“Hey,” I said, “what happened to that awful creaky sound?”
“My dad fixed it with some grease.” Replied Jessica, as she rose higher and higher on the swing. “Now that we’re moving out of the house, he wants it to be perfect.” She said with bitterness.
I was lightly swaying like a bug caught in a spiders’ web, heartbroken that my longtime best friend from next door was leaving me.
Jessica, Jess as I got to call her, was 14 and I was 15. We did everything together. She was certainly the wild one of us two, always daring me to do things. I can’t imagine what would happen if she found out I had a crush on her.
That day, cold and cloudy with a shivering drizzle slowly getting our clothes wet, was a wonderful day I will never forget.
“Hey Ben,” she said, “watch this.”
Jess got high on her swing and let go at the apex and attempted a backward somersault in the air. As she got up, laughing hysterically from her faceplant, came to me and grabbed the swing chains and pulled me in for a kiss. My first kiss.
* * *
That day was almost ten years ago, and in that time, we had lost touch.
“Hey Ben,” said Lewis, “guess who’s back in town?”
I looked at my good friend and coworker with a look I often give to morning people. “I don’t know, who?” I asked, as I took a swig of my anti-grumpy elixir, heavy with sugar and creamer.
“Your old girlfriend, Jessica.” Lewis said with a wild smirk.
My eyes popped open at the sound of her name and my heart skipped a beat at the thought of her. “Oh really?” I said, trying and failing to play it cool. “And she wasn’t my girlfriend.”
Still smiling Lewis said, “Yeah, but you wish she was.”
I’ve had a few girlfriends since that kiss, but for some reason nothing compares. My heart is forever tethered to Jess.
“How did you find out?” I asked.
“I had coffee with Beth yesterday, I guess they still keep in touch.”
Ding, went the bell to the front door, reminding me that Lewis and I were working. We had our conversation in the back corner, stocking books on the shelves. I went back up to the front desk of the bookstore. The bookstore that Lewis’ parents owned and allowed me to work at.
“Hi, how can I help you?” Another customer asked for the latest best seller.
Throughout the day Lewis and I talked about our usual stupid subjects, and the return of Jessica kept sneaking its way in.
“Remember, I can’t close tonight, “said Lewis, “my uncle is in town and my folks are making a huge deal of it.”
“No worries,” I said, “you can leave now if you like, it’s been a slow day.”
The sun was down, and no one had come in since Lewis left. I was in the back getting ready to close up, feeling sad that Jess never showed up. Ding.
I came out from the back and looked around. No one was here, they must’ve looked in then left.
Or perhaps not. “Hi Ben.”
I froze. I could feel my blood move. The fuzz on my ears felt like they sprung up like that of a cat, and I had goosebumps trickling up my neck like wildfire. I looked over, and there she was. “Jess.” I couldn’t hide my huge smile. I then stuttered, too many sentences fighting for attention.
“It’s great to see you again.” She said.
“Yes, you too. Wow. You look great.” She was still beautiful. Those piercing green eyes, long wavy auburn hair that wisped at the ends.
After we both stood awkwardly, she came in for a hug, so I came from around the desk, and she wrapped her arms around me. She wore perfume now, but I could still smell that familiar Jess scent I remember from all those years ago. I guess she had a similar experience, “mmm, you smell good,” she said, as she got her nose close to my neck, just above my tee-shirt.
We slowly parted, and our eyes met, putting me in a trance.
“Oh, hey,” I brought myself back, “I need to close.”
Going through the routine of closing the store comforted me and I was able to communicate better. After ten or fifteen minutes of catching up, knowing our time was coming to an end, I asked, “would you like to continue and go out for a late dinner? Or some drinks?”
“I would love to, but I already have plans. I’m sorry.”
“That’s fine.” I said. “I’m off tomorrow, we could grab lunch?” I realize now that I’m probably coming off a little obsessive.
Her eyes looked away, “I can’t do lunch. But how about tomorrow night?”
“Yeah,” I said as I felt like she was trying to blow me off, “tomorrow night works fine.”
After she left and I locked the shop door, I walked the other direction home. It’s only a four-block walk. When I got home and changed into my sweatpants, I gave Lewis a call to tell him the news.
“He never showed up.” Lewis said about his uncle. “My mom is upset, but none of us are surprised that he didn’t come. Anyway, tell me about Jessica”
I went on and on, sharing every detail and insight. I ended with my feeling that she wasn’t impressed and won’t show up for a ‘date’.
“Oh come on man,” said Lewis, “you’re being too hard on yourself. Besides, I’m sure she has a lot of catching up with other friends too. She did come by and see you after all.”
“Yeah, I suppose you’re right.”
“So I’d better get going, I’ve got some dishes to clean.” Said Lewis. “Have a good day off tomorrow.”
‘Thanks, you too.” I said, now embarrassed by my fumble. “I mean, have a good day at work.”
The following day felt ridiculously long. Every time I tried to do anything, my thoughts would fall back to Jess; excitement of her return, but inevitably the fear that I somehow blew it.
Late afternoon I stared at my ringing phone for just a moment of habit, then I quickly answered, recalling that I had given Jess my number, but I hadn’t been given hers. “Hello?” I said.
“Hey Ben, it’s Jessi – It’s Jess. Are you still up for tonight?”
I was awkwardly giddy, and I’m pretty sure I bounced up and down a little from my seated position on the couch. “Sure.”
I suck at playing it cool. After a pause on both ends, “how about Tony’s Bar and Grille,” Jess went on, “say, eight o’clock?”
“I’ll be there. With bells on.” Oh, I’m an idiot.
Jess laughs, “You’re so dumb. I really missed you, Ben. I gotta run, see you at eight.”
“See you at” – click, “eight,” I said to myself.
After half a dozen outfit changes and a nice chat with Lewis, I was all ready to go. On my way out my mom called and reminded me that she had to stop by tomorrow night to pick up her recipe book I had borrowed. “I can bring it to you, mom.”
“No, no, I love visiting my Benny Boy. I will see you tomorrow night, honey.”
“Okay,” I said. “I look forward to it.”
I really don’t remember much about my dinner with Jess. We talked about so much, although she didn’t seem to have much to say about her years away. One thing that I can’t forget; towards the end of the meal she appeared very tired, and after a trip to the bathroom she was energized again. Once we finished our meals, we hugged and parted ways out front. When we heard the police sirens in the distance, I made the cliché joke that they were after her.
I shared my suspicions with Lewis the following day at work.
“I mean, it seems like drugs.” Lewis somewhat agreed. “But come on man, maybe she just had to use the bathroom really bad or had to move around a bit.
I nodded in hopeful approval.
“Or,” Lewis continued, “you just bored the hell out of her.” He laughed at his lame joke.
Can I see you tonight? We need to talk.
“Oh man,” I said to Lewis. “Check out this text from Jess.”
“Uh oh.” Was all he said. His look said as much, and more.
I didn’t close the bookshop that night but leaving early was bittersweet. But I guess I’d be this anxious no matter where I was.
I walked to the door in dread, but also holding on to my last bit of denial.
I forgot my mom was coming over. “Hi mom, come on in.”
We talked about this and that, all the while my mother was cradling her cookbook. I finally confessed that I was expecting company, and she easily predicted that it was a girl. “I just have to use the bathroom before I go.”
Just when I heard the bathroom door close, there was the knock at the door.
I opened the door, and there was Jess. As beautiful as ever. Her head was down just a little, her constant confidence, for the first time I had ever seen, was slightly diminished.
“Hi.” Was all I said.
“Hi Ben.” Now she looked me in the eyes, but only for a moment. “Can I come in?”
I jokingly said, “No, you may not.”
She just stood there, looking very stressed now. “Please, we need to talk. I need to talk to you.”
We stared at each other now. I moved out of her way and gestured in but said nothing.
“I need you say it.” She said.
At this point I was getting frustrated and confused. “What, are you some vampire or something?” I then had a forced laugh.
Jess looked me deep in the eyes and said, “that’s what I wanted to talk to you about.”
“Oh come on, this is crazy.” I wanted to just invite her in and get over this game, but a part of me warned me not to.
She showed me her smile, then right before my eyes I saw her two fang teeth protrude down into long, sharp vampire teeth.
“No. No way.” I was freaked out, still not sure what was real, yet I stood my ground. “You cannot come in.”
I heard the floor creak behind me. Oh no, my mom! “Sweety, I just had to clean your sink. How can you live li – Oh,” she interrupted herself. “Jessica? My goodness, is that you? Come on in from the cold, dear.” My mother then turned her back to the worst thing she’s ever done and picked up her cookbook and headed to the door. “My goodness, you’re all grown up. I’d better go and let you two catch up.”
I guess out of kindness to my mother, Jess waited outside the door as my mother passed us by. “I love you, dear.” She said to me. “So wonderful to see you again.” she said to Jessica with a big smile.
We both watched my mother get in her car and drive away, then Jess’s eyes met my terrified eyes.
She started towards me, then stopped, with a smile. “It doesn’t work that way, Ben. It’s your home, only you can invite me in.”
As terrified and uncomfortable and confused as I was, I still found that tidbit very fascinating.
“Listen,” she said, “I’ll get straight to the point, and then you can decide to let me in or not.”
I nodded in return.
“I wasn’t always a vampire.” She then thought for a moment. “Do you remember my little brother?”
“Yeah,” I said. “of course I do. Noah.”
“He drowned a little while before you moved away.” I said.
“Right,” she confirmed. “Except that was a lie. Vampires got him. We didn’t know they existed until then. In searching for Noah, we came across a vampire hunter. Greg Mathews.”
“Greg Mathews?” I said in a surprised tone. “Lewis’ uncle, Greg?”
Her face turned bitter, “yes. That Greg. So he got my parents into hunting as well, and that’s why we had to leave. And in the years that followed, we finally found the coven that took my brother. He had already been dead for some time, but we wanted revenge. Except Greg got scared and abandoned us. Without his part of the plan, it all fell apart. Needless to say, I became a vampire that night. My parents became a buffet that they couldn’t survive. I have spent all this time killing all those involved.”
She then took a wooden stake out of her inside jacket pocket. Cool, I thought.
“I saved the best for last.” She said. “He was in town last night.”
“Oh my god, another vampire roaming around the city?” I asked.
“No,” she said. “A hunter. Beth called me and told me he was back in town. She’s the only one who knew the truth.”
“Greg?” I asked, already knowing the truth. That explains why he didn’t show up. “You’re a murderer.”
She bowed her head. “Take this.” She handed me the stake. “I don’t want to live this life anymore, and this is the only way out.”
“No.” I said. “I can’t. I won’t. Can’t you just go out on a sunny day or something?”
“It doesn’t work like that,” she said. “It’s really like more of an instant sunburn.”
“Well no. I won’t do it.”
“Please?” She begged. “I know I’m asking everything of you. This is so much to take in. I didn’t mean for this. I’m just so unhappy and scared.”
“I would be a murderer.” I said. “No. And you cannot come in. You are not welcome here.”
At this, she pushed me aside and came right in the front door. She turned and looked at me, “I lied. Your mom’s invitation was all I needed. I just hoped that I could enter with your blessing.”
The door was still open. I could make a run for it. But no. Despite it all, my heart was still tethered to Jess. I turned to face her, and she took a step to me and handed me the stake, which I accepted. She came in for a hug, and then it happened. She sunk her teeth into my neck, my fight or flight kicked in and the next thing I know I’m holding a bloody stake, halfway in Jess’ chest.
“Ahh,” I exclaimed as I held my neck. “It hurts like hell.”
She gave me a look of terror. “I flinched,” she said. “I bit some of your neck off, I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry for all of this.” She started to cry. “Your lovely scent, I’m drawn to it. I didn’t mean to bite. I only meant to give you one last hug and leave.”
I was holding back a lot of blood. I was starting to feel light-headed.
“You didn’t get all the way to my heart.” She said. “Finish the job. I’ll turn to ash, and you’ll bleed to death before you can turn. Please.” She pleaded. “Before it’s too late.”
We were both crying at this point, in this moment of chaos. Despite the hell Jess just brought into my life, I still cared for her. We went in for one last hug. She nestled her head in the nook of my neck by my wound. I pushed the stake deeper up her rib cage, finally hitting her heart, and then a searing fiery flash of heat burst in my face. A powdering of ash was all that remained of my Jess, and I fell.
Death is dark. Death is cold. I really thought there’d be more of a reveal. Suddenly, I heard voices. God? The Devil? The voices are clearer now.
“…some poor sap was walking his dog and saw this bloody mess dead in his entryway.”
“Cause of death?” Said the second voice.
“A wound on his neck, bled to death. Covered in someone’s ashes. Some ritual I imagine. Someone cauterized the wound though, and it stopped the bleeding.”
“Very strange,” said the second voice. “But not in time to save him. Well, good luck with that one, but I had better get home. Have a goodnight, Hank.”
Am I a ghost? Trapped in my dead body…wait. I hear my heartbeat…that’s not my heartbeat. Vampires don’t have heartbeats.
With a new sense, I could feel Hank’s heart beating. I pulled the sheet away and sat up, feeling amazing, but so very hungry.
“What the hell?” Yelled poor Hank.
I now understand why Jess did what she did. The nature of the beast is its own demise. Its hunger, the monster’s very weakness. Enough philosophizing, it’s time to eat. I jumped my naked powerful body onto the floor and in one leap I was across the room. Hank never had a chance.