“Daniel — Is it finally gone?” Her voice sounds annoyed behind the barely-opened bedroom door.
“Let me check.” I walk into the kitchen where President Clinton is saying he “did not have sexual relations with that woman…” I turn off the TV and check behind the curtain. The last rays of light retreat over the horizon. I wait a few seconds more. “Yes.”
“You have no idea how lucky you are – surviving under the moon and sun.” Fiona enters the kitchen, silk clinging to her skin, anxiously tying her kimono. “At least the nights will get longer now.”
“The sun can kill me too if I spend too much time in it.” I fill a crystal glass with Ruby – her name for it — and set it on the table. “Ultraviolet rays cause skin cancer. Which reminds me: I’ll need a few hours off tomorrow to see my doctor. I have a mole I’m worried about.”
“On my back.”
“Let me see.” Fiona seems genuinely concerned.
“It’s nothing. You must be starving.”
“If you’re worried, I need to be worried. Take off your shirt.”
“I’m not worried.” I set the decanter on the table, unbutton, and expose my upper body. She moves behind me and places a long, curved nail on the bumpy blemish; the rest of my skin gets goose flesh.
“How long have you had this?”
“As long as I can remember, but it changed recently.”
She leans closer and sniffs. I also inhale, detecting yesterday’s perfume in her hair – plus a whiff of flesh in the early stages of decay; she needs to drink now. The odor hangs in the air after she walks to the table and picks up her glass. “It’s nothing to worry about, but I can cut it out for you.”
“Thanks, but I’ll have my doctor do it.”
“Suit yourself.” She sips the O negative I bought yesterday. “Does he have hospital rights? We could use another source.”
“Oh.” She takes another sip. “What does she look like?”
“Brown skin, black hair. She’s Indian.”
“Is she Mohican?”
Fiona once told me The Last of the Mohicans was her favorite book. She still keeps the first edition next to her bed – plus a pen in case the author is around to sign it. For a while, a rumor circulated that James Fenimore Cooper was turned into an “immortal” but that story died a century ago.
“No, she’s from India.”
“Oh. I’ve never been.” Her brow wrinkles. “Maybe before but I can’t remember. Is she pretty?”
“I guess. Why do you ask?”
“Well,” she takes another sip and I can see her skin regain its luminescence. “A man needs a woman now and then. Right?”
“And?” Her lips curl into a smile, briefly exposing her long canines. Out of habit, she covers her mouth. “When’s the last time you were … carnal … with someone?” Her eyes sparkle as she says this.
“I don’t know.”
“Really? That’s terrible. I can give you a night off, if you need it. Just remember: If your doctor takes you to bed, be especially pleasing. We need people who know people.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
She looks at the clock and hands me the empty glass. “I’d better get dressed.”
“That’s right. The Solstice Ball.”
“YES.” Fiona twirls around the kitchen, dancing with an imaginary partner. “The return of the darkness.”
“Will Søren be there?”
“Count Fillenius is on the guest list. Why do you ask?”
Her face fills my vision — our noses almost touch as her eyes search mine. “He’ll only stay for the day, if that’s what you’re concerned about.”
“I’m more concerned about the way he treats you.”
“What do you mean?”
“I…” The words stall inside. I want to tell her she doesn’t have to share the O Neg and a room with a guest who acts like he owns the place. Every time he’s here I struggle to conceal my hatred for the way he lords over her – and me. I turn on the faucet and rinse the glass.
“You know I can hear your thoughts.”
“Then you know it upsets me when he drinks half our supply and doesn’t pay for it. You’d think a count could afford to reciprocate.”
“Whose supply?” I half-turn and see breasts bulging over crossed arms, eyes burning holes through me. It’s the silence that hurts the most though; her words are the only clue as to what’s in her head. She remains in the kitchen just long enough to rub it in before leaving. Finally, before entering her room: “Just make sure there’s enough Ruby for both of us.”
My alarm goes off at 5:00. Fiona never asks me to check that she’s home by dawn but I do it anyway. Her door is right across from mine; hers bolts from the inside and I never test it to respect her privacy. To be honest, I’m afraid to discover she sleeps with her eyes open; I saw that in a movie once. Before I go to bed, I leave a small stemmed glass on the kitchen table for a night cap. When I rise, all I need to do is check for dregs on the bottom or lipstick on the rim. Sometimes she takes the glass to her room. But this morning the glass is there and it’s full. The calendar says sunrise is at 5:15 and full daylight is at 5:34. I grab my keys and prepare for a search I only imagined, but then I hear a giggle from her bedroom, followed by another voice that sounds like Søren’s. My sudden relief is spoiled by a feeling that goes beyond anger. Only after I return to my room and lay flat do I realize how disappointed I am. She could do better – why doesn’t she?
“I’ll bring it to her.” Søren stands in the kitchen, bejeweled hand open, waiting for the O Neg. Ben Franklin once joked that guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days. Søren’s been here for nearly a week. I gaze in his general direction, trying not to look at the window shade. At 5:21 the sun might be high enough to set him ablaze instantly. The only thing keeping me from tugging the cord and letting it fly is Fiona; she’d never forgive me. I don’t care that Søren can hear this.
He straightens as I hand him the glass. “She’d have to turn you in, you know. The trial would be swift and you’d suffer the worst pain imaginable. Then, just before you die, they’d make Fiona cut off your genitals and stuff them in your mouth. You and I both know she’s too sensitive for that.” He stares without blinking as he sips from her glass.
I fill the sink with soapy water, resigned to washing extra glassware when I should be out scoring more O Neg.
“I’d have you drawn and quartered if you left with anyone else. You know that, don’t you?”
I shrug. “At the time I really didn’t care.”
Søren seems hurt. “Why? Was I such a bad master?”
“I’m still trying to find out what you’re good at.”
“Here’s one.” Icy fingers turn my face toward his. “Fiona considers me an ideal companion – something you could never be.” I attempt to look away but he squeezes harder. “You should also know this: Fiona wants you to return to me when she dies, so show a little more respect.”
Fiona never spoke with me about anything like this. She’s only 230. I assumed she’d be fine as long as I set my alarm each night before dawn. My voice cracks: “Fiona expects to die before you do?”
“Anything can happen.” The 54-year-old lets me go. “We immortals suffer terribly when the Sun is in Cancer.”
“The Crab. Its claws remain open for twenty-eight days – waiting for us to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Fiona is more likely to die now than in any four-week period throughout the year, combined.”
I ignore the fact that Søren is just as vulnerable. “Why not move to Australia during the summer?”
Søren is briefly rattled. “You see, remarks like that make me fear for Fiona under your care. Do you know what it would take to move her, and me, across the globe?”
“I said nothing about you.”
Søren’s gaze is as cold as outer space. “She will hear about this.”
“You really need to be nicer to him.” Fiona sits at the kitchen table, leaning her head on one hand. “He has feelings, you know.” She glares at me but then giggles, covering her fangs. “God, he bruises so easily – like a hemophiliac.”
“Søren says I am to return to him as part of your … estate plan. Is that true?”
“Well, I did steal you from him. There’s a law against that.”
“He wouldn’t press charges.”
“True. He needs me — or rather this home as an occasional place to land.”
“Where is he?”
“Oh, you didn’t know? He’s on his way to Australia.” She laughs suddenly. “The other day he said, ‘Did you know it’s Winter down there?’ Can you believe it? He didn’t know!”
I look down at the table for a few seconds. “But I’m to return to him in the event …”
She shrugs. “I promised, apparently, and…”
“Guardians are second-class citizens.”
“Well look at you, reading my mind.”
My mouth twists as I taste a truth that’s only been implied. “Does this mean I can never retire?”
“Oh I wouldn’t say that.” Her head straightens. “But I’ll need you for as long as possible.”