written by Sylvia Leung
© copyright 1998

She loved what she did.

Leaning down from her crouched position on the worn out, mostly blue art bench, she quickly washed the dark red paint from her brush and dipped it into the watery black acrylic paint on the disposable palette next to her. She took a deep breath and pulled up her right sleeve with her free left hand, frowning in concentration. Where exactly did I want this to go?

She frowned up at the nude model sitting in front of the class. His back was haunched forward over a pedestal as his head nestled in his arm in despair. His side was facing her and the lighting was perfect, hitting him from behind so that the muscles of his back cast deep shadows to his face and well-defined rib cage. He reminded Langley of how buff Matthias could get.

Determined to not daydream, she skipped out of a song on their CD in her Discman that morning and put down a brush stroke for a very dark shadow. Thinning the paint on her palette with a dash of water, she flicked her eyes constantly from the still model and her large illustration board. It was another class assignment, three full hours of the same pose, but she wanted to do her best about it.

Which was what she had always done upon her entrance into the prestigious art college. Ranked as one of the top five in the nation, the institution would have bit off all her appendages if she had wanted to finance herself through it. Thanks to scholarships, federal grants, and great summer jobs, Langley could afford tuition and supplies. She even had a place to stay, thanks to her old high school friendís father, who was also her landlord. The rent came at a discount and the place was a little under half an hourís drive. She had kept her promise about never working in fast food and depending on her parents.

These little things about her life constantly reassured her that she hadnít changed with HIV. Now stagnant in her bloodstream, the virus was like a timebomb to her, waiting to explode inside of her and deconstruct her into an empty husk at any given moment. The smell of hospital and the bored nurses and sleepless doctors made her fear health care more than her sickness.

Grabbing her other brush and dipping it into a thinned out red, she picked out the highlights of the form in front of her and remembered the taste of Matthiasí blood on her tongue. She had only tasted her own blood before, sucking on torn skin from accidents or scrapes with sharp objects, but she thought Mattís blood tasted different, a little moreÖ alive. It had nestled into her taste buds and skittered fire down her throat. It warmed her as the air conditioning had been shivering cold around her bed.

Even as the Law of the Coven stated that vampire blood did nothing to humans when they ingested it, Langley wondered if they had experimented on humans with scientifically incurable diseases. There was no control experiment with us, so thereís no way we can be sure. She sighed. I really donít feel any different.

Neither had Matt, at first. Her insecurity was solved when she had awoken that morning. Sunlight had been pouring onto her windows like bright summer rain and she had felt like going out and absorbing that warmth. She soon realized with sudden acuity that she was immobile on an uncomfortable bed and the cold scents were that of a hospital. Flashbulb images had appeared before her of the copy center, Victoria laughing, and Matthias with his eyes closed in the thralls of pleasure.

She looked to her right and saw him, his cheek resting on her palm and face slack without emotions clouding his purity. His breathing was soft and shallow, regular with exhausted sleep as his exhalations whispered up her bare arm. Fluttering slowly around his face were loose wisps of blondish-brown bangs that had escaped his ponytail. She had never seen him so still, peaceful, protective.

If it werenít for his breath on her skin, she would have thought he was dead.

Licking her lips to soften the mechanics of opening her mouth and swallowing gingerly get the medicine-induced cotton away, she coughed softly. Stretching her other hand to him and leaving the hand under his head undisturbed, she brushed his hair from his temples as he slowly came to. "Matt?"

"Iím here," he said, almost immediately. He dragged in a deep breath and squinted his eyes against the bright dawn streaming through the window. "Morning." He rubbed his unshaven cheek gently against her palm.

The memory of that intimate sensation threatened to undermine her concentration and she sighed. She sat back on her bench and leaned back to observe her work objectively without the meticulous need for perfection that details inspired. She only put on a show to her teacher and fellow students to make sure that they knew, or at least thought, that she was deep into her work.

He had unhooked the fastening of this makeshift bandage on his wrist and studied the wound after the initial morning small talk and displays of mutual affection. "Still there." The swollen cut was perpendicular to the bend of his wrist and was scabbed over. Pink welts had formed around the cut and expanded in her insides as very few things in the world did. "Nothing a little orange juice and bacon wouldnít cure."

Her smile was knowingly bittersweet that morning, she recalled, sighing slightly on the art bench. Nothing can cure you, not even me being there. She deepened the shadows around her figure with a small brush, adding in subtle tones onto his back and arms. Iíll probably make it worse.

The doctors had been baffled, of course. Sudden remission of AIDS wasn't unheard of, but the rarity of the occurrence had been duly noted. Even in those rare cases, it took extensive drug therapy and she had not undergone such measures. Tests had been made to determine if there was a scientific cause for the reversal. Somehow she knew that nothing could be found in her immune system besides the dormant virus. Evidence of vampirism must have had escaped medical detection throughout all these years or else everyone would have uncovered the truth. Most experts liked to blame the symptoms of bloodlust, paleness, and abhorrence to sunlight to Xeroderma Pigmentosum and Porphyria. Perhaps those diseases were real; Langley had never seen any victim suffer from them, but she had seen Matthias tortured with his. She had tasted his blood that was too fiery to be human.

"Langley?"

She took a sharp gasp of breath and snapped her head around. The speaker backed off a pace and held up his hands. "Sorry to startle you there." The soft, calming tones of her instructor calmed her nerves and her back relaxed its rigid hold. "Off in Wonderland?"

She grinned sheepishly from a corner of her mouth, gazing apologetically into his eyes that hid behind wire-rimmed glasses. "Sorry, I was thinking."

Mr. Levy nodded, his salt-and-pepper hair never moving from its tight cut around his skull. In the two years that she had been enrolled in the Art College, she had never had such an understanding and sensitive teacher who cared for his students and loved his jobs as he did. As a painter for an advertising firm, he attested to his internal drive to work every day and to teach every night.

"Take your time." He sat on an unoccupied art bench close to her, careful not to stain anything with his well-painted smock, and leaned over. "I know you were absent for a little more than a week. Did you excuse it with the admissionís office?"

She nodded, her unruly bangs bobbing in front of her glasses. "I was... seriously sick," she evaded, knowing he would see she was and that he would not question further. "I had to stay at the hospital."

He gestured to her dark and emotional painting. "I see youíre angry about it. You must be since it took you from your artwork." His sarcasm was so subtle, an ordinary person would think that an insult from him was a compliment.

She smiled as his words always let her see the different aspect of things. She looked at her painting objectively for the first time in the past two hours. "Yeah, I think I am."

"Lots of emotion and turmoil going inside of you, Langley," he said sagely, inching closer to look at her board for the individual brush strokes. "Only the artist in you can let it out for you to deal with. Try starting on another one if youíre bored with this."

She blinked after him as he got up and moved off to another student. She didnít doubt that he was right. Letting loose some emotions through artwork had always been her means of escape. She bent over and took out her large black, hard-bound sketchbook from her backpack and started sketching freely, every so often, writing down a song lyric or a snippet of what could form into a poem. She tried not to dwell on any one thought.

After a while, Mr. Levy called a critique break. "All right people, letís let our paintings dry while I introduce to you another artist I would like you to take inspiration from." He nodded to the model who then stood, covered himself up with a bathrobe, and stepped out for some coffee. "After this, I want to have your paintings up here for a critique."

The students gathered to the side of the room where two huge wipe-boards were hung. Already taped to the board were five prints of the artistís work and a photograph of what the artist actually looked like.

Langley sat on the ground where she could see and not block anyone. If anyone had ever looked at her oddly, she ignored it. Jeans and T-shirts had always been the easiest to wash. She listened intently as Mr. Levy explained about the Renaissance artistís career and inspirations.

She had really missed her regular routine when she was at the hospital. Learning and practicing what she learned was how she had spent her days upon graduating high school. In the hospital, a stagnant television set and an endless line of shallow soap operas greeted her every morning. Her friends and parents came to visit in that mournful way of theirs and she had asked to have her sketchbook with her. Understandingly, they had brought her popularly named "Fifth Appendage" and only love in life: her art.

Her love was also the source of her guilt. No matter how many men were attracted to her in college and on the job, no one had understood that her art would come before anything else. Matthias understood and loved her for being herself and having her own priorities, but her heart was promised to her calling. She felt she was depriving him of what he deserved in their relationship.

To add to that, he was now a vampire. Her back-burner hobby of occult studies had already proved to be an asset and a liability to them. She had known too much and now she had promised to someday become a vampire in order to remain alive. According to Matt, the vampire lust coursing through his veins was not as romantic and spiffy as she had previously fantasized it to be. How can one put a value to humanity until it is gone?

She sighed as her life felt like it was splitting into two different entities: reality and insanity.

"SoÖ pick up what looks most interesting to you."

"Is there a difference?" He eyed the stacks of old books warily. Noticing one pile sitting vicariously askew towards the edge of the table, he outstretched a hand to rescue it from a rude impact with the floor.

"Sure." She dropped her own stack of books gently onto the large oak desk and started organizing the volumes into two neat stacks. "There are some books about the history and origins, others are about documented rituals and habits. Itís really strange how there are only little chapters or paragraphs in occult books about factual vampires, whereas thereís always novels and seriesí about fictional vampiric lives. Some parts of these books sound alike on certain points, others that completely take their own spin on different aspects of vampirism."

"Well, itís not like the general public accepts vampires." Matthias picked up a book by Anne Rice and started skimming through it leisurely. Sentences and scenes wanted to tease his imagination, but he suppressed them to listen to Langley. "Vampires existed in many cultures as myth or legend. That was their appeal."

"The public accepts them because youíre holding a successfully selling vampire book in your hand. You see the acceptance on Halloween when kids and adults go around with fake plastic fangs. The public wants to believe, but they really donít." She shrugged off her softly worn black leather jacket and sat down on the padded chair across from him.

Selecting a rather dated reference book on legendary and mythical creatures, she continued. "Adults gather around to make a mockery of vampirism with dress-up bars and parties. Teenagers play role-play games and pose as them online, killing other peopleís characters for fun. Hollywood sees vampires as another way to make the big bucks and make ticket-selling stars. Even before these influences, when people did believe in vampires in the olden days, they were so much into persecution of them, most of the lore had been twisted into horror stories. The only way to research the truth behind vampires, as I see it, is to cross reference many of the manuscripts and research journals, dating back before Dracula."

Matthias stared at her as she transformed from his weak, recovering girlfriend to confident college professor. He was as enraptured by her knowledgeable tones as he was by his computer science teacherís lectures. "Dracula. You mean the book itself?"

She shook her head, wisps of bangs obscuring her dark brown eyes. She folded her arms across her chest and leaned back in her chair. "No. Dracula, the book itself, seems to be just another vampire tale from a man who sought to put reason behind certain events. There was once a Carpathian prince named Vlad "The Impaler" Tsepesh or Tepes or, as heís more commonly known, Dracula in current day Romania. His father had been a royal named Vlad Dracul. He impaled his victims and skinned promiscuous women alive. There are even rumors that he dipped his bread into the blood of victims and ate it for supper. He did what he did with relish and complete enjoyment.

"Yet even if the whole tale was true and he really was a vampire, Iím not completely sure it applies to modern day vampires." She picked up another book and flipped absently through it, taking a little rest from her cumulous thoughts. Matthias was amazed that she could recount all those facts from a single, simple question. He put his own book back onto a pile and crossed his arms, listening intently.

"In Bram Stokerís book," she continued. "Dracula could go out in sunlight. Later, authors and whomever changed that into an inability to withstand sunlight. Folk tales added and subtracted to the legend of vampires throughout the ages and country regions, from eating flesh to becoming a vampire by having a cat jump over a fresh grave. Most of the original folklore didnít even mention the presence of fangs as a birthing rite for becoming a new vampire. Right now, I know that I saw your reflection in the mirror in your bedroom when you got dressed for thatÖ Coven meeting the last time." She hesitated on remembering and it only pulled at his heart. "So that proves the later wives tale about vampires were misled."

"But not all the tales and superstitions were incorrect." He leaned back into his chair, balancing his weight on two legs with his foot around a table leg. "I still need blood on occasion and sunlight still hurts. Against specifics, the main Ďrulesí of vampirism still apply, right?"

"Yes," she answered carefully. "But not specifically human blood and not all the time in order to survive night by night. What I think the old lore didnít count on was the adaptability of the vampire. Like immigrants, I think you can adapt to new surroundings, except itís not about a new country, but about a new time as well as regional setting."

"But youíve already stacked here some modern day vampire text. Anne Rice, Nancy A. Collins, and I see some Brian Lumley." He gestured to books as he listed their authors, then returned his arms to cross his chest. "They might be fantastically crafted fiction, but any fiction has to be based on something or else it wouldnít be as successful as these novels have been. I mean, who really wants to read about a vampire that serves as a civil court attorney for a living?"

She chuckled and nodded, the topic warming up her eyes. "Donít mistake me, Iíve read these three vampire novelists and I love their stories. I think that there are facts in these, but they are hidden in plot. Iím not sure if I believe in Riceís explanation of why vampires exist. It sounds very good, steeped in old tales and all that, but it looks more like fiction. Then again, Europeans thought that the idea that the Earth was round was fiction and before Hiroshima, we thought that humans only got a dose of radiation through an opening in the skin that was not bandaged up. Does the history really concern you?"

He frowned and squinted out at the afternoon sunshine between the vertical blinds of the small study room they occupied. "Not right now, no. Iíd rather learn about how to go on day by day. But maybe someday, I might want to look into it. But what do you think is real?"

Langley turned up one corner of her mouth with a mix of a smile and a sneer. She fiddled with a bent corner of a paperback fiction. "I donít know whatís real anymore, Matt. Itís all fucking up my nice, neat plans."

He nodded, at a loss of what to say. Her moods changed in variety as fast as his did. He theorized that the phenomenon was caused by their mutually isolated childhood development. She had her different groups of artist friends and online friends these days and he had his coworkers and school chums these days, but their childhood had not been the best. She had grown up with over-protective parents and he had been taught from an early age to over-achieve. Neither one of them had really been encouraged to make friends; in fact, they had both been told not to find too many friends. Their parents had high standards that had to be met under terminal conditions. Such stiff regulations were bound to fail and crack somewhere.

"Iím sorry." He held her eyes as he extended his hand to cover her agitated ones. She looked up at him with mood changing eyes, from touched to wary all in one blink. She was never truly adept at hiding her emotions from her expressions.

She took a deep breath and withdrew her fingers from his to pull out a small compilation of papers stapled together. "I did some searching around on the internet for personal sites. Most of them were role-players, posers, and Goths. There was a considerable amount of people testifying that they were vampires." Her expression and tone turned dry as she tossed the stack to Matthias, leaning back into her chair and folding her hands. "Extra senses, super strength, shapeshifting, and telepathy were the most common declarations of vampirism."

Matthias smirked and flipped through many FAQ printouts and diary excerpts. As he started to read, his mouth turned down and his eyebrows drew together into a frown. "These donít look to fictitious or extreme. In factÖ theyíre talking about what I am going through. None of the glamour and mysteryÖ" he blinked and stopped flipping. "This girl is a cosmetologist in Nebraska. She has a husband and two kids and a mortgage thatís racking hell on her new job at a department store?"

She nodded. "I thought those seemed to be the most down to earth of the few sites I sampled. Too bad search engines canít tell the truth from fantasy. There has got to be a few hundred I didnít go through. I book marked a few before I left home to look at later."

He nodded as he rested his clean-shaven cheek in his hand, propping the elbow on the table. "Isnít there an actual scientific reason for people who think theyíre vampires?"

She grinned at him sarcastically. "You mean besides role play, movies, and costume parties? There are two diseases and one mental problem: Porphyria, Xeroderma Pigmentosum, and whatís known as Renfieldís Syndrome. The first two is a flaw in genetics due to chromosomal abnormalities, which result in having no melanin in the skin that protects it from UV light. The results can be wounds of up to third degree burns on the skin, most likely freaking out the people in the Middle Ages into vampire hunts. Renfieldís Syndrome is a mental condition where the person really thinks theyíre a vampire enough to draw blood from any source. The first stage is getting cut as a child, sucking his or her own blood, and liking it. Later, you cut yourself purposely to drink blood. The next is stealing blood from blood banks and the final stage is killing people for blood. I still have to research more about Renfieldís Syndrome to cross-reference out some facts."

Matthias nodded, uneasily watching her give proof against vampirism. "What I have is not Renfieldís Syndrome, I can assure youÖ"

She gave him a trying gaze with her brown eyes. She found his insecurity exasperating, for the most part. No matter how many times she assured him of her feelings for him or her belief in his condition, he still thought of her unfaithful. "What I have on my chest is probably not the mark from a victim of Renfieldís Syndrome, Matt."

His taut expression slackened into one of worry. "Iím sorry, Langley, itís just all the evidenceÖ" He halted, giving up on the articulation of his emotions and doubts. The science of it all was enough to make him think he was really a victim of some disease. He tried for another topic. "How is the bite, by the way? Do you feel all right?"

She sighed and shook her head, dismissing the worry in her irrelevant attitude. "Iíll show you laterÖ Iím okay. Really."

Matthias stared at her a long moment and Langley wondered uneasily at what he saw. His straight forward, soul searching blue eyes usually confused her, even intimidating her. Did he really see anything about her face, through her eyes, that gave away her thoughts? Langley wasnít used to being read, or holding eye contact with anyone. She tried never looked away, at least, not quickly. She repeated to herself that she was not afraid of him, not afraid of what he saw and judged in her. But was that true? How much about herself did she successfully hide?

She was saved by the subtle, but forceful announcement over the library intercom about closing time in ten minutes. She looked up, feeling a small sense of relief that she didnít have to face any truths about their relationship, only about her occult fascinations. She fought back a stress-relieving sigh.

"Címon." He got up, selecting some books from the stacks and making his own small pile to take to the check out counter. "Letís check out an go to Macís."

She nodded and stood, grabbing her own light backpack and followed him. Another argument avoided. So chickenshit.

"Hey, there! I havenít seen you in a while."

Langley looked up from her last minute sketch of an amusement park homework assignment to see Victoria smiling cheerfully at her. With her constant optimistic demeanor, Langley couldnít help but summon a weak smile in return, though she was weary of being looked at like she would fall apart at any minute. She was afraid that she was going to prove them right.

The Monday had been tiring: it was eight oíclock at night and she had been in school since eight that morning. She was more than ready to retire for home, but she had a habit of overworking herself ever since elementary school. She blamed it on her strict Chinese breeding to be the best at anything and everything, no matter what the cost was to herself or to those around her.

"Hey, Victoria, good morning." She lowered her tired eyes and nodded to the tall metal stool beside her as an indication for Victoria to sit down. "How have you been?"

Victoria set her thick vinyl handbag and heavy backpack on the scarred black linoleum table. "Iíve been good, but everyoneís been worried about you. I canít even keep track of how many people wanted me to wish you to get well soon." She unzipped a flap on her backpack and extracted her own homework assignment. "I told the teachers in the classes that we share that you were in the hospital. I think youíll have to clear some things up with the administration office."

Langley sighed, twitching one corner of her mouth in a sardonic spasm. "Thatís what I figured." She frowned as she leaned over the table on one elbow to finish the sketch. "Eh, well, I gotta do what I gotta do, I guess."

Victoria looked at her oddly, having stopped in the process of laying out her extensive and expensive set of designing markers. Absently, she stopped them from rolling to all foreign parts of the table. "Are you all right?"

Langley then smiled fully with one corner of her mouth, suddenly afflicted with a dose of cynical melancholy. Her eyes turned dull, unfocused now as she looked past her drawing. "The doctors said I never would be," she responded, her evasive eyes never leaving her paper.

Victoria leaned over and looked at her intensely for a moment, worried. She reached a hand out to touch Langleyís shoulder gently, without pressure. "Do you want to talk about it?"

She shook her head, hearing the door in the back of the room swing open and shut on the teacher that arrived late. "No, I donít think so. Maybe later?"

Victoria looked back and nodded at the teacher, smiling politely, but vacantly. "Yeah. Okay."

"Youíre not going to get off my ass about it, are you?"

Victoria shook her head over the brimming clear plastic cup of strawberry and banana smoothie and scowled at her. "Iím worried about you, chica. You were in the hospital for over two weeks and youíre still cloak and dagger about why you fainted at the copy place. I was panicked that night, I rode with you and the medics in the ambulance on the way to the hospital."

She licked her lips to collect her thoughts for a small moment. Another couple left their table in the back of the shop, brushing past Victoriaís table and sending them a draft of perfumed air. "After the doctors pumped me for answers and blocked me from following them out of the waiting room, your mom was pumping me with even more questions. I never once got to hear an answer from anyone about you."

Langley hadnít moved from looking through her reflection and the cold night out the window. At eleven-thirty on a Monday night, not many places wanted to be open. Victoria had practically kidnapped her to drive to another city for some comfortable neutral ground to talk at. The few owl customers of the coffee and ice cream shop bundled indoors with their late night treats and talked in hushed voices.

When Victoriaís glare made no impression on Langley, she felt like slapping her new friend. She had never seen Langley this far gone. "What the hell happened to you? Just tell me and get it over with."

Langleyís eyes lost their focus for a bit, looking down onto the store-lighted sidewalk. Cigarette butts and blackened chewed gum littered the pavement. No one really noticed, it was so commonplace in the Los Angeles area. Langley could never remember a time when she saw any sidewalk that was clean. She looked back up into the window, noting vaguely of her meandering thoughts.

Softly, but accepted. "I have HIV." She wished it would rain. She always felt better when it did and it was almost rainy season. She knew she was completely introverted and that she didnít care about much at all. She was suddenly numb and didnít know why.

Victoria had finally shut up for the first time that day. Langley felt relieved. She didnít want people caring or giving her pity. Her condition was beyond human emotional support, nothing could help. She had little faith in prayers and charms that others held so dear.

Now I know how Matt feels. Utterly helpless. She closed her eyes for a moment and crossed her arms in front of her on the chipped, flea-market table. Leaning forward, she nestled her chin into her fluffy sweater and tilted her face toward the window. She usually got depressed when her monthly friend was visiting, but this was worse. This wasnít going to go away. She wasnít sure how to correctly deal with it and shut down for the meantime.

Victoria reached over and rested a sympathetic hand on top of Langleyís head. "Iím sorryÖ they just told you when you were in the hospital?"

"Mmm," Langley answered her confirmation dully. "No one knows how I got it. Itís a damn good chance that itís been in me for the longest time and it just hadnít kicked into my system. Iíve probably been carrying the virus in me for yearsÖ"

Victoria nodded, brushing Langleyís hair for a moment before stirring up her smoothie that was melting slowly. "Still doesnít mean that your life has already ended. Youíve gotten so far with the art center and everyone knows you are a sure thing for at least Salutatorian. Your work impresses the shit out of the teachers and youíve already proven you can hold a professional job in your chosen career. Many people have HIV and do more. Itís not the end."

"But there is no future, V." She turned her head forward and stared at the rings of condensing water at the base of Victoriaís smoothie glass. "I could have a kid that was free of HIV, but who would be the father? Who would risk being with me? I can never make love with anyone now, even though I had saved myself for that special someone." She extended a finger and traced mysterious patterns on the table with the small puddle of water. "Iím going to be so lonelyÖ"

Victoria stared at her absent water drawing and searched for a way to make her lively friend return. "What about your boyfriend? What was his name? Matt? Does he know?"

Langley let out a short huff that was a parody of a chortle. "He knows and he still loves me."

"So whatís the problem?" Victoria picked up her glass and sipped from the straw, letting some droplets fall to the table. "Love conquers all, happily ever after, all that good stuff."

"Weíre so fucked up, itís like weíre made for each other." She ran out of passive water from the puddle and started collecting from the sides of the old-fashioned sundae glass. "But I donít think we can remain together foreverÖ Iím scared of that."

"How can you know that?" Victoria challenged. "How long have you known each other?"

Langley smiled, remembering. "Weíve always seemed to know each other, or at least about each other. We went to the same high school, which also had a middle school built in. We hung around in different crowds, him with the smart but handsome geeks, and I with the moody intellectual artists. We were always polite and friendly with each other, just not friends, you know? Cliques are always the pattern of high schools. We never really got to really talk until the end of senior year.

"I remember, we were practicing for senior graduation. He sat in front of me in alphabetical order with his friends in CSF and I sat alone in the same section. I didnít care and just started conversation and stuff with him and his three friends. There was none of that romantic shit then, we were just old acquaintances. We found out around the second day of practice that we were going to attend the same college.

"I didnít see him much the first year or so. We were both taking our schooling differently. I took my time with night classes here and a job; he also had a full time job to keep up his rent and expenses. We would occasionally pass each other outside between buildings and exchange greetings. Iíd see him eat lunch on the lawn in the front of the college with his buddies on my way to work. Nothing more, though."

Langley stopped to arrange herself more comfortably in the cushioned seat. The waitress came by and she ordered a coffee. She was tired, but didnít feel like sleeping. Victoria remained alert, the smoothie completely raided pushed to the edge of the table for pick up. Slowly, she was ignoring her self-pity.

When the coffee was poured and the night owl waitress left, Langley talked while stirring in the sugar and cream. "My second year, we happened to have the same psychology class together. I had made only a handful of so-so friends and he seemed to have no other person to talk to. When he saw me sitting in the side aisle, he sat down next to me in the next aisle. I was relieved to have someone familiar to talk to."

She shrugged and sipped her coffee, heating up her already warm hands on the sides of the mug. "The rest was typical. We started talking to each other, debating on the topics from the class before. We ate lunch together, eventually going on unofficial datesÖ And here we are as we have been."

Victoria smothered a yawn as she propped her head on the palm of her hand, her short cut crimson hair surrounding the back of her hand. "And he loves you. Do you love him?"

She blew on her coffee guiltily. "No, in all honesty I donít. I adore him, Iím really fond of him, and Iím with him for my own reasons. I mean, heís pretty much my first boyfriend. I hated the high school boys and he was one of the few that I tolerated most of the time. I like guys, but not specifically any guy until college."

She leaned back and crossed her legs at the ankles under the table. Her memories and thoughts poured out of her mind slowly, taking its time in organizing the words. "I became friends with many guys, a few lame flirtations and dates, but nothing serious until Matt came along. Kind of funny, though, he was one of the most popular guys in school and I hated the popular crowd that he was shoved into. Not until later did I find out that he was only being polite to most of them."

Victoria gave her an intellectualís frown with her hazel eyes. "And that made him acceptable to you?"

She shrugged. "I guess. More likeÖ made him human enough to be approachable. Popular people had this kind of Ďdonít come near me, Iím better than youí aura and I hated them for it. Their arrogance didnít have any foundation to it, they didnít have many special qualities. Either that or I ignored their good qualities since they always treated me like shit. All the leadership positions I held in the wings of the real ASB, they didnít really care about. Nothing except clothes and makeup and how many people they could get into bed in a week. At least something that shallow and stupid."

Victoria grinned slightly. "Doesnít sound too much different from college, hun."

She tilted her head for a moment and raised an amused eyebrow, conceding to the point. "True, but in college, you get so much more variety. And most of the people in college want to get their moneyís worth for their education. College makes so much more sense than high school. The teachers certainly donít care any more or less, but they donít take the shit students throw at high school teachers. Most of the students are more mature, if not possessing the same sexual distractions."

Victoria nodded slowly, absorbing the road their conversation was taking. "But the art college is a bit different. Everyone is into their own thing and thinks that the world revolves around their egotistical minds and Ďvision.í Itís almost like the poser crowds in high school, isnít it?"

"Yeah." Langley finished her coffee and set it deliberately on the table. "But I feel so much more accepted there, donít you?"

Victoria tossed her head between her shoulders indicating "so-so." "I guess. There are more people I can talk to and such who donít try to make me into someone Iím not, but Iím not sure I completely belongÖ"

Langley frowned and blinked. "What made you get into the school in the first place?"

Victoria grinned sheepishly out of a corner of her mouth. "A guy. Stupid, huh?"

Matthias stared glumly at the door that he seemed to know by heart.

Ever since his high school years, Chappy had been the closest of friends to him. When most of the students at school would be friendly to Matthias and hang around to him get answers for tests, Chappy would never ask, nor sit extremely close to look over the electronic fill-in sheets. If he needed help, heíd ask Matthias to help him study after school or at lunch. When Matt was tired and just gave out answers, Chappy would ask for the explanations while other cliques would grab the answers and ditch him for the mall. From Chappy, Matt had learned about fair-weather friends.

Taking a deep, calming breath, he raised his hand and rang the doorbell. The synthetic chime rung through the interior of the house, reaching his ears in three muffled dongs.

"Coming!" Chappy. Matt hoped he was alone.

Matthias was adjusting his dark sunglasses to his nose as Chappy opened the door. He seemed slightly surprised, as he stood at the doorway in his lounging outfit of a T-shirt and shorts. The television was on in the living room behind him, letting out the cheers of fans at some sports event. "Hey, bud, whatís up? Long time no see."

Matt blinked at his friendís easy-going manner. "Yeah, just thought Iíd drop by to visit. Sorry I didnít call ahead of time."

Chappy opened the heavy wooden door wider to admit his oldest friend in. "Thatís all right, man." His smile was open and even held a bit of exasperation. "Mom hasnít been anal about that for the past three years ever since you helped me out of that problem at Moby."

Matthias nodded about the politics at the previous computer tech place they had worked in. Matthias had helped Chappy get a job as a fellow engineer in the summer after their junior year of high school. Due to some misunderstandings and ego clashing, Chappy obtained a bad reputation since he wouldnít kiss ass. Matt had warned him about the under currents and advised him against dealing with certain people. Alas, the working atmosphere had deteriorated beyond Chappyís integrity and he quit.

Matthias nodded and took his usual seat on Chappyís couch. He watched in confusion as Chappy amiably lowered the volume on the television and turned to his friend. "How are you doing these days?"

"How do you think Iím doing?" Matthias took off his sunglasses and stared at Chappy with cold, suspicious blue eyes. "Iím a vampire and this Ďwanting blood twenty-four-sevení thing is really getting to me."

Chappy chuckled and turned to watch the game, leaning back on the couch and tossing the remote onto the nicked wooden coffee table. "Youíre not still into that obsession of Langleyís right? It was getting old."

At that, Matt was offended. He snapped the frame of his sunglasses together and slammed them on the table. "I donít know, Chappy. It doesnít seem too old when your best friend comes knocking at your door with a vampiress at his shoulder. It really didnít seem boring when she sunk her teeth into my wrists and drank my blood."

His sarcastic tone vanished as he stood up and looked down at his friend. "What were you thinking, Chappy? I know that not a lot of people believe in vampires, but you just sat there like a dumbass and let her bite me! Biting people and sucking blood isnít normal, but you...!" He was too enraged to carry it further.

Chappy looked up at his friend and frowned. His expression was one of bafflement. "What are you talking about, Matt? You havenít finally started toking have you? I told you that shit ainít fun."

Matt waved that innocuous comment off to irrelevance land. "You should know, you brought her to my place. Who was she anyway?" With every word, Mattís voice grew louder. He couldnít control his rage that his friend Ė his best friend Ė could shrug the whole incident off like a bad joke.

Chappy stood up and stilled Mattís hyper gestures with his own big hands. Being the bigger of the two, Matt couldnít fight Chappy off and stood glaring at his friend. "I donít remember any of the stuff youíre yelling at me about. Why donít you tell me about this then start pointing fingers?"

It took a good half-hour to cover the events of the day weeks past. Chappy kept asking for details and specific words from the conversation Matthias had with his maker. After Matt was finished picking the bits and pieces from his memory, Chappy sunk back into his couch and shook his head.

"I donít remember any of that," he announced, staring at the television that now broadcasted a post-game program.

"Then Iím fucked." Matt still hadnít calmed down from his temper explosion, but he had accepted the fact that his best friend was innocent of the crime. He had never known Chappy to lie to anyone; in fact, he was more blunt with his honesty than a brick wall with its hardness.

He had been bluntly skeptical about Mattís own condition, but he had been convinced when Matt showed him the booklet of the Laws of the Coven. Highlighted was the section on human interactions. After that, Matt produced from his pocket the hospital bracelet Langley had given him after her release. It was a memento serving as a morbid reminder. Matt interspersed his show-and-tell with the events from his phone call to her hospitalization, sparing no details and emotions.

"Aw shit, manÖ How is she? Howís she taking all this?" Chappy had really liked Langley as a friend after he met her through Matt. She wasnít another one of the bop chicks that Matt used to date casually. Chappy didnít like nice people getting hurt under any circumstances.

"Sheís doing the best she can. Thatís all we can do, Chappy." He leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees, leaving his hands dangling between his legs. Summarizing the events that seemed months past proved to be as tiring as going through them again. "What I need to know from you is who she is. As long as we donít know her name, our situationís shitty."

"Matt, I told you I donít know." He stressed every word with sincerity. "I donít remember anything you told me today."

"Do you remember what you did that day at all?"

Chappy watched him and shook his head slowly. "What exact day was it?"

Matt had to actually rack his brain for the last day in his life that he was officially human. "Saturday. The seventh of August. The weekend before our finals."

Chappy shook his head again quickly, this time more sure of himself. "Nope, all blank."

"What about that Friday?"

He frowned and had to back track for a moment. "I thinkÖ I was just crashing at my place after school. A few friends came over. I forgot to call you for some reason. Mom and Dad were up north near San Francisco with the kids to visit my aunt Bette. I didnít want to go because that would even be more boring than staying at home."

Chappy continued to stare off into the television. "We watched some movies, talked, partied a bit, all clean no alcohol or drugs. After they left, IÖ sat down to watch television for the night. Got up to eat and everything, not much to do when home alone with no car, right?"

Matthias ignored the subconscious detour. "After that?"

Chappy frowned without looking away from the cheerleadersí white plastic smiles and accepted indecent exposure. "I donít know. I think there was a phone call or some salesman that knocked on my door after. I think it was female, butÖ I think I just fell asleep."

"When was the next time you remembered anything?" Matt pondered between strangling his friend and slapping him out of the catatonic mind-control it seemed he was under.

"I woke up on my couch and it was daylight outside. I slept a long time." Chappy blinked and frowned even deeper. "But I remember falling asleep on my bed."

Matthias took in a deep breath for patience at the problem. "Do you remember what day you woke up?"

Blinking, Chappy admitted, "No." He sounded dazed at his lack of specifics.

Matt took the obvious leap in logic. The vampiress. He watched as his friend tried to force up the erased memories. Matt hoped that he would regain that single day back from his life, but he doubted he would succeed. Certain events in life you didnít want to remember, he knew, but there were also certain things in life others didnít want you to remember. In more mundane times, Matt wished away embarrassing moments when a cute girl he had a crush on turned him down or when he failed to put down a particularly annoying asshole.

In this case, it seemed like someone else had the same idea about deleting impositions on her dark deeds.

Matthias stared silently at Chappy as he took a moment to wonder about his maker. It seemed like she had planned ahead, known who Matt would trust the best, and how to weave herself into his activities of that weekend. It gave him the chills to speculate how long he had been watched and to what extent.

He suddenly had to see Langley.

He looked at her walking next to him, her hand nestled in his, and grinned. She saw him and blinked before giving him an eyebrow raised in quick bemusement.

"What?" she asked without losing a step, weaving through the crowds of businessmen and leather clad teens on the busy sidewalk.

"Youíre so beautiful and yet you can look so innocent," he said, the compliment slipping out of his mouth with the ease of pure honesty. He was honest very often.

She blushed. She always blushed. Out on the busy main street of Pasadena in the busy section of Old Town, patroned by beautiful models and dental-plan producers, she felt extremely homely and out of place in her jeans and short, thin floral dress. When she was with Matthias, however, he never made her feel like she was rejected.

"UhmÖ okay," she replied lamely, never having learned the graceful way of accepting compliments.

She looked down at their hands as he began rubbing the pad of his thumb on the back of her hand. It was a habit for him, she always thought. Whether they were watching a movie, debating over morality, or reading books with each other, he usually wanted to hold her hand. He never got creative with playing with her fingers, though, not until she taught him to be.

She feigned a cough and changed the well-gnawed-at subject of her mind. "So what made you want to go out tonight instead of Friday like we planned?"

Matthias walked with his head held up as they made their way to the main area of the street away from the bookstore they had been freely raiding. "I talked to Chappy today for the first time since that day."

Her head snapped up in surprise. "What? You didnít talk to him at all after that day?"

He avoided her gaze by looking at the movie listings on the marquee of the theater across the street. "I didnít think I had anything more to say to him after they left. Besides, we had that whole thing with Damien to deal withÖ and then you in the hospital."

Langley felt like a heel for forgetting recent events. Different things were important when she was with Matt and when she was not in his company. Her concern for his situation temporarily overshadowed hers, as she always let it. "YeahÖ wellÖ what did you two talk about?"

He stopped at the crosswalk, completely unaware of her state of mind. "Nothing, which was the interesting part." His thumb never stopped its gentle ministrations and started to chaff her soft skin. "He didnít remember a thing."

"Mind control." Her eyes became focused on the street because her mind was concentrating on something else and she didnít want to stumble.

She remembered the moments of her Promising like that of a dream upon waking. The senses were awake and humming with sensations, but the events faded just beyond her reach. She remembered Damienís erotic embrace and his rich voice. She remembered his loverís touch and her own uncontrolled reaction. There was no doubt in her mind afterwards that he had controlled her mind.

"I only suppose I remember because I expected it."

"What?" He barely caught her murmured words as they passed a guitar bum on the sidewalk with his leashed golden retriever.

"Damien, Matt. Iím sure he did it to me back in that meeting." She missed the flare of anger in his eyes as he remembered that night. "I think I only remember it because I had known about it. I pretty much expected it."

He nodded curtly and dodged a huge punk crowd congregating in front of the alley he wanted to turn into. He fisted his other hand inside the pocket of his loose jeans. "And Chappy didnít."

"Doesnít seem like, Matt." She followed him past the punks who glared at Matthias for shoving past them and ducked into the small, popular burger place styled after the 60ís. All metal wall linings that extended to the waist and red and white checkered tabletops. Framed posters of perfect women pushing glass soda bottles dotted the walls, not unlike the current day camel pushing cigarettes on billboards.

They lapsed in the topic as they chose their late dinner from the over priced menu. A smart mouthed waiter took their order and made fun of their appearance. Matt and Langley took it all in stride, rebuffing his stereotypical jests with blunt put-downs and exited the establishment for a seat outside.

"At least this way, we donít have to tip him," Matthias said, sitting down on a plastic chair underneath a red and white overhang.

"I hope the waitress is better. They usually are." Langley took the seat across from him, brushing the skirt under her as she sat lady-like and dignified. "I donít think Iíd be in the cute uniforms they have to wear."

Matt winked at her casually. "Iíd like to see you in one of those skirts."

She shot him a wry look and a glimpse of a quirky tongue. "Youíd like to see me in many things. Doesnít mean you will, though."

"Weíll see."

Langley could only half roll her eyes and shifted the topic again. "So are we any further in tracking down your maker?"

Matt shook his head dejectedly. "I donít think so, but Iím beginning to think Ė "

"Hi, Langley. I havenít seen you around school lately."

Langley withheld a visible flinch at the sound of that voice. She could only look away from Mattís confused blue eyes to the arrogantly smirking poser behind him.

"I avoided you for a reason, Bennett. What do you want?"

The man/boy looked infuriated beneath his white powder and black eyeliner. His frail shoulders shook underneath the fashionably expensive thin black leather half-trench coat he wore. "The name is Blake, now, I told you that. I changed my name last year and you still donít call me that."

Matthias looked at the source of the voice as the jerk neared Langley with offended pride. "Blake" was a typical wanna-be gothic in Pasadena, a youth of unremarkable height with an emaciated frame and severe Crow-like makeup. His black hair was streaked with a loud purple and he wore a shredded Sisters of Mercy T-shirt. Along with the spiked leather collar choking his neck, crucifixes and chains dangled in front of his concave chest. He had even gone to the extremity of plucking his eyebrows and piercing his ears over ten times. Matt wondered how he could live with himself.

"Yack yack, whine whine, Iíll call you whatever the fuck I want," she spat out in her butch voice. She had forgotten to remove her glasses, but the fractured light from street lamps lent a tough glint to her eyes, almost black in the night. "I told you time and again I donít go for scrawny guys. Now, if youíll excuse us, weíd like you to get the hell outta our faces."

Bennett was nothing if not persistent. "You Promised, Langley. I know you know what I am. I thought youíd be better to me after I got the news, but you havenít changed."

The couple froze at his words and looked at each other. "I what?"

"You know what you did at the Dark Renaissance and we all know about it." He was getting frustrated now, his anger getting the better of him. "Weíve always wanted you with us, you were so ready. You already believed without our help. Weíre even willing to accept your naïve little boy toy if you could just be one of us. But you keep on pulling this holier-than-thou shit on me and Iím getting sick of it!"

Even if the main street was a few yards away and there were many people around, not many cared for their scene and either stared at them or ignored them. Matt looked around and spotted a few stoners that looked to be the type to hang around Bennett.

"Maybe we should go to someplace else for this, Blade," Matt suggested softly. His night out with his girl had already been ruined, but the last thing he wanted was a scene. I hope this isnít going to be a habit.

Bennett turned on him, the metal on his body clanking against each other. "Itís Blake, you sorry bastard! I donít care whoever made you, but they didnít know how to judge a good person from another. They should have gifted Langley, she knows about us, about all of it. You?" Bennett paused for effect, then spat on the ground before Matt like he had seen the bad guy do in a movie once. "You donít deserve the gift or Langley!"

Before Matthias could land his fist into Bennettís face, Langley had shoved her chair aside and rushed her knee ruthlessly into the side of Bennettís ribs. Having been taunting Matt and tabbed Langley as a talker, he had not been prepared for the hard blow. She caught both men off guard.

The sentries that had stood away from the confrontation stepped forward then. People who had not been paying attention rushed to the scene, forming a circle around the surrounding tables. Their energy reeked of spectators wanting blood, like the Romans gathering in a coliseum to watch gladiators battle. Such crowds always formed when there was something to extort. The sentries melded into that crowd, being not much different.

"I only had one father and, frankly, you arenít him, Bennett." She watched him double over in front of her, his breath unstable and wheezing as he clutched his side the best he could. She turned to Matt, gracing the crowd with a look of disgust. "Letís go, I donít feel like staying."

Hearing this the crowd spread the news slowly, watching Bennett gather his strength enough to stand straight and tall again. He took in the disappointed crowd, his friends spattered within it looking at him with distaste, and the retreating backs of his quarry. He nodded slightly to his crew and they set of in slow pursuit.

"Where to, hun?" Matthias was aware that they had just stepped on the toes of unknown vampires. To his knowledge, pissing off people with the god complex wasnít always a good thing to do. Especially when you didnít know the limitations of your opponent.

"Away." Langley glanced behind them as she led the way to the main street of Old Town. She spied no one she had seen in the crowd and slowed down, following the pace of a group of college girls. She took a deep breath to ease her nerves.

"You know, when I taught you how to fight, I didnít mean for you to start them." Matthias was not sure what mood he was supposed to be in. A part of him was amused that he didnít get the chance to play the gallant knight for his lady and another part of him was paranoid of the little snotís words.

"He seemed to be someone who was just gifted and was high off the folklore you know about," he said as he followed her to another deserted walkway. "Most of the older ones donít advertise their condition. This guy was cocky over it. And whatís his connection to you?"

Langleyís tone took on the annoyance of earlier. "He knows me by this night class I took about gothic literature at CC. He had a blatant crush on me and wouldnít stop hounding me. The basic nerdboy with ambition. Semester after semester, he would mess around with the people I hung around with until I transferred out to the art college a year later. He was always getting beaten up and I felt sorry for him. I was too chicken to stand up to most of his bullies anyway, since I picked on him as well."

Matthias walked with her silently as he heard another incident of her not-so-noble nature. He accepted her as she was and he had known of her habits of "tough love" to her friends, but incidences where he would stand up for what he thought was right, she backed down. It never failed to disappoint his image of her sweet heart.

"Iíve seen him around Old Town when I hung around the people from the Art Center," she continued, slowing her pace to an even stroll as she felt at ease. "Iíve dodged him and his gang. Lately, heís been hanging around the Goth scene, doing what he sees his friends doing, staking out territory in the horror section of the bookstore. Idiot shit. Heís come up to me before, but Iíve ignored him." She looked up at him as he walked abreast of her. "Sorry to have ruined our date."

"We can have others that arenít in Old Town." He squeezed her hand and smiled reassuringly.

They heard the footsteps before they heard the voice. "We beg to differ, Matthias Carmichael. By the Law, you shouldnít even exist together. Weíre going to change that."

At the sound of heavy chains jingling together merrily, they turned to each other and ran deeper into the alleys.

"Langley! In here!"

Langley turned just ahead of Matthias, dragging him to a sharp turn around a dark corner. Thanks to Matthiasí heightened sense of vision at night, he avoided careening into the brick side of an old derelict building. They were well away from the safety and danger of the night crowds a few blocks away. They were closely approaching the dimly lit rich suburbs that nestled south of Old Town.

"Victoria!" Langley said, letting her sense of sound follow the soft footsteps in front of them.

"In here, you guys!" The voice ahead whispered urgently as the shadow ducked into a small alley behind a grotto for private parties.

Langley ignored the chill of unease at the unfamiliar surroundings she followed Victoria in. Never before had she dared to enter this part of Pasadena, the underground clubs and bars. It was rumored to be as bad as Hollywood, where many of her schoolmates obtained their various mind-altering substances. In every city, there was a bad sector and in this city, it happened to be near the biggest commercial center.

"Vicky, where are you?" Langley called ahead, fearing that she was lost in the pitch black dark away from the streetlights.

"Right here."

Her arm was grabbed from out of no where and she inhaled loudly. "Damnit, stop that! Where are we?"

"Youíre welcome, too." Her tone was dry as she dragged Langleyís arm into a building.

Langley made sure she had a grasp on Matt with her other hand and walked slowly so as not to trip over anything. "Thanks, Vicky, we owe you on big time," she answered, contrite. "Where are we, though? And how did you pop out of no where to save us?" According to the echoing of her voice, she guessed that she was in some kind of warehouse.

"Hold on a second. Iíll put on the light." The hand left contact with her arm.

Unsure, Langley embraced Matt, feeling safer in the dark with him nearby. "Are you okay?"

He nodded as he looked around at the strange shapes in the shadows, then realized that she could see what he was seeing. "Iím all right, Langley." He spoke up louder voice. "Thanks for saving usÖ Victoria."

"Not a problem, Matthias," she replied in a humorous voice. She flicked on a lone lamp that stood near a wall and it illuminated her face. She was smiling. "Itís the least that I could do."

Mattís face dropped in shock and recognition. "You." VictoriaÖImages flashed of a smiling woman at his doorstep and the back of her head as she bent to lick his wrist that day. The images and voice finally had a name.

Victoria flashed the same clever smile now as she stepped away from the lamp. "So you do remember your maker. How sweet."

In the pool of dim light, a bare floor could be seen surrounding the shoulder high lamp. The shapes around them turned into various boxes and objects hiding underneath dusty cotton sheets. It seemed like a storage house and there had been a back door for entry to those who rented out space. The path to where they had entered was virtually clear, telling of frequent comings and goings.

It took only a moment for Langley to figure things out. Her eyes displayed a leashed fury that took a back seat to logic. "So you did this all because you wanted Matt?"

"And the perfect one has finally figured it out." Her smile for Langley held more than enough malice, as her hazel eyes seemed to fade to white in the lamplight as she walked towards them. Her chin length red hair gave her a halo of fire with the light backing her.

"Not all of it, Vicky." Langley walked further into the room, her fear set aside by a need to know the logic of truth. The fury would come next. "Why go through so much to just get Matt? You hate me just because Iím with him?"

Victoria brought her hands together behind her back and sidled up to Langley, confident in her words. "Let me put it this way, Langley. Do you love Matthias?"

Her eyes misted with guilt and she glared. "You know the answer to that, Vicky. I told you."

"Say it," she dared. "Tell him now."

She didnít look at Matt as she stepped away and stood in front of Victoria. "All right. I donít love him. What does that have to do with anything?"

She put her fists to her hips and tilted them as she instructed Langley. "Since you donít know love, you wouldnít know how it is to want the person you love with all your being. Youíd do anything to get him and destroy the obstacles in your way. Your insides are ripped up every time you see him talk or touch or laugh another woman. Youíre jealous of that other woman for being the goddess he worships. You hate that woman for being so blind and thoughtless to him."

Her voice raised in volume as she grew more impassioned with hate. "You want him to be with you forever, to prove to him you can make him happier than he has ever been without you. You want him to know that youíd be happy with him and love him. You want forever with him."

Langley looked at the insane woman she had unmasked herself to be. "What you did to himÖ itís not love," she breathed, her indignation and shocked amazement taking her breath. "It was selfishness. You want a possession, not love."

Victoria looked at her with open contempt and scoffed. "The fuck you know. You donít even know what you have."

"All right. You knew where we would be tonight and somehow knew where we would run. We donít know what else you can do. Youíre in power." Matt stepped forward between the two women. Both were full of tension, but Victoriaís was arguably more unpredictable. He had seen what a vampire could do in full form and gave her the power over the situation, for the moment. "You have us both in this room to do what you want to do with. What do you want happen next?"

"HmÖ thatís a rather good question." She circled them slowly, comfortably, like a vulture. She strolled, almost languidly, watching Matthias with a particularly lustful eye. "I had not counted on Langley being Promised. That was entirely wretched thing to do on their part. Who knew that the new blood outside would care about the old rules anyway? The little snots are covenless and they dare claim otherwise, ha!"

"So you know that gang that is out there?" Matthias kept one eye trained on her, while a part of his mind searched for an escape plan.

"Alas, no. But I am older than them." She tapped a fingertip to her unpainted lips, then parted them to tap her teeth with her fingernail thoughtfully. "Theyíll listen to me. Langley insulted one of their Ďposseí in public. Though it is not a crime to tell a little dickwad to piss off, the delusional tend to be a bitÖ vengeful."

Youíre telling us? Langley gripped with the part of her that screamed this was all unreality. How had she known of what they did blocks away moments before and get here before they did? How well and how long had she been watching them? Victoria, a woman whom she had trusted for the past few months was in actualityÖ She had an image of Marq and Metro, two kids from a campy sitcom on acid. She thought of Damien, who she had pegged for another Goth poser. The sheer variety of forms of vampires was as unique and varied as those of regular humans. How many vamps do I see while not really seeing them?

A part of her heart ached with the pain of betrayal. "Why did you save me in that parking lot, Vicky? You didnít have to yell out to anyone that late. You could have just disposed of me."

She stopped in front of Matt and rested her palm against his stubbled cheek. She doesnít fall for your baby blues, my love. She felt him shiver against her hand and smiled to herself before turning to her foe. "Langley, what do you think life is? A movie? Itís much harder to dispose of a body in real life, especially in the middle of a city."

She turned around and leaned her back against Matthiasí chest with a catty expression. "Then again, I havenít given it the old Scout try."

Outside, they heard a faint scuffle. "Here! I can feel them!"

Matthias and Langley turned their heads to see Bennett leading his gang through the entrance they had taken and rushed into the room. He seemed to have recovered from the blow Langley dealt him with grace. He stood proudly at the front of the gang, but was swiftly shoved aside to admit a man a few years older than him, clad in spikes and leather cords.

Victoria observed it all with a small smile playing at the corner of her lips. "You may take Langley now," she said airily. "Matthias is with me."

The leader looked at her up and down with a dismissive expression born from lack of fear. "And you are?" The rest of his gang eyed her with mingled attraction and caution. She reeked of leashed vampirism to them, giving out waves of hostility.

"Victoria." Her tone indicated that it was all that was needed. Her eyes told them that it was all she would provide. She reached behind her and grasped Matthiasí thighs possessively. Langley had to hold back a violent impulse and stood a few feet away.

"The one who made me," Matthias threw in abruptly. He set his hands on her shoulders to keep her from moving away form him as he acknowledged the leader with a direct gaze. "You follow the laws, donít you?"

"Yes, we do." At the sign of a civil conversation, the other members of the gang spread out into the room, weaving through the debris in their way. Most of them appeared to be high school age, a few of them with the commitment to continue their activities into college. Bennett acted like the fresh blood that he was and stood behind and to the side of the leader.

"Then you know that youíre only after me because of her." He shook Victoria for good measure, making it understood who he was talking about. "She made me with her own selfish heart in mind. She had no consideration for the Coven. She has been an irresponsible maker and the Coven wants to her."

The leader took a glance at someone behind Matthias. Langley watched as a clean-shaven young man with a black nose ring, no more than nineteen, turned from his perusal of a lamp in a clear plastic wrapping and nodded. His face looked very familiar, the shape of his body and his movements reminded her of a candle lit room.

Victoria was struggling with Matthiasí hands, now on her upper arms, restricting her movements. "Thatís a lie! Matt has been with me! He loves me and heíll be with me forever!"

"Justin."

The one who had given the leader the nod rose from his crouched position on a box and approached Victoria. Matthias held her still while Justin grasped her jaw in one of his big hands and stared into her eyes. She growled at him, baring her previously concealed fangs.

For that alone, he broke her neck with a jerk of his arm.

He looked up to the leader, ignoring the horrified looks from Matt and Langley. "Itís done."



Author's Memo
In "Covet", I wanted to flesh out a bit of the mystery and make something supposedly original. I hope it's original. Not all modern day vamps go around dressed in black announcing their vampirism. I think that most vamps don't even own a pair of fangs. A normal life is what is accepted and wanted. To note, though, this is one of those stories I lost incredible passion for towards the end and is my least favorite flight so far planned.

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Coven of Angels copyright (©) 1998 Sylvia Leung. All rights reserved.