d let her hair grow in some and the short sherry colored locks glistened in the low light.
"Are you all right? Do you need anything?" she asked, but he was way beyond taking from her anymore.
"No, it was just a long night, lots of nightmares that needed soothing." He sighed.
"You’re working so hard lately. I wish you’d take it easy. Take a night off and come to the club. You haven’t been there in so long." She stroked his hair back from his forehead.
"Winter is coming. Junkies don’t want to be on the street in the cold, so the smart ones are coming into detox. We’ll have a full house in the next week. I like my work." He hoped she’d find that reassuring. Recently Winni had been pressing him to spend more time with her, and he found himself resisting.
Unhappily Winni realized that he was not going to budge. She missed the closeness they’d had when he was a newborn vampire and he’d come to her for sustenance. She’d come to him for comfort and he’d given it. Now that they were both settled in their new lives he didn’t seem to have time for her.
Impatiently she yanked on the back of Michael’s coat, urging him to get up off the couch. "We have to talk."
He followed her up to his room and switched the light on as the door shut. "What’s bothering you now?"
"Are you finished with me? Is that why you’ve been so distant?"
Michael leaned back against the door. He’d been putting this off too long. Now was the time to tell her.
"Winni, I want you to leave. I can’t ask you to live this life with me. There’s so much you’re missing out on and I don’t want to be responsible for holding you back." His voice rang with finality.
"You aren’t holding me back. I have everything I want right here. I’m not missing anything."
"Yes, you are. You’re missing everything I left behind. I want you to have it all, Winni, not just the dark half."
Winni wanted to beat him with her fists. He was thoughtful to the point of being insensitive to what she really wanted.
"All I want is you, Michael. Just you."
Michael walked past her, tossing his coat on the bed. "You know what I am, Winni. And you should have better."
She said nothing, grabbed his arm and turned him around. Then she threw herself at him, kissing him, trying to burrow into his warmth. He did not return the kiss, he did not take her in his arms.
He felt her sadness before he saw her tears. He didn’t try to go after her when she left. He couldn’t ease her sorrows this time. She needed them to put him behind her.
Gav and Sed watched Winni come tearing down the stairs and out the door. They heard the solemn click of Michael’s door. With wordless meaningful glances, the two men exchanged opinions of the new tension in the apartment.
Gavriel confronted Winni at the club a few nights later. She had just checked with the door staff and collected their excess cash. Gav followed her to the office and unlocked the door for her. She was silent as she punched the code into the safe and began sorting bills into envelopes.
"What went on between you and Michael the other night?"
"According to Michael, nothing is going on. Not anymore."
"Ah." was all Gav could say.
Winni shuffled and dropped the bills in her hand; they fluttered down into her lap. Her hand shook as she ran it across her feathery hair.
"Gav, tell me what to do. I don’t know how to hold onto him. He keeps pushing me away."
He wished that he knew. But he was a Predator, he knew nothing of the depth of her feelings. He hadn’t been that close to anyone in decades.
"Maybe you should listen to him. I’m going to start putting you on the afternoon shift. That should help." He picked the money up off the carpet where she’d dropped it. He stopped when he saw her eyes pooling with tears.
"Gav, I love him. Putting me on the day shift won’t change that." she said, nervously running her hands over her black trousers. "If you won’t help me then help him, please." She left the room.
Gavriel watched her through the one way window overlooking the floor. She walked past Mina’s cage into the back room. Mina looked up at him through her own reflection in the glass, sparks in her blue eyes. He had thought more than once that the woman was too smart for her own good. Now he was glad for it.
* * * * *
Sedrien sat with a patient who had finally fallen asleep. He’d soothed his pain and given his body a chance to rest. His midnight vigil had not gone unobserved.
"I’ve been watching you, you know. You spend time with everyone here, and after you have been with them they seem quieter. It’s the oddest thing, but it’s like your presence eases their pain." Lalie stood in the doorway, a blanket folded in her arms.
Sed looked up. Her face was lined with weariness, but the lines made her face seem softer. She walked over to the bed and spread the extra blanket over the sleeping boy. When she was done she shoved her hands into the pockets of her heavy sweater and shivered.
"The furnace is on the blink again. I’m trying to get someone out to look at it tomorrow, but the repairman didn’t seem to think that we were high priority. I think he was angry with me because of the late hour."
Sedrien looked at his watch; it was half past midnight. He swore and headed down one floor to her office, Lalie trailing behind.
In her office he flipped through a red notebook he’d retrieved from her desk drawer. Sedrien punched the phone number impatiently and seethed while he waited for the repairman to answer.
"Mr. Lewis, this is Sedrien West at the Queen of Hearts Hospice. My colleague, Ms. Wyatt just spoke with you, and I believe you neglected to tell her at what time you would be here to repair the furnace." His jaw clenched as he listened to Lewis backpedaling, trying to save his hide.
Lalie sat on a corner of her desk, her back to Sedrien as she listened to his side of the conversation. Her foot jiggled up and down, betraying her agitated state.
"I thought so. Next time, I gather you’ll be more clear on the matter. Thank you, Mr. Lewis." Sedrien placed the receiver back on the cradle. "He’ll be here at seven in the morning. I hope that’s all right."
She huffed, a muffled chuckle maybe. "You must think I’m an incompetent fool, unable to get even the simplest things taken care of around here."
Her angry statement took Sed by surprise, as did the tendrils of heated emotion she was giving off. They called to him.
"Lewis is used to dealing with me. I don’t let him get away with that kind of behavior. It has nothing to do with you. I’m sorry if I overstepped." Sed reached out to touch her, to ease her anger, and to taste a little of that energy she flashed so easily.
Lalie brushed him aside. "I’m sorry I blew up at you. It’s not your fault at all. I just don’t like it when guys like him treat me like I’m overreacting just because I’m a woman."
"Not at all." He couldn’t believe the argument was over just like that. "I’ll bring out more blankets in the meantime." Sedrien turned to go. Lalie met him at the door. She kissed him on the cheek.
"Thanks for all your help, Sed. I know now why Howard said I was going to need you."
Sed stood in the doorway watching her red flannel shirt flapping behind her as she dashed to the linen closet. Something odd came over him as she walked away. He could have sworn he was beginning to like her.
Sedrien finished his shift at half past one and figured he could get to The Captive to have one drink before closing. As he left the building he saw Lalie on the front steps. She looked as if she’d been crying.
"Lalie, is everything all right?"
Immediately she dashed her tears away and pasted a bright smile on her face. "Of course I’m all right. Why wouldn’t I be?"
Sedrien knew she’d spent the better part of the night with a ten year old boy who was in bad shape. She needed comforting, and Sedrien felt the urge to give it to her.
"Come with me. I know what you need." He took her arm and led her to a waiting cab.
They said nothing on the ride into the Village. Sed pulled her from the cab a half a block away from the Captive. He had her ensconced in a back booth with a teacup in her hand before she could protest.
She glanced warily at the black ceramic teapot and cup in front of her. "I’ve never heard of having tea in a nightclub before."
"I thought it might be more comforting than alcohol. Now, relax and tell me everything."
She talked about the little boy she’d been with that night. She talked about taking over the job from Howard, and how she was terrified that she’d made a mistake in taking on such a tremendous task. She talked about her ex-husband who was HIV positive himself, although she said that he was still healthy. Once he’d opened the dam Lalie poured forth all the stresses and worries she’d been holding back. And Sedrien didn’t have to take her pain away, it melted away naturally in his presence.
Mina began to sing a slow song filled with promises. Lalie took Sedrien’s hand and asked him to dance with her. Sedrien enfolded her in his arms and tried to remember the last time he’d danced with anyone. All of a sudden the room was empty and time stood still. There was nothing else in the world but Sedrien, Lalie, and the music.
End of Chapter One
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