I realize this may come as a small surprise, but I’ve never cared much for change. I prefer to know precisely what to expect from the future and from those around me. In truth, moving so very far away from the Blackwell estate in such a short time had shaken me, as well as being cruelly abandoned by both my brother and butler.
Fortunately, I had found quite the excellent replacement for the latter.
Yes, even after a number of years, Thaddeus Lyon still filled out his uniform remarkably well. Doesn’t he have such a distinguished air to his very bearing? My former butler may have been prematurely gray, but my new former butler had earned every one of his lines and beautiful silver streaks. Truly a mature butler for a mature vampiress.
And he still bent over so very elegantly, though he was a heartbeat or two slower now.
I didn’t mind.
I still remember when I first laid eyes on Thaddeus Lyons. He was still grieving for both his wife and his father. I grieved for his father as well—in that way a human child mourns for a dead goldfish, I suppose, though I knew his grief was far deeper than mine. He never showed it, however, not while in my employ. That was one thing the two of us had in common: an aversion to unproductive displays of emotion.
He had never mentioned the passing of his wife, but I knew of it regardless. Entirely by coincidence, in fact: I had quite a backlog of obituaries to work through (a proper vampiric pastime), and I just so happened to stumble across one belonging to a Lyanna Lyons, survived by her husband and two children. I suppose the other child must have died at some point as well, but he never spoke of it to me, and Lysander had been an only child for as long as I had known him.
I must admit, I entertained some slightly inappropriate thoughts about this stoically grieving widower. Would it not be a miraculous part of the healing process if he were to find a wife who would never die before him? But I had the decency to keep my improper thoughts to myself.
I was quite grateful for Thaddeus’s company once more. Not only did he sand down the splinters in my coffin every night and fill every vase with sharp-thorned roses, but I no longer had any need for those vile plasma packs.
Still, his blood tasted…off, somehow. Had I grown too accustomed to his son’s? Could I possibly have a marked preference for younger blood? I didn’t dare tell him; I was so relieved by his impeccable service that I would never think of insulting him. Sometimes I even experienced indigestion afterward, and had to sit alone in the dark upon my coffin until the unpleasantness passed.
As the days went on, however, it only seemed to get worse, not better, and I had to spend more time recovering from the weakness and nausea.
Perhaps my periodic sickness had nothing to do with his blood at all. I could recall the taste of his father and grandfather’s blood changing as they advanced in years, and his was almost reminiscent of theirs. However, Thaddeus Lyons was older, but not old. He was a distinguished gentleman butler, not a wrinkled, stooped old man.
After conducting multiple searches of my symptoms on my phone, I came to the conclusion that I was afflicted with “severe chronic anxiety.” In truth, I had only grown more worried in the weeks after Byron’s departure, rather than less. Every time I hadn’t heard from him in a number of nights (two, to be specific), I imagined the worst.
Would he try to take his own pulse as his flesh sizzled in the searing sunlight, completely forgetting that vampires lack heartbeats?
Or would he be stupid enough to challenge the local wildlife and succumb to their sharp teeth and claws in a matter of moments?
What if he actually made friends (unlikely, I’m well aware) and they convinced him to “go swimming,” as humans are wont to do? I wasn’t certain if a vampire could drown, considering that we have no need to breathe, but Byron would surely manage to find a way if one existed. Not only that, but he would undoubtedly neglect to bring along proper swimming garments for this public social engagement. Blinded by the unparalleled pastiness of his flabby buttocks, the humans in attendance would immediately become aware of the existence of vampires, all of whom would be summarily wiped out in retaliation for Byron’s terrible white-cheeked affront.
My sleep was as restless as my waking thoughts: another undeniable symptom of anxiety.
I was prone to strange dreams almost every day. Some were quite disconcerting, such as Byron finding ways to perish that I hadn’t been able to think of while I was awake, but others weren’t entirely unpleasant.
Was it strange to dream of Lysander and Benny? I often wondered what had become of them both. Well, not often, I suppose, but occasionally. Had Lysander tutored Benny in the ways of the butler, as in love?
My other dreams…well. They certainly weren’t fantasies I would ever dare entertain were I awake, but I was not awake. I was asleep, and my anxiety-ridden mind had free rein to do as it pleased. And apparently it was pleased to dream of Lysander…and of Thaddeus.
Simultaneously. In various combinations and configurations, many of which I dare not describe aloud for fear of irredeemable impropriety.
Clearly, despite Lysander’s grand betrayal, I still cared for his happiness and the role I might play in his future life with Benny, as I sometimes saw myself with both of them.
I am of the opinion, however, that dreams are meaningless and impossible to control and therefore I cannot be held responsible for mine.
Have I mentioned how attentive a butler Thaddeus Lyons is? His son was…well, sometimes I got the distinct impression that his mind was elsewhere, but I was confident that Thaddeus was putting my every need before his own. I almost asked him if he had heard any news of his son…but I wanted him thinking of me instead. Someone had to, since I was so preoccupied with Byron and his imminent doom.
Sometimes, however…sometimes I wondered what Thaddeus was thinking. I would sit with him at the table after I drank from him and watch him eat. I don’t particularly enjoy watching humans eat—I find it slightly repulsive, unlike Byron, who is quite fascinated by the entire process—but Thaddeus always did so as inoffensively as possible. Not a crumb landed on the table and not a drop stained his gloves.
But tonight he looked…distracted. Pained, almost. He was barely touching his food.
“Thaddeus? Are you unwell?” I asked softly. Perhaps he was suffering from severe chronic anxiety as well: loss of appetite was yet another symptom, according to the wise people of Internet.
“You’re kind to worry for an old man’s health, Lady Blackwell,” he said smoothly, straightening in his seat and offering me a small smile.
“Old, Thaddeus?” I raised a brow. If he was old, what was I?
“Forgive me, Lady Blackwell; I intended no insult to you or your timeless beauty. If only we could all be so fortunate as to live forever.” His gaze grew distant again, his fork abandoned.
“But if you—” I closed my mouth. It was in poor taste to make such a suggestion, was it not? Humans enjoyed being humans, though I couldn’t quite understand the appeal. “It’s lonely,” I said instead, quite to my surprise. “Living forever, watching the world change around you as you remain eternally the same.”
“Are you lonely, Lady Blackwell?” He gave a small shake of his head. “Forgive me, I beg you; that was far too presumptuous for a mere servant to ask. My sense of propriety was momentarily overruled by our longstanding acquaintance.”
I waved away his apology. “I would rather you speak your mind, Thaddeus, thank you. I…” My voice caught. “Sometimes, truth be told—sometimes loneliness plagues me. More often than I would like.” Why was I able to admit it now—and to Thaddeus in particular? Perhaps because Thaddeus had known me for years and saw fit to return to my side, whereas Byron left with barely a by-your-leave and Lysander hadn’t even taken the time to say goodbye. But humans have so very little time, don’t they?
“It pains me to see my lovely mistress suffering,” he said, leaning ever so slightly toward me.
I managed a small nod, my hand gripping the wooden edge of the table. I barely stopped my other hand from flying to my mouth. “I need to rest,” I said abruptly. I fled the basement kitchen; fortunately, my coffin was in the adjoining room.
I sat down on the floor—hard. Nausea roiled in my belly as my head throbbed.
Was my anxiety so unmanageable? Was I so weak as to let it consume me?
I needed to visit my brother. If I could see him, and see for myself that he hadn’t found three hundred new ways to end his existence, then surely I would feel better. Surely then…
A soft knock sounded at the door.
“Yes?” My voice was barely more than a hoarse croak. I cleared my throat. “Yes, Thaddeus?” I said, more loudly this time, struggling to stand and face the door. “Come in.”
“Lady Blackwell, I fear you are the one who is unwell,” he said, his concern evident in every line of his face.
“I’m perfectly fine, Thaddeus,” I protested.
“You have no reason to lie to me, Lady Blackwell,” he said. “No reason at all to hide your pain.”
My fangs dug into my lower lip. “You’re quite right, Thaddeus. My apologies. I need to—sit down.” I moved toward the opposite wall and lowered myself into a sitting position atop the edge of my closed coffin. I didn’t want him to think I was frail in my old age, and yet… “I’m not feeling well,” I admitted.
At first he said nothing and didn’t move. And then the next moment, he was kneeling at my feet.
“You are indeed a powerful vampire, Lady Blackwell,” he said. “And a responsible elder sister who is forever thinking only of her younger brother. But you must never forget that you are also a woman, and sometimes a woman needs someone to look after her.”
“Thaddeus…?” I hoped I wouldn’t have to reapply my layers of eye makeup; his words were having quite the effect on me. Deep pain was etched into his face, and yet his voice had been so steady, so mature and dignified.
“Please, Lady Blackwell.” He took my hands and looked up at me. “Please let me serve you…for all of eternity.”