I never blamed my summer-friend from running away and hiding from me. The other kids at school thought I was strange and creepy too, because they didn’t share my passion for romance that involves moderate to severe blood loss.
But one time, when I was looking for Galatea, I found her brother Finn in the backyard instead, being melodramatic like Mother and Uncle Graham.
“Please let the sun char me to ashes,” he mumbled.
“A broken heart,” I observed, bursting with knowledge of dark romance and all the ways it could go horribly wrong. “Don’t be so sad, Finn. Benny’s in love with another man–a butler. And Mother says no one can compete with a man in uniform.”
“So I wasn’t–I thought I might’ve–” He breathed a sigh of relief and started to push himself up. “Thanks, O. It still stings, but now I don’t feel as embarrassed.” Our eyes met. “…But hey, some secrets aren’t yours to share, okay? Maybe you should keep this one to yourself from now on.”
“I know,” I said, grabbing his arm–he smelled like darkness and bat fur, two of my favorite things. “I have a hundred million bloodstained secrets that I can’t share. But I thought this one could make you feel better…”
Before he could escape, I added, “But in exchange for saving your life from the fiery rage of the sun and applying salve to your shriveled heart, now we’re entering into a dark covenant and you have to do whatever I want to do until you go home. Eheheh…”
“The dark covenant is sealed,” Finn agreed solemnly.
From then on, Finn and I kept up our shadowy correspondence even after he went home. I decided we’d be pen pals, because writing letters by hand is something a real vampiress would do, and wrote to him every day. I’d even order him to read all my favorite inspirations for my future works of dark romance.
Father said we were spending too much on postage, and couldn’t I email Finn and send him digital copies of the books instead, but then he agreed that I’m his favorite little queen of darkness who rules the house–and his wallet.
Finn still came to town during the summers, but he wouldn’t come to Fangs Island with Uncle Graham anymore. So when I was older, I started visiting him instead.
And that’s when I had to start keeping another bloodstained secret… (I know Uncle Graham isn’t really my uncle, so Finn isn’t really my cousin, but it still added to the forbidden aspect of our secret liaisons, even if that was more Twinbrook-style forbidden than vampire-and-untouched-human-maiden forbidden…)
As an aspiring romance novelist slash queen of darkness, I was happy to succumb to wicked temptation with Finn.
The number one rule of writing is “write what you know,” and my second rule of writing is “add more blood.” There was blood with Finn, and pain, and if Father knew about either, he would’ve staked Finn through the heart without hesitation.
But I finally learned what a true romance heroine was supposed to feel when the petals of her maidenly flower were plucked by a darkly attractive, sharp-fanged vampire.
But no matter how many times Finn and I were together, I only really learned about the physical sensations a heroine is supposed to feel, and true dark romance is supposed to be about all-consuming, twisted love and simmering passion and unspeakable desires.
I liked Finn, and he liked me, but I wanted more. More darkness, more blood, more unquenchable thirst (and not just for blood, but it didn’t help that he always refused to bite me).
So I asked if things could go back to the way they were before.
“Of course, O,” he whispered, brushing a lock of (raven) hair away from my cheek. “We’ll always be friends.”
And we were, even as we got older, and even after we ended up in different places. But then I got my very first real job in Starlight Shores, where beautiful people died and beautiful people tried to look beautiful forever–two things that reminded me of vampires. I knew I was where I was meant to be when I arrived at the Fallen Star Funeral Parlor as a mortuary technician trainee.
The corpses made for good company (and inspiration), and I was able to get a lot of writing done during work hours…
I was planning to pitch my novel-in-progress, A Vamp in Shining Ashes, as “Romeo and Juliet with more blood.” And vampires. The heroine was a mortuary technician whose preternaturally handsome, sharp-fanged vampire boyfriend is accidentally incinerated in his coffin during her shift.
Except he isn’t, but she thinks he is, and it’s all just the height of tragedy until the very end, when he claims her mercilessly on top of an embalming table and turns her into a vampire exactly when she reaches the pinnacle of ecstasy.
And then my grandparents came to visit to celebrate my very first job, and offered me the pick of the litter of their prize hellhounds, which they’d just started breeding again.
For some reason, I felt a special dark connection with one in particular… It was like he was willing me to become his dark mistress.
Like Mother, I believed in fate, and so I chose him. And I think he approved, because he immediately sank his sharp hellhound teeth into one of my fruits of temptation after I picked him up.
Count von Batstein III was exactly what was missing from my room at the funeral parlor (aside from a boyfriend).
I liked to take him with me when I visited Finn, who worked in Starlight Shores too. It must’ve been fate that he lived directly above Benny’s coffee shop workplace…
I knew Benny was embarrassed about working there, because he desperately wanted to pursue his true dark passion instead, so I didn’t wave at him (or make Batty wave at him with his paws) as we passed.
For some reason, Batty didn’t like Finn very much, but Finn said I was always welcome to bring him over anyway. Maybe Batty’s afraid of vampires, but he doesn’t react to Benny at all.
If I ever finally convinced someone to turn me, hopefully Batty wouldn’t be afraid of me too. (I’d already asked Finn a hundred times, along with Mother and Uncle Graham. The latter looked like he was seriously considering it, but ultimately refused, blaming his unholy love for my mother and respect for my soon-to-be-dead father.)
But I was still happy to see Finn, even if he refused to press his fangs against the delicate flesh of my throat (purely for research purposes), and even though I swore he didn’t have to break the skin…
I liked to make Finn read some of my professionally printed story drafts (another expense Father grumbled about but paid for every time).
“The hero’s ‘unholy shaft of maidenhood destruction’ sounds suspiciously like mine, O,” Finn said. “Down to the exact measurements.”
“That isn’t true at all,” I argued. “His is curved slightly to the left and yours is curved slightly to the right. I draw inspiration from all sorts of unknowable sources…” I forced him to give me more detailed feedback before we could watch Simflix or do any more research.
“Hey,” he said, after picking out a movie he knew I’d like. “Benny looks pretty down lately. We don’t talk, but I pass by the shop every day…”
“He thought he’d find a butler job by now,” I said. “But no one will hire him because he lacks all the right qualifications. And yet he keeps hoping…” Did Benny ever wonder if becoming a butler was his true fate?
“I hope he finds something soon,” he said quietly. And then he didn’t say anything else, because he didn’t have to. Being with Finn was always really comfortable.
But comfortable didn’t push unspeakable boundaries or make my heart flutter (pre-vampiress), overflowing with blood and longing. Mother said she knew Father was meant for her within a heartbeat of meeting her new butler, and that she’d never once wanted anyone else in her centuries of existence, and that Father had been filled with overwhelming devotion and desire for his mistress from the very beginning.
But Finn…it was like he always kept part of himself locked away from me, rather than sacrificing it on the bloodthirsty altar of our youthful passions.
Father always brought Mother dozens (or sevens) of thorny red roses, even now that he was older and prematurely graying even more. They still spent hours in the master bathroom, even when Benny or Leo and I visited, except now Father had to visit a chiropractor afterwards sometimes.
One day, I’d know what that kind of passion felt like, even if I had to turn into a vampire first. And then it would be my books of dark, twisted romance that people could admire from the street…
I’d know my fate when I met it, just like my parents.