I lean my palms on either side of him, careful not to touch his body, and gently put my lips on his and close my eyes. His mouth opens and, you know I don’t really like cussing, but f**k me, this guy can kiss. His kiss has bells and whistles, and a rounded tongue that expertly snakes around mine, hooks then pulls it into his mouth, and gently sucks it. I feel myself getting lost in the sheer beauty of his kiss. It is romantic and sexy, the way I always think kissing a film star might feel, but raw sexual heat—nada, neinte, zilch, rien. Nothing, nothing, nothing. I move my head away.
He is looking at me expectantly. ‘Well?’ Nothing for him and nothing for me.
‘Thanks, Jack. You’ve been a great help.’ I grab his cheeks between my palms and smack my lips loudly on his forehead. ‘Got to go. Get well soon,’ I say and I run out of the door.
Outside I am so exhilarated I want to jump up and scream. How could I even have thought that what I had with Vann could be replicated with anyone else? Only now I realize how special is the chemistry I share with him.
I rush home, call a greeting out to my mum and run up the stairs. I close the door, look at the wall of Jacks and laugh. What a total fool I have been. I’ve been so focused on being in love with Jack that I did not even realize that I’ve fallen in love with Vann. I change into my red dress, the one Vann loves, apply a layer of red lipstick and I run out of my home.
At the Tube station I cannot help smiling to myself. At my stupidity. At my happiness. I imagine what Vann will do. I know he likes me. I know he likes me a lot. I smile foolishly. An elderly woman meets my eyes and lets hers slide away quickly.
‘It’s OK, I’m not mad. I just found out I’m in love,’ I tell her.
She smiles. It is not a London f**k off and leave me the f**k alone smile. It is from the heart.
I open the door of the building Vann lives in and run to the lift. At the lift my bag catches on the stair banister. My bag falls, opens, things spill out. I crouch down to pick them up.
Fate is a strange thing.
Whether you turn right or left when you walk out of your front door can change your life forever. I don’t know how the future might have played out if my bag had not caught and the contents spilled out. But those few seconds meant I look up and see Lana coming through the doors. She appears distracted. She sees me and comes up to me.
‘Hi, Julie. Are you coming or going?’
What, I wonder, would have happened if I had said coming? Instead I say, ‘Going.’
She looks relieved. ‘Shall we do lunch sometime next week?’
I feel anger in the pit of my stomach. What the hell are you doing here? Is the billionaire not enough for you? This is my man.
‘Yes, let’s.’ I press the lift button. The doors open immediately.
She steps in. The cheek of the woman. She smiles at me. I smile back automatically, but f**king hell is she having an affair with my man? The doors close on her and as if I have winged ankles I race up five flights of stairs. I stand at the fire door, breathing hard.
When I get my breath back, which occurs surprisingly fast, I march down the corridor. I take my shoes off and turning my key, quietly slip into Vann’s apartment. I tiptoe to a little alcove that leads into the living room, and crouching behind a cupboard watch them. What I hear is nothing like what I had expected!
‘I love him so much. I just want to help, but he won’t tell me anything,’ Lana is saying. Her voice sounds distraught and desperate.
‘It is not because he does not want to tell you. Nothing that happens in the circle can be told outside it.’
She paces agitatedly, coming in and out of my line of vision. ‘Can he step out of the circle?’
‘There is no escape. The circle has no end. Besides, he would not want to. Coming out would put you and Sorab in grave danger. He makes his sacrifice gladly.’
‘Can I enter the circle?’ Her voice is a whisper, full of terror. It makes my hair stand on end.
Vann’s reply is instantaneous. ‘Never.’
What the hell are they talking about? Suddenly, I remember the crazy notes I saw about the brotherhood of El. And the unbelievable things that Victoria had screamed about.
‘What must I do then?’ Lana asks desperately.
‘The fight between good and evil is as old as time. It will never be won by either side. Involving yourself will bring great personal loss to you.’
‘Should I do nothing, then?’
‘No matter what you do, the brotherhood will carry on holding their great balls for El. You will not be invited. Neither will I. Blake will always be invited as an honored guest, but he won’t go… Because of you. Because of your love for him from outside the circle.’
‘Loving him from outside the circle doesn’t stop the nightmares.’
‘Every once in a while when he has had a particularly stressful day he has a nightmare. Then he screams out in the voice of child. He told me that the memory is blur and dream-like, but when he was a small boy he took part in a ritual and killed another child.’
‘The first rule of control is to hijack history.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Blake didn’t kill anyone. The child that is being programmed usually never does. It just wakes up alone from a drugged state with a bloodied knife and a dead child. And then it screams and whimpers for its mother for hours.’
‘How do you know this?’
‘Because when I was seven years old I stumbled upon the ritual. I accidentally got locked in the same room where the ceremony was being performed. I saw what they did. I saw his little body stiffen up when he was being stabbed. I felt dirty for not looking away. When they left it I sat frozen for hours. When the other boy awakened and began to scream I wanted to come out and comfort him, but even then I knew that if I showed myself I was dead, and the instinct for self-preservation is strong even in a child. But the shock was incredible. It changed me. The world became a frightening place. There was no one I could trust after that. I always knew they did that to both Marcus and Blake.’
‘They never did it to you?’
‘No. I was never the right material. They choose their victims very carefully.’
‘How do they choose them?’
‘That knowledge will not serve you.’
‘Is there anything else you can tell me?’
‘The rest cannot be told. Only remember that they want you to believe he is like them, but he is not. He never has been and he never will be.’