At some point in your life you will become aware that some people can stay in your heart, but not in your life.Unknown
The human mind and spirit were nothing, if not resilient.
After the drama with the Vatores had unfolded, Ana slowly, but surely recovered. Very slowly. It took many months.
It now was perfectly clear to all of us that with her previous dating spree she had been either trying to hide her pseudo-relationship with Riordan or tried to make him jealous to the point he would openly commit to her. Since all this was now settled, albeit not as she had wanted, she decided she deserved a fresh start and a real chance on love.
She did away with all four of her original lovers that she had been stringing along and eventually met someone new. A handsome man by the name of Chase Cunningham, a young doctor with the brightest blue eyes you have ever seen, from a long line of doctors before him, all of which with the same hypnotizingly bright eyes.
I swear the first time we got to meet that young man, Blaine had to close my mouth for me, which he did, grinning and winking.
Like Ana, Chase lived in a crappy, noisy, tiny little apartment downtown San Myshuno, incidentally only a few blocks away from the building where Anastasia lived, but he was originally from sleepy Brindleton Bay, where his parents still lived and owned a gorgeous and quaint estate. He would visit them often on the weekends and now, naturally, take Anastasia along.
They’d go sailing, for walks along the rugged coast line, eat seafood, watch the sun set – or rise – over the ocean from his parents’ back porch with a glass of Chardonnay or just relax by the heated pool on the sprawling property.
The fresh sea air combined with the calm and laid back atmosphere in the Bay did wonders for Anastasia’s nerves and helped her heal even quicker. As another bonus: she genuinely liked his parents a lot. Spoiler alert: so did Blaine and I.
She told us about Chase immediately after they met, which was unusual for her, she would normally test-drive any guys for a while before she’d even mention them to us. Not him. She nervously told us about their first date – and the second one, which had resulted in their first kiss, lots of heart flutter and the certainty that he was the one for her now. The way she talked about him, excited and with a certain spark in her eyes told Blaine and me all we needed to know. Since the infatuation was clearly mutual it didn’t take very long until they became a couple.
He soon was introduced to us, we met the parents, very pleasant and easy-going people, and now dinners with the Cunninghams were a standing date on our calendars at their place or ours, which they seemed more than comfortable at as well. Even Brendan tagged along sometimes to their home, he really liked their pool and the private beach access.
Through it all Ana was quick to annotate that there were no wedding bells in her future.
Brendan came home one night in a foul mood, with a terrible scratch across his face. Concerned, I asked about it and his one syllable reply was
“Pickles!”, before he stomped off to his room, soon followed by loud music blaring.
The McCreedy’s cat, Pickles, usually loved Brendan, so to say I was surprised was an understatement, but I let it go, as I was more worried about illnesses. Infections, cat scratch disease, all that. Carefully I managed to at least get him to allow me to tend to the wound. Beyond that he clammed up about everything else.
When his mood didn’t improve after several days I took him aside and coaxed the truth out of him.
Turned out that in a bout of bravery while visiting with Elise he had gone for it, told her how he felt about her. When she didn’t react the way he had imagined to his confession of love, he topped it off with an unmistakably hearty kiss, startling Pickles, who had been sleeping in Elise’s lap, resulting in the scratch while Elise shut him down, giving him the ‘just friends’ speech.
Heartbroken he took his bruised male ego home to pout.
By the time the scratch had healed Brendan had a new girlfriend. Another pretty-as-a-picture blue-eyed blonde by the name of Natalie Bergman.
Initially Blaine and I worried she may be a rebound girl, but when he introduced her to us, we saw the same spark in his eyes as we had seen with his older sister after she met Chase. Maybe the third time was a charm now, since she was his third girlfriend now – at the tender age of 17.
To put the cherry on top for Brendan was Natalie – or ‘Natty’ as he called her – not only born and raised in Windenburg, just like him, but while our home was situated rurally at the outskirts of Windenburg, she lived in the old downtown district with her parents as their only child, she was also about to graduate high school and enrolled to start her first semester in Britechester in fall, just like Brendan. Soon she became a fixture at our house, and Brendan at the Bergman’s place.
As did we, after getting along splendidly right away with the Bergmans the same way we had hit it off with the Cunninghams, so we had more standing dinner dates now.
Speaking of the Bergman’s residence, Blaine and I both could barely stifle our surprise the first time we were invited over at the Bergman residence for dinner.
The home was located on pricey real estate and it was impressive, putting our beloved but in comparison less than mediocre and dwindling tiny home to shame.
Luckily the residents were fun and laid-back despite of it all.
Her parents were simply wonderful, the father, Randall, a successful engineer and the mother Joanne, a homemaker, both seemed to have an equally tight and casual relationship with their daughter as we had with our kids, so the evenings spent there often ended in hysterical laughter, rather than the stiff discomfort you usually associate with things like that.
Oddly enough, Blaine got along with Randall right away and I really didn’t mind spending some time with Joanne. Even without the kids.
Suited me well, I could use a few new friends, same was true for Blaine, somehow all our old friendships had grown apart. Some friends had marital troubles, Venessa and Knox were divorced and he already remarried, and even between Penny and me things had gone quiet. My guess was that for many years we all had been so busy with work and kids and it had taken a toll on all of us, now we didn’t seem to have much left in common. The only ones we used to still see frequently had been the Vatores. You know where that stood at the present time.
Brendan spent most of his free time with Natty now, still met with his friends sometimes, including Elise on the rare occasions her parents would watch the baby for her, but they didn’t seem as close anymore. He barely went over to her house now, if ever. Sad, of course, as I truly liked Elise, but couldn’t help feeling that we dodged a bullet there.
Speaking of dodging stuff, one evening, I was cleaning up our dinner dishes when someone was at the door. Brendan went to answer but came back alone.
“Who was it, honey?” I called over to him on the couch, his eyes firmly fixed on the TV again.
“An asshole who got a face-full of our front door.” he replied grumpily, sounding just like his father. Cringe.
“Brenny, language!” I reprimanded, thinking he got rid of some pesky people trying to peddle goods or religion door to door, when that thought was corrected by someone knocking on the kitchen window, startling me.
Evidently it had been him at our door. I gestured him to meet me at the back door, afraid Blaine or Brendan would attack him if I let him inside and I was not gonna just ignore him. He and I had been through too much together and I could not just forget how he had been there for me in my time of need. Even though presently I generally agreed wholeheartedly with my son’s evaluation of him.
“What are you doing here?” I asked him as I stepped outside, pulling the door shut behind myself.
“Good evening, my petal. Visiting old friends, I believe, if I am still considered such. Am I?”
“I don’t know Caleb, you really screwed the pooch with your stubborn old-fashion crap. Definitely launched yourself to the top of every Cameron’s shit list, present company included.”
“Yes, I have noticed, hard not to when your son slammed the door in my face after some choice words. I seem to be on his bad side as well.”
“Well, duh, you hurt his sister, and he is Blaine’s son.”
“But you have forgiven me then?”
“No, not really, I still want to kick you square in the groin for all that.” I told him candidly.
“Hmm. I’m tempted to let you, if that would mean we could bury the hatchet. I hate that this had to come between all of us and would like to make amends. I miss you guys desperately.”
“Caleb, you are at the very core of the reason your nephew ripped my little girl’s heart out and stepped on it in front of everyone, adding insult to injury. If you expect hugs and kisses from me, you are at the wrong address.”
“May I come inside and explain – or at least try to? I hate having to have such a deep talk at your doorstep like a travelling salesman.”
“Blaine’s home. I honestly cannot say how he’ll react if he finds you in his living room right now.” I said right as the patio door was opened behind me and Blaine stepped out, answering my rhetorical question.
“I can tell you! Kick his ass all the way back to Forgotten Hollow is how! What is this stupid waste of …” he began to rant and I cut him off by putting my hand on his arm and begging him
“Blaine! Please … I am already fighting Bren’s pottymouth all the time now, no need to make it worse. Caleb came in peace, says he wants to make amends. Let’s hear him out, okay, baby?”
“Are we still friends, Blaine?” Caleb asked solemnly.
“After what you did? You are a … you are … agh fine, I’ll listen to your explanations and then I will tell you what we are. Better make it worth my while, if all you spew is bullshit, I will kick your ass so hard it’ll launch you into orbit.”
Blaine stepped aside and Caleb followed us inside, we sat down at the dining room table. I wasn’t too surprised at Blaine’s reaction, I knew he missed Caleb dearly and hated that this had come between them. Blaine wasn’t exactly liberal with second chances normally, this was Caleb’s and I hoped to God he made it count.
Caleb began to talk, in my ears nothing but meaningless banter about the complications of vampire and mortal relationships, if they should result in accidental pregnancies, the strict rules for his society, the fact that Riordan was his vice-Grand Master in training, which meant they both had to be role models. Blaine and I exchanged glances and eye rolls about all this, but let him continue. Caleb spoke about his own past, paved with high hopes, lost love and failed relationships, miscarriages, stillbirths, and much heartbreak he had to endure. When he got to the humiliation Amelie had caused him with her deceit, I interrupted him.
“Caleb! Enough! I understand all this and feel for you. I know Amelie hurt you and made you look bad as a leader, but that has nothing at all to do with either Riordan or our Ana. You are holding them accountable for other people’s heinous actions. Heartbreak is part of life, Caleb, you of all people should know that. Everyone goes through this at some point or another, even the leaders of the mortal society, the tabloids and news are full of such stories. We are smart enough to separate their official role from their personal life, and I see no reason to think vampires would not be capable of the same. So what if Ri and Ana had been open about dating, and so what if they had broken up. You think none of the other vampire leaders ever had a divorce or break-up? Puh-lease!”
“Yes, yes, I realized that I was too strict with them both, even though it took not one, but two suicide attempts by Riordan and my sister threatening to take the boy and leave me until I realized it. I am here to apologize and tell you that I was wrong.”
“No shit, Sherlock!” Blaine growled, still utterly unimpressed, but at least no longer combative.
“Blaine, don’t be so heartless. I am sorry to hear that Caleb. Is Riordan okay?” I asked with great concern. Poor kid.
“He will be, eventually, if we can keep him from trying again, that is. He is still very weak, recovering at a snail’s pace, because he keeps refusing to feed. We lucked out finding him just in the nick of time, even though he nearly succeeded both times.” Caleb’s facial expression reflected great worry and concern.
“Okay, bro, I gotta ask. How the heck does an immortal commit suicide anyway?” Blaine blabbered before I could say anything calming.
“Not too hard really, if you are determined enough. I had taken away his ability to teleport for obvious reasons, which he then used to aid him, since in dangerous situations it can be a reflex to save you. Instead he managed to tie himself up outside and waited for the sun to rise, while somehow wearing garlic wreaths, weakening him further to accelerate his demise. Lilith and I both got singed ourselves rescuing him. He was not a sight for the faint of heart, burned badly, but obviously will fully restore, would already have, if that stubborn kid would feed. I was hoping you would find it in your heart to pay him a visit. He is very weak and mostly bed-ridden, but I believe seeing you could lift his spirits tremendously. The distance between all of us is hurting him. I was also wondering if Ana may want to see him. I feel it could benefit both of them greatly.”
“Bruh, if you want my little girl to go see your nephew’s dumb treacherous ass, you go and ask her yourself, I am not doing that dirty job for you and my wife won’t go pleading your case either, I am putting my foot down here. You broke it, you fix it yourself. If Vik wants to go and kiss your nephew’s booboos, I say have at it, but I am out. If I see his visage again, I am gonna finish the job for him and pull his damned, useless head off!” Blaine ranted.
“Fair enough. With your permission I will seek out your daughter and ask her.”
“Knock yourself out, buddy, but better wear a helmet and a protective cup or she’ll rip of them undead family jewels and make them into a lovely pain-scented potpourri. My adorable firstborn is pissed beyond recognition at you, still, so handle with care. Don’t come back sobbing with your teeth in your pockets and say I didn’t warn ya.”
“Uh – Caleb, there is something else I think you should know though. Anastasia has worked hard to recover from the blow and has since found someone new. In other words, she has a lovely boyfriend now. Please take that into consideration.” I said, just to make sure the expectations were just on all sides.
I still cared deeply for Riordan, despite it all, I still felt sort of like his mother and motherly love doesn’t just go away when the child messes up, no matter how badly. But as far as I was concerned the potential boyfriend ship had sailed for good for Riordan, so I wanted to avoid any new heartbreak for anyone, just as much as I did not want anything to disturb the peace and happiness between Anastasia and Chase.
Caleb left soon after to give us time to consider our feelings about all he said, while he was enroute to see our daughter. Blaine stubbornly insisted he would not go see any of the Vatores, Brendan sided with his dad and I was torn, as I felt so very sorry for Riordan, whom I believed had just gotten caught between the fronts.
A few days later I was in Forgotten Hollow, more specifically the Vatore residence, where I now sat at Riordan’s bedside in his room, looking worried. Caleb had been right, I could hardly recognize the boy. His exterior was the Riordan I knew, but he barely spoke and seemed absent. Caleb’s description of Riordan being a shadow of his former self truly hit the nail on the head. Unfortunately, but not really surprisingly, had Caleb’s attempt to convince Ana been met with disdain and a rough “no!”. I had promised Blaine to stay out of it, so I did. But I went to see the boy.
“How are you feeling, sweetie?” I asked him gently.
Yes, he had hurt my daughter, but he was like a son to me, I had helped raise him, seeing him so obviously miserable and desperate enough to end his life made me sad and woke my maternal instincts.
“Ri?” I asked again when he didn’t react.
When I gently stroked his cheek with the back of my hand, his eyes finally focused on me. Sad eyes, windows to a broken soul.
“You don’t hate me?” he finally asked, quietly and with a voice that had not known much use of late.
“No, Ri, honey. I don’t hate you. Nobody hates you. You messed up, sweetie, and some of us are angry, but nobody hates you.”
“Ana does. She won’t come, will she?”
“Sweet boy, you have to give her time.”
For a moment it looked as if he would cry, but instead he just closed his eyes.
“Has she told you that we … she and I … that …” he stuttered, trying to find the right terms.
“Yes, honey, she has told me everything. Including about Blaine’s condoms. My personal favorite was though the hotel and the wigs when you kids were barely 18 and 19 years old. (CLICK HERE TO READ) I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall for that, I admit it. Uh – for the wig part I mean … not what came after.” I added smiling.
For a split second the memory caused a flash of a smile, but it faded as quickly as it had come on.
“I really would like to speak to her. If only to tell her how sorry I am …”
“Sweet boy, her whole life was upside down and she just …” I started but something in his eyes made me pause. Somehow I felt that if I wouldn’t at least try to help, he may really try again and succeed this time with his third attempt on his own life.
“Give me a second, okay? I will be right back, Ri.”
I left his room, locked myself into the bathroom and dialed. When I returned to his room shortly after I held out my cell phone to him, he looked at it, then me, before he took it, his movements slow and labored like those of a very old man.
“Hello?” he asked into the phone.
By the way he shut his eyes and the change in his face I could tell I hit the jackpot, now I only hoped Ana would be kind to him, as I gestured Ri I would be outside to give them privacy to speak. Yeah, I know, I had promised Blaine to stay out of it and now I had sorta guilted my daughter into at least talking to Ri. Sue me.
I was shocked when only a short while later the door was opened and Ri handed me my cell phone, standing on his own and walking, obviously weak and swaying like a tree in the wind, but a lot more perky than before.
“She said she’s coming to see me. Tonight. Now. Thank you, aunt Vik!” he said before he embraced me. Holding him I could tell he had reached the end of his rope. Poor guy.
I was honestly surprised that she told him she’d come, I was praying she really would, as Ana had been very stubborn about not wanting to see Riordan. I wondered what had made her change her mind. Maybe it was easier to say no when she didn’t hear his voice and had to tell him directly. And sure enough, less than an hour later Ana arrived, gave Caleb the stink eye as he opened the door for her.
“Thank you for coming, Ana. Riordan is in his room, go on up so you kids can have some privacy. Your mother is kind enough to keep me company for a little bit.” he pointed at me sitting in his living room.
“Oh really? Privacy? Me in his room, unattended? No longer worried we instantly rip off each other’s clothing and do unmentionable things to each other to fuck up your vampire schedule, or did you install cameras?” she mocked, her voice acidic for sarcasm.
“Ana, just go upstairs.” I interrupted, when Caleb looked like a kicked dog.
She ran up the stairs, I saw her knock briefly, then disappearing behind closed doors.
“You came!” Riordan’s eyes lit up as he labored up to a sitting position, then swung his legs over the edge of the bed to make room for her.
“Told you I would. I keep my promises.”
“Come, sit.” Riordan patted on the bed next to him.
“I am fine right here. How are you doing?”
“Like shit and weak. Which is why I am on the bed. I fell down the stairs a few times, so uncle and my mother told me to stay here.”
Ana looked at him for a moment, trying to read in his face, then came over and sat next to him.
“Why did you do it?”
“Because I hate my life and it no longer has any meaning.”
“Quit being so melodramatic. Life is what you make it. I moved on. You should as well.”
“I hear you have a boyfriend now …”
“Does he treat you well?”
“You think he’d be my boyfriend if he didn’t?”
“True, he’d be in the hospital – or six feet under.”
“Damn right. Are you in pain?”
“Stop doing this, Ri. I know your games. It won’t wash anymore.”
“My games? I am not playing any games, Ana. I am too tired of everything for games, this is me, or what’s left, naked in front of you, baring all, showing you my belly.”
“If you were naked, I would be on the other side of that door in no seconds flat.”
“No worries, I didn’t mean it literal. I would take me an hour to get out of my clothes without help.”
“How long ago did you try to … you know – try to off yourself?”
“Week or so .. maybe longer. I don’t really care about time and calendars anymore.”
“I always thought vampires heal faster than that. Like instantly.”
“We do, normally. I would too, if I were to feed.”
“And why don’t you then? Trying out for Forgotten Hollow’s Next Top Model now?”
“No, hoping to fall into a coma.”
“Riordan, will you quit this already?!”
“Why? What for? What is left there for me? A future as my uncle’s vampire master henchman that I don’t want? All alone … all the time.”
“Goddamn, even your pity party sucks! How about you do something productive to get your mind off it all, like the rest of us who had their asses handed to them? Take up a hobby, go to a gym or chop some wood and build a fucking chair or something. Or get on a dating site and screw some chicks till you can’t stop grinning like a fool anymore for all the testosterone running rampart through your veins.”
“Date? Whom? Test a bunch of vampires hoping to find one that isn’t cold as ice inside and out? Those are rare and for that very reason usually already taken. Or date mortals only to be confronted over and over again by what a freak I am and what all I can NOT do? Yeah, that’ll help my mood.”
“Do I detect the usual flavor of Riordanesque sarcasm?” Ana smiled briefly.
“You always did bring out the best in me. And the worst. Often simultaneously.”
“Maybe I should go. If I stay too long, your uncle will have the vampire equivalent of a heart attack. Pretty sure the only reason he isn’t in here yet is my mom tripping him up on the stairs or something.”
“He doesn’t care anymore. Don’t leave, not yet. Please, Ana …”
Anastasia had gotten up and walked over to the door, handle in hand, when she seemed to consider it, something in his voice made her halt, then she turned to Ri.
“Okay, I’ll make you a deal, take it or leave it, no substitutions here. You feed and I will stay some more. And you better drink a full portion, however much that is, don’t try to lie to me, as I will ask your mother and uncle.”
Riordan opened his mouth to argue when the offer sank in.
“Okay. I’ll do it.”
“All right, I’ll get the … food …. be right back. Hopefully this doesn’t mean I have to catch a live person for you to suck on. Not sure I am that crazy about helping you just yet.”
She disappeared and returned with a pouch filled with warm blood, off a special type of warmer, which she handed to him, trying not to look as grossed out as she was.
“Here you go. Bottoms up.” she told him.
“You may want to wait outside. This isn’t … pleasant to watch.”
“Uh negatory. My butt is staying right here and I am watching you. You finish it, I will stay. The moment you stop feeding, this Ana is out that door – for good.”
Riordan tried to avoid having her watch, but she remained firm and stayed put until he suddenly bit heartily into the pouch, began slurping, but was too weak and dropped it. After the second time, Ana, sat next to him, holding it for him until he had sucked it dry. When he was done, she gently wiped the blood off his lips, then stroked back his hair, slowly and carefully.
They spent about an hour or so talking, until Ana had to leave, because of a prior engagement.
“Will you come see me again?”
“If you will feed like a good boy and quit trying to off yourself, maybe.”
“Yup. If you don’t like it, too bad.”
“Okay, fine. No more attempts and I will feed. But you have to come back soon, not in some weeks or something.”
“I already told Caleb I’d be back to check on you tomorrow. Sucker!” she stuck her tongue out at him.
“You know it.” he smiled back.
“Ana … thank you.”
“Don’t make me regret it. Your last chance with me, Vatore. Don’t fuck it up. Oh, and see you tomorrow, shithead!”
He just smiled, weakened by the excitement of interactions he wasn’t used to anymore. The smile faded into an unreadable expression, a mix of regret, hope, memories, longing and gratefulness. Maybe aunt Vik was right and all wasn’t lost. Ana clearly didn’t hate him like he had convinced himself she did. Maybe he hadn’t lost her completely after all. Maybe there was a gleam of hope they could at least be friends again. At the very least he had something again he didn’t have in a long time: hope.
She wasn’t all the way in her car yet when he had already drifted off into a healing vampiric slumber, a hopeful smile still on his face.