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“Fuck, man, don’t shoot.” I put my trembling hands up in surrender and a futile attempt to Force Push Johnny and his stupid gun out of my face. I’d been shot enough lately.
Johnny’s gun hand trembled, and he fidgeted like he might explode if he stood still for too long.
“You think you’re fucking special!” he shouted, his voice tight and strained like he was crying, and realizing he was red in the face, I thought maybe he was. “You come in here and fuck my girl like you own the place. Like you have a right?”
He pushed the nose of the gun to my already sore cheek, and I turned my head, pulling back into the pillows as though half an inch of distance could save me from a bullet.
“Fuck you,” he growled. “I’ll blow your head off right here.”
I knew two things in that moment: 1) Jess wasn’t “Johnny’s girl,” and 2) I absolutely should not say that.
“Shit. You’re right. You’re right.” Give him what he wants, I thought. But what the fuck could I give him now? I
Maybe I could stumble my way into it. I said, “I came in uninvited, and I disrespected you. I get it. You want me to leave? You want me to put in a good word with Jess?” With my head turned, I couldn’t see him or his face, but I could hear him sniffling. Yeah. He was crying.
When he didn’t answer right away, I got scared the pot wasn’t sweet enough. I thought of what I could do that he clearly couldn’t; I should have kept my mouth shut.
“I can tell you how to blow her mind in the sack,” I said. It was a genuine offer, but Johnny’s battered and bruised ego couldn’t handle it, and to top it off, I’m a big fucknig idiot.
The gun lifted off my face, and then I felt a flash of cold steel in the middle of my dick.
“How about I shoot your dick off first?”
“No!” I scrambled away across the bed, only managing a few inches of distance with Johnny on my case. “Look. I just meant—” I tried to hold my hand up between my dick and the gun. I wanted to bolt, but I also wasn’t interested in finding out if a vampire could grow his dick back. I’d rather be shot in the head. “I just meant you could—like, I’m trying to give you all the tools you can get to win her back.”
“Sex tips ain’t gonna win her over.”
“Oh, it’s gonna hurt.” He cocked the gun.
“Ah!” I shouted at him with a wagging finger, the way you berate a dog for trying to sneak food off the counter.
Somehow it worked, at least momentarily, and I scrambled my lucky, bare ass the rest of the way to my feet, backing toward the door, just praying I wouldn’t trip over half a Big Mac or whatever other garbage was between me and the exit. I glanced at the curtains for signs of sunlight around the windows. It seemed dark enough. Jess must have been at work. I knew she’d be in there going gorilla on Johnny if she was around to witness this bullshit.
Johnny advanced with the gun pointed at my chest again, rounding the bed while I continued to back my way out. He closed the distance quickly until I bumped my ass into the couch, and he pressed the barrel to my bandage.
“I oughta kill you. I want to. I’ve always wanted to. Mr. High and Mighty.”
I stood silently. He could just kill me if that’s what he really wanted. He didn’t have to wake me up. He didn’t have to villain speech me. If he wanted me dead, I would be already. Right?
My breath shook, and my heart raced to deliver that much needed adrenaline.
His wet eyes stared at the place where the gun met my gauze, and I ignored the deep pain in my nearly-healed wound while I watched him debating on shooting me.
I had to guess there wasn’t a voice in his head on my side of all this. “You really think shooting me is gonna get her to want you?” I waited a second to see if I was helping or hurting myself.
His lip bulged as his tongue ran over his fangs.
I continued. “Why don’t you start with throwing away a taco wrapper? Hell, I’d blow you if you did that. I can’t imagine how excited Jess would be to know you vacuumed for once in your fucking life.”
He lifted his chin, finished sucking on his teeth and stepped back. He lifted the gun with one hand and brought up the other hand to support it, taking serious aim with a look of resolve—still, calm, quiet, finger on the trigger, frightening. “You have three seconds to get out of here, and then I shoot.”
I stepped away from the couch, taking an entire valuable second to compute what he’d just said. I was off?
Fuck. I turned and found the keys to Jackie’s Porsche on the counter where I’d left them…right next to the cigarette I couldn’t find last night.
I snatched them both, aiming my naked ass for the door. The cigarette dropped to the ground. I stopped to go back for it.
I realized I’m a fucking idiot and made for the door again. But goddamn did I need a fucking cigarette.
I slammed the door behind myself, and that didn’t stop Johnny from firing the gun at the door four times in a row. I ran for the stairs, down two flights and shoved my way through the door to the apartment building—out into the sunlight.
I screamed at the instant burning sensation, eyes squeezing shut, and knowing I couldn’t go back in, I kept on, hoping to find a dumpster or some other cover before I… exploded or whatever. I didn’t actually know what would happen to a vampire in the sunlight. It wasn’t like they went into it often.
The brightness subsided almost right away, and when I opened my eyes, I found that the sun was setting, and the buildings on the other side of the lot were what was blocking the sun from me now. It was brighter than my eyes were used to, but I quickly located Jackie’s Porsche and the stripe of sun on the driver’s side. I got in through the passenger seat. I huffed and puffed with sore lungs, a huge dose of adrenaline and a burning and itching left arm and left side of my torso. Carefully, I tested out with the same arm whether it would burn in the sunlight leaking through to the driver’s seat. The tinted windows must have been doing their job. Glancing out the windshield back at the building for signs of Johnny, I repeated the fuck word under my breath repeatedly until I was positioned behind the wheel and throwing the car in gear.
After some reckless driving, poor attempts at using the clutch, and a little bit of deliberation, I drove to Ras’s. I knew he’d help me, and Jackie lived with him, so it was a good way to return the Porsche, not that I wanted to. By the time I pulled in the driveway, it was twilight, but not any more painful or dangerous to be outside than it would have been in true darkness.
I stopped on the porch. I wasn’t ready to talk to Ras after finding out he’d been lying to me for over a decade. I didn’t want to beg him for help. I just wanted to go home. I just wanted to forget the last few days had happened and go back to smoking and fucking and drinking like I was doing a few days ago, like I’d been doing for years. Before I was shot. Before Jess destroyed my living room. Before Seth got killed…
I stood still for a moment, allowing that thought to truly sink in for the first time since I’d heard he was dead.
But I cut myself off. I didn’t have time to think about it. He didn’t matter. He didn’t mean anything to me. Nobody did.
I put my mind back on the task at hand, scratching at my side and arm where it was swollen. What was I gonna say to Ras? I had to confront him about him coming between me and Matthew. Should I bust in there and shout him down? The silent treatment? Punch him in his goddamned face?
I could hear muffled voices through the door. They weren’t that close, but if I listened hard, I could make out Jackie’s voice and Ras’s, and another one on speakerphone that was harder to distinguish.
“That’s why I want your help,” Ras said. “Lai can’t stick around here, and you know that.”
I stepped closer to the door and pressed my ear to it to get the next line.
“I don’t see why it’s my problem,” said the phone voice. After a few seconds, I put together that it was Micah.
“Come on, Micaiah,” Jackie purred. “I know you’re not Lai’s sire, but would you keep him safe for me?”
I had to admire Jackie’s seductive prowess. And just everything about Jackie, really. I had to stop scratching my swollen, itchy arm for a second to hear the voice coming through on the speakerphone.
“I don’t see why it’s your problem either,” Micah said.
“Please, Mr. Castagnier,” Ras said, his voice wracked with desperation. “You know how dangerous Matthew is. You helped him before. This is just to make sure all the work you did wasn’t for nothing.”
My arm had swollen up so much, the hospital bracelet now pressed into my skin, and every part of my left arm from elbow to wrist was red and in pain. The rash on my body was following suit. I think it was spreading.
I let myself in through the front door, scratching heavily at my arm and chest and hip and leg and fuck it was terrible everywhere.
Ras and Jackie both turned to face me as I stood scratching, and I could hear Micah sigh on the phone between them. “I can arrange any travel arrangements he needs,” he said, “but I can’t keep the state police force off his case. I’ve tried.”
“Lai,” Ras said, standing up from his stool and hobbling a few steps in my direction. It was weird these days to see him without his cane.
“It’s a long story,” I said.
“Get him some clothes,” Ras said to Jackie.
“Micah, he’s here,” Jackie said, her eyes on me while she leaned toward the phone. She looked Ras over, and with a nod, she left the room.
Micah’s voice chimed in again. “Is he all right?” He sounded exasperated, but not angry, which was unusual for him as far as I knew.
“Why are you scratching?” Ras finally came to my side and guided me to the couch, offering a seat with a bit of reluctance.
“I got a little dose of sun. No big deal probably,” I said. I hissed as I broke the skin on my forearm from scratching so hard. The hospital bracelet was tight now. I didn’t want to sit down.
“Jackie. Benadryl,” Ras called out. His eyebrows dipped in as he took my arm from me. “How long were you in the sun?” His eyes skimmed over the rash on my hip and leg and then to the other side of me, searching for more rash.
“A few seconds.”
Jackie came out with a pair of gray sweatpants and a white t-shirt. She shoved them into my hands and then started pouring benadryl tablets into her hand. “Take these. They’ll keep it from spreading.”
I had hardly unfolded the pants before she was trying to put the tablets straight into my mouth. I grabbed her by the wrist to stop her. “I got it, I got it.” I let her pour the handful of pills into my palm, maybe a dozen of them, and then I swallowed them two at a time. “This seems like a lot.”
Ras brought me a glass of water. “Better than not enough. You might get drowsy, but at least you won’t be dead.” Funny coming from the one who told everyone I died.
“Is he going to be all right?” Micah asked with more force than before.
“He’s gonna be fine,” Jackie said. I was glad she sounded confident about it.
I finished my pills and pulled on my clothes. The medicine didn’t help instantly, but since they seemed to know what they were talking about, I felt slightly better just for taking something. Very slightly.
“Laisellus,” Micah said, once things calmed down. “I’ve been discussing your situation with your brother, and we’ve decided—”
I scoffed. “You’re deciding things about my situation now? Oh wait. Not now. Since forever. Since I’m apparently dead and all.” I turned to Ras. “Is that why Mom never called me? Does she think I’m dead too?”
Ras frowned, and took too long to finally open his mouth to speak.
I waved my swollen hand at him and shook my head, turning to look back at the phone on the island. “So tell me, Micah. What did you decide for me this time? Do I get to come back from the dead? That sounds pretty fucking sweet.”
Micah sighed. “Your faked death was for your own good.”
“Any reason I couldn’t be in on that good thing I didn’t know anything about for twelve years?”
“It doesn’t matter,” Micah said. “It happened, and now you know. There are more important things to concern yourself with right now. The state police have managed to connect your case with an incident you’re suspect in from Northern California a few years ago. I have full control of how vampire crimes are handled in the City of Los Angeles, but only if the county and the state don’t claim jurisdiction. Even the county can be dealt with, but…”
“Micah hasn’t exactly rubbed the California State Police the right way,” Jackie filled in.
Micah fell quiet.
Ras sucked in a breath, and I spun to look at him. “No. You don’t get to say anything.” I waited to make sure he was going to stay silent, and then I looked at the phone one last time. “I’m not sure why they’d be after me. I’m the victim. I was the one who got shot. Jess—” I shut up, not wanting to incriminate her, though I worried I’d already said too much. “Look. It wasn’t me, and I haven’t done anything in North Cal anyway. They’ve got the wrong guy.”
“You partied in the Bay area. Probably someone you fed on?” Ras asked, his voice soft.
I scowled at him. “Whatever. I’m innocent, and the cops can eat my ass.” I hung up the phone on Micah. I faced Ras. “I don’t know why you think you can take over my life, but you’re done. Matthew left me because of you—”
“Exactly!” Ras stepped forward to interrupt, desperation once again in his voice and now in his pleading eyes. “If you want to talk about someone taking over your life, just look at Matthew. All that shit he did to you, and you worshipped the ground he walked on—”
“Because I loved him!” I screamed it so loud, the silence that came after hurt. All I could hear was my own ragged breathing and my heart still pumping furiously in my chest.
The phone rang. Probably Micah calling back. Nobody moved to answer it.
“He would have killed you,” Ras said. “Don’t think he won’t still try.”
I lifted my chin, fixing him with an incredulous half-smile. “He’s not the one who gave me a headstone.”
I did my best to blame my watery eyes on the reaction I was having to the sun or on the benadryl. I wiped my face on my good arm and checked out my bad one. Was I gonna die from sun exposure? Maybe it was a shame I hadn’t stood out there longer.
I stormed past Ras to the door and stopped after it was open to look at him. “Stop trying to help me.”
I slammed the door shut on my way out. The phone kept ringing.