The dream I had while I slept on the sofa was no less vivid than the previous dreams I’d had while staying in Leslie’s house. It began with Aster. I interrupted her from reading, but she didn’t mind. We chatted happily about childhood things like making flower necklaces and playing school with her dolls.
All too soon, the conversation turned to current, adult subjects. I promised her I would talk to Leslie about coming to visit, but I doubted I could come live with her. She gave me an odd look and then yelled at me about family. When she got pushy like that, it was best to ignore her, and when I did, she vanished from the dream.
I floated happily, a dandelion puff on the breeze, and the scene changed as I felt a hand, gentle and soft, stroking my hair back from my face. I found my head was on a pillow in Leslie’s lap. I felt comfortable and the stroking was very relaxing.
“Missed you today,” I said and felt a little thrill when he smiled, a real smile.
“I had some thinking to do,” he said softly. “It was a big day for you.”
“Like Jay. Drank beers.” I rolled onto my back and flung an arm over my head. Leslie stroked from my wrist down my arm, and I purred. “Like this dream.”
“Do you?” He sounded amused.
“Like dreams you’re in.” I hummed as his hand trailed down my arm from my wrist and over my shirt to my waist. He repeated the movement, skimming the side of my breast.
“Justin made up.”
The movement stopped. There was no sound, so I thought I had ended the dream. Then, the stroking resumed, and I felt myself smile.
“And?” he asked.
“Says crazy things.” I bent my leg, pulling my knee up, and Leslie stroked from my wrist to my ankle. With each pass of his hand, a little trickle of electricity ran down my body.
“You love me.” I hummed again as his hand came down and cupped my breast briefly before moving on to my leg.
“And what did you say?”
It got quiet again as Leslie continued to stroke me like a well-loved cat. I dreamed within my dream about a shark that had been swimming for centuries until it found a beautiful woman. I watched in horror as it bit down on her leg. Red filled the ocean around her, and she screamed soundlessly. The bottom half of her leg was gone, and she would drown now, if she didn’t bleed to death first. The shark swam in a circle around her one time before it stopped and faced her. After kissing it, she held its head as she sank into the darkness.
“Save Aster. She’s drowning,” I shouted.
Panic surged in me. I ran, but it was like running in a foot of water, slow and sluggish, through total darkness where there was no light and never would be. I had something a minute ago, and now it was gone. I fell to my knees and used my arms to try to sweep away the water. I felt all over for the lost object.
“Leslie, where are you?” I found nothing but darkness. “You’re never here when I need you.”
“Here,” he said. “I’m here.”
I felt his hand caress my cheek. Monsters didn’t deserve affection, and I was something worse. I didn’t want to be, and so I cried. As the grief spilled out of me, I drifted off into the black again.
* * * *
When I finally woke, I saw a tiny lamp burning in one of the outlets in the bathroom, and I knew I was in the basement instead of on the couch. I couldn’t remember coming down the stairs. It was a wonder I hadn’t fallen and broken my neck.
My dreams came back to me, disturbing me deeply. I understood the symbolism in the shark and the beautiful woman, on several levels. I shivered at the memory of the darkness. There were many foul creatures in the world, and I was certain that I should be included in the group.
I caught a whiff of myself and decided it was time to start making an effort to shower before I got into bed all sweaty and stinky. My hair smelled like fried meat and potatoes. Leslie was in bed with me again, unconscious again, and I was determined not to repeat the previous day’s mistakes. This time, when I got up, I lacked the grace, speed, and subtlety of the previous morning, and I jostled the bed.
Leslie’s eyes flashed open, and he hissed at me before he flung himself out of bed against the wall. He was wearing a long-sleeved pajama shirt and boxers, which I would’ve thought funny if I hadn’t been more concerned that he was about to attack me. Every visible muscle in his body tensed, ready to strike. He lunged at me, and I danced back, flicking on the bathroom light. I jerked my hands up in defense.
As calmly as I could, I said, “Leslie, it’s Camellia Rosegarten. Don’t attack me.”
His eyes, clouded with fear and rage, cleared as he relaxed in degrees. “I’m so sorry,” he panted. “I didn’t mean to scare you. I just reacted. Please, don’t let this scare you off from sleeping in the bed.” He came around to me and took my hands in his. “I can sleep elsewhere.”
“It’s not necessary,” I assured him, “but I’d like you to tell me why.”
“Why what?” He tried, and failed, to sound oblivious. He rubbed my hands with his, as if trying to warm them.
“Don’t play dumb with me. Why are you afraid? Why did you tell me that you normally hide when you sleep, but you sleep with me? Then, you tried to attack me.”
“I told you that I feel safe…no, safer with you.” His hand came up to tuck some loose hair behind my ear as he looked into my eyes.
“Leslie,” I tilted my head, “that didn’t look like you felt safe at all. I thought you were going to tear me to bits. Tell me why.” I searched his face, saw the internal debate in his eyes.
“I don’t speak about it.”
“Well, you better start. If I get my throat ripped out one morning I’d like to know there was a good reason why.”
He took both my hands again and pulled me down to sit on the bed. Facing me, he took a deep breath. “I would never rip out your throat. I would never hurt you. The fear, it fades very quickly once I’m aware. Please, believe me.”
Not to be swayed by his pleading look, I said, “Spill it,” and glared at him.
He closed his eyes for a moment and took several deep breaths. “You’re the first I’ve ever told, so try to bear with me.” He looked at me, and I nodded curtly. “The one who made me,” he looked down at our joined hands, “kept me alive for weeks before he made me. Once he did, he and his followers often starved me and…did other terrible things to me. They encouraged ally groups that joined us to treat me the same.” He paused and looked up at me briefly. His eyebrows knit before he looked back down at our hands and toyed with the ring he had given me. “Do you remember when you said that you thought I was exceptionally attractive?” I nodded, as my head filled with images of tortures he might have endured. “The vampire that made me and those that joined him thought so, too.”
“What did they do to you?” I asked softly, carefully banking the anger that erupted in me. I lifted my ring hand to his face, and he put his over mine.
“I won’t speak of it.” His voice hitched. “You don’t want to know, and it doesn’t matter.”
“Clearly, it does.” He wouldn’t look at me. “You made them pay for it.”
He nodded then looked up into my eyes. I wasn’t sure how to respond or how to comfort him. Horribly abused and taken advantage of, it was no wonder he was such a big fan of free will.
Slowly, I took him into my arms and held him. I laid my chin over his shoulder and rubbed his back, a gesture my mother always used to comfort me when I was sad or hurt. Leslie’s arms hung loosely around my waist, but when I said, “I’m so sorry that happened to you,” he pulled out of the embrace.
Embarrassed, he stood. “You see, when you’re scarred that badly as a young vampire you don’t get over it, even if you live a thousand years.”
“And I startled you, so you went into attack mode,” I extrapolated.
“That’s an accurate description. I want you to keep sleeping in the bed. I rest better by your side than I ever have.”
“That’s funny. My dreams are vivid, incredibly vivid. In fact, I think I might have sleepwalked down here last night.” I got up and went into the bathroom. I took off my shirt and tossed it into the bedroom, where Leslie swiped it out of the air.
“You didn’t sleepwalk; I carried you. I found you asleep on the sofa.”
“Oh, well, thank you. I must have nodded off during the movie. I’ll try to watch it again some other night.”
I started to take off my pants but remembered we were training today. There was no point in bathing only to get filthy and stinky all over again. Instead, I brushed and braided my hair. When I came back into the bedroom, I motioned for Leslie to return my shirt to me. He gave me a puzzled look, so I explained.
“There’s really no point in showering since we’re just going to get all sweaty again.”
Amused and intrigued, he asked, “Why is that?”
“Oh, I meant the humans. Training. Justin and I are going to whip your family into shape.”
I took my shirt back from Leslie and yanked it over my head. How easily he had maneuvered me from talking about him to talking about me. I needed to pay special attention to avoid the trap.
“It’s a good idea. At least if you and Justin are working together, I won’t have to worry that you’ll hurt each other.”
As I sat on the bed to tug on a fresh pair of socks, I noticed my journal sitting on the dresser. Apparently, Leslie brought more than just me downstairs.
“Aren’t you going to dress?” I asked, lifting an eyebrow. Leslie strode into the walk-in closet on his side of the room. I went over to the dresser and flipped through the journal. After checking a few pages here and there, I decided that everything was in order. “I don’t know that they’re particularly excited about it, except for Jay and Santiago.” I found my running shoes just outside the bedroom door. I sat down in the floor and shoved my feet into them.
“Why are they so enthusiastic?” Leslie appeared in the doorway, fully clothed in a dark green sweater and khaki pants. “I always get the impression they’re as trained as can be.”
“Well, they’ve got plenty of muscle, but they love me of course.”
Well, of course,” he agreed and smiled.
I considered Leslie’s choice of sweater. “You shouldn’t wear that color. It dulls your eyes.”
“Since when are you a fashion expert?” His smile widened, and he casually crossed his arms.
“Since never, but if I had eyes like yours, I would do everything to, what’s the expression? Play them up.”
He rolled said eyes at me and disappeared into the closet again. “Love,” he said, returning before I finished tying my second shoe.
“Love?” The word startled me, and I yanked my shoelace too tight.
“I wouldn’t think that would make someone want to be beaten up by you.”
“Oh.” I shook my head. “Well, they have another incentive.”
“What’s the incentive?”
“Ask them.” I smiled up at him and saw that he now wore an eggplant-colored sweater. “That’s much better.” I sighed before clearing my throat and my mind. “Well, I should go grab a quick bite.” Leslie held out his hand and easily tugged me to standing. “You’re a survivor, you know. Sometimes, you do things—things you aren’t proud of, for that purpose alone. I hope one day that you’ll feel like you can share more with me. If not, maybe you should think about keeping a journal. It helps me think, and it can help me get closure.” When I had the courage to let it.
“Yes, I’ve read a few of your recent entries.”
Shocked and embarrassed, I felt my face going red again. “Those are my private thoughts and feelings.”
“They certainly are.” He trailed a finger down my cheek. “You shouldn’t leave it out where anyone can read it. It would give Jay quite a lot to tease you about. It could give someone the wrong ideas about you.” He smiled at me and let his finger drift down my neck. “Or maybe the right ones.” If he had been reading my journal, then he knew how much it excited and bothered me to be physically attracted to him. Sensing my uncertainty, he took a few steps back. “I may be a patron, but I’m not a saint. If you knew all the sins I have committed against other people, and not just for survival…I don’t think you’d care for me much.” He frowned a bit. “I have done terrible things out of spite, out of revenge, out of desire, and on a whim. I’ve been making an effort to do and be better for some time now, but you only know that side of me. You shouldn’t pity me.”
“Okay, but I still care for you, and I value your friendship and our partnership. I’ll even keep sleeping with you.” I couldn’t help the silly little smile that spread across my face. “But do me a favor and don’t say anything else about biting or blood drinking. I think Justin’s had his limit.” I gave him a quick kiss on the lips and could still hear his soft laughter as I walked through the outer room.
END CH15 P1