"Close enough. Not romantically close, if that's what you're still driving at." Roman and I had snuggled together in the booth, and I gave him a playful poke in the ribs. "Quit worrying about my acquaintances. Let's talk about something else. Tell me about the world of linguistics."
I meant it half-jokingly, but he complied, explaining his specialty - classical languages, ironically enough. Roman knew his material well, speaking about it with the same wit and cleverness used in his flirtations. I followed these explanations avidly, enjoying the opportunity to engage in a topic few others knew anything about. Unfortunately, I had to taper my participation, lest I show just how well versed in the subject I truly was. It might look a little weird if a bookstore manager knew more about an area of study than someone who had made a career out of it.
Throughout this whole gripping discourse, Roman and I stayed in contact - arms, hands, and legs touching. He never tried to kiss me, for which I was grateful, as that would have been walking into dangerous territory. We were really on an ideal date for me: stimulating banter and as much physical contact as a succubus could safely handle. Our flirty conversation flowed effortlessly, like reading from a script.
Our drink flew by in an eye blink, and before I knew it, we stood back outside, parting ways and making arrangements for another date. I attempted my protests, but both of us could see how weak they were. He kept claiming I owed him a real, unchaperoned outing. Standing there with him, warmed by his presence, I felt surprised at how badly I wanted that date. The thing about sparing nice guys was that I always ended up lonely. Looking up at Roman, I decided then that I wanted to put off being lonely again - just for a little while.
So I agreed to go out again, ignoring the mental warning bells this decision set off. His face lit up, and I thought he would definitely try a mouth kiss now. My heart thumped loudly at the prospect, scared and eager.
Apparently my previous neurotic rants about not getting too close hit home, however. He merely held my hand, finally brushing his lips across my cheek in a kiss that was barely a kiss. He wandered off into the streets of Queen Anne, and a moment later, I walked the half-block back to my apartment.
When I reached my door, I discovered a note taped to it. My name, done in beautiful, heavily inked calligraphy, lay scrawled across the surface. An apprehensive coldness ran through me. The note read:
You are a beautiful woman, Georgina. Beautiful enough, I think, to even tempt angels into falling - something that doesn't happen nearly as often as it should anymore. Beauty such as yours is effortless, however, when you can make it anything you like. Your large friend, unfortunately, doesn't have such luxury, which is a damned shame after what happened today. Fortunately, he works in the right business to correct any damage to his appearance.
I stared at the note like something that might bite me. It bore no name, of course. Ripping it off the door, I hurried into my apartment and picked up the phone. I dialed Hugh's number without hesitation. With the references to "large" and "right business," he was the only one the note could be referring to.
His phone rang and rang before giving way to an answering machine. Annoyed, I dialed his cell number.
After three rings, an unknown female voice answered.
"Is Hugh Mitchell there?"
There was a long pause. "He... can't talk right now. Who is this, please?"
"This is Georgina Kincaid. I'm his friend."
"I've heard him talk about you, Georgina. This is Samantha."
The name didn't mean anything to me, nor did I have the patience for this runaround. "Well, can I please talk to him then?"
"No..." Her voice sounded strained, upset. "Georgina, something bad happened today..."
Hospitals are creepy places, cold and sterile. A true reminder of the tenuous nature of mortality. The thought of Hugh here made me nauseous, but I squelched the feeling as best I could, sprinting through the halls to the room Samantha had named.
When I reached it, I found Hugh lying calmly in a bed, his large body clad in a gown, his skin bruised and bandaged. A blond figure sat next to the bed with him, holding his hand. She turned in surprise when I burst into the room.
"Georgina," Hugh said, giving me a weak smile. "Nice of you to stop by."
The blond woman, presumably Samantha, studied me uneasily. Slim and doe-eyed, she tightened her grip on Hugh's hand, and I figured this must be the twenty-year old from work. Her unnatural br**sts verified as much.
"It's all right," he told her reassuringly. "This is my friend Georgina. Georgina, Samantha."
"Hi," I told her, offering my hand. She took it. Hers was cold, and I realized then that her nervousness was not so much at meeting me as general concern over what had happened to Hugh. It was touching.
"Sweetie, would you excuse Georgina and me for a bit? Maybe go get yourself a drink from the cafeteria?" He spoke gently and kindly to her, a tone he rarely used with the rest of us on our pub nights.
Samantha turned to Hugh anxiously. "I don't want to leave you alone."
"I won't be alone. Georgina and I just need to talk. Besides, she's a, uh, black belt; nothing will happen to me."
I made a face at him behind her back as she considered. "I suppose that's all right... you'll call my cell if you need me, right? I'll come right back."
"Of course," he promised, kissing her hand.
"I'll miss you."
"I'll miss you more."
She rose, gave me another uncertain look, and retreated out the door.
I watched her go a moment before taking her chair beside Hugh. "Very sweet. I think I'm getting cavities."
"No need to be bitter. Just because you can't form meaningful attachments with mortals."
His jest hurt a lot more than it probably should have, but then, I still had Roman on the brain.
"Besides," he continued, "she's a little upset about what happened today."
"Yeah, I imagine so. Jesus. Look at you."
I surveyed his wounds in greater detail. Hints of stitches appeared beneath some bandages, and dark blotchy bruises blossomed here and there.
"Could be worse."
"Could it?" I wondered archly. I'd never seen any immortal sustain so much injury.
"Sure. First, I could be dead, and I'm not. Second, I heal just like you do. You should have seen me this afternoon when they brought me in. The trick now will be to get me out of here before someone notices just how fast I'm recovering."
"Does Jerome know about this?"
"Of course. I called him earlier, but he'd already felt it. I expect him to show up any time now. Did he call you?"
"Not exactly," I admitted, hesitant to bring up the note quite yet. "What happened? When you were attacked?"
"I don't remember a lot of details." Hugh shrugged slightly, an awkward maneuver for one lying down. I suspected he'd already gone through this story with a number of others. "I stepped out for coffee. I was the only one in the parking lot, and while coming back to my car, this... person, I guess, just jumped out and attacked me. No warning."
He frowned. "I never really got a good look. He was big, though, I could peg that much. And strong - really strong. A lot stronger than I would have thought."
Hugh himself was no weakling. True, he didn't work out or do much with his body, but he had a big frame and a lot of density to fill that frame out.
"Why did he stop?" I asked. "Did someone find you guys?"
"Nah, I don't know why he quit. It was all beating and slashing one minute; the next, he's gone. Took about fifteen minutes before someone else came along and helped me."
"You keep saying 'he.' You think it was a guy?"
He attempted another shrug. "I don't really know. Just an impression I got. Could have been a hot blonde for all I know."
"Yeah? Should I question Samantha?"
"You shouldn't be questioning anyone, according to Jerome. Did you ever talk to Erik?"
"Yeah... he's looking into some things for me. He also reaffirmed that vampire hunters can't kill you or me, nor has he ever heard of anything that can."
Hugh turned thoughtful. "This person didn't kill me."
"Do you think he was trying?"
"He was certainly trying to do something. Seems like if he could have killed me, he would have."