Sunday, May 19, 2013
Katarina – Present Day
After a relatively comfortable sleep and the beginnings of an unusual story told to me by Greta Gardner as I sat by the fire in the owner’s favourite chair, I was more than intrigued. I finally visited The Hall the next morning, cited the property, spoke briefly to the owner regarding matters of importance and took down the details required. I was then, surprisingly, invited to dinner at the pub the following week to finish up our business. As I drove out of the gravel driveway and slowly passed the pub, I saw that it was closed for the morning. I imagined the fireside warmly lit in the evening and the owner, who harboured his own secrets, sitting in my place…
That evening, Heath sat in his favourite armchair, reading the newspaper with more interest than he usually showed. He had the look of a burnt out rock star in his late twenties, still handsome and relatively young. He called his dog to heel and turned to sit at his chair near the fire. Greta was nowhere in sight; she’d gone home earlier to take care of her own children. A barman had taken her place.
Heath was sipping ale and still reading the newspaper when he heard a gaggle of shrieking teenagers who instantly irritated him. It was legal to drink at eighteen but he wondered why - girls dressed like tramps in denim shorts and black tights chugging down alcohol was a negative result. He should have imposed a dress code, he thought gruffly. Society had really gone downhill since the nineties. Then he remembered some of the looks of that era were pretty bad, too. He must be getting old, he thought, although no one would have known it. His face was harder but retained the handsome, boyish features of his youth. Recently, since turning thirty-nine, he’d felt quite ancient. Yet many of his business associates assumed he was much younger than he really was. There was no point in an explanation, revealing the secret of his youth.
He resigned to gruffly patting his dog and when he looked up the teenaged girls began joking around, making more noise than before. One of them, with long blonde hair and too much black mascara, waved at him. He turned away and stoked the fire. He wondered where their parents were and felt annoyed that his candle-lit lair was being infiltrated by the local riff raff. He looked back at his paper and shook his head.
His own son, annoyingly public school educated and hopelessly addicted to clubbing and drinking and smart-mouthing him, would no doubt have tried to chat them up. Heath had mostly, throughout his bizarre and unexpected life, been interested in people who at least seemed the same age as he really was. Since school, he’d felt people who hadn’t lived as much of the journey as he had, had less to teach him. There was also the inevitable problem of his lack of ageing. People had started to notice. One of his old school acquaintances had asked him if he was on human growth hormones.
Hard living had taken its toll but Heath would never look older than thirty. His specialist told him that, realistically, he shouldn’t expect to physically age more than twenty-six years (the age when his bones stopped growing and his venom fully matured). His sleeplessness kept him looking closer to thirty. The only thing that could finish him was a prolonged dose of sunlight or a stake through his heart, but agelessness, immortality was becoming a problem. His friends and associates looked a decade older. The longer he stayed in Hampstead, the more the whispers grew until they became openly hostile questions.
Heath flicked past the entertainment section in the paper, highlighting yet another vapid celebrity. His gaze then rested on the financial columns of the newspaper.
Normally these articles would have bored him but since the most recent financial crisis, he’d found them a lot more interesting. The companies he’d bought and discarded prior to 2008 had made him very rich, even richer than the acquisition of land and residential property. He was so wealthy that he only kept the Hampstead house out of sentiment. Just the thought of being nostalgic at his age, when some were just beginning family life, made him question his own sanity.
The candle on the low table near him flickered and his dog barked, unexpectedly, causing Heath to look up from his paper; what he saw made him catch his breath for the first time in years.
The hair was lighter and straighter, but the face and body were the same. Her eyes were identical. Dark brown and large with long black lashes, hiding secrets he had only learnt once: same height, same face, same voice. His breath was taken away with a low sigh and he knew if he didn’t speak to this woman… who was barely more than a girl, he would regret it forever. Still, it would take another drink to work up the courage.
The girl, in her long cream scarf looked up and matched his gaze. In the minute it took for Heath to decide whether to speak with her, the band played that song Kate loved….
‘It’s my favourite,’ Kate had said, laughing as she swapped earphones and grabbed Heath’s hand in the clandestine meeting they’d had in the ten minutes before morning classes started. ‘You can’t imagine how much I love this song,’ she added, dragging him through the school hall making a sunny spectacle of herself…wearing way too much eyeliner to get through the day without detention.
The girl was the image of Kate, yet not Kate. She ordered a fizzy drink but a pint of ale was placed in front of her. She glanced around the room, noting Heath’s drink which had somehow been swapped with hers. The waiter was clearly not paying attention. Heath wondered if he’d finally lost his mind as the girl’s stare intensified. She looked back at the barman. Oblivious to being studied, Kate’s double wore a jaunty beret on her dark hair and had a colourful smile on her lips as her friends toasted her birthday.
‘Happy eighteenth Katarina!’ they yelled in unison.
Heath remembered the date. He was reminded every year.
In that moment, he hesitated to approach her and instead, glanced down at his paper. Moments later, as Heath read wearily beside the fire, a voice said, ‘I think we’ve been given the wrong drink.’
Heath could not resist a question as he looked up at her shiny adolescent face and she replaced the cocktail glass in front of him with the ale.
‘You’re not… it can’t be… Kate Spencer’s daughter?’
‘Kate? Oh, you mean my mother Kate?’
‘I suppose so. I’m Katarina Hunt. This is my birthday, obviously,’ the girl said, glancing back at her friends who hovered near the bar.
‘I know,’ Heath said, surprised anyone would think he could forget such a thing.
‘My father and I live just across the Heath. I’ve seen your photograph in the newspaper. You must be…my uncle?’
Her statement was so loaded Heath didn’t know where to begin.
‘Yes. You…you are my son’s cousin.’
‘My cousin… that’s right… big family secret, no one speaks about it. None of the family even speaks to each other, clearly. How is it possible you don’t look a day over thirty?’
‘It’s…the dark,’ Heath replied.
She made a joke of it as only the young can. She was looming at the table now and had the audacity to pat his dog on its shaggy head. Heath’s pet beamed from all her attention, a fact that Heath found mildly irritating.
‘Do I… do I look like my mother?’ the teenage girl said as the fire flickered.
And then it occurred to Heath, that instead of answering he could make her an offer she’d find difficult to refuse. After all, it was not too late and it was the girl’s right to meet her cousin and see her mother’s childhood home.
‘Why don’t you come back with me… to Hareton Hall? Her portrait remains on the wall. I’m headed there now. You can meet your cousin. There are also some photographs you might never have seen from…before. I’m sure your…father…won’t mind.’
Katarina’s eyes flashed and Heath saw a great deal of Kate’s personality once again. It almost scared him, but not quite.
‘Heel,’ he said to his dog who’d started yapping excitedly (again) and was obviously beside himself at the smell of new company.
‘Behave yourself,’ Heath growled.
‘Well, my friends…’
Katarina glanced back to the bar as the tall girl with blonde hair wandered over and gave Heath a bemused smile. Katarina introduced them to each other.
‘Oh, so this is your uncle, Katty?’ the girl asked in disbelief, as if to say, yeah, right, he’s way too young and hot.
‘Kind of…we’ve only just met…’
Katarina’s friend stifled a giggle as if she didn’t believe her but either way, she didn’t care. If Katty wanted to chat to this hot older man, that was her affair.
‘Well, the night is young and so are we but we have to be going, early game tomorrow and all that. Are you coming with us Kat?’
At that moment Heath wore his most amiable expression.
Katarina knew she might only get this one chance to discover all she could about the people she’d only seen once or twice in old photographs.
The man in front of her was young and extremely handsome, yet so hard and cold. Something in her desired to visit his world, meet the cousin she’d never met as a child, see the house where her mother had been raised, learn the secret her family had kept for a generation.
‘No,’ Kate said. Then she looked at Heath and added, ‘I’m coming with you…’
His cravings had been less extreme this evening and he was fairly sure the parlour, where he kept his supply of freshly caught game, was locked. He did not wish this stranger to encounter an instant surprise. It would turn her off ever returning and Heath did not want to risk that just yet. He could only imagine the look of horror on her face if she was to discover his secret. They reached the gates through the midnight mist and Heath stopped the car with a jolt. He drove the vehicle fast and hard. He was not used to having guests. Heath had little thought for his passenger. Katarina arrived at the house looking white and surprised.
The girl shivered.
‘Are you cold?’
‘Here, take this,’ he said absently.
Heath pulled a red shawl out of the glove compartment and handed it to her.
‘It was your mother’s,’ he added.
Katarina didn’t bother to ask what it was doing in his car.
The girl’s fingers had practically frozen during the twenty minute drive that took them from icy country lane to mansion gates. Katarina had heard about this place only once during her childhood, had seen it from the heath but had never dared venture into its overrun grounds. They entered the hidden garden through the foggy, wrought iron gates that led to Hareton Hall.
After a few minutes of walking across slippery grounds, strange, open-mouthed statues greeted Katarina at the grand entrance.
Her father had never allowed her to speak of the Spencers and especially not her uncle. But recently, she and her cousin Linus had connected via the web and Katarina was more than a little intrigued about the mysterious ‘other half’ of her family. The outside lights came on as they walked over the gravel towards the front door which was overrun with creepers.
Her father would be concerned about her late night visit to The Hall but Katarina was fed up with being wrapped in egg shells. She pulled the red shawl round her shoulders and stuffed her curls into her woollen cap, dragging it over her ears.
‘Quick,’ Heath said, rubbing his hands. ‘It’s frozen out here. Be careful of the ice.’
She took his arm, surprised at how hard and strong the muscles felt. She hadn’t expected her workaholic uncle to be so welcoming.
‘I give the staff leave on weekends, can’t stand them about me and I usually work on Saturdays anyway,’ he added, amiably enough. Rude, arrogant, reclusive were all words she had heard in connection with this man. So far, he was nothing like his press.
Apart from a few cobwebs at the side of the stone entrance, which was covered with climbing plants, the interior of the hall was miraculous; turning a simple switch lit up grand chandeliers that led to a parlour, kitchen and vast hall and dining room. There was a series of ancestral portraits lining the walls to the right of the entrance - one of her mother. The interiors were lush but tasteful.
Heath wandered into the kitchen after they’d walked the length of the entrance.
Katarina was agog. She was used to being the richest girl at her all-girls’ school but she had never seen such opulence. Her hand brushed the entrance hall side table and wall
of mirrors as they walked towards the drawing room.
‘Ah, I see Greta’s left a note. Greta was my housekeeper and she used to look after your mother and me…when we were little. She was not much older than we were. Seems funny now,’ he mused as he found the key to the cabinet.
‘Greta locks it, she gets worried when I drink alone,’ Heath said, ‘but I know where she hides the key.’
Katarina looked around her.
‘Another drink?’ Heath asked.
‘Yes,’ Katarina said…
‘Brandy is best on cold winter nights,’ Heath chuckled to himself, pouring her less than he normally would, though she had officially reached legal drinking age. Katarina wondered if he was over the limit but his hand was steady as he carried the decanter into the Edwardian drawing room. Drinking brandy in the evenings was as normal to Heath as breathing.
‘Was this once…a ballroom?’ Katarina asked as she unwound her red scarf with the graceful moves of a ballet dancer.
‘It was not,’ Heath said, sitting easily on the black leather sofa.
‘It is definitely big enough…’
‘Funny. I remember thinking that when I arrived here the first time. Actually, the ballroom was upstairs. For some reason, the children’s rooms were built connecting to it, so we often heard dancing - “partying” as you’d put it - loud noises, fighting. He noticed the look of surprise on Kate’s face.
‘Not home yet, apparently. Probably at a dance club.’
‘Oh. I met him once online…’
‘How modern,’ Heath mused.
Heath checked his text as the wind started to howl and announce its presence in a storm. The rain trickled down slowly at first, like water on tin, then the storm gushed through the
open window, spraying its fury over the low table and threatening a vase of flowers. Katarina moved to hold it upright.
Heath’s phone beeped, relaying a text.
‘That’s Linus. He won’t be home for an hour or so; nice of him to let me know. To be honest Katarina, I thought you might be a…good influence on my son.’
Heath pulled the window down as far as it would go, shutting out most of the storm.
‘Why? Is he out of control?’ Katarina joked.
Heath turned to look at the girl squarely.
‘He is spoiled, Katarina, and weak. I fear I may have indulged him.’
Katarina glanced at the photographs on the wall. She wasn’t sure how to respond to his directness.
‘But you have…another…son?’
‘Oh, that’s Harrison’s wife’s brother, Hinton. He lives here and works in the evenings. You may have already met him. He studies at the same college,’ Heath said, starting to feel the familiar tightness in his arms. He’d need to feed and take his medication soon.
Katarina had told Heath during the car trip all about where she studied.
‘I’ve heard about him,’ she said, reluctant to tell Heath about his nephew’s reputation. The girl looked around and sighed as the storm and the darkness swamping the confines of The Hall seemed to embrace her. Heath was taken aback at the image she made in the half-light, so similar to the photographs he had of Kate, tucked away in his wardrobe. The need to take his vitamins and drink Magenta overcame Heath. He quickly excused himself and began to walk out of the room.
‘I’ll get some photographs,’ he offered. ‘Should keep you busy until Linus returns at some unearthly hour. I’m not even sure which club he’s gone to but once he’s out he doesn’t come home until late. I could drive you back to The Grange, but to be honest, we should wait for the weather to clear.’
‘Of course,’ Katarina said. There was obviously no choice since storm warning, news flashes were being broadcast. Heath turned to leave the room and Katarina flicked the switch on the flat screen and turned on some music instead. Something old and classical, Katarina thought. The low lighting flashed once and then the power went completely: no television, no CD, no sound except the thrashing of water on trees.
‘I’ll get the candles,’ Heath offered. ‘I know where Greta keeps them,’ he added.
Kate froze. The house was way creepier in the dark.
Moments later, Heath came back with lamps for each of them.
‘Old-fashioned, I know, but they work.’
It occurred to Heath that from outside the window any stranger could see him entertaining a young female. Of course, they’d have to make it past the vast security on the neighbouring property, which he also owned, to find this place. Still, the thought suddenly bothered him as he pulled the curtains. His intentions for this girl had nothing to do with forming any kind of connection with her. She was merely the final piece in the jigsaw puzzle that formed his bizarre life, if that’s what it was called.
He was determined not to let her realize she was trapped. The girl must want to stay, he thought, at least for now. He wondered how to get her to agree, as he stopped in the kitchen and took his medication mixed with protein powder. Heath was able to drink a variety of blood but tonight he felt like 0-negative. He glanced out the window as he guzzled, noting the heaviness of the rain. The dark, vicious winters fuelled his fantasies… and his nightmares. When he finished drinking, he thought he should find the photographs first - distract the girl.
He’d heard the neighbours at the pub gossiping about Hareton Hall but their stories had never bothered him until now.
He ventured into Kate’s old room in the half-light and opened the door to her wardrobe which was a converted spare room. Her things had barely been touched since they’d been packed away when Kate had left The Hall forever. He was tall and could easily reach the top shelf but her many shoes had been piled together. There was a loud crash as some folders tumbled down in front of him.
Blast that boy, he thought. Of course Hinton had been in here rummaging through their old school texts and files. People often wondered why he’d adopted Hinton from Harrison as a six year old, but he never liked to comment publicly on family matters. He didn’t believe in filling the gossip columns with his motives and every minute detail of his family
life though people in cyberspace now did. It was bad enough that the many girlfriends he’d had over the years since his wife left him had talked about him publicly. Heath felt social networking sometimes degenerated into an excuse for public one-upmanship and he wanted no part of that. But then, he had more than most to hide.
He wondered what the boy could possibly have been looking for in the room that now housed a filing cabinet in the corner. He recalled a recent conversation with Greta as he rummaged…
‘Let’s be honest Heath, I’m fed up with your haphazard lifestyle. I promised to stay until the children were raised and they’re grown up now…almost. They don’t need me anymore and nor do you. Everything’s under control.’
‘Don’t leave us, Greta.’
‘That’s not the point Heath. The place itself is just filled with ghosts. I don’t mean literally, I mean from the past…and you should think about selling it…for your own good. I have my own children to raise, Heath. Move on. Get married again. Start anew. Put away the old ways, Heath. Revive yourself. That’s my advice, for all the good it will do…’
Heath had looked at her as if she were mad. He’d even had the house redecorated just to please her and had converted the drawing room into a room of Edwardian taste bathed in blue light, a blue-seeming flame in the fireplace, candles and candelabras and lush crystal chandeliers. The lounge room had been updated from its 80’s look to the modern era with sunken leather furniture and various reference journals and magazines lining the covered shelves. Heath had always refused to take down the portraits.
‘I tell you Heath, living in the past is no good for anyone…’ Greta had told him.
‘You don’t know the half,’ he’d said dismissively as he walked down the stairs and out the door to the office building he worked in (and owned) deep in the City of London.
On this night, he turned up the paraffin lamp to find what he was seeking and reached to grasp it.
Meanwhile, Katarina, who felt a little like a trapped bird waiting out the storm which had begun in earnest, wandered over to the fire and started going through a pile of old CDs (there were even some old vinyl albums!) which lay around the edges of the brick. Her cousins mostly liked the same music although both of them seemed to be more into “house” than she was.
She was glad her father, a kind man, had taught her to appreciate all musical styles over the years even though he’d insisted on piano lessons to fill The Grange with the music that had left it, along with her mother. Katarina noticed the grand piano gathering dust in the corner and imagined her mother, Kate, once playing it.
Katarina remembered her mother’s face from photographs. She had been so young when she had Katarina, only eighteen. Katarina glanced into the glass above the fire. The girl realised, as she rubbed the life back into her cold cheeks, that her mother had been the same age as she was now; the same age as her uncle would remember her.
Weary from the long day and warmed with brandy, Katarina slumped on the couch. It was a good thing she didn’t need to go back to college tomorrow, or anywhere, really. The rain and hail began to pelt down forming sleet outside the window. She texted her father, so he wouldn’t worry. There was no need to fill him in on the details. He’d assume she was with friends. Besides, it would be foolhardy to travel on the country roads just now, though the haunted interiors of this opulent palace made her feel like a trapped bird.
Finally, Heath shone the torch on the dusty old shoe box he was looking for.
‘This should satisfy her imagination,’ he thought.
Inside lay a pile of photographs, taken pre-digitally, tied in a bundle with a red ribbon. The photographs were of the Spencers, as children, at the local primary school and playing together on Hampstead Heath. There were more taken at boarding school in Scotland. They had not been looked at or moved for almost twenty years and the top of the box was thick with dust, but other than that, the photographs were in remarkably good condition.
Heath rubbed his arms. He could anticipate need now, the need for his medication, the need for blood. Heath could feel the surge of want and desire in his venom. The tightness in his calves and wrists would move through his body as his strength seemed to decrease physically. He’d neglected his pint of blood this evening, which he always drank before eight pm, but then he’d never had visitors to distract him. He looked at the photograph in his hand.
‘Your beautiful face,’ Heath whispered, fingers tracing the paper outline of her jaw as he held the edge of the torch in his mouth He dropped it when he heard the dog bark and the girl cry out. He rushed down the stairs to the drawing room.
Rain streamed in through the broken window creating a fast-growing puddle of water in the drawing room. He walked over to block the window with a chest of drawers as the girl shrank into the corner of the wall…
‘I… I went to close the shutter and someone tried to grab my hand.’
‘You must have imagined it Katarina. It was the wind and the rain. The winds are strong; it’s so isolated out here. A noise sounds louder than it really is. Shadows seem like people. Now, calm yourself. Here, take a seat and have a sip of your drink. I’ll make some tea.
Katarina sat on the couch, shocked and shaken.
‘How did you do that? Move the chest so easily? Pull down the window as if it was as light as a feather?’
Heath finished his drink and paused.
‘It’s not as heavy as it looks‘
The answer seemed to satisfy Katarina who continued with her description...
‘The fingers, they were so cold…her skin was…white. She wore a nightgown…’
‘Honestly Katarina, you sound like you’ve read too many horror stories…’
‘Suddenly, I feel like I’m living one…’
‘Only suddenly?’ Heath said sarcastically. ‘You wouldn’t be the first to say that. I’m thinking of selling it…. But nevertheless, it’s not safe to leave now.’
‘It’s not safe to stay…’
‘Nonsense…mind plays tricks in here. I’ll take you home the minute the storm finishes or morning comes…whichever arrives first.’
Katarina sighed as Heath smiled and helped her to her feet. Her father had clearly exaggerated. No stranger could have been more welcoming.
Heath smiled again as he settled a mohair rug around the girl. Katarina accidentally touched his hand and was shocked. His palm was as cold as ice. He withdrew his hand quickly and rubbed his fingers together.
‘Thank you,’ Katarina said, pretending not to notice. Little did she know what an effort it was to play nice. Heath had managed to take a few more sips of blood in his bedroom before going to find the photos and was feeling somewhat revived. He had no attraction to this girl’s blood. In any case, it was strange. He hadn’t even thought of drinking her, especially as he was hungry. He’d trained himself to withhold when it came to people he liked or met as friends. Perhaps this came from being “mixed-race”. Heath’s specialist had once considered him that rarest of things; a vampire-human hybrid. Now, he felt more vampire than hybrid.
‘I aim to please,’ he said cheerily, aware how bland he sounded. He handed her the photograph album as he spoke. ‘We open the grounds to visitors in the summer now that…my wife has left and the children have grown up. I usually move to the Southern Hemisphere and enjoy the winter in New Zealand (Heath wanted to add, ‘It’s cold there when it’s hot here and there’s an endless supply of animal protein and blood and no one asks any questions.’) Instead, he used the open house story as an excuse, adding, ‘I was…opposed to it at first, but the visitors bring in extra revenue and I don’t have to put up with them… and, it all goes to a good cause - my charity for abandoned children…’
Her uncle sat opposite her now, sipping his brandy as he discussed the plight of orphans.
How could a man who was involved in charitable causes be as bad as her father had said?
The phone rang. Heath picked up the receiver. He spoke curtly as Katarina poured over the photographs on her lap.
‘That was Linus,’ Heath added, after he hung up. ‘He’s been caught up in the West End and Hinton is working late at the studio. He goes to evening classes sometimes. I just got a text. They don’t speak to me usually. Apparently, I spent too much of my energy on work when they were growing up and now they don’t want to know me.’ Heath rationalized this partial lie as easier than the truth.
Katarina looked intently at the photographs of two children dressed up formally for a family function in the grounds of Hareton Hall. They looked like twins apart from the fact that one was a little taller than the other.
‘That’s us, when I first came to live with the Spencers,’ Heath said.
‘You both look…so sweet,’ Katarina said. ‘I was wondering…why didn’t my father like you?’
Heath paused, wondering how much to tell the girl.
‘He didn’t like me because he thought he was better than me…it’s as simple as that.’
The girl shook her head incredulously. ‘Oh…but my father would never…’
‘It…was different then. Everything was different…’
Heath smiled. Katarina noticed his perfect, white teeth.
‘It’s late, we can continue our…discussion at a later date,’ Heath added, rising from his chair.
It bothered him slightly to have her in the house all night, not because he cared what anyone would think but… well, for reasons which had already become obvious. The house itself…was unreliable, strange… creepy. His desires were manageable. He was determined she would not discover his secret but the girl had made an accurate assessment of hidden forces that swirled through the hall like...ghosts.
‘When was this taken?’ Katarina asked as Heath stood up.
The girl held the photograph of two children, the boy with an untucked shirt, messy hair and wayward striped tie, and the girl, standing up straight with knee high white socks and braids. The boater hat sat atop her perfectly styled hair.
Heath looked at the photo dismissively.
‘First day of boarding school, Greta took us to the train. We each had trunks with our names engraved on them in gold.’ Heath smiled at the memory.
‘Really…I didn’t know you and mother went to school together…’
‘We didn’t…not really. There was a boys’ school and a girls’ school. They shared the same playing fields.’
‘Did you meet up in secret then?’
He suddenly tired of Katarina’s constant questions and wanted someone else to distract her. He didn’t expect her to be so smart, or to like her, even a little. Perhaps she had more of her mother in her than her father…
‘Sometimes,’ he said warily, ‘Kate…your mother…came to my football games…’
The storm howled outside as if to prove a point. Heath walked heavily over to the bay windows and checked the locks from the inside to prevent the incessant rattle which shook the room in the dark. Usually, it drizzled here but tonight was different. Tonight reminded him of Scotland and the stormy night his band played in the school hall for the first time.
‘I like this photograph,’ Katarina said. ‘I’ve never seen it before. Where did she get the outfit?’
Kate stood on the stairs of a ballroom in a beautiful, low-cut, pink satin drop-waisted dress wearing high heels, tassels on the knee length hem and a sequinned choker around her head. ‘It was the school formal, I suppose they call it a “prom” on those American TV shows…’ he said dismissively. ‘The theme of the occasion was 1920s,’ he warmed to the memory, ‘and so…we…the band I was in…tried playing jazz, dressed as gangsters… We thought we were so cool… Your mother…Kate, was determined to be the centre of attention that night…’ Heath looked at the photograph and smiled.
As if reading his thoughts, Katarina said, ‘ ...Wearing that dress, I bet she succeeded.’
Kate had gone to buy the dress on one of their rare Saturday mornings in Edinburgh. They were sixteen and Kate was determined to drag Heath into town with her to pick up the dress. He pretended not to care because he hated shopping but secretly enjoyed having Kate as his exclusive companion during their journey. He’d grown older and stronger in their years at boarding school. He was managing his condition, and no one except Kate had ever guessed.
The boy enjoyed any excuse for freedom outside the school grounds. He didn’t see Kate at all during school hours. Although he’d hated being sent away at first, he found the regimented atmosphere of sports and lessons suited him more than he ever imagined it would. Being able to climb higher, jump faster, bat harder and kick longer in games gave him an edge and made him popular with other boys, but it wasn’t them he wanted to impress most.
Heath pretended it was an imposition as the note was delivered to his class. He and Kate arranged to meet, catch the bus and have lunch in an old-fashioned tea room (Heath would have preferred lunch at the pub, obviously, but this compromise meant he’d just have to pick the meat off the sandwiches). Besides, to impress Kate, he wanted to go along with her wishes.
Edinburgh on Saturday morning in April was a jostling, architecturally spectacular city. The light was low, like London but the open wind made it pleasantly colder. Heath wished he could have driven the car he’d been saving to buy from the “business” he ran after lights out. All of the boys from his boarding house were involved in a betting game related to the school fixtures. Heath would have been suspended, or worse, if it was discovered they were using real money to bet. The game had been running for more than a year and Heath, as bookmaker, was making a handsome profit. With his winnings, Heath and Kate could have taken a car if he’d been allowed to drive but the school (stupid school that it was in relation to rules) forbade it.
Heath would have ignored the rule, like most of the other rules at the school, if it hadn’t been so difficult to break without being noticed. He was careful not to draw too much attention to himself. Being taller, faster, smarter and better looking (according to Kate) than other boys, made this difficult. Because boys placed less value on looks and more on accomplishment, they didn’t dislike him as much as they would have if they’d all been girls and one outshone the others. Really, his mates looked up to him in a way he was sure they wouldn’t, if they knew the truth. He kept his medication hidden. He kept his drinking supplies (type O in secluded plastic packages from the blood bank) in a locked, private fridge that (as house captain) he had exclusive access to. The school nurse was told as little as possible. She thought Heath had a rare condition and relayed instructions from his doctor without telling anyone or asking too many questions.
Edinburgh wasn’t home to him but he had grown fond of the city. He thought one day he and Kate might live there or maybe New York or London if she had a preference. Anywhere dark and cold but populated would be good. They both liked entertainment and crowds they could blend in to. He glanced at Kate sitting beside him on the bus. Neither of them had their head phones on, preferring each other’s silences to music. He looked at her profile, her perfect features and warm smile, her fragile collarbones...leading to her neck.
He tried to stop the thought. Yes, her smile was beautiful, though he’d never told Kate this but it was her body and soul he wanted to possess, just as she possessed his, in theory. The warmth of her skin, her blood - intangible and unknown - was a perfect mystery to him. He tried to avoid staring longingly at the tiny rippled vein above her shirt collar. Heath inched his hand across without looking at her. When she laced her warm fingers around his gloved ones, as they approached the main cobbled street, the venom in his veins pulsed.
Kate always asked after him in a whisper. How was he feeling? Not too weak or strong? Not tired or sleepy? Weird? (Always weird!) Did he need her to go with him to see a specialist? No.
Heath insisted he was as normal as possible. He wanted no fuss. They were discovering new treatments constantly and he was perfectly fine; he’d be okay…just like her. Only, he knew he was nothing like her. Not really - apart from their obvious physical resemblance which, creepily, made others assume a biological connection that didn’t exist.
Kate smiled. She loved the fact that, lately, her attention seemed to make Heath nervous. It was strange and unexpected and thrilling; he’d agreed to come with her to pick up her dress. They came into town only when they got a leave pass, and she knew Heath disliked shops. There was no way he’d do this for just anyone, least of all Annabelle Hunt. To say Kate wasn’t really fond of Annabelle was an understatement. Kate did not place huge value on female friendship and Annabelle had a job ahead of her trying to befriend Kate. Kate often outshone other girls her age and had been brought up around boys. Besides, Kate was still getting over the fact that the Hunts had been sent to the same boarding school. In any case, Kate felt she had little in common with other teenage girls. Many had tried to befriend her, briefly, only for Kate to discover their real desire was to become close to Heath.
It had taken Kate ages to get used to seeing the Hunts every day at school. She suspected it was harder for Heath who understandably harboured a grudge against them. Kate knew if they ever found out who… or what Heath really was, they’d be shocked. They might even shun him. Kate didn’t want Heath to have to go through that. She didn’t want to give the other girls and boys a chance to reject him. He was hers, Kate thought possessively as she linked her arm through his.
One day he would be fierce and fully grown. By then, there might not be laws discriminating against vampires. One day, Heath might be able to be honest about who he really was. But until then, it would be easier to stay in the shadows. Kate often read marginalized news items with titles like, Blood Stocks Low, and stories about the “threats on the London tube,” and the “new hybrid species of humans” with “unidentifiable blood types”, rumoured to exist. No one had ever come out as a hybrid…or a vampire, for fear of being ostracised.
The pair rounded the corner from the main street to the bus stop.
‘C’mon,’ Heath said, pulling Kate’s hand. ‘Let’s get off here and walk the rest of the way.’
‘Okay,’ Kate replied. She wondered if he ever noticed how adoring she was in his company. Kate certainly hoped not. They had never kissed. Heath was worried it might get out of hand and he’d fang her before he controlled himself. He was not yet fully grown and might be so out of control he couldn’t resist and Kate could end up missing a chunk out of her neck or worse.
Kate was secretive about her feelings for him or as secretive as she could be. How could he not notice that she worshipped every step he took, to a degree that both excited and scared her? She was glad to be wearing the jeans and new jumper she’d ordered from a London catalogue. She was dressed fashionably but Heath barely looked. He was too busy hungrily glancing into the eyes of strangers.
Together, they reached the shops in double quick time. These days, Heath seemed to almost merge through crowds. He could look into her eyes, and she would know what he wanted before he’d even said it. They were becoming twin souls.
‘This is good,’ Heath said. ‘The people traffic isn’t too dense. We can get this over with and then have some lunch before they call out the search and rescue dogs for us.’
Heath was always hungry.
‘I thought you got…permission to come,’ Kate said.
‘No…ah, not exactly,’ Heath said. He’d handed in an unfinished assignment and had been asked to stay back on Saturday and complete it. Heath liked to bend the rules and had climbed out the window. Kate shrugged, knowing the teachers liked him too much for him to ever get into serious trouble. She was secretly thrilled he’d risked a further detention for her.
Together, they rounded the corner of a laneway and walked past a fish and chip shop that sold deep fried fish, chicken and… chocolate bars?
‘I’ve always wanted to try one of those,’ Kate said as she walked into the boutique next door.
‘Your every wish must be granted…wait there,’ he said.
Kate loved it when Heath said things like that, flattered her and made a joke of her vanity. He ran into the shop and ordered two battered treats; he returned minutes later as Kate wrapped tightly in her long coat, hovered outside the shop. Heath held two wrapped packages. He gave Kate the first one; a battered chocolate bar with soft caramel oozing in the centre, whilst he chomped on the other - deep fried chicken. Kate’s coat bag was draped carefully over her arm as they sat in the bus shelter and ate hungrily.
‘Mmm… yummy,’ Kate said.
‘Like I said, your every wish is my command.’
‘Nothing but the best for me, hey Heath…’ Kate joked.
‘I thought that was what you wanted…’ the boy said, suddenly worried he had misread her.
‘Of course, this is one of the highlights of my sixteen years…’
‘Mine too…’ Heath said, smiling. Heath had the nicest smile Kate had ever seen, the thickest brown hair and the kindest eyes. His teeth were perfect, (although she missed his little fangs, retracted so long she hadn’t seen them in years). Kate looked away, embarrassed to be caught staring at his mouth.
Moments later, Kate screamed as a bus sped by and the water in the gutter splashed them. In seconds, water pools swirled around their feet and the edges of their jeans were soaked in muddy rain.
‘Oh well,’ Kate said, ‘I suppose they can be dry cleaned…’
Heath looked at her, the warmth of his smile suddenly making even the cold weather feel less inclement. He moved closer. Kate could nearly feel his breath. The boy opened up his coat, snug and larger than hers and enveloped her in its dry warmth. Rain tumbled down from the sky. Heath’s body temperature these days was not cold but he always seemed to need an extra jumper.
‘This is Edinburgh for you,’ Heath said. ‘Quick…’
They moved from the bus stop, which was largely uncovered, to the shelter of the shop front. In the fading afternoon sun, Kate leaned in and kissed Heath, softly on the mouth. Heath was surprised and soon they were covering each other in sweet, warm kisses.
At first, Heath was reluctant. After Kate kissed him he leaned back hesitantly. Heath managed to kiss Kate again without wanting to drain the blood from her neck and felt only mild discomfort in his veins.
The discomfort soon turned to bliss. Being around her for so many years made control possible…just; he’d taken his medication while he waited for her. This “control” was a revelation to him. They kissed again. Heath suddenly pushed her away, feeling the tiny pang of his extending incisors.
‘I’m…sorry,’ Kate said.
‘It’s…it’s not your fault. I’m just…’
‘I know,’ Kate whispered, turning his face to hers.
The boy shyly reached his gloved hands under her coat. Heath pulled Kate closer to him - so close she felt, for a moment, unable to breath. The depth of their affection scared her. She lowered her arms into him, stayed locked in his embrace and just as quickly pushed him away.
‘I…I didn’t expect us to be so…’
‘What?’ Heath said, unsurprised by the extraordinary feelings he felt. Alarmed she might be rejecting him, he suddenly felt his incisors extending again and turned his face away, ashamed.
‘Look at me,’ Kate said. He retracted his fangs fully in that moment before doing so, proving to himself that control was completely possible.
‘I don’t want us to have any secrets. I was going to say…good. Together we are so…’
‘Bad?’ he smiled. Heath leaned in towards her as they waited for the downpour to stop. Wrapped in each other’s arms, they were glad to miss the first bus back to school.