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She was sleeping. Sprawled out on the guest bed, the edge of my shirt riding up just enough to tease me. There was a chill in the room. I set her dinner tray down on the dresser, then knelt before the fireplace and quietly removed the grate. It took me just a few minutes to get it started. I'd had lots of practice after all, centuries worth.
I sensed it the moment she woke. I didn't have to turn around. I knew. She was watching me.
"The fire will take the chill out of the air in a minute or two. I brought you dinner."
"What about your dinner?" she asked.
"I've already eaten," I lied. "Let me help you under the covers, and then I'll position the tray."
"You're good at this, taking care of someone. I'm sure that Fred and Grace were in good hands."
My eyes filled unexpectedly with tears.
"You obviously were very close to them. Do you want to talk about it?" Violet asked, her tone gentle and caring.
"I'm sorry," she said softly. "I didn't mean to bring up painful memories. It's just. I wish that I had come sooner, had a chance to say goodbye. She had a full life though, didn't-"
"Why do people say that? It doesn't even make any sense? What is a full life?" I practically shouted.
She started and then moved to get out of bed. I was afraid that my outburst had frightened her.
"What are you doing?" I asked lowering my voice, forcing myself to calm down.
"I need to use the bathroom. I think I can manage if you let me lean on you a bit."
I walked over and easily lifted her up into my arms.
"You shouldn't bear weight," I told her. "And I should have brought you ice."
"Yeah, but it's not too late to redeem yourself," she said, wrapping her arms around my neck and tossing her hair back over one shoulder.
"The ice. It would still help."
"Of course." I carried her back to my bedroom and into the adjoining bathroom since it was closer than the guest bath down the hall. I set her down carefully next to the commode, then I turned on the light, closed the door and ran downstairs in search of ice.
When I returned a few minutes later, she was sitting on the red velvet chaise that was in the corner of my room, her foot propped up on a stack of Chinese silk pillows, my latest financial magazine in her hands.
"I have my answer if you want to hear it," she said, tossing the magazine aside.
"What was the question?" I asked, sitting down alongside her.
I laid the bag of frozen peas I'd brought upstairs on top of her slightly swollen ankle. When I did, my fingertips lightly grazed her skin. It was a simple thing, touching her ankle; even that slight touch had the power to drive me to distraction. I pulled away.
"Thanks," she said.
"You asked me for my definition of a full life."
"It's an interesting question. I used to think that it had to do with how long someone was around. You know, living to a ripe old age. Until you were. ready to go," she said.
"Wherever. Maybe nowhere. Hell, I don't know."
"But you don't think that anymore?"
"No. When I was a medical student, I saw my share of death. Being ready for it? It's not about reaching some magical age. It's about being at peace, about accepting your mortality, about looking back at your life and being satisfied with how you've lived it."
Accepting mortality was something I'd never given much consideration to. I'd never had to. But I did then. I thought about Fred, about the choice she make and how she lived her life. Then I thought about my father, about how bitter and resentful he'd been. He carried his mortality like a shroud. Was it simply a matter of perspective? People link satisfaction with attainment, but what if it's really about acceptance? What if it's not about getting into Heaven? Maybe there is no Heaven for creatures like me. Maybe this life, here, now, is all I'm ever going to get.
She reached over and brushed her fingers across my wrinkled forehead. "You're thinking awfully hard about something. Care to share?"
"Have you ever found yourself questioning whether what you believed was true?"
"Daily," she admitted, sounding somewhat amused.
"I'm not talking about the little things.like whether it's going to rain or not. I'm talking about the big stuff."
Her expression turned serious. "Like?"
"Like, what if you didn't have to die? What if you could live forever?" I asked her.
She shook her head and laughed. Well, of course she would laugh. I waited patiently.
"Do I get to be rich and beautiful?" she asked.
Violet frowned. "What's the catch?"
"The down side. What do I have to give up?"
Now, they don't talk about that much, vampires don't. They don't talk about the things that they miss, the things that they will never have. Perhaps it's because we have no control over it. Why brood about what can't be changed?
"Being around people," I shrugged, passing it off as if it were nothing.
"So I'd have to be alone forever? No. Not worth it. I'm not that interesting."
"Not alone, exactly. You could be around others that are like you."
"So it would be me and a bunch of me clones? Kind of creepy, don't you think?" she asked, distaste clearly evident in her voice.
God, this woman could be exasperating.
"No. That's not what I mean. Let's say that you were American."
"I am American. Why can't I be Italian?"
"Okay. Let's say you were Italian, and you could only be around other Italians."
"But what if I meet and fall in love with a man from France or Spain or Greece or-"
I held up my hand to stop her. "I get it. You can't."
"I can't fall in love with them? So, I can't feel love?"
"You can't be with them," I told her.
"Why?" she challenged, clearly not liking the idea.
"It's like a rule."
"It's a stupid rule," she declared.
"Yes," I agreed. I watched her as she bit down on her lower lip. It was as sexy as hell and I found myself wanting to take her lip into my own mouth. It was full and red, ripe and I wanted to sweep my tongue across it, to suck it into my mouth, to take just one.tiny.nibble.
"Let me see if I have this straight. I'm going to live forever. I'm beautiful and rich, and I've met a drop-dead gorgeous French guy who promises to be the love of my life?"
"Let's say I break the rule. What happens? Instant death?"
"Death, yes; but, not instant. You could live for quite some time, a hundred years, two hundred, maybe more."
"I'm still beautiful and rich?"
"You age slowly."
"Does my Frenchman leave me?"
I couldn't help but smile. "You're a romantic. No. He adores you. He has eyes only for you. Even when you are old, and gray, and disgusting."
Her mouth fell open, and she gave my shoulder a little shove. "Disgusting? You should take lessons from my Frenchman. He tells me that I am getting better with age, like fine wine."
"He just says stuff like that so that you'll sleep with him," I replied, goading her, and suddenly disliking the Frenchman.
"You're clearly projecting," she countered, getting miffed. "Anyways, so far I'm leaning towards saying yes, and then breaking the rule so that I can live happily ever after for a few hundred good years with Pierre."
"He has a name now?"
"Yes. He's also a very attentive lover, and a devoted father." I liked Pierre less and less, and enjoyed the banter more and more.
"You have children?"
"If they aren't like you, you must send them away."
"Yes," I said, remembering my mother's pain. It all had occurred so long ago. Yet it seemed in many ways to have happened just yesterday. "So that they can live with others like them. So they may have a normal life."
"Hmm?" For a moment I'd gotten lost in the memories.
"Nobody has a normal life. It's a myth."
"Like vampires are myths?" I said hesitantly, trying to gauge her reaction.
"I'm a vampire now?"
"Immortal," I clarified, not that she would understand the difference between those that are immortal and those that have crossed the line.
"Do I have to drink blood, sleep in a coffin-"?
"You don't have to drink blood. You can eat regular food, and sleep in a regular bed. Only the warped vampires traipse around biting people and draining their blood, Violet."
"It's a problem. The older you get, the more powerful, the easier you can tolerate it."
"I'm still saying I'd go for it and break the rules. I marry Pierre, keep the kids and live to a ripe old age with no regrets!" she concluded, quite pleased with herself.
"You'd break the rules," I repeated.
"Yeah, why not?"
Why not, indeed? My father had broken the rules. I was here, after all. My parents died when I was still young, and Fred had essentially raised me. She certainly broke the rules. She didn't seem to regret it, either. Not one bit. Although she never had children, never had to face the pain of giving them up.
"Have you no respect for rules?"
"Are you asking Vampire me? Cause I hear vampires are pretty morally flexible, being evil and soulless and all."
"You're not evil and soulless. You're just.different."
"With stupid rules that make no sense. Okay, I have one now. You're stuck on an island for three whole days with a moderately attractive woman who finds you interesting and would like to get to know you better. Do you pretend you've already eaten, and make her dine alone in the guest room, or do you do the polite thing and have dinner with her?"
"How big are her tits?" I asked.
I saw it coming. I probably saw it coming before she even realized she was going to do it. Immortals are like that, especially those of us that have been around for a long time, we anticipate, and we defend. She grasped the throw pillow and swung it towards my head in a wide arch. Long before it could connect, I had her wrist grasped firmly in my hand and her arm held up over her head. My body was hovering over the length of hers and the rumble of a low growl was still emitting from my chest. She glance down and then back up, searchingly into my eyes. And, that's when I made the biggest mistake of my three hundred and seventy-nine years. I kissed her.
I kissed her, and in that moment nothing else mattered. I wasn't thinking about next year, or next month, or even the next minute. All I was thinking about was how incredibly good she felt beneath me. Her lips were soft and sweet and willing. No, wanting. I wasn't tender. I wasn't careful. And I wasn't holding back. Not anymore, and maybe never again.
As my tongue entered her mouth, I felt her arch up, her breasts coming into contact with my chest. I had never tasted anything so exquisite. Stroking, exploring, over and over. All that existed was her -this moment. I wanted it to last forever. Then I realized, with an almost blinding clarity, that I didn't want to last forever without it.