Note: In this chapter, I’ve finally decided that this story takes place in 2008. I intend to make changes to previous chapters so that my math adds up. This change was made with many future plans in mind. Believe me, no one is more devastated that I had to delete my Harambe joke than I am. Thanks for reading.
Contents: Adult language, nicotine use, murder mention, bullet wound mention
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My eyes fell to Matthew’s fingers pressing in the lock. I had never heard the tumblers of a lock fall into place with such clarity before, but this time, while Matthew stood between me and the only way out, it happened in slow motion, louder than anything I had ever heard.
When I finally looked at his face again, his eyes moved over the sleeves of my hospital gown. I didn’t offer an explanation.
After several seconds of saying nothing, he took five quiet steps past me to the sofa to sit on the far end. It opened up a path to the door for me, and I wondered if I could outrun him in bare feet. But run from what? Ras had made it sound like Matthew wanted to kill me. But why? I could imagine Matthew was petty enough to hold a grudge for years before acting on it, but why now? It made the idea that Matthew wanted to kill me hard to actually believe. The real fear, the one that tied my stomach in a knot and made me fantasize about sprinting out into the night, was confronting Matthew and my past. And with Matthew, I had a lot of past.
He leisurely crossed his legs and leaned on the arm rest, taking a suspiciously nonchalant position just a few feet from me. Even so, he radiated the same confidence vampires like Micah and Jackie had. I thought of how meager and shy my brother came off these days or else I would have thought all vampires looked like they owned every room they entered.
Matthew looked me over one last time and then faced the wall across from us. I stared at it too, inspecting a NO SMOKING sign with an ache in my lungs. God I was fucking dying for a smoke. Whose fucking bright idea was it to put a picture of a cigarette on the sign when I was drooling over the thought of one? I bounced my knee rapidly to stave off the craving and the growing rage in my chest that Matthew still hadn’t said anything.
Finally, I broke, shaking my head in frustration.
“I guess I have to ask: what the fuck are you doing here?” I scowled at the side of his head while his eyes stayed fixed on the wall.
His lips twisted in an infuriating smirk. “I apologize. It’s just that suddenly so many things make sense.”
I waited for him to continue, but he didn’t. “And I still have no fucking clue what you’re doing here.”
His eyes met mine. “Were you attacked?”
I straightened up in my seat, chewing on my tongue while I fought down the anger from him evading my question. I must have looked uneasy. I certainly felt it. I put my eyes on the sign again.
Matthew chuckled. “You’re at a vampire feeding station of all places, and no one could bother to put clothes on you first. You’ve lost blood, and you couldn’t heal well enough to avoid the hospital. So where did you get shot?” He sounded so sure of himself.
I glanced at the door with a quick calculation of whether I actually should run now. I knew Matthew was probably the most intelligent person I’d ever met, but he’d figured out a lot just from me sitting there and saying nothing. I didn’t know what Matthew wanted, or why he wanted it now. What was that he said about Micah hiding me?
“You’re in the right place,” he said, a comforting tone to his voice. I felt him pivot a little in his seat without moving any closer to me. When I looked at him he was smiling just a bit, his head cocked to the side while he examined me from where he sat. “Have you healed? I could take a look if you’d like.”
I appraised him with a once over, remembering how the doctor in the hospital had been confounded by my speedy recovery. I’d always thought that as a vampire, I was some level of invincible, and while the fact that I had survived and was already walking and talking with minimal pain did something to confirm that, the fact that a bullet could put me out of commission for any length of time had shaken me.
“I’m fine,” I said, with absolutely no conviction.
Matthew folded his hands in his lap and smiled politely. “I’m the only doctor in the area qualified and equipped to operate on vampires. Would you let me take a look?”
He sat up straight, searching me over with his dark eyes as though he might see my bullet wound if only he scanned me enough.
With a sigh, I peeled the nearest sleeve off my arm and folded the gown over to expose the large bandage on my chest.
Matthew’s eyes widened, and so did his smile. “Not what I expected.”
With one look at my unimpressed face, he became serious very quickly and scooted closer to me on the sofa. Not sure what he was doing, I took the initiative to pry the bandage away and expose the wound to him, not wanting to let him do it.
“It missed your heart,” he said, matter-of-fact while he leaned in close. “They definitely got a lung. How long was the surgery?”
I didn’t answer him, but I didn’t stop him either. I stared at his face, breathing too quickly to pretend I was calm. I wanted to look at the door again. I wanted to run. But I felt frozen. I felt incomplete and scared to find out if a simple conversation with Matthew would make me whole again, or break me further.
With gentle, practiced hands, he felt around the entrance wound. I swallowed hard and brought the bunched up hospital gown in my lap a little higher. I had never felt uncomfortable with no clothes on, but I’d never felt more vulnerable than I did sitting next to Matthew in only a hospital gown while he touched my chest. If he wanted to kill me, this certainly was a good chance to do it.
The locked door rattled from someone trying to open it. I jumped. They knocked.
Matthew shushed me quietly.
“Don’t worry about the door,” he said softly. They knocked again after no answer, and I could hear her—the donor intended to feed me, I guess—trying to get my attention through the door.
Finally, Matthew placed the bandage down again. “Does it hurt to breathe?”
I swallowed while the door bounced in its shut position and became still. She must have left.
I took in a deep breath. It hurt, and I winced, just a little. “I couldn’t breathe at all yesterday.”
“The oxygen deprivation must have been excruciating,” Matthew said. “Whole body cramps. Delirium, most likely.” Glancing at me for an answer, he picked up my arm and turned my palm up, his fingers edging along the hospital band on my wrist.
I eased my arm away. “Sounds like you know a lot about it.”
Hands retreating, he put space between us again. “Vampires can live without oxygen, but there are consequences. Muscles still need oxygen to function properly. The diaphragm and lungs serve them and your brain.”
I cuffed my hand over the hospital bracelet, looking down at my hands while I slid the plastic back and forth. I remembered the pain, and the part right before it when everything felt wonderful, so I had thought I must have been dead already. I didn’t have anything else to say to Matthew.
He leaned on his armrest. “Your wound looks fine. If your breathing returns to normal within a day or so, I think you’re in the clear. I’d tell you to follow up with your regular doctor, but I suspect, as a vampire, you didn’t bother to get one of those.” He gave me a small smile.
“‘In the clear’ better fucking mean I can have a cigarette,” I muttered.
Matthew laughed. “Do you want one?” He shifted to take a pack of Reds out of his pocket.
I held my hand out, and he took his precious time. He smirked at my outstretched hand and shook his head, chuckling.
“You know, I legitimately thought I killed you in 1996,” he said, opening the pack and taking a second to count the cigarettes before pulling one out. He looked at my face for a reaction and placed the first cigarette between his lips.
“Yeah right,” I said with a disbelieving laugh. “Don’t fucking pretend like you wanted me around. Twelve years of silence really gets the goddamned point across.” Hand still held out, I lifted it and placed it in position firmly again to get him to hurry the fuck up. My knee bounced faster than before, my heel tapping the icy tiled floor on repeat.
“You really think that?” Matthew said quietly. When I looked in his eyes, I saw pain as though I’d wounded him with my words. It looked honest. Matthew always looked honest. He placed the cigarette in my palm. “You made a mistake, and I was willing to forgive it. I’m not a monster.”
Closing my hand, I lowered it slowly, searching his eyes for any indication that was a lie. There was a time when Matthew could convince me of anything. I didn’t know why I had always tried to believe there was something inside him that was good. Why did I want to believe him so badly? Wouldn’t it be easier to call him the villain and leave it at that?
Keys jingled in the hall, and I heard Jackie and someone else talking on the other side of the door, but I wasn’t listening.
“So why didn’t you reach out?” I asked. “I thought you’d say something to me.”
“Lai,” Matthew said, slow and serious, looking me in the eyes. “I’ve thought you were dead since that night. I’ve visited your grave for God’s sake. You can ask your brother.”
The door opened, and Jackie’s heels clacked into the room, bringing the sensation of cool and liberating air in with them.
Jackie stepped into my view with a hand on her hip. “Aren’t you supposed to be with Micah?” she said to Matthew. She didn’t give him a chance to answer before turning to face me. “Lai, change of plan. Let’s go.”
I felt Jackie’s easy grip on my bicep, and I silently got to my feet, but I couldn’t take my eyes off Matthew.
Did Ras know Matthew had thought I was dead the whole time? For twelve years? Ask your brother. It was easily a lie. But Matthew’s ability to manipulate came from his use of the truth. I didn’t know that he was telling the truth, but I knew that Ras had been hiding something from me.
Jackie guided me toward the door.
“What do you mean?” I asked finally, eyes still fixed on Matthew. I broke my arm out of Jackie’s grasp and took a few steps into the room again, focused only on knowing what else Matthew had to say while the rage I’d felt earlier welled up in my chest again.
He weighed his lighter in his palm, and opened his mouth to speak.
“You shouldn’t be talking to him.” Jackie planted herself between me and Matthew.
“Fuck you. I’ll talk to who I want.”
“Are you forgetting what he did to you?” She pushed her keys into my hand, pushing me back a step or two in the process. “Go to Micah’s. Take my car. It’s the Porsche.”
I tried to process Jackie’s words, not expecting her concern, but her lips turned down in a slight frown and her eyebrows tilted inward softly while she stared back at me.
I looked down at the keys in my hand. Of course I hadn’t forgotten what Matthew had done to me. The pain of betrayal didn’t just ride off into the sunset and let you live in happiness. It burrowed into your heart and fought off anything that came close. It fortified your vulnerable core by cutting it off from trust and joy because it knew what it meant to have lost them and what it would do to you if you lost them again. It was why you fucked your way through a decade and a half of loneliness. It was why you didn’t remember what it was like to feel loved. It was how you survived.
I frowned at the Porsche insignia on the car key, my thumb moving over it. Jackie was right.
I took a last look at Matthew. Talking to him was a mistake. He wanted to kill me, remember? If I let him hook his claws in, I’d be fucking toast.
That’s what I was supposed to think about him anyway. And I did. Deep down, I knew that’s what he would do. Matthew was sugar. A sweet menace. Something to avoid. Something to forget.
But I wasn’t going to just leave without some fucking answers. “Fuck that. Matthew, tell me—”
Jackie shoved me backward out of the room and shut the door, stopping with only her face peeking out. “Just go. Micah will explain.”
The door shut with the sound of the lock being pressed in again, and I stood staring at it for a minute while the officer Jackie had come with stepped up and tried to lead me away. I yanked my arm away from him.
Like fuck was I going to Micah’s.