“Well? Aren’t you going to invite me in?”
My hands were trembling, clutched together, sandwiching the dishcloth I’d been momentarily drying my hands with as I answered the door.
The microwave timer began ringing from my apartment’s kitchenette. Suddenly the Chinese leftovers didn’t conjure an appetizing image as the all-too familiar taste of bile encroached on any hunger I had left with each second that passed by.
I was shaking. Hard. My teeth began to chatter uncontrollably, snapping against my tongue and I felt the tangy beginnings of blood stain my mouth. A chill that supplanted the December winds filled the room, stealing away the warm air she’d so difficultly circulated through her heat-faulty apartment.
No, the real robber was the man who dared to stand in front of her. The man who had taken what looked to be a permanent position against her door frame preventing her from slamming the door in his face, pulling all the locks in place, running to her room and cowering under her covers.
Not that any of that could do her any effective good. Not against the big bad vampire anyways...
Charley Cruz looked about as devilishly handsome and falsely angelic at the same time. Only the playboy aura had been slightly tempered by a maturity that reflected in his longer slick black hair now curling past his shoulders, his once notable baby cheeks chiseled away by a square jaw, and torn jeans and favorite leather jacket replaced by a bespoke grey suit.
Hard to believe sixteen months could change someone, and at the same time, if her sensitive instincts told her anything, change no one at all. After all, they were in the exact position they’d been in just before the incident.
“You look terribly ill.” He paused, crossing his arms and tilting his head up, angling his nose before exaggerating a sniff. “Too much takeout, no doubt.” He dropped his head, his light brown eyes piercing me with a sparkling confidence.
When I didn’t reply, Charley unfolded his arms, pushing off the door frame and clearing his throat. “Surely you don’t plan to leave me out in the cold open. It isn’t like you, love.”
Still unsatisfied with my silence, he narrowed his eyes and he inched forward, his what—looked to be—expensive shoes brushing against what I knew was an invisible barrier curtaining my last defense, my home.
Then he was all smiles. “They said I’d find you here.” At my confused look, he elaborated, “Ali, Janie, and Hugh send their greetings.”
An inappropriate sound considering the situation, but it did the trick, propelling me into movement from the stand-still position I’d adorned since I had opened the door and faced my unwelcome guest.
Stumbling back, I let the dishcloth fall from my hands and I clutched my stomach. I was really going to be sick. “Did you…you didn’t…they’re dead.” Dry heaves, a mix between sobs and attempts to relieve my poor stomach, broke my speech.
“Not dead. At least not all, love. Ali has cancer, y’know? She begged…so not dead, but not alive either.” He said.
I didn’t know which news was more frightening. That Ali had cancer she’d clearly been hiding since the last time we had spoken nearly three weeks ago or that Charley insinuated he’d changed her and somewhere out there her brilliantly beautiful and life-affirming younger stepsister was very undead.
“Janie tried to fight back, but she isn’t at all like she was back then. Really let herself go, that one.” Then he tapped his chin in mock contemplation. “Oh, and Hugh was a bother.”
“Get out.” I barely managed the two words out, my emotions at a crossroads between deadening anger and lively fear.
“I’m not even in yet.”
“Leave me alone. Just go.”
I hugged myself, dropping to the floor all at once, barely registering the pain in my knees as I prostrated myself in a false display of a slavish request.
“Always dramatics, Pip. You don’t know how much I’ve missed you.”