Back when I passed Benny’s coffee shop every day, watching his sad or frustrated face from the opposite side of the glass, I used to think I wanted nothing more than to talk to him one more time.
But now, I wished he’d stop talking–especially after a lengthy description of his first time with Hamlet Richardson. And his second. And his third.
I was happy for him. Really. I’d never seen him smile so much, or talk so animatedly about anything other than butlers.
So I listened and tried to smile, for his sake.
Hamlet was the perfect boyfriend–the one he’d always been dreaming of. He was an incredibly talented and even more handsome actor. His abs were perfection, his glutes a modern marvel. His tattoos were…tolerable. (Those seemed to be the one thing about Hamlet Richardson that Benny wasn’t too fond of.)
I feigned a yawn and stretched. “Sorry, Benny. It’s getting late–I should probably let you go.”
“But the sun’s still out. I still haven’t told you about Hamlet’s favorite human foods.”
“Sorry, I think I had some bad plasma. Rain check?”
I hated lying to Benny. I already lied to him about so many things. But if it got him to stop talking about his shiny new relationship…
No, that was unkind. For all I knew, it could be true love. A warm, geeky, carefree actor like Hamlet suited Benny far better than I ever could.
That could’ve been you. The thought was like a stake through my heart.
I started avoiding Benny after that–taking too long to answer his texts for any plans to ever coalesce, sending calls to voicemail… Eventually, he only rarely reached out to me (usually with links to news about Hamlet, which I politely praised).
I did pick up when I got a call from my dad one morning, though.
“My boy,” Dad said. I could tell he was outside on his houseboat–probably by the bar–by the sounds of seagulls in the background. “Wonderful news–you’ll start shooting those television episodes tomorrow.”
Good–hopefully filming would take me far away from the apartment. “How’d you manage getting me a gig like that–you mentioned some kind of deal?” Sometimes, I was afraid to ask him questions like that, but I thought it was better to know in advance.
“Your father is a master of negotiation, my boy. I simply arranged a very reasonable trade–the use of one of my many estates for filming in exchange for a few directing credits for my son.” It really was all about who you knew in Starlight Shores.
And Dad did have more houses than any one person needed–that was exactly how I ended up with the one Benny was still working in. “Tell me about the show,” I said. “Have I heard of it?” Hopefully it wasn’t another crime procedural.
“I would imagine so. Surely your sister has mentioned it.”
“Dad. It’s not…Gal’s show, is it?” Gal’s and Rhys’s, but he didn’t like to hear my brother’s name.
“My children, working together,” he said. “I’ll never be a prouder papa.”
How could I refuse him after that, especially after he went through so much trouble to make the arrangements? He knew Gal wasn’t speaking to me…and now he was making her speak to me, in his own way.
The same way that created the rift to begin with…
“Thanks, Dad.” I knew he was trying.
The first scenes I was directing were being shot at the studio…and Gal would be there too. I saw her, but didn’t initiate conversation. I couldn’t help but wonder how she felt about her costume… It wouldn’t have been her first choice.
She stopped short. “Enough with the stalking,” she huffed. So much for my innate vampire stealthiness. “If you want to talk, talk. I don’t have the energy to be pissed at more than one brother at a time anymore.”
“I had no idea about–I didn’t know I’d be working on your show–”
“Yeah, I know. And I doubt you had a choice, either. I guess you’re just as much Dad’s victim as me–and it’s not the worst thing in the world to have you directing instead of whatever bargain bin hack they scrounge up.”
We didn’t talk the rest of the way to the set, but we didn’t have to. I hadn’t realized how sad I’d been that she wasn’t living next door anymore–but I hoped she enjoyed her new place, wherever it was.
I wasn’t familiar with the Alabaster Rose Castle, the filming location for most of the vampire scenes…but I knew by the name alone who the castle was originally meant for: a woman who would never, ever live there.
Wouldn’t it hurt less if you sold it, Dad? But maybe he still held out hope.
The first night there, I wondered why the castle seemed to hold a certain fascination for my brother too…
And then I followed his line of sight.
O. He was transfixed by O.
He never noticed my presence…and apparently, Ophelia never noticed his. That look, so similar to our father’s… The Straud men (and woman, in the case of our grandmother) had a type.
I’ll admit I did my own reconnaissance in the castle too, to my shame. I only had to shoot one episode with Hamlet Richardson before his movie schedule conflicted with the show. During a break, I tracked him down to the kitchen, finding him alone with a cameraman.
I couldn’t help but wonder if…if he’d ever cheat on Benny. People in the industry had brutal schedules, schedules that kept them away from their families and loved ones.
But when I listened in, I distinctly heard Hamlet talking about his boyfriend’s “liquid meal replacement diet,” and how he wished he could take him out to dinner or cook for him sometimes. …Did Benny not tell him about his vampirism?
I smiled bitterly. Please don’t lie to him, Benny. Please don’t make my mistakes.
…What was I doing? Spying on my friend’s boyfriend for no reason. Hamlet was exactly who he appeared to be, unlike me.
I don’t know what compelled me to help a brother I hadn’t spoken to in years. Maybe it was the long hours inside a monument dedicated to unrequited love. Maybe it was the look on Rhys’s face, one I’d seen a thousand times on our father’s. Or maybe it was just a distraction.
I tracked Ophelia down to a rose garden ripped directly from one of her romance novels.
“Finn,” she said, turning. “I missed you.”
And so everything went back to the way it was, more or less. “I had some notes on your next scene,” I told her, pulling out the script. “Before she was a vampire–and married to Lord Harrington–Lady Octavia was Roland’s fiancée. But after her change, she’s forgotten all about him…”
“Was this part of the script?” she asked. “I don’t remember it… As a writer, I try to study them carefully.”
“Oh.” She nodded.
“She may have lost her memories, but sometimes, when she sees Roland, she feels a pull on her unbeating heart…like her heart remembers him, even if her mind doesn’t.”
“It’s very romantic, isn’t it?” She smiled gently at me. “Sometimes I wonder if a vampire isn’t capable of forgetting their true love, no matter how much time passes or how many others they meet. Vampires live forever, so maybe their deepest, darkest loves are meant to last forever too.”
…Was she trying to ask me to turn her again? …And then I realized the true meaning hidden beneath her words.
Benny. But a childhood crush was a far cry from the love that existed only in her novels. “It’s a nice thought,” I said, even if it was also a terrifying one.
Talking to Rhys wouldn’t be as easy. He’d been nothing but professional thus far, but I didn’t think a professional director to actor conversation was best for this particular situation. Telling him to fill his performance with more secret longing was already completely unnecessary–and not-so-secret.
“…She likes vampires.”
He didn’t respond at first, but his curiosity–or maybe desperation–got the better of him. “Who?”
“Well, she is starring in a television show featuring vampires. …But how do you know?”
I had to be careful, with Rhys’s pride. “She…she’s the daughter of one of Dad’s closest friends. I used to see her every summer.” That wasn’t a lie…but he didn’t have to know about all the times I’d seen her afterward.
“Her tastes could’ve changed,” he said with a dismissive wave of his hand. “…But is there anything else I should know? I do want to get along with my co-stars.” He coughed dramatically. “All of them.”
“She’s a writer. A passionate one…she writes romance, always involving vampires. She loves to talk about her work.” Would Rhys be willing to listen to her for hours about the many, many details…? At this point, I thought he would.
He moved farther away from me–and closer to O. “…Thank you.” He must’ve known I would’ve heard him, no matter how softly he spoke.
Did my brother deserve a chance with someone like Ophelia? I didn’t know. But O would, and in the end, she was the only one who could decide.
You helped your brother, I thought. Now I’ll help mine.