A Matter of Trust
From Chapter Four
Kian felt crushed, fragile, out of control, still in the throes of unrequited passion. He belatedly realized he stood in a public space with fangs extended and eyes agleam. His erection pulsed against the stricture of his dress slacks. He had to curb these rampant emotions or he could lose more than the woman he loved. Luck favored fools and vampires, it seemed. The sidewalk was deserted at two in the morning. The lobby of the building stood empty except for a doorman dozing at the concierge desk. Kian moved into the shadows until he regained some semblance of a human order over his appearance. When he felt in control, and the nearest shiny surface bore that assessment out, he ventured onto the street. Kian started walking, with no clear idea where he was going or where he would end up.
He just showed up at Max’s door. It was late but Max was a night owl and he’d still be awake. Kian needed to talk to someone, someone close, and Max was the best male friend he’d had in decades. Keeping his secret from his best friends for so long had been a mistake and one Kian intended to rectify. Hopefully, this reveal would go better than the one with Suze. He had botched that one royally but he had a better plan for Max. Kian took a steadying breath and knocked. The door opened less than a minute later. Max had a book in his hand and he looked distracted, like he was working out a problem. Kian knew Max blocked out everything else when he was working on something for the lab, and his appearance bore that out. His normally neat clothes were rumpled, his espresso brown hair stuck out in all directions and his slim oval face held two days’ worth of stubble.
“Hey,” Kian greeted.
Max looked up from his book and focused on his friend. “Hey.” Max studied Kian a moment before telling him with his customary, and sometimes tactless, honesty, “You look like crap.” He swung the door wider and jerked his head in invitation. Kian stepped in and closed the door behind him. “Yeah, well, Suze and I had…words.” Max took note of the page he was on before closing the book with a snap and tossing it on the nearest chair. It bounced onto the floor and burst back open. He looked at Kian with interest. “Words?”
He had to do this fast, like ripping off a Band-Aid. “I kissed her and I told her I’m a vampire,” Kian said in a rush. If he had paused he wouldn’t have gotten the words out. So much for his carefully laid out plan, and even more carefully planned words.
“You kissed her? Way to go, man!” Then Max did a double-take that was almost comical. “Wait, you told her what!?” He took an unconscious step back and then another, almost falling over the arm chair in his path in his haste to escape. He quickly regained his balance and put the chair between them, as if a mere piece of furniture would protect him from a vampire.
Kian put his hands up, palms out, and shook his head a time or two. He knew his face reflected all the pain he felt, and that’s what Max responded to after only a couple of seconds. He could actually see the emotions wash through Max’s eyes, from fear to anger and betrayal to curiosity and maybe a bit of pity at the end. Max fell heavily into the arm chair at his right hand. Kian slowly took the chair next to it. They didn’t look at each other for at least a couple of minutes, each one waiting for the emotional atmosphere to equalize.
“So, a kiss, huh?” Max said at last, his voice almost normal. “Was she mad?”
Kian shook his head. “More like afraid,” he told Max candidly.
His voice cracked a bit as he said, “Afraid.” He wrangled his emotions under control again. His friend needed his help. “Of kissing a vampire, or kissing someone who’s been more like a brother?”
It still surprised Kian how much they thought along similar lines, even when the subject matter was beyond their common experience. “Toss up.”
“You should have told her a long time ago.”
Kian wasn’t sure but he thought Max meant he should have revealed his feelings for Suze long ago instead of pining in secret, rather than revealing his true nature. Or maybe he meant both. Whichever it was, there was an edge of accusation in his friend’s tone that he couldn’t ignore. Kian didn’t want to antagonize his friend, so he settled on words that could have been the answer to either choice. “I didn’t want to scare her away.”
Max snorted. “Well, that didn’t really work out, did it?”
“It’s not easy, Max.”
“What’s so hard? ‘Suze, you’re smart, stunning and sweet. I love you.’ Men have been doing it for thousands of years.”
“I’ve only done it one other time,” Kian admitted in a low voice filled with anguish.
Max pursed his lips in thought. “Didn’t go well then either, huh?”
“Worse. Left me gun-shy.”
“God, I need a drink. You?” After the words came out, Max stiffened and wished he could take them back. The last thing he should do was remind a vampire he might be thirsty, especially when there was only one available source of his personal brand of poison.
“Bourbon?” Kian asked.
“Sure,” Max let out on a breath of relief.
He walked over to the mini-bar in the corner of the living room. Max picked up the bottle of bourbon but he set it down quickly; his hand was too shaky to pour. He just closed his eyes for a minute and tried to gather his courage, tried to think about Kian as his best friend, like he did before this revelation. If it was true, that is, and Kian hadn’t slid off the delusional deep end as a result of job-related stress, or Max wasn’t having a psychotic episode induced by lack-of-sleep. Max put his logical mind to that evaluation. Kian seemed sane and his own mind felt clear. Kian wouldn’t lie or kid about being a vampire. That kind of joke always fell flat and backfired in the worst way. Anachronistic behavior and inconsistencies Max had chalked up to personal idiosyncrasy and had ignored for years suddenly made sense. Some scientist he was; he should have figured it out years ago. Yeah, his friend was definitely a vampire. The fear tried to surface again but Max pushed it away and looked at Kian objectively, in the same clinical way he treated his experiments. Really, what was different about his friend except now he knew the truth? Kian could have hurt him any time in the past dozen years, left him in a dead heap drained of blood. Instead, he’d been there for Max at every important juncture, stood at his side when his father died of cancer contracted as a first responder at the WTC, celebrated with him at all of life’s major accomplishments, supported him in times of grief. Max took a deep breath as he poured the drinks with hands that were suddenly steady and stood up taller as he turned with a glass in either hand.
Kian took the proffered glass with a nod of gratitude. He could still feel some unease in his friend but his heart had settled down to a normal cadence and his body language evinced confidence. “You’re safe with me, you know,” Kian promised in his most sincere voice. “I won’t ever hurt you.”
“Yeah, I got that from our dozen plus years of friendship.”
It was Kian’s turn to close his eyes and release a breath in relief. “I’m sorry. I should have told you long ago.”
Max waved a hand as if he were erasing a slate and shook his head. He took a sip of his bourbon before looking over. “I guess it isn’t that easy,” Max conceded.
“Not for me. Never has been.” Kian could feel each and every year; they weighted his voice.
“Just how old are you?”
Kian smiled a bit. “I was wondering when that signature curiosity would kick in.”
“I’ll be 648 next year.”
Max nearly spat out a mouthful of bourbon. “Holy crap!”
“I say that pretty much every night when I wake up.”
“I can just imagine,” Max said in his trademark sardonic tone.
They sat in silence while they finished their drinks.
“So what are you going to do about Suze?”
“No plans right now but it won’t be easy winning her back. She ran out on me, Max. She couldn’t even look at me as she left.”
“She’ll come around. You’ve been friends for a decade.”
“I don’t know about that. She was very upset. Afraid. Confused. Betrayed. And that’s only from the kiss. The vampire thing is a whole other can of worms.”
Max jiggled his glass. “Want another?”
“Yes, but I shouldn’t. Liquor loosens up things better kept tight.”
“You mean a drunk pathologist is dangerous,” Max teased with a wry humor.
Kian laughed out loud. “You’re good for me.” He leaned over and slapped his friend on the knee but he leaned back quickly when fear lit up Max’s eyes briefly. Kian threw up his hands. “Sorry.”
Max huffed out a breath. “No, don’t be. It was just a hindbrain reaction.”
“You’re not prey, you’re my best friend,” Kian assured Max, his tone on the defensive side.
Max reached over and gripped Kian’s shoulder. “I believe you.” Max cleared his throat. It had the sound of discomfort. Kian recognized that sound. It was a familiar barometer of his friend’s current mental and emotional disposition.
“I don’t know where to begin.”
“Sure you do, but you don’t want to hurt my feelings.” Kian’s eyes widened at the bob of Max’s Adam’s apple and the sudden acrid scent in his blood. “Or you’re afraid to hurt my feelings.”
Max grunted in protest. “Not afraid.”
“So then, ask,” Kian challenged.
Max shook his head in tiny increments, unwilling to take up the gauntlet. Kian wasn’t some lab exhibit, and for once, Max didn’t really want all the answers.
“I’m not a killer. I usually drink blood out of a bag or a beaker, not a person. Animal blood will work, too,” Kian told Max, hitting what he thought were the pertinent high points. “That clear it up?”
“I didn’t think you were a killer, Ki,” Max said in a quiet voice that still held conviction.
“Maybe I should just go.” Kian stood and quickly walked to the door.
“Hey! You’re just going to dump this on me and leave?”
“You’re uneasy. I don’t want to mess up the second friendship in the span of a few hours.”
Max went over to confront Kian at the door but when he saw the depth of sorrow and loneliness in his friend’s eyes, brotherly affection took over. He grabbed Kian into a manly embrace, over-coming his inculcated aversion to vampires, and gave his best friend a hug. After a stunned second, Kian responded in kind. They pounded each other’s backs once or twice and then broke apart, a bit of embarrassment on each face.
“Stay. Just don’t kiss me, okay?”
“Hey, you’re the one with the hugging.”
The two men shared a laugh filled with more pain than humor, but there was a deep understanding and an abiding friendship there as well.
“I really should go. It’ll be dawn soon. I’ll be trapped here.”
“Not trapped, welcome,” Max corrected brusquely. “Unless you don’t trust me.”
“I do,” Kian hastened to assure Max.
“Same reason you do.” He didn’t want to put it into words but he had a feeling that Max wouldn’t let him weasel out of a real answer.
“Why,” Max repeated with more emphasis.
Kian sighed. He knew Max too well. “I knew your scientific mind would take over.”
“I’m curious, yeah, what scientist wouldn’t be, but you’re my best bud, man. This is between us – not for public consumption. And I’m not a killer, either.”
“Thanks, Doc. That word always seems inadequate when I dump this on someone and they don’t run screaming.”
“You’re welcome, but I don’t mind telling you your method needs work.”
“Yeah, I hear you.”
They walked back to the chairs and sprawled out. Max gestured back towards the galley kitchen and raised an eyebrow but Kian shook his head. His stomach wasn’t ready for anything approaching solid food.
“How did this happen to you, Ki?”
Kian settled back, his head on the back of the chair. He stared at the ceiling, which was so much easier than looking his friend in the eye. He had only told this story once before and the memories made him uneasy. “The fourteenth century wasn’t the best time to be born. So many died in their early years due to war, famine, disease. I guess I was luckier than most. My village was remote, not in a strategic or preferred location. We grew and raised our own food. We stayed below the radar of whatever warlord held sway. Our village priest had books and I learned how to read, write and cipher between chores on the farm. But reading opened my mind to dreams beyond my narrow experience. I wanted to explore. So when I came of age, I left my village to face the wider world.”
“Let me guess,” Max interrupted with a smile. “Women were part of that wider world.”
“Well, yeah.” His answering smile was just as wide but it faded as the memories of his Turning surfaced with full clarity. “One woman in particular was my salvation or my damnation, depending on how you view it.”
“So you’re a vampire because of a woman? Why am I not surprised.”
“I took the odd job to support myself as I traveled. Thatch a roof, dig a well, muck out a stable. One such job was for a seemingly young widow. And after I laid down the stones for her new well, she took me into her house for my meal, and then into her bed for what turned out to be her meal.”
“Just like that?”
“She told me she didn’t want to be alone. So she Turned me but as we found out in only a few days, we weren’t compatible other than the sex. When you live for centuries that’s just not enough to sustain a relationship. We had many clashes and she tired of me quickly.
“Maura wasn’t a bad person, she was just indifferent to the human condition. She was an ancient creature when I encountered her and she looked upon the world with indifferent eyes. She didn’t kill as a rule, but it was more to avoid discovery than due to any moral conviction. Maura viewed humans as just another food animal. Once I was her fledgling, she took care of my disposition, just not with her. She gifted me to another vampire, one of her elder progeny. She knew we would be a good fit.
“He was a good man, a spiritual man, and he taught me the ways of the night. He never harmed a soul, not even an animal. I eagerly adopted his ways; I had no desire to kill. I think of him as my sire, even though Padraig wasn’t the one to Turn me. He gave me leave to go after many decades of instruction and companionship when I again grew restless. Eventually I found my way to America. And here I am.”
“Some big gaps in that story,” Max observed.
“You know about a lot of them. I just made it sound like it was within one lifetime.”
“Humph,” Max grumbled.
“Again, I’m sorry for lying.”
“No, I get it, Ki. Your story actually makes a lot more sense now.”
“I guess it was a lot to jam into only thirty years,” Kian said sheepishly.
“Yeah, unless you started when you were two. How’d you get through it, man? You tell the story like being turned into a vampire was a walk in the park, but she took your life.”
“Well, at the time, I was considered past middle age. Disease might have caught up with me before long. An injury would reduce me to a life of begging. Yes, Maura took the life away that I had – and no, she didn’t ask, so it was basically ‘or death’ – but she gave me a different life in return. There were some rough moments but it was accept or die. I wasn’t ready to leave the world. There was still too much to discover.”
“I don’t know how I would handle it.”
“Hopefully you never have to find out, Max.”
“No, I hope not,” Max said in a thoughtful voice, heavy with meaning. “You seem okay with being a vampire.”
“What are the choices? It’s this or oblivion, and I would not take my own life either. I’ve been a vampire a lot longer than a human.”
“You’re still human, just not mortal,” Max told him in a tone that wouldn’t entertain any arguments to the contrary.
Kian dipped his chin in gratitude. “Thanks for that, man.” He made a show of checking his watch, although he rarely needed it to tell time. His awareness of the sun’s trip across the heavens was extremely accurate. “I have just enough time to get home. It’s best if I leave.”
“You don’t have to.”
“That’s generous of you. I appreciate it, truly, but you’re going to have plenty of trouble sleeping without me here. I have enough guilt working this week.”
“All right,” Max conceded. “Go on home.”
“You know, you can revoke my invitation to your place.”
“Why the hell would I do that?”
“I accepted the invite under false pretenses.”
“You did it so you had a ready meal if you needed one?”
Kian stiffened and a severe expression pulled his face in to lines. He answered with a forceful voice. “Christ. No.”
Max nodded and spread his hands. “Right, I knew that. So I ask again, why would I need to revoke you? I trust you. And that’s about as serious as I want to get tonight.”
Kian nodded in return, grateful for his friend’s trust and acceptance. He hesitated a second before asking, “We still on for the ballgame tomorrow night?”
“Yeah, of course,” Max answered right away. “How often do we both get a night off at the same time without having to switch shifts? Can’t miss that opportunity, vampire revelation or not.”
Kian laughed again. Max was definitely good for him. “You’re right, Doc. Meet you on the Grand Central 7 Flushing-bound platform at six?”
Max nodded his consent to the plan. “You know, with your lifespan, you might actually see the Mets win another World Series,” he quipped.
© 2016. This page and all contents including but not limited to original
fiction, characters, photos, graphics, and waterG colophon and the Mercurial Press are the sole property of
GyngerT and Antonia Spadafina. Not for reproduction or distribution.
Contents may not be used in whole or in part without express written
permission of the site owner.