She stopped before the old mansion next to the old cemetery. She remembered it from her childhood, before moving away ten years ago. It was still as ugly and untended as she remembered, only with little difference – she was older now and didn’t run home crying when a shadow happened to pass the window. She had seen quite some for her tender age and that had only toughened her for jobs like this.
Only, this wasn’t the job she went after when phoning to the family searching for a companion for a sick child. She had studied nursing in school for a year thinking it might be helpful in future, so she didn’t bolt from the add, when searching for work. Anything will do, she reminded herself often, anything that keeps the bills paid and her away from turning back to her aunt Sandra, who effortlessly filled in the evil stepmother role. The four children soon discovered after their parents death how ‘having a relative to take care of them’ can prove worse than entering the foster family system.
Still, youngest from all the four, she had survived living with the woman for all six years and now, finally on her own, she wasn’t eager to look back in the past and analyze it, keeping her eyes only forwards, strictly on future. Loosing her job as pharmacy aid wasn’t helping, but her boss had no other choice and she knew it too well to blame him.
It had taken her a week to find the new job and though she had called in several advertisements, this one was the only one that didn’t ask for specific diploma and they sounded happy to arrange a meeting, especially after hearing she lived in the other end of the state. It had seemed odd even then, but now, comparing the card in her hand and the house number, she understood, why they had been so eager.
“Never irritate the master of the house.” The woman, who hired her, had told her. “He searches excuses to get rid of the chaperons we hire and you wouldn’t be the first that doesn’t work there more than an hour.”
Well, one thing was sure – he couldn’t dismiss her before morning even if he wished – the next bus back home went seven in the morning. It took twelve hours in a hot, damp bus to get here. Unless he was some miserable young brat, who thanks to avoiding human contact had grown to be a vile excuse of mankind and sent her off to find a hotel in this god forsaken town. She knew there were none here – there wasn’t in the past and it was unlikely they had built some in her apsence.
It was a trick knot not many knew about, even she herself had learned about it by accident when seeing the old gardener leave one evening. It was there to keep away strangers she thought, but found the idea utterly amusing, considering the glass panels right next to the main door and huge glass windows – they were like open invitation to any robber willing to look past the ugly rumours.
If she could only get the knob in the right angle… “There!” she let out a glad sigh and entered.
She took a deep breath, preparing herself to move that old gate she had so despised as a child. The thought of someone actually buying the place with other intentions than just pulling it to the ground racked her nerves pretty good and she felt chilled, realizing the new owner had heard the front gate and was already standing behind the thin curtains of the French doors that surrounded the main door, still figure staring at her fingers working on the knot.
“This is child’s game!” she reassured herself when she took the last sixty steps left to the balcony. “Yup, nothing more than a…” she rose her eyes and viewed the dark brown exterior, “horrid little game…” she sighed, turning her light eyes back on the curtains, behind which the man was already waiting her to scoop up her stamina and climb up.
She unwind her wrist, before rising the hand to knock. It seemed ridiculous as he was watching him right there, but as he seemed to have no intentions of fastening the process, she knocked two times and waited, staring him back.
He didn’t want to move and she was starting to think this was too weird and perhaps it was better to turn back, find some old dweller willing to take her in for the night, travel back home, to her little apartment and find a job as a clerk in the market or something.
Then she noticed her shadow and immediately agnized her mistake. The woman had said he can’t come in contact with direct sunlight, yet she was standing right in the middle of it, feeling the warmth of the hot summer sun on her half exposed back. Weather forecast had promised hot day and she had dressed accordingly – light jeans and vest top with simple blue flowers embroidered on the back.
Well, there was nowhere to go from the balcony either and as she figured, she was going to stand here for the next hour before the Sun set or any of the clouds reached to cover it up. Either way she had no other alternative than to wait and stare back at the man hiding behind the curtains.
He wasn’t much taller from her when she was wearing high heals. She couldn’t make out much else as the curtains disfigured him a lot.
Five minutes passed and he didn’t move. She didn’t either, only slammed her traveling bag on the floor.
There was a back door she knew would be hidden in shadow if the Sun was bathing the front, but his arrogance about opening the door, which as far as she was aware opened inwards, thus giving him a good hide, made her stand her ground and not move.
After another five minutes she started wondering if the figure behind the curtains was even alive – it would be awfully painful to keep that posture for more than few minutes, she thought, but then his weight lifted from one leg to another, like answering yes, he was alive. But the door staid closed.
She was starting to feel hot soon enough, the lack of anything that would lessen the heat was making her lightheaded and now, quarter an hour later, she was ready to leave, thinking the paycheck they promised wasn’t even close to what they should pay for putting up with someone, who was obviously enjoying testing others.
She let out disgruntled sight, dig out her red phone and the card she had got from the employer and dialed the number, turning her back to the door and the figure in the window. She had had enough of this game and decided to call ends to it.
“Hey,” she span the carton between her fingers, “Kristin here.” She paused, not really knowing how to out this. “Yes, I just arrived…” she drawled, “um… I was wondering if I got the address right, could you repeat it for me, please.” She read the card while listening intently the voice on the other end of the phone. “Uh-uh, the big brown ugly house on the edge of the cemetery,” she repeated vaguely, turning to judge the building behind her, “no-no – I think I see it.” She confirmed disappointedly. “I walked past it, but I see it. Thanks!” she closed the lid and stared at the closed door.
“What an ass.” She marked then, dug in her bag, searched out a notebook and a pen and scribbled simply Hi! I’m off to find something to drink. I’ll come back later when the Sun has set. Best, Kristin Havel And dug it in the letter box lid in the door. Then she pushed her bag in the shadow of the balcony guard rail, searched out her wallet and walked back from where she came from.
She knew he had taken the letter and was probably reading it as she was taking off, but she didn’t really give a damn anymore – the headache was getting stronger now and she wanted something cool enough to dig in before fainting. The shop ought to be still open, she figured, confirming it on her watch which showed forty minutes past five. It was only ten minute walk from the house and she knew if she hurried, she’ll make it in time before the owner closed.
The little shop had only changed its color from inside since she last was here. The owner was the same old grumpy man she used to call Mister. She had been scared of him, his huge belly, his peering eyes and mouth that let out any gossip the little town could bosses. Now that she thought of it, she’d been scared of almost anything that was taller, higher or bigger.
Thankfully the man didn’t recognize her, she had changed a lot since she left, changing anything from eye color to her hair. She had hoped to keep away from the town as long as she could, hoping the man had someone else to do the shopping or have the goods delivered right to his doorstep.
“Are you new here or just passing through, miss?” the old man drawled with his slow local accent when she placed the cola bottle on the counter.
“I haven’t decided yet.” She tried to keep her eyes sparkling and smile shining, hoping he’ll dismiss her as a mindless traveler.
She finished him off with wishing good evening and rushing back on the mansion. The clouds had covered the Sun up and so she hoped she’ll get to see the inside before the evening chills arrived. He wasn’t staring at the window anymore and she took a seat on the stairs, before noticing her bag had vanished from the hidden corner.
She drank half the bottle empty, staring at the corner, then sighed deep and strolled back to the door, knocking again.
This time the door opened and without even a welcome an almost milky hand reached out, took the cola and raised it up to his lips. He finished the bottle, glaring at her, before stepping aside and letting her in.
“Hi! Kristin Havel, nice to meet you.” He reached out his hand to shake hers and contrast to his look, his hand was warm. Inside, hidden from distracting bright light, it also seemed as if he did have slight sunburn, but only enough to keep the veins from shining through. He wasn’t a bloke from a block, but wore dark office pants and fitting wine colored blouse. His dark hair was cut short to frame his not very friendly grey eyes and firm jaw line.
“Ruslan Dobrev – I guess my mother has already done the honors,” he said with malice, letting her finish her observations.
“Well, she only said you weren’t a toddler anymore.” She gave him a cute smile, but only managed to wheedle a tiny hint of a smile from him.
“Come, Kristin” he continued, “I gather you are hungry after long day – I prepared the dinner for us.” He showed her in. “As you probably noticed – I don’t go outside with Sun at all, I apologize for the inconvenience.”
“Well, I should have chosen the rainy day to arrive, but I gathered they don’t have many here.” Her voice didn’t hide the temper that little outside show had raised in her.
He smiled openly now. “No, they don’t.”
The dinner conversation went slowly as neither of them had much to start with nor much will to continue. He explained the endless details on what was allowed and what was not, what he didn’t like, who worked there besides her and how little he acknowledged his parent’s tries on getting him more sociable.
“Say, how you knew about the knob?” he started after another long pause he had used to bring them a bottle of red wine and had taken his seat in the shadow. He seemed to enjoy staying hidden, so only the lower half of his face was viewable.
She shrugged. “I lived near here when I was a child. The gardener showed me.”
“I don’t think so – he said he never showed it to anyone to keep the children away.”
She laughed. “The old man is still alive then?”
“He was a nice man – little daft, but nice.”
He agreed. The man was eager to keep the secrets the garden and the house obsessed, but he spent less and less time noticing anything else going on around him, which made him an open book for any man passing by.
“Repeat my commands.” He said suddenly, grabbing his drink.
“You never repeat yourself. You never contact anyone outside your employees or your parents. I must cook, clean and spend time with you. I must be available all times. You never go out in the sun.” She continued listing the facts. “Why don’t you stand out from the shadows?”
“So…” he drawled, “who am I?” he had heard everything and not one of them amused him more than being called the prince of darkness.
That stung. She knew what he expected from her and felt desire to irritate him with answering exactly what he wished to hear – it wasn’t her problem to cure the man from his prejudgments.
“A vampire?” She let the word out. It tasted vile even to say it out loud.
“Now… wouldn’t that be romantic.” He carp at her.
“No.” she snapped. His grin vanished. “I don’t know what you’ve been reading, but I have no interest in becoming somebody’s evening snack or have a predator with sharp teeth hang that near to my Jugular vein. Romantic or not, such men should stay dead.”
He swallowed his wine and coughed. So much of playing the vulture with the girl to scare her off – it had worked with the two previous companions his parents had put him up with and he hoped they’ll eventually stop hiring ‘friends’ for him. It was embarrassing and even more was that they had developed some sort of fantasies about him being a vampire and them damsels, who could give him back his soul. He didn’t know, where they got it, but that was the last time he asked his mother send him someone immature and foolish.
“You don’t like getting ravished by a vampire?”
She gave him a pathetic stare. “You’re not one, so how can you even come up with the offer?”
“It wasn’t an offer.” He passed the not being one part and moved straight to where he could have an argument with her.
She did not know how to react on that statement. What did he mean by that? That he’ll rape her? Or that he hadn’t meant a word he said? She disliked such double meaning sentences and decided to wait until he adds something more meaningful to it. He didn’t, but seemed to understand the light it gave to the conversation and he rose fast, moving in the back of the house, gulping in the wine.
The way he emptied the glass and pour himself another gave her an early warning to do something about that or be indeed in danger of loosing one’s virginity to a man who hardly gave himself sense on what he did.
She rose and went after him, determined to make him loose this habit of his. Even if not a rapist, she still didn’t wish to spend the rest of the night and all the following with a guy, who either slept through the conversations, got too talkative, got too depressed or too cocky. Any of those seemed a beginning of disaster.
She entered the kitchen just to see him empty a palm full of medicaments in his throat and reaching after the wine to rinse them down, but she smack his hand away, frowning in disbelief. He reached after the glass once more and she placed it further away, filling another glass with water and giving him that one instead. Hadn’t he had his mouth full of pills that started to melt and tasted vile, he surely would have said something nasty to her, but instead grabbed the goblet with water and drank it harsh to get the awful taste off his tongue.
“I’ll banish all the alcohol from the house if I see you do that again.” She said harshly, turned around and walked back in the living room.
He stared her with wide eyes. That was first! She had just changed the endless chain of those little follow-up girls, who had never understood, that being hired as a companion didn’t mean sucking up, but standing up! He liked that.
“Chaperon’s quarters are on the south side of the house.” He jumped on the next thing. “I took your bags there. As the house is mostly the only area I move around, never forget to close the curtains.”
“Yes, captain!” she saluted him suddenly, giggling like hell.
He frowned. “What’s wrong with you?” he was confused.
“I’m drunk.” She admitted. “I usually don’t drink after receiving sunstroke – it goes straight to my head.”
“I’ll keep it in mind.” He nodded, trying to scowl at her, but couldn’t.
She looked so strange, different from the youngsters he had put up with so far. Her eyes were laughing, like she’d seen something funny, though her smile was sad and utterly tired. She was dressed well though, better than he expected from a simple girl, yet the sassy hair and the girlish string she had gathered her hair back gave a hint of one very childish joys.
He watched her eyes close as if they had will of their own and just stared at her sleeping there, on the other side of the table, stretched out on the cushions on the chair. His first impression had been of an office worker, who had come to gather offerings for the poor. That was enough to play the stupid game of who’d give up first. Then he heard her phone call to his mother, realized too late of why she was standing behind his door even fifteen minutes later, but then she let out that little remark that fired him up and than the little note through the mailbox. Drugging her meal had been his little revenge that now gave him time to explore her whole body for signs of what sort of person she was. He never skipped that part of getting to know them – the body didn’t lie, the brain did.
For some reason he felt nervous. It was easy with girls. She on the other hand was no girl nor did she smell like one – wine mixed with tropical flowers made his head swim just as hers must have before she passed out. Her upper part had no secrets – the blouse was more than revealing, the fabric hardly covered up the tiny bra underneath.
No, she had nothing to hide, he decided, nothing she would have memorized on her body and for once he was glad.