“We’re running out of time.”
Crystal barely heard the declaration even though Brian was right next to her. She was too absorbed in the decorations to be completely present. Balloons made to look like bubbles were strewn around the gymnasium, green streamers hung from the ceiling, and purple and blue lighting glided around the floor making it look like it was meant for dancing that night. Is “Under the Sea” still a popular theme, Crystal wondered. Maybe it was just easy and hence, still popular.
“Out of time? No one arrives at parties when they start. I’m pretty sure high school reunions are the same way,” Crystal finally answered.
Brian was looking at his phone. When Crystal got closer, she noticed that Brian was looking at his medical records. He must have decided to check his test results now instead of enjoying the evening and waiting until tomorrow. Maybe he didn’t want to be thinking about it all night.
“Two months?” Crystal cried out.
Brian could hear the fury in her voice. “It’ll be okay.”
“We were promised a year,” Crystal demanded with the same tone someone would use when arguing over a lease. It made Brian chuckle.
“The doctor doesn’t have any control over the timeline,” he reasoned, “It’s just more advanced than she originally had thought.”
Brian could see Crystal’s eyes change from the warm brown they normally were into a searing crimson. She had the look of someone trying to sober up the person in front of her as her voice deepened with the statement, “You’re right, the time is now. No more waiting, we need to follow my plan. Now!”
Brian put his hands on her shoulders and squeezed gently as he placed his forehead to hers and whispered, “Two months means we have all of tonight. Let’s make no decisions tonight. Let’s just try to have fun.”
Crystal took a deep breath and her eyes returned to their warm brown. She couldn’t feel angry when she was near him. He was like cannabis in human form.
“You really think we’ll have fun tonight?” she asked, “You do remember that these are the people we went to high school with. I don’t remember any of them liking me much.”
“Hmm, possibly,” Brian confirmed, “But you are a different person now. You’re amazing. You don’t want to deny them a chance to see what you’ve become.”
“Laying it on a bit thick, Sweetie,” Crystal retorted, “I wasn’t that bad.”
Crystal caught Brian staring at her, a whole internal conversation flashing across his eyes. She frowned at him in a gesture of “come on, share what you are thinking.”
Then finally, he said, “Do you remember high school? I know it was ten years ago but I am not sure you remember how you were.”
Crystal took the question seriously and took a moment. There were images of people and the halls of the school. She could remember text books and bad fashions and a swirl of moments watching basketball and football games. She was having trouble remembering anything substantial. Interactions with her peers were extremely vague. “I guess I don’t remember much,” she confessed.
Brian brushed her cheek as he shared a smile and sighed, “Well, at least there might be some closure tonight.”
Crystal kissed the palm of his hand before taking it. They set off together into the gathering of old classmates.
Brian led Crystal to a group of people he recognized. They were greeted by a chorus of random voices cheering, "Brian! You made it. You're here. You look great!"
Those same voices followed up with, "Crystal? Did you two come together? How did those two get together?" And Crystal could have sworn she heard a stray voice add, "Blink twice if she kidnapped you and you need help."
Crystal was relieved to hear Brian speak up right away, "Haha, be nice. You're just jealous because I'm now happily married to this lovely woman."
"Crystal?" the group announced in unison and Crystal was beginning to wish that she stayed home. She was also trying to shake her memories out so she could put names to the faces. There were eight people standing in front of her and she couldn’t remember any of them.. They looked familiar but it was all so blurry.
After a pause long enough for Crystal to start thinking about exit strategies, a lovely woman with soft features came forward, "Come on everybody, ten years is a long time. Let's find out what brought Brian and Crystal together."
"Thanks Shana," Brian greeted Shana with a hug, "Let's find out how everyone is doing after ten years."
"Shana?" Crystal looked to Shana with the hope of having another ally for the evening, "Nice to meet you."
Shana noted Crystal with confusion, "We've met. In fact, we've had a decent amount of history that I wish I could forget."
Crystal was mortified, "I'm so sorry." She needed to get a better handle on her memories. She thought her memories were complete. No problems with day to day needs and wants. Why was high school such a mess in her brain? Was her childhood that blurry too? Why did it not bother her before, the fact that so much of her life was blurry?
Shana must have seen the conflict in Crystal's eyes. She went back to the soft calmness that Crystal first saw. "Hmm, ten years was a long time ago," Shana reassured her, "Too long to hold onto pain or anger. Let's start over tonight."
“That would be nice,” Crystal said.
"We were just going over the yearbooks and swapping stories," Shana told Brian and Crystal, "Tell us what's up while we wander through memories."
They gathered around a large table and Crystal tried to not look too anxious as she grabbed a yearbook to try and get a more solid recap of high school. She could hear the questions beginning.
A man Crystal heard referred to as Dalton started, "I heard you were running a shelter in Oceanside, not surprising. Do you ever do anything just for yourself?"
"I do plenty of things for myself. I just don't brag about them like you do," Brian retorted.
The man fake gasped, "Me? I never do that."
"Yeah, like that trip to Hawaii on your Insta. How many meals did you eat there anyway? I have never seen so many photos of food in my life," Brian teased.
"Hahaha," Dalton fake laughed.
"Oh, and I'm not the only one at that shelter. Crystal helps run the nighttime shift," Brian smiled as he squeezed her hand. Crystal gave him a wink before going back to the yearbook. "She's such a blessing too. None of the volunteers want to work the night shift."
"You don't get tired working all night?" Shana asked.
Crystal could tell she was trying to include her and appreciated it but was trying to think up an answer that did not reveal too much, "I seem to thrive more at night."
"Well, it's great when people find what works for them," Shana expressed with genuine kindness.
Crystal nodded with a smile and went back to flipping through the yearbook. She was relieved to hear everyone pick up the conversation again, the spotlight off of her.
Crystal studied the pages, faces feeling familiar but remembering them in action was a struggle. Then Crystal remembered a laugh. It was distinctively hers, but it sounded so cruel. It rang out over and over again as she looked at the pages. More images were coming to her, books dropping, hurt faces, annoyed faces, someone tripping and falling. Her laugh continued, so mean, so cruel.
Crystal gasped and took Brian's hand. She pulled him to her and whispered, "I was cruel in high school?'
Brian took a breath and looked like he was about to console her when Dalton spoke up, "You don't remember? It was a wonder how you got any studying done. It seemed like your entire schedule was based on how many people you could make cry."
The news gutted Crystal. She looked at these kind people and uttered in quiet reverence, "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
Random, sincere "thank you"s came from the group.
Dalton took in her deflated stature, "I was being too blunt and harsh. They say that some people grow a lot after high school and you definitely did. You are nothing like the gal we knew back then. And to snag our Brian, well, you must be wonderful, better than we could have ever guessed."
Crystal appreciated the observation. Even after eight years, she was still thrilled to have found someone as loving as Brian. She wished she could convince him to let her help, to give them more time, maybe even an eternity together. Why was he refusing to let her help?
"How did the two of you get together?" Shana asked.
"Well, it was two years after we graduated and I was working at the shelter," Brian started, "Sadly, Crystal had come in needing help."
Crystal was so absorbed in the memories of that night and the thought of losing Brian. She mumbled, "There was so much blood,” not aware that she said it out loud or that she was rubbing her neck and running her tongue along her teeth.
"Blood?" Shana responded, concerned.
Brian quickly inserted, "She had been attacked. She was eventually okay but it took a little while."
Crystal stared into Brian's eyes, feeling how much she loved him, "Brian was there for me through all of it."
"Ah, she's stronger than she knows," Brian added, "Anyway, things grew from there."
"So, the attack must have really changed you," Dalton mentioned, "You are so different now."
"I guess it did," Crystal admitted while still looking at Brian for strength.
The night went on resulting in Crystal feeling more and more like everyone's' friend as opposed to an interloper. She began to be at ease and acted goofy. She was thrilled to see everyone relax and laugh with her. Like so many other reunions, dancing ensued to music from over a decade ago.
Brian held Crystal on the dance floor and she confessed to him, "At the beginning of this evening, I thought you had taken me out as a punishment. High school is still kind of vague but I am so glad I was able to make amends with your friends. They're good people."
"They're your friends now too," Brian informed her.
Crystal sighed gratefully, "Yes."
"I did want you to see something tonight, about the time when we met again and..." Brian stopped as Shana and her husband danced over to them.
"Warning, it looks like Scott is headed this way and it looks like he's been drinking. Do you think we could get lucky and maybe he grew up too?" Shana speculated.
"Hey losers!" a voice rang out over the dance floor.
"I don't think so," Brian answered.
"Even his put downs haven't grown up," Shana observed.
A large man came stumbling towards them. Crystal noticed that he probably was muscular in the past but now he had extra pounds covering it up. Crystal looked to Brian for clarification.
"Scott Harding from the wrestling team. He was constantly bullying anyone in his path," Brian explained.
"Crystal!" Scott called out way too loud for how close he was standing to her, "Crystal, it's me, Scott. Hey, you stayed hot. How about you and I get out of here?"
Crystal calmly told him, "No thank you, I'm here with my husband."
"Your husband?" Scott showed disgust, "Brian? You got together with Brian? This boy scout?"
"Be nice!" Crystal warned, "Time to go."
Scott switched his attention to Brian, "I remember how much of a pain in the ass you were in school, always getting in the way of someone having fun."
"You mean getting in the way of you hurting someone smaller than you," Brian responded.
Scott sized him up, presumably checking out how much stronger Brian had gotten since those days. "Nah, it was all in fun."
"No one was having fun Scott, not then, not now," Brian stood his ground, "The lady is right. Time for you to go."
Scott grabbed Brian by the collar and raised his fist. Before Brian could react, Scott flew backwards as a growl took over the music for a split second. No one was quite sure where it came from.
Brian knew what had happened and didn't try to stop Crystal as she calmly strolled over to Scott. She kept her head down, so only Scott could see the anger on her face. Her eyes glowed bright crimson and she began to lick her teeth again. This time showing the massive fangs forming from the top of her mouth. She got low to the ground, so only Scott could hear her growl, "You are done for the evening. Call an Uber and go home."
Scott nodded as he shook and scrambled to get to his feet and leave.
The altercation was done in an instant and the other guests had no idea what happened. They were just glad to see Scott leave.
Brian put out his hand to help Crystal stand, "Look at you. Always taking care of me."
"Not always," Crystal protested as she went back to slow dancing with Brian, "You won't let me take care of you where it will last. Let me turn you."
Brian smiled and stared into Crystal's eyes as if he was appreciating a sunset. "Remember when we first got together. There were some nasty people around you."
"Yeah," Crystal agreed with regret in her voice, "The vampire who turned me and his crew. They were terrible and I am so sorry that I brought all of that to your door."
Brian squeezed her gently, "I'm not looking for apologies. I'm just noticing that when we were in high school, you were not this kind, loving person you are now. I'm not sure if becoming a vampire made you the polar opposite of what you were, but from what I've witnessed, I don't want to take the chance that I might become as horrible as those vampires who tried to tear us apart all those years ago. I want to stay me, even if it means I have a short shelf life."
"So we have to make the most of the time we have," Crystal sorrowfully concluded, "I love you."
"I love you, so much," Brian whispered it like a wish for more. He placed his hand behind her neck and brought her in for a kiss, slowly, trying to make this moment last forever.