Wild Rosegarten, Chapter 14: Part 1

Jay N Jay

While Selene and Justin played a game of cat and mouse and Leslie locked himself away in his room to brood, I tried to write in my journal. I began writing about the gala, and even with the disruption of Selene’s and Justin’s arguments, I made good progress. I wrote for a while and then went back over what I had written, adding or taking away, studying what happened and seeing if I could gain any insight from it.

By four in the afternoon, I had as much as I could stand, which was when I decided to pick a fight with Jay and Santiago. I wanted to find out if I could take them when unarmed. They gladly cleared the furniture once I promised them that I would take full responsibility for anything that got broken, human or otherwise. I wondered if someone had told them about my fight with Justin.

“You two might be big and muscular, but you can learn a thing or two from me,” I informed them.

“From a skinny little girl like you?” Jay, the redhead, teased.

I decided Jay must have been the Brit messenger my mother had described. He had an English accent, a strong one. When he said “little,” it sounded like li’ull.

“You bet,” I taunted. “I won’t run away from you this time. To start, just try to catch me.”

They came at me as a team, and I ducked and spun, taking Jay down with a kick behind the knee, careful not to break it. Santiago danced back, reassessed our positions, and made a grab for me. I spun under his arms and around him and punched him in the back. I skipped away from them and watched as they straightened and rubbed various body parts.

“You’re too slow. You need lightning reflexes. I know you guys are the muscle, but it needs to be fast, lean muscle. Got it?”

They looked at each other and shook their heads. When they looked back at me, they shrugged and then nodded. Their moves were so well-timed that I grinned. When they came at me again, I took both of them down with leg sweeps. I encouraged them to attack, and as they did, I instructed as I dodged and darted out of their hands. Before long, they were both leaning against the wall and panting.

“It’s not as fun as I thought it’d be, Cami-girl,” Jay admitted, christening me with a new nickname. “You’re the scrapper here, not us.”

“I’m thinking we need an incentive,” Santiago said. His coloring hinted at Hispanic heritage, his accent a Texas drawl.

I crossed my arms over my chest and raised my eyebrows. “What more incentive do you need than getting faster and therefore less likely to be killed?”

“Lots. Think up something more fun,” Jay suggested. “There’s been a shortage of fun around here lately. Your little family drama has been the most exciting thing to happen for weeks.”

“I’m so happy my family distress entertained you,” I growled at him. “You’re not endearing yourself to me, Jay.”

“All right.” He patted his hands at me. “How’s about a kiss then?” He wiggled his eyebrows. “There haven’t been enough kisses to go around either.”

“I don’t just kiss people.” I uncrossed my arms and put my hands on my hips.

“Really?” Jay asked. “I got a different impression from the shouting match you all had earlier today.” He winked at me, and the red, a mix of anger and embarrassment, crept into my cheeks.

“Oh, now, don’t get all huffy. Besides, me and J here aren’t just people, Cami-girl. We’re family now.”

“J? Wait, I thought your name was Santiago.”

“That’s Spanish for Saint James. We’re the two Jameses, you see? We’ve been doing everything, well, almost everything,” he paused to give me a knowing look, “together for years now. Somebody started calling us James and James, which shortened to Jay and J, as in J-A-Y and just J to tell us apart. Well, eventually, ‘and’ got shortened to ‘n’—Jay n J, our little nickname.”

“Like mine is now apparently Cami-girl?”

“That’s right.” Happy I was catching on, Jay smiled at me.

I smirked. “Do you do all the talking?”

“No, I just talk more. So, now, back to the kisses.” He wagged his index finger at me. “I say it’s a good incentive. Besides, it’s like traditional or something to give out kisses to the winner of a fight.” He swelled with pride for thinking up that one.

“I don’t think it applies when you’re fighting the one who’ll be rewarding you.”

“So we bend the tradition a bit.” Jay poked an encouraging elbow in my direction. “C’mon. What do you say?”

“Not that it matters. You two won’t catch me.” I eyed them and then caved. “Okay then.” I lifted my finger in the air and righteously said, “Kisses to the victor.”

“Real kisses,” Jay clarified. “Not any of them pecks on the cheek, mind you.”

“Real kisses,” I agreed. “Not that it matters.”

They came for me, punching, kicking, trying to work as a team, but they never did catch me. At one point, I grabbed hold of one of the small gold hoops that Jay wore in his ears, teaching him a valuable lesson about fighting while wearing jewelry. He yelped, but I didn’t actually hurt him. Still, I gave both men plenty of bruises and knots. Finally, they gave up, Jay moaning about exhaustion and starvation.

“Well, no kisses today.” I gave each man a slap on the back. “But, if you practice with me enough, you’ll eventually get good enough to win one. How about dinner as a consolation?”

They agreed easily enough and plopped down on stools at the bar to keep me company while I cooked. I didn’t expect to be getting a lesson from Selene anytime soon, so I thought I’d keep it simple. I went to the refrigerator and rummaged through the meat drawer. I found a big package of ground beef. I hadn’t had a hamburger in over a year, and it sounded like the most delicious thing to me.

Getting my hopes up, I went to the pantry, which took up the one interior wall of the kitchen. I found two packages of fresh buns—the large kind, with poppy seeds and onion bits baked onto the tops. I did a mental head count and determined that there would be plenty to feed all humans with seconds if they wanted.

In the bottom of the pantry, I found a wooden box that served as a root cellar. I took out six potatoes and an onion. I decided to press my luck and, after a bit of a search, I found oil, a large, deep Dutch oven, and a fry basket that would fit in it.

“Somebody loves me boys. We’ve got everything we need for hamburgers and fries.” I took down the biggest skillet on the hanging rack and carried it over to the stove.

“You’re not going to grill them?” Santiago asked.

“Texas, right?” I asked, and he nodded. “Well, I’m from nowhere really, but I like my burgers fried and greasy. You want a grilled burger? I’ll save you some patties, but you’ll have to do it yourself.” I set the meat on the island counter and brought a plate over so I would have a place to put the patties. I pressed a wad of meat into my palm and started forming a disk. “Does Leslie have a grill?”

“Les has at least one of everything,” Jay said. “Life’s been good since we hooked up with him, eh J?”

Judging by the look they exchanged, I guessed that whatever had come before Leslie had been on the level of my worst nightmares. I set my first patty down and scooped up another palm full.

“If you’re cooking, I’m eating, and I won’t complain,” Santiago said.

I’d yet to meet a man, human or vampire, who was a picky eater but most human men were reluctant cooks. Justin was capable in the kitchen, but cooking duty wasn’t for everyone. We all had different talents we brought to the group. My best skill was fighting, but I wasn’t above cooking a meal for my friends. I set the second patty down and moved on to the third.

“Okay, can either of you slice veggies?” When I looked up at them, they appeared to be on the verge of saying no. “You fix the fixings, and I’ll fix the rest.”

“Deal,” they both said.

As per my instructions, they got out cutting boards, a large plate for the potatoes, and small plates for the onion, tomatoes, and lettuce. Tomatoes in winter—I smiled and shook my head. Fresh meat, dairy, and vegetables were such a luxury to me, and now that I lived with Leslie, I could have them daily, if I wanted. Thankful didn’t begin to cover what I felt.

After peeling the potatoes and slicing them into fries, I heated the oil in the Dutch oven. When the skillet was hot enough, I slid in the first six burgers. Jay and Santiago chatted while they sliced the rest of the veggies. They also rooted out a jar of pickles, sliced the cheese, and sliced the buns.

The scent of food drew the other humans down to the kitchen. Heather came in with two six packs of bottled beer, which she explained were kept in the refrigerator in the laundry room.

“Laundry room?” I asked.

She passed me a beer and nodded. “It’s on the side of the vampire drive opposite the house. There’s a wine cellar and an incinerator, too.”

I gave her a shrewd look and twisted the cap off my bottle. It had a wonderful flavor, and I enjoyed sipping it while I cooked. I tensed when Justin came sulking into the kitchen. Seeing my reaction, Jay intercepted him with a slap on the back, a beer, and a conversation on fighting tactics. Jay gestured to me with his beer, and the gloom lifted off Justin as he gave Jay pointers on how to take me down in a fight.

When the oil was finally hot enough, I dumped the fry basket in the Dutch oven. As I slid the first round of burgers out of the pan and onto a plate, Justin came up behind me.

“Kisses?” he asked. The way he said it, the tension, anger, and ugliness of the morning evaporated.

I smiled and shrugged. The next round of burgers went into the pan. “You don’t think it’s a good incentive?”

“No, that’s not what I’m saying at all. I think it’s cruel of you to get their hopes up.” We both laughed. “I wonder…are you willing to extend your incentive to me as well?”

I snorted. “When have you ever asked my permission for a kiss?”

“Never, but maybe a little friendly competition is what they need.” He took a swig of his beer.

“You’re just torturing yourself, you know.” I didn’t understand why he insisted on  holding onto his feelings for me.

“Well, it’s my fault then, isn’t it?”

I flipped the burgers. “Yeah, but you’ll blame me, and then you’ll do something ridiculous like break my bones or call your host a monster in his own house while you sleep in his bed and eat his food.” I gestured at him with the spatula.

“Probably, but you’ll forgive me because I’m your family and the man you’ve been having sex with for the last five years, and he’ll forgive me because he loves you.”

I barked out a laugh as Justin pinched my bottom. I set down the spatula. “I don’t think I gave you a concussion; I think I broke your head.” I gave him a level look and pointed to the fry basket.

“Get the fries out and onto something to drain, would you?”

There were eight of us when we gathered in the kitchen and living room and devoured the burgers as if we hadn’t eaten in weeks. Jay entertained everyone with his jokes and tales of me kicking his butt. His eyes would go wide as he spoke. He gestured with his hands and moved so much that he almost fell off his stool twice.

Santiago was quiet, but he laughed and, on cue, embellished Jay’s stories. When we ran out of beer, he made a trip down to get more.

This dinner gave me a chance to meet Kiera. She and Heather were physical opposites— Heather being short and fair while Kiera was taller and warmer. Kiera spoke even less than Santiago, the person who most captured her attention.

With olive skin, dark hair, dark eyes, Santiago was tall for a Hispanic man. Jay was pale with hair the color of a new penny. Strawberry-blond, that was it, I thought. His intense green eyes laughed, even when his mouth didn’t. Both men were large and muscular, with thick necks and square jaws. To be so differently colored, they looked remarkably alike.

The other two men were twins, Courtland and Montgomery, or Court and Monte for short. They were average height, thin, darkskinned men with shaved heads. They enjoyed team-teasing Jay and finished each other’s sentences.

The beer loosened everyone up, allowing us to get comfortable with one another. Having been at House Wells since the gala, I had scarcely seen anyone but Heather. I wondered if, initially, Leslie told them to stay away to give my family and me time to adjust.

When I asked, Court said, “The house is large. You could go all day without seeing any of us if you wanted. Except for Jay, everyone is usually gone in the daytime. We have projects we work on related to what Leslie’s doing.”

“Right-o,” Jay added. “Since you arrived, Cami-girl, J and I have been helping the vamps by checking the grounds in the daytime. Makes Les less paranoid. The vamps are really the muscle around here, but we can do in a pinch.”

“You aren’t fighters?”

“In a pinch, I said,” he repeated as if I were slow.

“I guess that makes us the trainers,” Justin said pointing between himself and me.

“When we’re here, Kiera and I mostly tend to the needs of the household,” Heather explained.

“Hoy, and needs we have,” Jay added and wiggled a flirtatious eyebrow at her. Kiera rolled her eyes but smiled. Heather waved Jay off, blushing.

“Of course, the vamps do a little bit of everything,” Santiago said.

“Brains, brawn, and a mixture of both in their leader,” I said.

“I think our Cami-girl might be a mix herself. What do you say, J?” Santiago eyed me and nodded. Jay raised his beer. “Cheers, everyone,” he called out, and we drank deeply.

END CH14 P1

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