I wasn’t sure how I felt about Justin’s plans to stay. I was happy that I had someone I considered real family with me. I just didn’t know if the complications—and there would be complications— would be worth it.
I stared at the closed door for a long time and thought about what it meant to be family. If what Leslie told me about his was true, the people living in his home were very special to him and loyal. They accepted me, and although I hadn’t had much chance to get to know them yet, none of them was outright yelling at me or suggesting I leave. That was something.
To try to empty my mind, I walked into the dining room. It was stark compared to the rest of the house, as if Leslie couldn’t decide how to decorate it or its lack of decoration was on purpose. The long, almost black table with straight lines and no frills or embellishments, dominated the room. The chairs had solid backs and seats of the same wood, yet they were comfortable. Leslie had a fair amount of wall art throughout his home, and one rather large painting hung behind the head of the table. I stopped in front of it and stared.
Though I heard no footsteps, I sensed Leslie behind me. He passed a hand down my hair and let his hand rest on my right shoulder.
“That’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done,” I admitted.
“Thank you for staying.” He pressed his forehead into the back of my head.
“You’re welcome. I hope I don’t regret it.”
We stood quiet for some time, and eventually, Leslie’s head lifted. “It’s a work by Francis Bacon.” His hand fell away from my shoulder as he moved around me and approached it.
“It’s terrifying and heartbreaking.” I jerked my chin toward the painting. “He doesn’t have much of a head.”
“That’s not unusual for Bacon. What else do you see?”
“What little bit of eyes there are look hollow, empty, soulless. He’s surrounded by what look like bones and black fabric, I guess. He’s caged, but it’s thin, barely visible. Like a glass box.”
“Why do you think he’s caged?” Though I continued to look at the painting, I was aware that Leslie turned to look at me.
“The hands. They’re like the claws of an animal. Maybe he’s crazy, and he’s locked up for his own protection.” I pointed to where there were dark scribbles all around where the top of his head should have been.
“Maybe he’s locked up for the protection of others.”
“Maybe it’s both.” Now that I finally looked at it and thought about it, the painting disturbed me. I didn’t think I wanted to eat in the same room with it.
“At times,” Leslie said softly, “you have an uncanny ability to see right to the core of a thing.”
“I see what I see. Tell me something.”
“No, I mean you’re almost a complete mystery to me, so tell me something about you.”
“Like what?” He eyed me.
“Something about your past. I don’t care. Anything.” I threw my arms up in the air. “I’ve shared a lot with you, both voluntarily and involuntarily. I’d like you to share with me.”
“Let’s see.” He paced down the side of the dining room and back to me. “I was born in what was South Wales in England. Back then, it was a large Anglo-Saxon territory, ruled by the invading Vikings.” He stared over my shoulder. “My family owned land, mostly forested with some access to the sea. It was good for hunting and fishing. I remember the land, and some of my life as a human. I was happiest when I was out in the forest or in a boat on the water.”
He offered me a wan smile, and I thought it must be a tough loss to become a vampire when what you liked most in life was being outside in the daytime. Leslie sighed.
“My name was different because the language was, but over time, I’ve tried to adopt new names that have the same basic meaning as my original one. The meaning of ‘Leslie’ that applies to me is ‘garden by the pool’ which you can tell goes with ‘Wells’ which means what you’d expect.”
I thought forest would be more appropriate for him, but then decided that his land must have had lots of fresh water. Maybe his mother had a lovely garden. I wondered if he ever missed his family, long gone by now.
“You already know I was twenty-six when I was changed,” he continued. “I suppose I must’ve been a vampire almost twenty years before the Norman Conquest began.”
Turning the focus from the history of England back to the history of Leslie, I asked, “Who changed you?”
“A five hundred-year-old Viking who called himself Magnus.” Something unpleasant passed over Leslie’s face. “Even back then vampires thought of making armies and ruling the world. There weren’t as many of us, and we were widely spread.” He glanced down at me. “We’re still nowhere near as populous as humans, but technology made an enormous difference in connecting us. As you are well aware, vampires are even more selfish and power-hungry than humans. It was only a matter of time before we got the upper hand and brought the world to a standstill.”
“Why did Magnus pick you?” He had changed the subject again, and I wasn’t sure that he even knew he was doing it.
“He and a few others were hiding on my family’s land. I was a very strong and handsome young man, and I suppose they thought I’d make a fine warrior and an even better lure.” His fists clenched. “They caught me one evening on my way home from hunting.”
I reached out and put my hand on his forearm. “What did they do to you?” I searched his face, but he only shook his head.
“I’m not ready to share that.”
I would need to tread carefully in order to uncover Leslie’s secrets. I had a feeling there were many. I nodded in concession and asked, “What did you do, afterward?”
“Whatever Magnus told me to do. He was my master. He drank my blood to strengthen his control over me.”
“But you’re not with them anymore,” I offered hopefully.
“No. I wasn’t with them for very long in the grand scheme of things, even though at the time it felt like an eternity.”
“Do you know what happened to them after you left them?”
“They went to Hell, I hope. I killed them all.” Leslie looked away from me back at the painting. “I think that’s enough sharing for today.” He kissed my cheek and left me standing, open mouthed, in the dining room.
END CH13 P2