December 23, 2007
I can’t believe the year is almost ready to surrender itself to the past. It has been an eventful year and while much of what has happened is good, much of it is not. As I take a mental inventory it’s hard to tell which list wins. One thing’s for sure, I have a lot to resolve before the ball drops.
Tomorrow evening I will go to my mom’s house; we always spend Christmas Eve together and while a part of me is more than excited, another part is dreading it because I know that it is going to bring a confrontation between us. Granted, we need it and I welcome it too because I love my mom so much and I absolutely hate this wall that is currently between us. I sincerely hope that we can find middle ground; I know that there has to be reasons for what she did. My mom is not the type of person who would arbitrarily hide something; no, there is a reason and I’m sure it’s a big one. I guess my concern is how much this reason will shake up my world. When the truth comes out will I be happy knowing it?
Josh is still in Sacramento but will go home to see his family tomorrow for a few days. If I’m telling the complete truth here (and otherwise, what’s the purpose of writing this) I’m relieved about that. I can only imagine how strained it would be to see him because I could not hurt him over the holidays, I just couldn’t. His family is huge and I’m sure he’ll enjoy his Christmas with them.
Lani will be home December 26th and this will seem like the three longest days imaginable to me. I need so badly to open myself up to someone who will not judge me; I’m already doing enough of that myself. I know that I have a right to be happy and I know that Josh isn’t the one to make me happy. I can’t be expected to live an unfulfilled life because it is safe or it makes others happy can I? I have no idea where Mick stands for sure but they way he looked at me as I was leaving New York made me realize that he does have some feelings for me. I may not understand exactly what feelings but there definitely are feelings. I will not explore those feelings until I have ended it with Josh (I know, I should have thought of that before I kissed him or tried to seduce him when I took the BC) because I want to be able to do it with a clear conscience, or reasonably clear anyway.
When Lani gets here she will stay with me for a couple of days, although Sesumi Corp will provide her with an apartment; a penthouse no less and a Maserati to drive. It seems Heroku Sesumi believes in taking care of his employees in style. He will be accompanying her to the states to see that all is in place for her new job. He seems more like a mentor rather than a boss, but maybe a good boss should be both. She’ll also spend a bit of time with her family but I know that she is looking forward to our time together more. Lani comes from money and honestly, she spent more time with maids and aunts and uncles than she did with her parents. She loves them and they love her, but she’s not terribly close to them. My mom always wondered what would become of Lani, but I think she has done extremely well.
Dorothy fussed with the tree as she did each year. Everything had to be just so but Clark knew that there was more to it this year; she was scared to see her daughter again because they had only spoken a few times since Beth had last been there, confronting them about the past. She bent down to arrange the presents again, for the fourth time and Clark walked to her and pulled her up into his arms and held her close. “It’s alright darling; it looks beautiful, as usual.”
Dorothy nodded and finally looked up into the warm eyes of her husband. She laid her cheek against his strong shoulder breathed in deeply, trying to pull some of the strength into herself. She felt his hands rubbing up and down her back and she wanted to melt into his arms but there was too much going on in her head. “Clark, I don’t know what is going to happen tonight.”
“I know Dorothy, I know.” He stepped back a half step and lifted her small face up to his and placed a kiss on her lips. Her hazel eyes stared into his and he could see how brightly they were shining. She swallowed convulsively and he smiled at her, trying to reassure her.
“She’ll hate me, I know she will.”
“No she won’t. She may have a hard time accepting it all at first, but she will come around. Dorothy, you have to tell her because if you don’t your relationship with your daughter may never heal. It’s just that simple. I’m here with you Dorothy, right here.”
“Yes, you are. Thank God…”
Lani finished packing up her Tokyo office and looked around it with a bit of sadness; she knew that she would miss it and would cherish this time here very much. Most of it that was. A shudder passed quickly over her at memories she tried so hard to forget or suppress, either one would work and yet she never managed either one. She sat the last crate on the floor and called her secretary and told her that the boxes were ready to be shipped.
Lani sat down in her chair and swiveled it around to stare out at the city of Tokyo. Even from the 60th floor it was alive and bustling with activity. In Japan there were people everywhere; free space was at a premium and they made the most of what they did have. In decades past many were farmers but as technology boomed so did the rush to the city, but the city had nowhere to grow, so it grew up and spaces became smaller, tighter. She thought about her friend Yoshi’s apartment and smiled; it wasn’t any larger than a large bedroom would be in the states, but included a living room, bedroom, bathroom and kitchen; all very high-tech with everything built in. Lani would never be able to handle it but Yoshi loved her home.
There was a knock on her door ending her silent reverie and she called out “Come in,” thinking it was someone to pick up her boxes. Instead she turned to find Heroku standing by the door, watching her with a smile on his face.
“Lani, you have finished I see. Are you ready to go to dinner; your last night in Tokyo?” he asked. They were having dinner with their colleagues to say goodbye before she left.
“I certainly hope it will not be my last night ever in Tokyo Heroku, but yes, I’m ready to leave.” She smiled wistfully at him and grabbed her purse in preparation to leave.
Heroku bowed slightly and clarified, “Simply a statement my dear, not to be meant literally. Come, they are all waiting for us at Sakura.” Heroku couldn’t help but notice her eyes that were shining brightly with unshed tears. He knew that she was happy to go home but also felt sad to leave here. Nonetheless he watched as she gave him a brilliant smile and headed out the door, determined to not look back.
At the restaurant they posed a merry group; at least on the surface. They had a private room for their boisterous celebration and considering how much noise they made Lani decided that was a very good thing. Not that any restaurant in Tokyo would dare to throw Heroku Sesumi out for being too loud but still Lani was thankful for the privacy. Her co-workers and friends bestowed small memento’s on her, remembrances of her time here in this amazing city. They gave her an excuse to shed occasional tears and that helped to relieve the lump that rose alarmingly in her throat from time to time. When it was time to go she hugged them all tightly, truly sad to leave. Heroku accompanied her back to her hotel since she had already moved out of her apartment so that her things could be shipped to the states.
She and Heroku decided to have a final drink in the hotel bar; they didn’t leave for LA until 2 o’clock tomorrow and Lani didn’t care if she slept late. They were flying on Heroku’s private jet which would be a pleasant luxury.
“You are sad to leave Tokyo,” he stated simply.
Lani took a drink of her Moet and felt the bubbles tickle her nose. She decided her last drink here would be something special and she savored the taste of the fine champagne. “Yes, I am.”
Heroku thought about her answer before addressing her again. He knew that she loved the city and her job; however some things about her time here were not so good. “Lani, I am sorry for what happened to you here.”
Lani caught her breath and a hot tear crept down her cheek. She hastily swiped it away and looked him directly in the eye. “Heroku, it wasn’t your fault; on the contrary, if you hadn’t have come along, I might have died.”
He nodded, knowing that was true but he did feel responsible for all of it. If he hadn’t have heard her cry out, if it had been only a moment later he indeed might have been too late. Instead, he had torn apart her two assailants and Lani’s world had changed forever. She was so brave, so extraordinary and he felt responsible for her. He wanted her to have a normal life, get married, have kids and never have to deal with vampires again. Sadly, that wouldn’t be the course her life would take now.
“But you didn’t Lani; you shall be my shining star at Sesumi in North America, I have complete confidence in you. Oh, I forgot to tell you, we have been invited to a New Year’s Eve celebration at Josef Kostan’s house. Each year he throws a very lavish party to welcome in the New Year.” He watched a she shivered and a flash of something undetectable flashed in her eyes. He immediately became concerned. “Lani, why do you dislike Josef? Has he made advances to you?” He didn’t mean the human kind and he knew that she understood that.
“No, no, not like that, you know. He’s just, um, he’s a player and makes me uncomfortable Heroku. He hasn’t tried to hurt me or anything,” she hurriedly finished as she saw his dark brown eyes suddenly start to silver.
“If he makes the slightest attempt towards you like that Lani please let me know immediately; it will not be tolerated. Josef is very civilized but he can be a bit impetuous. He will not risk the wrath of me or the Brotherhood of the Moon though; I can assure you of that.”
Lani bit her lower lip as she listened to his words; he obviously didn’t complete understand where her fears lie and that was okay. She wasn’t in any hurry to clarify that misconception at all.
Beth pulled into the drive way at her mom’s and shut the Prius off and sat there for a moment breathing deeply. Get out of the car Beth, just do it.
She loved her mom so much and she wanted things to go well; she missed her so badly and this was their chance. She knew that she had to just listen and control her tendency to let anger take over. It was a fault, a huge fault but tonight she was going to do her best to control it.
Maybe this year that will be a resolution, find a way to control her quick temper. Each year when they were younger she, Lani and Robbie used to make their New Year’s resolutions together; maybe this year they could start again.
She pulled the key out of the ignition and popped the hatch open so she could get the presents out of the back. As she stepped out into the night there was a bit of a chill in the air; not a really cold one since it was LA but enough to remind her that it was Christmas. She inhaled deeply, almost expecting to smell the clean smell of snow or pines or something. She laughed at herself and again remembered that it was LA. No snow, few pines; just the palms that swept the night sky and occasionally obstructed the view of the few stars that you could see.
She gathered up the bags out of the back of the car and shut the hatch with a firm click. As she walked to the steps she pressed the lock remote and saw the lights flash telling her that the car locked behind her. No sooner had she knocked on the door then her mother answered it, welcoming her and for a moment Beth forgot all the issues between them and only felt welcome, as she had in years past.
“Oh Bethy, I’m so happy to see you sweetheart. You look well,” Dorothy told her, lightly brushing a stray strand of Beth’s hair off of her face. Memories flooded Beth; her mother had repeated that gesture countless times when she was growing up. Beth sat the bags down and embraced her mother and for a now it was enough; she felt the love that encompassed both of them.
Clark had picked up the bags and set them by the tree before he pulled her into his welcoming arms for his own hug. Beth caught a whiff of Old Spice and felt like she was five years old again, safe in his arms. It may be an old, outdated fragrance but to her it was perfect for this man.
Beth smiled into his eyes and he winked at her and hugged her once more; he whispered into her ear and suddenly she felt better. “It’s going to be okay.”
“Oh Mom, it smells great in here; it smells like Christmas!” And it did she thought as she smelled cinnamon and spice, totally unnecessary pine logs burning in the fireplace and her mom’s Christmas stew cooking in the kitchen. For as long as she could remember that stew had simmered on Christmas Eve and it reminded Beth that this was home and whatever happened would be okay because they were family.
Beth went to the tree and looked at the ornaments that hung on it; there, the very top ornament, under the angel was the Rudolf ornament she had made in Brownies in the 1st grade. It was made out of a clothes pin and decorated with a fluffy red ball for the nose and glued on rolly eyes. It always held a place of honor on the tree, the top-most ornament. Beth stared for a moment and suddenly she couldn’t hold the tears back a moment longer; great heaving sobs tore at her and her mom was there in an instant, holding her close and trying desperately to whisk away the tears with trembling fingers until she could no longer see Beth for her own tears. They made their way to the couch and sat down together and Clark grabbed a box of tissue and sat it between them. Both of them reached for one at the same time and they each laughed a bit.
They both stopped at the others words and then started again at the same time. Finally Beth said, “Mom, please talk to me.”
Dorothy nodded and tried to swallow down the tennis ball that was bobbing up and down in her throat. “It scares me so much for you to know about vampires Beth, about that world. And I – I am the one that caused you to be taken in the first place.” The last words were barely a whisper and Beth sat for a moment, trying to understand what her mother had just said to her.
“How can that be? Did you know about vampires before?”
Dorothy looked at Clark and he nodded his head towards her. “Yes, we did, but I didn’t know that Coraline was a vampire. I – I’m the one that asked her here, to the house.”
“Mom, that’s only an old myth, they don’t have to wait for an invitation to enter your house!” she said, her mind racing.
“Nooo…but I specifically invited Coraline here, for coffee. We met her at the park Beth; you remember the small park we used to go to on Burch? You had fallen down and scraped your knee, pretty badly and she picked you up and one thing led to another and I asked her home to have coffee. She knew where we lived; you had even shown her your room so she knew exactly where to go to when she came to take you.”
“And when she smelled my blood she, well, who knows but it wasn’t your fault Mom. Have you felt guilty about this all these years?”
“Yes, it was my fault you went through that Beth, my fault. I couldn’t face it for so many years, but Clark helped me to realize that I had to tell you.”
Beth worried her bottom lip with her teeth while she thought about it all; the pain and anguish her mother had felt because of the guilt all these years. This was why she couldn’t tell me; she was afraid I would blame her and hate her for it all. “Mom, please don’t feel this way; it wasn’t your fault. If it hadn’t been me it would have been someone else and they might not have known the right person to call to help. But Mom, Clark? How did you know to call Mick and how did you already know about vampires?”
Clark was sitting in a chair across from them and he leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees as he prepared to tell his part of the story. “Beth, you have to understand that we didn’t know that Coraline was a vampire, but we wanted someone with special skills to track her. For four days the police did almost nothing, came up with no clues. Oh, they tried, but Coraline hadn’t left a single clue; you had just simply vanished. I called Mick,” he said, watching her face.
“But how did you know him?”
“He helped my family once, a few years before that. My father was a judge and knew Josef Kostan; my mother had been kidnapped and Josef recommended Mick’s ‘special skills’. He tracked her down but unfortunately she was killed in the end anyway. “
Both Dorothy and Clark were aware that there was so much more to the story than he had relayed, but they both felt that she had enough for now; the rest would come later as she adjusted to it all. Maybe it wasn’t the smartest thing to withhold more information from her but for now she had the basic facts and it would have to be enough.
“I hear that Coraline disappeared from the hospital a little while ago,” Dorothy said. “I know it could have been disastrous for you if she had died, but I’m so sorry she didn’t!”
“Disastrous why Mom?”
“Wouldn’t the police have looked into the ‘accident’? “
“She told them it was an accident so I don’t know what they would have done.”
“How is Mick taking it all? He’s sure had a rough ride with that woman,” Clark said, remembering the past.
“He – he still has some feelings for her I know, but exactly what those feelings are, well, I don’t know because he hasn’t talked about it. I do know that you are right Clark, his past with her was less than happy.” Beth’s eyes darkened briefly as she thought about Mick and suddenly Dorothy knew the truth, that her daughter loved him.
“Beth, you can’t!”
“I can’t what Mom?”
“Don’t imagine a future with him; it will never happen honey. You deserve a happy life, a normal life, with marriage and kids and all of that. A life with Josh.”
“Mom, I don’t love Josh – not in that way. He’s a great guy, but I’m just not in love with him. I was planning on ending it with him a couple of weeks ago but he’s in Sacramento and I won’t do it over the phone.”
Her words broke Dorothy’s heart, but in one way she understood. It did no good to marry someone if you didn’t love them. “Beth, this isn’t about Mick is it?” she asked, needing to be reassured.
“No, it isn’t. I do love Mick, but what was going on with Josh was failing even before Mick came into my life. I know that Mick and I probably don’t have a single chance in the world; he has told me that relationships between vampires and humans are difficult, dangerous and complicated. I understand that, but I also can’t help what my heart wants.”
All three of them digested those words slowly; Dorothy and Clark with sadness because they feared for the pain that Beth would surely encounter in the future. All three kept silent and spent the rest of their time together enjoying the holiday because they didn’t know what the future would hold.
Beth wanted to meet Lani and LAX but Lani insisted that she just wait at the apartment. Beth all but paced the apartment as she waited for Lani to arrive; the huge pitcher in the fridge was full to the brim with margarita’s, and some take out enchiladas from Los Chicas waited to be popped into the oven and reheated. They had everything they needed for an uninterrupted reunion.
Finally Beth heard a knock on the door and rushed to it and threw it open. The girl on the other side of the door fell into her best friends arms and they hugged tightly. Both cried a little and then laughed as they each wiped away their tears.
“Look at YOU!” Beth exclaimed as she took in the high fashioned clothes that Lani was wearing. “Holey Moley, I didn’t know that Valentino made jeans!”
“They aren’t Valentino goof ball! They are by a little Japanese designer who is fabulous and I brought you some pairs as well!” She laughed as she heard Beth squeal with delight and added, “I think you’re more excited about the clothes than me!”
“Not a chance. Come on, we have so much to catch up on. God Lani, you look so good, all grown up!” She looked at Lani’s makeup that was done to perfection and her well-manicured nails.
“Well, working in Tokyo will do that. They are very formal in their business practices so I just got in the habit of making sure I always looked the part. It will be nice to be back here to standards that are a bit less ridged. At least away from work anyway.”
“Tell me all about Tokyo! I want to hear everything Lani. I’ve missed you so much!”
Lani talked for an hour, all about her life there but she omitted one thing, one glaringly important thing but she knew she would never be able to talk about it; she owed that to Heroku.
As Beth watched Lani’s animated face she knew her friend wasn’t telling her everything but Beth figured it had to do with some type of man trouble and she was content to let her keep her secrets, for now. After all, she had a number of them herself and while she talked to Lani about her life she skipped the part about Mick being a vampire.
“So, you’re going to break up with Josh? Are you sure Bethy?”
“Yes. I’ve known for awhile, but the time hasn’t been right. I don’t want to do it over the phone; he deserves better than that, you know?”
“Yeah, I do. But what about Mick? You love him don’t you?”
“Yes – I think I do.” She sighed and for a moment she looked very far away.
Lani watched this and knew there was a lot more to the story. “But…?”
Beth shook her head as if to clear it. “But nothing. There will probably not ever be anything between us. I’d like to think that maybe someday but I really don’t know. He says that things between us would be, um, well difficult and uh, complicated.” She skipped the part about dangerous because she knew that Lani would immediately want to know what the hell was going on.
“Is he involved with someone?”
“I don’t know. I met a woman at his flat that, well I know that at some point they have been lovers but he never talks about her, even casually and other than that once I’ve never seen her.” She shrugged, not knowing what else to say.
Lani decided to change the subject to something lighter, in a way that is. “Hey, I need you on New Year’s Eve! I have to go to a party at some asshole client’s house; Heroku is going and tells me that I have to as well. This guy really gets under my skin, let me tell you and NOT in a good way before you start imagining things.”
“Okay, I’m not doing anything else so it could be fun. We’ll just ignore the asshole, okay? Where is it at?”
“Some mansion out in Beverly Hills,” Lani said with a sour look on her face. Just the thought of having to tolerate Josef Kostan for a whole evening irritated the hell out of her.
“Oh, Beverly Hills huh? That will be a painful evening,” Beth said with a laugh. She immediately started wondering what on earth she could have in her closet that was fit for a party in Beverly Hills.
“Well, it will be for me. When I met this guy in Tokyo he just instantly rubbed me the wrong way. He’s a player and thinks he’s just so cool. The worst part is that Kostan Industries is one of our biggest clients and I’ll have to deal with him regularly as we implement the new training platforms.”
Beth immediately burst out laughing, almost spitting a drink of margarita all over Lani. “Josef Kostan is the one throwing the party?” It was too funny, in so many ways. Beth could well understand why Lani wouldn’t like Josef, they were so much alike.
“Yes! He is a total jerk. Hopefully it should be a large party so I won’t have to see him too much. So you know the name huh?”
“I know more than the name, I know Josef himself. He’s a friend of Mick’s.”
“I’m so sorry Beth. I hope you don’t have to see him very often.”
“I don’t mind Josef at all actually. He was sort of intimidating at first, but he’s okay. He’s like Mick’s best friend; he’s the reason Mick and I were in New York a few weeks ago.”
If Lani was shocked at Beth’s information she hid it well. “Hm, well whatever. At least I won’t have to hang out with him outside of work.”
Beth wondered about that but wisely didn’t say anything. It was all pretty funny actually and Beth was suddenly looking forward to New Year’s Eve.
New Years Eve dawned bright and clear, a beautiful day. There wasn’t as much smog and haze hanging over the city as usual Beth decided as she looked out her balcony. She hummed to herself a bit as she made her game plan for the rest of the day and decided to spend it in girly pursuits. Lani had moved into her penthouse two days ago and she and Beth had spent a lot of time getting her settled. That penthouse was so large that the whole second floor of Beth’s apartment building could fit in it.
Glad I don’t have to clean it Beth decided with a laugh, but then, Lani wouldn’t either because there was a maid service in the building.
Yesterday she had gone shopping and found a great dress for tonight; it wasn’t a big designer, but it was beautiful and fit like it had been made for her. The clingy soft material was a deep dusky rose color with crystal beading around the neck. It was off the shoulder and exposed her neck to its best advantage. Not that she was trying to entice a certain vampire but still she decided that she did have a nice neck.
God Beth, knock it off. What? You want him to bite you?
She shook her head and decided to go out for a mani-pedi for the occasion. She had bought a perfect little pair of strappy sandals and she wanted to show off her freshly done toes to their best advantage. She grabbed her keys and headed out the door. As she got downstairs she saw Mick walking up the sidewalk.
“Hey,” she called out, happy to see him.
“Hey yourself. Going out?”
“Yeah, girl stuff,” she told him with a laugh.
Mick wasn’t sure quite what to make of that so he just smiled and tried not to let his confusion show. “I just wanted to stop and say hi. We haven’t had much time to talk since we got back from New York.” He watched her face as he said the words, trying to gauge her thoughts.
“I know. My friend Lani is back here from Tokyo and I’ve spent a lot of time with her.”
“Lani, she was the dark-haired one?” he asked. In his mind he was thinking that she was the boy crazy one. He was right on both accounts.
“Yes, she was transferred in her job; actually promoted so she’ll be working here now. I’m really excited to have her home. And guess what?” she asked and watched his face relax into a smile as she teased him.
“I don’t know! What?”
“She has to attend Josef’s party this evening and I’m going with her. So, I guess I’ll be seeing you there?” she asked, her voice hopeful.
“Uh, yeah, I’ll be there. She knows Josef?”
“Only through her job. She actually doesn’t like him at all; called him an asshole and a jerk,” Beth laughed.
Mick chuckled and added, “She certainly isn’t the first to say that. Uh, well I guess I’ll see you there then? At the party?”
“Yep. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.” Mick had walked her to her car and opened the door for her when he heard the lock click open. After she sat down he closed the door for her and they both looked at one another, with their parting in New York fresh in their minds. Somehow this was different and they both knew it.
Mick watched as she drove off and for once he was excited to be going to Josef’s New Year’s Eve bash. Might not be so bad this year at all.
Lani arrived at 9 o’clock prompt, in a limo. When the chauffer opened the door Beth crawled in, shocked to see that it was only Lani inside. “Where is your boss?”
“Heroku will meet us there. He and Josef had some business to discuss.” She didn’t mention of course that the ‘business’ probably involved drinking blood, but that was okay.
That answer got Beth to wondering about the elusive Heroku. “How good of friends are Josef and Heroku?” she asked.
“Um, I don’t know for sure; pretty good I think.”
Beth let that pass and the girls talked excitedly about each other’s dresses. Lani looked incredible in a Vera Wang dress. The dress was perfect for her, a deep turquoise blue that fastened on one shoulder and swept down her lithe body in a misty cloud. They didn’t realize what a perfect pair they made together, but every man at the party would.
At Josef’s they entered along with other guests who were just arriving and made their way into the ballroom. It was cleverly lit by mellow lighting, the better to not show the unnatural pallor of some of the guests Beth noticed. It was also very cool and Beth was glad she had a wrap with her because she was sure she would need it later if she didn’t dance much.
Mick had been watching the door, waiting breathlessly for Beth to arrive and as soon as he saw her he headed her way, wearing a huge smile. He met her and Lani as they made their way to get a drink and he stooped to kiss Beth on the cheek.
“You look lovely tonight Beth. Your dress is beautiful. And you must be Lani,” he said, throwing her a dazzling smile.
My God, he is stunning Lani thought. Guardian angel indeed. She remembered all their girlish talk about who he might be but never in their wildest dreams had she ever imagined this. She sincerely hoped that he would make Beth a happy woman; he seemed to be crazy about her.
“Yes, I’m Lani and you’re Mick St. John, otherwise known as the guardian angel.”
For a moment Mick looked embarrassed that she had mentioned the past and Beth stifled a laugh. Mick reached out to shake Lani’s hand and as soon as he did he caught her heartbeat pick up frantically and the smell of fear washed over him. He quickly let go of her hand and watched as she stared at her hand and then at him, her eyes open wide.
“I, uh, excuse me. I need to find the ladies room.” She stared to walk away and when Beth asked if she wanted company she silently shook her head no.
He’s a vampire, he’s a vampire, he’s a freaking vampire! The words shot through her head over and over as her heart continued to beat wildly.
But does she know? Does Beth know? It was a question she didn’t want to contemplate.
Mick and Beth both watched Lani walk away from them and they both felt confused by her behavior.
“Geez, what’s up with her?” Beth asked
“I don’t know. She seemed panicked about something.”
Beth looked over Mick’s shoulder and saw Josef approaching with a Japanese gentleman. He looked around 45 and quite handsome. Beth briefly wondered if Lani had seen Josef approaching and that is what caused her panic. She mentally shook her head and then focused on Josef and the other man.
“Ah, Beth, my favorite Buzzwire reporter! Where did your companion go? I saw her with you a moment ago.”
“She had to make a trip to the ladies room. Josef, this looks like a very large gathering tonight. I am looking forward to a bit of fun. How are you?” Beth watched something sad briefly flare across his sherry brown eyes but it was quickly pushed aside.
“I’m just fine blondie. May I introduce Heroku Sesumi, a very old friend of mine.”
Beth could only imagine how old of a friend he might be but as she shook his hand she knew it was probably pretty old. So he was a vampire. Did Lani know? Could she possibly know about vampires?
This evening could prove to be interesting, in many ways Beth thought as she excused herself a few minutes later to go and find Lani.
Beth found Lani in the ladies lounge, sitting on a sofa looking very pale. “Lani, what’s wrong?”
“I think I just, um, I haven’t really eaten much today Beth. I just felt a bit light-headed for a moment. I’ll be fine; you don’t need to wait for me.”
“It’s okay. Come on, let’s go hit the food table and get some food into you.” Lani nodded and they left the lounge.
As they made their way across the room Beth heard someone call her name and turned to see Elka walking towards them. Beth smiled in spite of her fears about her because something about Elka made her feel relaxed.
“Elka, hello. Happy New Year!” Beth said. “I would like to introduce you to my friend Lani, she’s just moved back to the states from Tokyo.”
“Lani, it is a pleasure,” she reached out to shake Lani’s hand and looked puzzled when Lani let it go almost as quickly as she had taken it.
“Um yes,” Lani uttered to Elka. Was everyone in Beth’s life a vampire. Dear God, what was going on?
Elka could sense Lani’s discomfort with her and quickly excused herself; she didn’t want to cause the young woman any distress but she was certainly curious about it all.
Lani still seemed somewhat dazed as she and Beth got plates of food and found a table to sit at. Beth saw Elka talking to Mick across the room but they only seemed to talk as friends. They both glanced at she and Lani several times and Mick looked concerned as he listened to Elka.
“Mick, it was a very strange reaction. Does she know that we’re vampires?” Elka asked him.
“I don’t know – that’s a very good question and I know just the man to ask.”
A short conversation with Heroku and Josef confirmed what Mick and Elka suspected; Lani did indeed know of vampires and her initial experience with them was a horrible experience. Mick listened as Heroku described saving her from two vamps determined to make her dinner and he understood so much. Josef listened and her reaction to him became much clearer as well. He knew that he frightened her, that all vamps frightened her and that he would have to tread carefully in their business dealings.
“So Lani knows about vampires and Beth does too. But I don’t think that either one knows that the other does. How do we handle this?” Mick asked Elka a bit later.
“Just see what happens; most likely the girls will discover it themselves and it is better that way.”
Mick nodded and looked up to see Kelly approaching him and he wondered if he had time to disappear. Even at vamp speed she would see him though so he stayed with Elka and hoped for the best.
“Mick! How wonderful to see you here! How are you?” Kelly asked, going in for a kiss. Mick turned his head away just in time for her to land it on his cheek, which irritated Kelly a great deal.
“I’m fine Kelly. You?” he asked. He listened to her go on about things for 5 minutes before he could manage to get away, summoned by Josef.
“Thanks,” he told his friend.
“Yes, you looked as if you needed rescuing.”
“No kidding. There’s something kind of creepy about that girl.” He looked around the room; it was ten minutes until midnight and he wondered if Beth would like to dance as a slow song came on. “I’m ditching you now though; I hope that Beth might actually grant me a dance!”
Josef laughed as Mick left; his friend had it bad for that girl. The question was, did Mick know it?
Beth saw Mick making his way towards her through the crowd. As she watched him he smiled at her and suddenly they were the only ones in the whole room. He stopped in front of her and said, “Beth, would you care to dance?”
“I would love to. I thought you would never ask!” she teased. She had danced a few dances during the evening, even one with Josef but these were the only arms she wanted to be in.
As they danced Mick softly hummed along to the music. His head was lying against hers, what they used to call dancing cheek-to-cheek.
Beth didn’t recognize the song, or at least the name of it. It was old she knew but that was about all she knew about it. “What is the name of this song?” she asked as they danced slowly to it, swaying slightly to the music.
“It’s called Sentimental Journey,” he told her. “It’s one of my favorites; you know, old music for an old guy,” he laughed.
“It’s nice,” she murmured against his cheek. Suddenly they heard a buzz around them and realized it was almost midnight. Mick slowly danced her out onto the terrace and they listened to the revelers counting down to midnight.
“10, 9, 8…”
Mick stopped dancing and looked into her eyes. She met the look easily, relaxed.
“7, 6, 5, 4,…”
Beth licked her lips and stared at his. She wanted this kiss; the kiss that she knew was going to happen. She held her breath, waiting for the countdown to finish.
“3, 2, 1. Happy New Year,” the cry rang out loud and clear from the party.
Mick didn’t hesitate; he captured her lips with his own, savoring the sweetness of her lips, the warmth that made him melt into her. Her supple body pressed against him, molding into all the right places. He never wanted this kiss to end.
Beth wrapped her arms around his neck as if to hold him tightly to her, afraid the kiss would end. Beth opened her mouth to his probing tongue as she opened her heart to him as well. She was lost in the kiss, lost in his arms and there was nowhere else she wanted to be.
They both heard the shrill tone of someone calling his name and pulled apart hastily. They looked towards the open terrace doors and Mick groaned as he saw Kelly, watching them with hate in her silvered eyes. She turned away and left them alone on the terrace.
The spell was broken and they both realized it; Mick cupped her face for a moment, holding it between his hands, his thumbs tracing the lines of her lips that he had been kissing so passionately a minute before. Neither said a word but they both new that things were different now.
To be continued…