Negative Space Ch. 05by_bloom_©
"Okay sweetie. I'll be there so quickly, you might even catch me flying. Stay away from the stove, leave Harry's poop for me to clean up, and don't call your mom, okay?"
"Okay! Do you have wings?"
"Oh, I can't tell you, you know that! You'll just have to keep an eye on the window, see what you can see."
I scrambled out of the cab and found Annie sitting on her bed crying. Lyall was running back and forth in her room, flailing her toy truck over his head. It was an hour an a half before everyone got settled in and the dog shit cleaned up. I made the kids promise they wouldn't tell their mother I had been late, and took them to the water park as a thank you treat. Sitting on the bench with their towels and watching them scream, running through the jets of water, I finally let my thoughts drift to the missing hours that came after the failed date I had with Theo. I had gone outside with him when he complained of a headache, and then....I had very few memories after that. My mind seemed to just go blank until I came to my less than enthusiastic wake up this morning. Fuck, I though. Did he date-rape me? I certainly felt like a powerful drug had knocked my entire body out--the achyness of my joints and the way the whole world felt as if it were 2 seconds behind me each time I moved my head was reminiscent of some of my more regrettable experiments in college. I sighed deeply and made a mental note to head to the Planned Parenthood for STI testing, silently thanking my parent's insurance for still covering my birth control.
I was taking the kids to their piano lessons a few weeks later, trying to convince Lyall that they could not bring the puppy in to their teacher's apartment. I left the puppy with the obliging doorman, and shepherded all the kids up into the elevator. Ever since that night my body had been feeling better and better, but I couldn't help but feel like I was missing something. The clinic had called and told me I was clean as a whistle, so nothing to worry about there, but I couldn't help but continue to be unsettled by those absent hours. Even more than that, I felt like I was being watched. My comfortable anonymity in the city had disappeared, and now I felt like people were noticing me everywhere I went, making eye contact with me, and reappearing disturbingly frequently around my house. I'm just getting to know the neighborhood, I told myself, but I had never been a very good liar. These people didn't look like the people who lived near me. They were tall, gorgeous, and they seemed to shimmer under the streetlamps. It wasn't something you could really pin down, but the light seemed to move about them like they were surrounded by tiny mirrors or prisms, or perhaps as if they themselves were a prism, bending the light around their bodies instead of it reflecting off them.
Ellen knocked politely on the door and it swept open silently, letting a puff of incense out. It was a trial every week at piano lessons--the kids were more interested in the teacher than the piano. Her name was Anya. She always kept the blinds shut and used low dim lamps scattered about the one room apartment. Most of the space was taken up by her piano, and the rest by her bed. She had pillows everywhere, dried flowers, framed photographs of herself with various famous musicians and actors, and scented candles. She acted like an old woman, but had the face of a goddess, soft, sweet, and keen. Her temper often flared up and her goddess-ness truly came out then, her face becoming hard and smooth, her eyes fiery and focused. She reminded me of Hera, Zeus' ever-vengeful wife in Roman mythology.
Usually she would sweep us all into the apartment in a puff of smoke and the tails of her kimono sleeves, but this time she stopped and looked at me. We made continuous eye contact for about 20 seconds before she looked away, smiling and the children and ushering us in. I was quite unsettled. What was it about people and making eye contact with me these days? Never before had she really even bothered to acknowledge me except for when I handed her the check. I settled on the stiff oriental carpet with the children as they got up one by one to have their lessons at the baby grand piano. After all three had plunked their way through the songs they had practiced, she turned to me.
"Lana, my dear. I say there is something we need to discuss about my upcoming vacation. I trust you will be able to relay this information to your employer?"
I nodded, curious and nervous. She took me by my elbow to the corner of the room while the children fought over the stuffed animal Annie had brought with. Anya looked straight into my eyes and whispered, "Who was it?"
I had no idea what she meant, and pulled my arm out of her grasp, shaking my head an furrowing my brow. "Who was what?"
"Who marked you?" She asked, leaning closer to me as her eyes began to shine.
"Honestly, I don't know what you're talking about, Anya. Marked me? What does that mean?"
"Are you kidding me girl? You still reek of him, whomever it was. And look--" she reached out and yanked down my shirt collar. She moved so I had a clear view of myself in the mirror over her bureau. "Look at that brand--clear as day." There, above where her cool fingers pressed into my collarbone, were two faint scars. Two milky white half circles about an inch and a half apart.
"I--I've never seen those before." I leaned closer to the mirror, touching them gingerly.
"You've got to be joking. You can't get marked like that without knowing the person intimately. I mean, you belong to whomever it is now. They can feel you at all times."
"What on earth are you talking about? I'm sorry Anya, but you're not making any sense. And I believe I have to go."
"Okay, well just tell me this. Have you had any blackouts recently? Any missing hours or days?"
"How long was it?" She asked immediately, not even waiting for me to fabricate some sort of a lie.
"From about 8:30 the other night until 8 the next morning."
Anya nodded, opening her mouth to keep speaking, but suddenly Annie was crying, and it was time to go. I gathered up the kids belongings and was about to leave when Anya caught my arm again.
"We need to talk more. When do you get off work?"
"Uh--at 7. Why do we need to talk?"
She released my arm and opened the door for us. The kids immediately bounded through and over toward the elevator. "I'll meet you outside their apartment when you get off," Anya whispered, and shut the door behind me. Absolutely confused I hopped into the elevator, quickly plastering a smile on my face and complimenting the children on how well they had behaved.
That evening as I left their apartment, Anya was standing across the street waiting for me as promised. I walked over to meet her, confused, slightly annoyed at the secrecy of this whole mystery, but deeply curious nonetheless. How had I not noticed those scars on my neck? Where did they come from? And how had Anya known they were there? She took me down the block and into an air conditioned cafe, saying nothing the whole time. When we were settled she finally looked at me, her eyes narrowed and her lips pressed together.
"So tell me, Lana, do you know what Vampires are?"
I laughed. "What on earth are you talking about? You mean like Dracula? Sure. Of course."
"Well, you've been bitten by one. But not only that, you've been marked by one."
I shook my head. Enough is enough, I thought. "This is getting ridiculous, Anya. What are you talking about?"
"Okay, so tell me about these missing hours of yours. What were you doing before you blacked out?"
"Well, I was on my day off, and I went to a cafe to meet a friend. We went outside cause he had a headache, and... well, that's when it goes black."
"A 'friend'? How well do you really know this person?" She arched her eyebrows and smirked. I sighed. No reason to be vague with her, I was as curious as she was about those missing hours.
"Well not at all, really. I'd met him on the subway and he asked me out. I couldn't help but accept."
"Do you know his name?" she asked, sipping on her water.
"Theodore Wagner." I replied without pause. Her face contorted and she choked, almost spitting water all over me. Composing herself she leaned forward, incredulous.
"Theodore Wagner? Are you shitting me?" I had never seen Anya so...un-elegant. She absolutely did not believe me. I nodded, worried about what that meant.
"Tell me what he looks like, then."
"Well, he's tall, with brown wavy hair, scruffy look, and wears suits and leather boots."
"That could be anybody," Anya said, huffing, but I could tell that she knew I wasn't lying.
"Why is that such a big deal?" I asked.
"What? That you were marked by His Majesty the Prince of New York?"
"The Prince? I didn't realize there was royalty in the US."
"Not in your US, for sure. But in ours..." she trailed off, thinking hard. "Look, if that's true, then you need to confront him. You've been marked by the Prince--you're going to be a target for all sorts of things. Kidnapping, media, privacy intrusion--everyone is going to want a piece of the Prince's new gal, especially if he just marked you and wiped you clean, like it seems like he did."
"Wait. Anya. YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT VAMPIRES. I don't know what you think you're on about, but it doesn't make any sense. Not only that, but I have no way of contacting him. I don't even know where he lives. I met him on the subway, for goodness sake!"
"Well that's easy enough to solve," Anya said, leaning forward and grabbing the back of my neck with her hand. She pulled my head forward and leaned into my neck, letting her teeth graze the two pale white scars she had pointed out earlier that day. She did it so fast I didn't even move, but the speed did not stop me from experiencing a rush of adrenaline and attraction so immediate I began to tingle all through my body. I reared back away from her, clasping my hand over the burning skin of my neck.
"What was that for?" I gasped, trying to hold myself together. Anya smiled, baring two long, sharp fangs that I had not seen before.
"He'll come now, whoever he is. No vampire can resist that challenge to their property."
"Property?" I shook my head and began to gather my bags together, ready to be done with this craziness when Anya suddenly stiffened. I turned around to look at the door, and there he was, glaring cruelly. Theo walked up to us, set his hands down heavily on the table and leaned forward towards Anya.
"Just what do you think you're doing?" His face had none of the charm I had seen on it when we first met--instead it was fierce, thudding with blood, red and violent looking. I could see fangs, just like Anya's, hanging out from behind his lips which were pulled back in a snarl. His voice had been soft and musky before, but now it was hard and un-human.
Anya looked back up at him bravely. "Just checking to see if you were still around, your Highness."
Theodore reached forward with one hand and grabbed her face, squeezing her cheeks like an insolent puppy. "Do you dare confront me like that, child?" Anya's eyes burned with anger, but she made no move to respond to him.
"Theo, what do you think you're doing?" I cried out. "Stop this at once!"
Theo turned to look at me for the first time.
"Ugh. You. You cause nothing but problems. First you push yourself into my personal life, then you become some sort of phenomenon and now it's all I can do to keep them off your doorstep. You should be thanking me, not allowing others to defile you."
"Excuse me, Theo. I have no idea what is going on here. Last thing I remember is meeting you at the cafe, but ever since then I haven't seen you once. You're talking about your personal life, and phenomena, and my doorstep--I don't think you even know where I live! In fact, I hope you don't. So please. Either sit down, let go of Anya, and explain yourself, or leave the restaurant immediately. You are upsetting the other guests."
Theo closed his eyes, dropped his hand from Anya's face, and sighed. He pinched the bridge of his nose, and I scooted over in the booth to give him space to sit down. I took his hand from his face and held it in my lap, massaging it. I gently kneaded the muscles between his bones, pressing into various pressure points just enough to elicit another sigh from Theo. Anya stared at me wide-eyed, absentmindedly rubbing her jaw.
Theo leaned his head back on the wall behind him and began talking again, eyes closed and hands limp in my lap. "The thing is, after you birthed my sister's baby, word got out. It has been years since we've had a healer we could trust. And since we trusted you, everyone wants to trust you."
I still had no idea what was going on and began to say as much, but Theo just placed his hands on each of my temples. The restaurant around me faded and I found myself watching Theo and a distant version of me leaving the cafe. I watched the whole evening in a blur of motion, the labor, the birth, the clean up, even having sex with him. Afterwards, I saw him come to my face, place his hands like he was doing now, and wipe my memory. I tore my head away from his hands and the room materialized around me once again.
"How dare you take my memory from me? You ass. You act like I'm owed to you, like I belong to you, and you treat Anya like shit just because she was kind enough to try to help me figure out what the fuck is going on with me. Jesus Christ. You fucker. Whatever you did to mark me, I want you to take it back. NOW."
Anya and Theo stared at me. I had the impression I'd done something so beyond acceptable no one even knew how to respond.
"You want me to rescind my protection over you?"
"Yes. You had no permission to do so."
"Lana, if I take back my mark, any old vampire can come and take you. Right now you have a very powerful family behind you. But since you're associated with us, and if I take back my mark, I'll be hanging you out to dry. Everyone will want a piece of you, and everyone will try to use you for leverage with us. We're royalty, Lana. We're more powerful than you can even imagine."
I thought for a moment. I was incensed by Theo's use of me. He had sex with me, used me to care for his sister, then marked me as his personal property and cleared my memory. Without another thought he dumped me back in my shit apartment and left me there to play babysitter once more. Just thinking about it made me furious, but I leaned my head over into my hands, and began a meditation to calm myself down. As my anger cooled I began to search for its source. Was I really angry because he had sex with me and dumped me? That wasn't it. I took a few more deep breaths and pushed myself to be honest. In truth, I realized, I was angry because he had left me back in my old world of nannying and scrambling for rent. After such an invigorating evening with vampires of all things, I didn't want to go back to "normal". I was thrilled by finally having a purpose. I made up my mind.
"Ok Theo," I said as I looked up at him and Anya again. They were both still totally quiet and staring at me intently. "I will stay under your mark. But only if you do the following things: you must promise me no jealousy, so if I want to do anything, with any other person, human or vampire alike, you will not freak out and kill them. In addition to that, you must take me back to be your healer, and let me see others who need help. And, you can never wipe my memory again."
Theo shook his head. "Lana, you don't want to get involved in this life. Go back to your human life and take comfort in knowing that I will always keep you safe, if only from a distance."
"No. Either you bring me in all the way, or you leave me be. I will not be left knowing that vampires exist, knowing that they are out there, and knowing that I am missing out. That is my only and final offer."
Theo stared at me for a moment, and I felt like I could feel him in my mind. It wasn't necessarily painful, but it was definitely an uncomfortable feeling, as if someone was peeling back layers of my memory and taking up all the extra space in my head. I didn't back down though, and stared straight at him, while trying to use my rusty meditation techniques to keep him out. I took a deep breath, cleared my mind, and closed the lid to my memories, envisioning locking a huge old padlock to keep him out. I placed my mind in a desert, hot, dry, and empty, with nothing but mountains in the distance and hard packed earth beneath me. Theo grimaced and looked away.
"Ugh. How did you do that?" He asked, shaking his head. "That hurt."
"I'm sorry, but like I said, even though I bare your mark, I am my own being. You do not own me, and you have no right to be going through my memories."
Theo smiled then. "You are so unbelievably stubborn. It's cute. But I still don't understand how you even knew that I was in there. Humans usually have no idea." He was silent for a moment and then turned back to me. "Alright. You may be our healer. I can see that you will not back down. But if you get killed, I hold no responsibility. It's your life and you can throw it away if you'd like." He stood up, nodding and Anya and turning to me. "Go home and pack up your belongings. Get ready to leave your life. You will disappear. You will not be able to return. Think long and hard about this. It is a permanent decision you are making. If you are still willing, I will pick you up from your apartment tomorrow night." He turned and walked out, leaving the restaurant suddenly silent.
Anya looked like her eyes were about to drop out of her head.
"YOU? You're the one who attended the princess' birth?"
I shrugged, "I guess so. I mean, you know as much about it as me, I suppose."
"But they said she was a great healer! Some sort of all-knowing mage!"
I laughed. "Well, I don't know who was saying what, but I've been around enough births to know how to handle an uncomplicated homebirth, even if it's with vampires."
"If you know all of that, why on earth are you a nanny?"
"Oh, god. I just--" I was silent for a moment. This is what everyone wanted to know when they found out that I graduated from med school with honors and a place in one of the most prestigious residencies available. "I just couldn't do it anymore. You know? There's a while that it's exciting to hold all that control, and that's what we're taught, to enjoy the control we hold over others, to exercise our god-like powers with caution and reverence. But I got sick of the people around me who constantly abused their abilities. People who talked shit about patients while they were operating on them, or claimed that certain policies existed just so that they wouldn't have to go out of their way to help a patient. Doctors who coerced some patients and ignored others. And to add to that I had a cheating fiance, pressuring parents, and no free time. I was just done with that life. I resigned my residency, moved to New York, and got the first job I could. I was just waiting for something to make more sense than that hospital world, and now.....now I think I've found it."
Anya was quiet, and for the first time since I had made that decision, she nodded. No one had every heard my spiel without telling me that I was making a mistake. "Yes, I can see that. When I was turned, many years ago, it was because I thought I was in love. I was wrong, of course, and my Sire disappeared immediately after he turned me, but I turned the need and desire I had felt for him towards vampirism as a whole. I devoted myself to finding a community, making my place in the world. It felt amazing not to be held back by what was assumed of me--in the 1800s no woman could do anything for herself. This way I knew I was powerful, and I knew I could do whatever I wanted to. It was the best decision I ever made."