Disclaimer: Of course,I do not own: any characters from Angel, the Rob Zombie song 'Scum of the earth' (good stuff), Lestat or the brilliant Allison Crowe song 'Secrets that aren't my own'. The story is woven around the episode 'Fade away', which, guess what, I don't own either. Gates of Hell was written purely out of fan appreciation, so please don't sue.
Originally I planned for this story to end tragically...The key word is actually 'originally'. I'm a sucker for happy ends, so I wrote an alternative ending. Hope you enjoy this little story of mine. Happy reading!
It was open mike night at „The Gates of Hell". With each and every day Jesse worked at this bar, she came to realize just how much this name actually fitted this place. There is a Rob Zombie song entitled "Scum of the earth". Well, this was definitely the place where the scum of the earth gathered. It is hard to actually categorize people once you get to know them, because there will be always a certain something about them that makes them special. To Jesse no one around here appeared to be special. There were huge and bulky man, who were heavily tattooed, had bad teeth and tended to swear a lot. Then there were the weasels that preferred to keep to themselves and sit alone. Others with dark circles and bags under their eyes, ordered glass after glass until they finally reached the blissful oblivion they craved so much. When their heads slumped down on the bar, she nodded at Fat Tony to "accompany" them home. He would grab them by the collar and drag them towards the door unceremoniously. It didn't turn any heads, not around here.
Did Jesse have any ethically problems working around here? The answer was clearly no. Her job was tough – she was the barwoman of this dive – but it was not like she could afford to be picky. She had dropped out of high school. It hadn't been a case of teen pregnancy, mind you. Nothing like that. She could remember how she had sat inside the classroom and stared out of the window. The voice of the teacher was a monotonous buzz in her ears. Did it matter what he had to say? What he wanted to tell her? Did anything matter at all? There were so many other things on her mind and this just wasn't real life - it was like decaff. Not the real thing, just a ever so slightly surreal version of it that was supposed to be more suitable for the teenage mind. There was nothing there for her, nothing at all…nothing to be learned. So she left. She didn't have any money to begin with, so there was no chance she could go to university. Maybe if her grades were excellent, but she had always been struggling. Not because she wasn't smart enough, but because there had been other things on her mind.
Her mother had died when she was a little girl. A car accident. One day she was there and the next day…nothing. Like she had never existed at all. There were only photographs and her and her father's memories of the time they spent together. Her clothes were still hanging inside the huge closet in her parents bedroom (They would be still there ten years later). They proved that the existence of her mother had not just been a figment of her imagination. They made her seem so real that, when you stood before the closet, you'd believe she'd walk through the door any second.
She was only a child, when it happened. Her hurt was that of a child, deep, instinctive. With time, as she grew up, she started to realize bit by bit just how much she had lost. What her father had felt, she could only phantom. Of course, there had been a lot of pressure on him, raising a child all by himself, working, paying the bills. With no one to confide in. She had not made it easy for him, maybe that was partly why….When it started, she hadn't noticed at first. His behaviour changed ever so slightly, almost unnoticeably. He became calmer, less talkative, almost withdrawn. It was like he gave up on life altogether. She had hated him for that… a lot. Jesse had tried to talk to him many times, tried to help him, though the responsibility was too great for her. The task was impossible to accomplish for her alone, when she was only a teenager.
The smell of bourbon still reminded her of him. He had been an alcoholic. Considering the life he chose and the way it ended, slowly and painfully, there was a certain sense of morbid irony to the fact that she was serving alcohol to other men like her father. She didn't preach, she didn't try to get them on the right track. What good would it do?
What she did was cathartic. She was trying to understand what her father had done, why he had robbed her of a future. Of course, saying something as polemic as that was stupid. She knew that. He hadn't robbed her of her future. It was her own fault she hadn't hauled her ass out of trouble, it was her fault she had put her hopes in him. People weren't perfect, in fact they often failed at what they did. Her father had failed at his life, but she wouldn't fail at hers. She was far from being okay, but she wouldn't go down without a fight. She was angry. How could she not be after all that had happened?
Last night, when Jesse had watched the TV, she had stumbled across a show that considered itself with the aging processes. It said, that when we get old, the kind of life you take reflects in the lines on our face. Her body also bore the traces of the life she had lived, though with her 23 years she could hardly be labelled as old. There were several tattoos on her arms, her tongue was pierced.
She was no saint. Pouring whiskey into glasses was also some sort of revenge, knowing that she had never touched a drop of liquor in all her life. It made her feel superior and she needed this feeling to be doing what she did. When she turned around to take a bottle of bourbon from the shelf, she looked at herself in the mirror that covered the back of the corner. It was cracked, a spider web of fine lines ran over its surface. As far as she could tell her face was an ordinary face. Like every woman she had a narcissistic side, otherwise she wouldn't have bothered to put on the black eyeliner she wore around her eyes nor the dark lipstick. She stuck out her tongue at her reflection, captured by a sudden onslaught of childishness.
She turned to her customer. "Five bucks, Bill" Jesse said as she slammed the glass down in front of her customer. She knew him by name, because he came every night. Bill produced a grumbled five dollar bill which he handed her begrudgingly, then slouched off to his table.
Jesse waited a few seconds before she reached underneath the counter. There on a box of glasses she had hidden her book. Whenever there was time, she would read a couple of pages just to distract herself a little. She did it secretly, because nobody around here would have understood. Of course, those men understood something of escapism, but her way of procuring it was most definitely different from theirs, in spite of the ancient connection of alcohol and literature. When she read she could seize to be Jesse and indulge into the fantasy of living a different life, of being somebody else. Sometimes she just had to get away from here. Her eyes briefly looked up from the pages, when the microphone on stage let out a protesting squeak. Apparently it had not been properly adjusted. She let out a sigh.
"Jess, turn down the music, there's a nut job who wants to go on stage," Fat Tony called over to her.
She threw one last regretful look at 'Mrs. Dalloway', the book she was currently reading, then went to do as she was told. She recognized the person on stage at first glance. It was this strange guy who had ordered shots all night. He had sat in the corner, occasionally mumbling to himself, the rest of the time he had kept quiet. Actually she was glad, because some guys mistook her for a shrink and started whining about how much their life sucked the second the sat down at the counter. His peroxide blonde hair almost looked golden in the shine of the headlights.
Jesse wondered what he was going to do and prayed that he wouldn't start singing. That usually didn't bode well…He sat down at the mike, while his arm casually rested on microphone stand. His nonchalant pose reminded her of those club singers of the 50s that always performed with a cigarette in one hand and a glass of whiskey in the other. The bar was completely silent, then he started talking.
It must have been about quarter to three and he was still sitting at the corner table. Jesse had sent Fat Tony home an hour ago, she was confident she could handle one man alone. If things got rough, there was still her trusted shotgun underneath the counter.
Somehow she almost felt compelled to use it now, though the guy didn't give her any trouble. Jesse grinded her teeth in frustration. She was starting to get tired. He was a paying customer so she couldn't throw him out, because the sign beside the door said open all night. Usually by three the place was completely empty. This guy, on the other hand, it was the blonde she had watched recite a poem on stage earlier, seemed awfully comfortable and didn't make any notions to leave any time soon. Didn't he have places to be? Wasn't there anybody waiting for him? Probably not, not that that came as a surprise to her. Most people who came hadn't.
Jesse busied herself with cleaning the dirty glasses that stood in the sink. Since she was stuck here, she might as well do something useful. From time to time she threw a glance at the table, where her only paying customer sat. He seemed harmless, but you never knew. How he was able to down so many shots – she could have sworn it had been about a hundred – and still be standing, was a riddle to her. When she was done with the glasses, she demonstratively started cleaning the tables. Maybe he would get the not so subtle hint and leave. Jesse risked a brief glance – of course, he didn't. He was still sitting there, staring down into his glass as if it contained the answer to some crucial existential question.
When his table was the only one left, she decided to finally step up to him and tell him to get the hell out. The situation was starting to get slightly surreal. She didn't even know why she had allow him to stay this long to begin with.
"Hey, dude!" she addressed him. At first he didn't react, just sat there as if she didn't even exist.
"Hey, I'm talking to you mister!" she raised her voice a little. It sounded kind of smoky and low, because she had had to scream over the background noise of the bar all night.
He finally looked up from his reverie, "Oh, yeah…," the guy looked slightly confused, as if even now he wasn't present in thought. Maybe it was the booze.
"It's time you left," Jesse informed him curtly. "It's almost four and I want to go home. So let's call it a night, okay?"
He wordlessly indicated the sign beside the door.
"What about it?" she asked a little bit irritated.
"Open all night. The night isn't over yet," he told her. His voice was calm, his British accent, she had already noticed earlier, sounded strangely foreign in her ears.
"I know, but if you like it so much around here, you can always come back tomorrow," Jesse tried to reason with him.
"Yeah, I probably could…," he answered, but there was a strange undercurrent in his voice. He raised his glass, but briefly hesitated before he drained its contents in one long draught. "Can't leave yet," he mumbled, as he slammed down the glass on the table. His voice was roughened by the whiskey.
Jesse sighed, then sat down on the chair opposite of him. She was tired. It was the kind of exhaustion you felt in your bones. The young woman stifled a yawn. They sat for a while in complete silence. After a couple of minutes the silence became so obtrusive that you could even hear the silent buzzing of the ventilator above them.
He sat there and watched as the rotors cut the air in a never ending circular motion. They were a complete blur, almost unconceivable to the human eye, when not standing still. Fascinating!
He was definitely a freak. Most definitely! Jesse looked at him with her head propped on her hand. What was so fascinating about the goddamn ventilator? "I hate to ask…I normally wouldn't…but what's your deal?"
"My deal?" he chuckled mirthlessly. "Believe me, you wouldn't want to know."
Now it was her turn to smile. "That's right, I wouldn't, but since you won't leave and I'm stuck with you, let's pretend I give a damn…"
He actually started to laugh, this time genuinely. "Nice one! You know what? I like you."
"You like it, when people insult you? Wow, I thought you were messed up, but this just gets better and better."
"Nope," his blue eyes sparkled in merriment, "just gotta love a bint with some spine. That's all." "Want to drink on that?" he held out the bottle of bourbon to her.
"I don't drink," she said a little bit too harshly. The way her lips tightened he could tell it was a sensitive subject. A barmaid that didn't drink. That was certainly interesting.
"Alright, more for me then. What's your name by the way?"
She briefly hesitated, but then answered. "Jess."
"Spike! Really? Oh, come on…"
"What the bloody hell's wrong with Spike?" he asked incredulously, as if she had just insulted his manliness.
"Well, for starters no way in fucking hell can this be your real name. It's a name for dogs or something guys call their private parts. Please, tell me it's not a nickname you gave yourself, because after hearing your poem, I didn't think you were that much of a retard."
"No, of course, I wouldn't," she could tell he was lying, the way he shifted on his seat. When you've worked at a bar for a long time, you were able to read other peoples' body language pretty easily.
"Actually, it's William, but no one ever calls me that these days."
"It's a lot better than Spike anyways."
"Glad you approve."
She shrugged dismissively. It didn't matter what she thought about his name, whether she liked it or not. It was not like she was going to marry him. They were only two strangers talking in a bar.
"So, William…. You're not one of the regulars. What brought you here? People who come here are usually in some kind of trouble or they are at least looking for it," she looked at him expectantly. As far as she could tell he was smart, maybe even educated, had some sense of humour. The way he behaved, he simply sat there, all relaxed as if this was his living-room and not some public place, told her he was confident, maybe even to the point of being cocky. He was not the type of guy who regularly came to a dive like this.
"I'm in trouble, I guess," he produced a pack of cigarettes and briefly held it out to her. She took one and he followed her example. He pulled out an old fashioned Zippo – it was silver and sparkled in the dim light of the bar – then leaned over to light her cigarette.
"Serious?" Jesse asked after she had taken the first drag.
He nodded. "Life and death matter, but I can't get out of it and I bloody don't want to. I gave my word."
"You talk like a soldier on the night before battle."
He frowned, "You could put it that way….What gave me away?"
"It sure did take a lot of drinking to gather enough courage to go and recite that poem. Usually no one would do something as crazy as this...not around here. Let's just say our customers aren't accustomed to it and they tend to express their dislike quite emphatically, if you know what I mean. You seemed desperate, like it was now or never. You're not sick, are you?"
"No, the thing with the soldier…that summed it up pretty nicely."
"Yeah, so got any suggestions?"
She stared at the empty bar pensively. Jesse took another drag and blew out the smoke in a perfect 'o'. She hadn't smoked in years, but today she felt like it. "Suggestions? Maybe, try to stay alive…I don't know."
He chuckled softly, "Good one. I'll keep that in mind." His laughter quickly died away and made room to a more pensive expression. "Something's odd though. I've been having the strange sensation, there was something I've forgot to do…," he massaged the pinch of his nose with his fingers tiredly, "Oh, bloody hell I don't know…"
"Sounds like it sucks to be you. I'm sorry," she told him bluntly.
Surprisingly he wasn't offended. "So I've been suspecting from time to time," he extinguished his cigarette in the ashtray.
"You just can't help, but hate questions like 'If you were stranded on a bleeding desert island, what would you bring?' or 'If you had only one more day to live, what would you do?' and all that load of carp… As if anybody could actually come up with a decent answer to that…That's just bollocks," he shook his head in anger, "Just another hypocritical way of making conversation, 'cause a situation like that, actually isn't that bloody entertaining once the shit has hit the fan."
"Guess not," Jesse was starting to sympathise a little with him.
"I gave a lot of thought to it, you know, but somehow I can't help but wonder whether I didn't just bugger it up royally. What would you have done, ducks?"
"If it was my last day? Do you want the superficial answer or the deep shit?" She had made the experience that sometimes people were bothered if she answered those kind of questions truthfully.
"I'll go with the deep shit, thank you," he poured himself another glass of whiskey.
She frowned. "I'd have to ask myself whether I was at a point in my life, where I've already done everything I wanted…or at least some of it. The answer would probably always be no. Right now I'm not happy with the way things are going. The superficial approach would probably be to try and cramp all those unaccomplished things into one day: I'd quite my job, take all the money I've saved and do something crazy with it. Live it to the fullest, but that's just a load of bull. When did we ever savour a moment to the fullest? When do we ever live our lives like it was the last day on earth? It's always revolving around what comes tomorrow. Tomorrow we might become richer, tomorrow we might be famous, tomorrow might be the great breakthrough. So if we live a life of tomorrows how can we enjoy today? My last day….? Maybe I'd just try to be happy with one extraordinary good thing, that would happen to me. Something I could hold on to and be proud of, so that I would go out with a smile and the memory of that moment in my heart."
"Amen, to that. Plus a good shag," he raised his glass to that.
"Plus a good shag, of course," she laughed.
"You're pretty much fun for a bird who dresses like Morticia," William said good-humouredly.
"Well, you're not so bad either…..for someone who looks like a Billy Idol wannabe," she added for good measure.
"So what's up with the tats? Why'd you get them?" he vaguely indicated her arms. "I never got any. I'd be stuck with them my whole life, so I figured I'd pass on that since that's an awful long time."
"I don't know," Jesse tried to think back to the time she had gotten her first tattoo. It must have been when she was about 16. It had been mostly because she wanted to do something rebellious. "The ivy…," she indicated the tattoo that stretched from her left elbow all the way to her shoulder, "The ivy I got, because I kind of like it. When you think about it, it's really an odd plant. It climbs walls, so it sort of overcomes the obstacles in its way. Well, and it's poisonous…."
He had already opened his mouth to make a comment, but she beat him to it, "Let's not get into the psychological implications of that, okay?"
"What about Lady Justice, ever planned to become a judge?"
She unconsciously looked at her right arm. It bore the resemblance of the blindfolded antique goddess that held a sword in one hand, a scale in the other. "That's to remind me that life isn't always fair. It doesn't matter whether you're a good or bad person, you have to live with the hand you get dealt by faith."
"So you just surrender?"
"No, you keep fighting."
"Overcome the obstacles like the ivy, I see," he smiled wistfully.
"Do you manage to?" William looked at her interestedly.
"Overcome the obstacles?"
"Sometimes. Considering the circumstances, I'm doing fine. Baby steps."
"Does it have to do with the reason you won't drink any alcohol?" his question hit her like a bucket of cold water. He was most certainly a keen observer.
"Partly. To tell you about that I'd have to know you better, sorry," her palms had become sweaty the second they approached the sensitive subject of her father.
"No offence, love. Can't finish all our topics of conversation in one night, can we?" his words implied that they would meet another time, given his constant future perspectives, that were literally non-existent, it was highly doubtable. He realized it as well, because his expression suddenly fell.
"Or you might as well, if you want to, because I probably won't have the chance to tell, which I wouldn't even if I could."
She didn't answer immediately, so they sat in silence for a while. Jesse started picking at her already chipped black nail polish distraughtly. What bad would it do if she talked about it? Maybe, she would even feel relieved, because she hadn't confided in anyone for a long time. That was probably, because she had never had a conversation like this in forever. She couldn't just let this chance pass by, just because it was too comfortable not talking about it. She had to face her fears sometimes…
"You don't have to tell me if you don't want to..," he suggested after a while.
"Yes, I know" she sighed, "but it would be nice getting it off my chest…I think."
"It's hard, isn't it? Especially when it's stuff you haven't talked about in ages," his hand played with the shot glass. Light broke in it and created little shimmering dots on the table that jump here and there whenever he turned the glass in another direction.
She didn't answer so he continued talking instead, "We hardly know each other so that should make it a lot easier, pet. I'm not judging, in fact I'm the last person who could afford to be judgemental about…well, anything. And since by tomorrow night I will be a lot less talkative…this is the best shot you can get if you want to get all confessional…"
Jesse nodded silently, but ere she could bring herself to start talking a couple of minutes passed. When she finally said those words it felt like a weight worth several tons had been lifted of her shoulders.
"My father was an alcoholic. He died two years ago. I'm not drinking, because of him…" Jesse finally admitted hesitantly.
"You're afraid you'd get addicted like him," it was more a statement than a question. He leant with his elbows on the table and looked at her with honest concern in his eyes.
"Yeah," her fingers had started tapping. With a strange fascination she observed their motions, which seemed to happen almost as if by their own accord.
"And you're punishing yourself by working at this dive. For what do you think you have to punish yourself for?"
"I don't know. Maybe not caring enough, because if I might have, I could have saved him," her tough façade cracked, when she looked up and he saw that her eyes were watery. She blinked rapidly to suppress the tears, her lips slightly quivered, but then she had herself under control again.
"In order to save someone, the other person must want to be saved," he told her gently and briefly touched her hand reassuringly. His skin felt oddly cool "It wasn't your fault."
"I know, but until I believe that it'll take some time."
"Maybe, you should start by quitting this job. You don't fit here," he told her in all honesty. "You're selling yourself far beneath value."
"Wow, that's actually the nicest thing anybody has said to me in a long time," Jesse looked at him in amazement. This odd British guy, she had wanted to throw out of the bar just a couple of hours ago, was actually turning out to be a decent guy. Except for the bad hair dye, he wasn't unpleasant to look at. The scar over his left eyebrow added a touch of mystery to his face. It was not a perfect face, but it was handsome in its own right. His distinctive cheekbones, the high forehead…that was all part of a greater picture that was not at all unattractive.
"You're staring, someone other than me might think you rude, pet," he tilted his head and looked at her in return.
"I'm not staring, I'm observing there's difference. I'm curious that's all."
"Because my first impression of you was completely off, I guess."
"Didn't you see that I was devilishly handsome, yet radiated an aura of wisdom?"
"I thought you were over-confident, probably sort of shallow and that you're hair looked kind of funny," Jesse grinned.
"Blimey, you're brutal!" he theatrically grabbed his chest. By the way he took it, Jesse could tell he was not offended. She was glad, because her way of making conversation, even her humour had in time become accustomed to this place. It was a little bit rougher than usual.
"Well, take you're best shot, what did you think of me?" she asked him challengingly.
"That you were a rather cranky, tough broad and probably married to the bouncer bloke."
"Talk about brutal, eh?…Fat Tony? Hell no! He's quite a nice guy, but surprisingly not my type. He owns this place and has a odd preference for Dante's Inferno…that's where the bar got its name from."
"Abandon all hope, ye who enter here."
"Wow, I'm impressed."
"As you should be," he wiggled his index finger at her triumphantly.
Jesse frowned. The fact that he was a literature buff and obviously wrote poems himself, wouldn't quite fit with his nickname Spike.
"You're a strange guy. Sort of like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," she said finally.
He raised his eyebrows in surprise. Maybe she had gotten a little bit too close to the truth. Strangely for the first time in years, she was worried she had gone too far. She didn't want him to stand up and leave, because she actually enjoyed talking to him.
"I'm sorry, I sometimes I literally puke my thoughts all over other people, whether they like it or not. What I was trying to say is that the fact that you call yourself Spike and that you write poetry…let's just say it doesn't match."
"Fine by me, ducks. Especially since I've never been beating around the bush myself, when it came to speaking my mind. By the way you're right. Guess, I've always been torn between two worlds, battling my demons and what not," he laughed at his own words as if they contained a hidden irony only he alone could understand. "You could say there's more to me than meets the eye."
"Surely that explains how you could down more than two bottles of whiskey without getting a alcohol poisoning or getting at least a bit tipsy," she crossed her arms over her chest.
"As a matter of fact it does," he answered truthfully. "Do you want to know?" The way he acted had something conspiratorial to it.
"I don't know, do I?" Jesse scooted to the edge of her seat. Her forearms were resting on the table, as she looked at him interestedly. He mirrored her position. His hands were only inches from hers, oddly his intrusion into her personal space didn't bother her at all.
"It could go both ways," William shrugged his shoulders and looked down at the open palms of his hands as if he held in them the two options he presented to Jesse.
"Care to be less cryptic?" she squinted her eyes. She had no idea what he was talking about. Strangely she wasn't freaked out…not yet at least.
"It might be a consolation to you knowing it or it might scare the hell out of you," he answered in all honesty.
"So you're the snake that's dangling the apple in front of me, tempting me with knowledge. Sadly I don't know anyone called Adam," Jesse commented ironically. "It all comes down to the question whether ignorance is truly bliss or not."
"It's five o' clock in the morning. That's a philosophic time," she winked at him, but shortly after grew serious again. "I've always been someone who'd go with the truth. It's a bitter pill, but the more sanitary on the long run."
"You're sure though?"
He nodded, then leant back in his seat. Then something strange happened, something Jesse would never forget in all her life. His face changed. The process took only a couple of seconds. His blue eyes turned yellow like that of a predator, while his forehead began to change as well. Just above the pinch of his nose to distinctive ridges appeared. The arch of his eyebrow become sharper, so that the expression on his face became reptilian, even slightly demonic.
Her reaction to his revelation was highly unusual. Most people screamed, because the first time the became aware there were vampires, was usual shortly before they got bitten by one. Jesse just sat there motionlessly. Her facial expression was completely blank, an unreadable mask.
"Are you scared?" his voice was still the same, but when he spoke she could see that his incisors had become sharp and long like fangs. Nevertheless there was no menace in his words. Thanks to his fangs his articulation bore traces of a slight lisp, which even bordered on being funny. How very strange, she noticed such a small detail in a situation like that.
She completely ignored his question, "You're a vampire…"
"Yes," he said cautiously, as if talking to a frightened child that had just heard the clap of thunder.
"You're a fucking vampire…"
"Yes, we've already covered that part, love."
She knitted her brows in irritation. Her initial bafflement was quickly overruled by anger, "Excuse me, for being a little bit surprised. This is actually a huge deal for me, okay? You can't just pull a Lestat on me and expect me to get over it just like that," Jesse hissed at him.
He raised his hands defensively, "Take your time, pet."
Her eyes shifted to the counter, where the shotgun was hidden, "You're not going to bite me, are you?" given the circumstances it was not the cleverest question, but her sense self-preservation compelled her to ask.
"I don't bite people, not anymore," explained almost proudly.
"That's a relief," she exhaled involuntarily. She still couldn't take her eyes of him. It started to dawn on her why he had said that the knowing that vampires existed was a comfort to some people. It opened up a whole world of possibilities. If those myths were true, if there were monsters, ghosts, vampires and the bogeyman, that actually increased the probability that there would be a afterlife. Death didn't have to be the end. Maybe there was heaven or hell and even a god. It meant that the things you did actually matter and had a consequence, at least not only to her and those around her.
Jesse just sat there unblinkingly as those truth started sinking in. He just leant back in his seat and waited. After a while his human face slipped back on. If she read the look on it correctly he was preoccupied. He slowly reached over and touched her arm, to rip her out of her trance. His movements were cautious as if he was afraid she would stand up and run away if he did something wrong.
"I'm just processing this…this thing... that happened just now….you know…," she stuttered somewhat ineloquently.
"Do you want me to leave?"
"No," her answer came quick and without hesitation, "You're drinking whiskey, not my blood it's okay….Sort of. Hell, this is awkward….Why'd you show me?" she suddenly asked.
"Thought it would be better if you knew…After all we are just starting to get chums…we are, aren't we? Just wouldn't want to get anything wrong…," he looked at her questioningly and she couldn't help, but think there was a considerable amount of insecurity hidden underneath all these layers of arrogance.
"Nope, you didn't get anything wrong. I most definitely think, we're approaching friendly territory."
"See, that's why I didn't want to start this off with a lie," he explained.
"That's sweet in a…strange kind of way," Jesse gave him a lopsided grin. "I guess you're not going around telling everybody you're a vampire."
"Nope, 'cause that would take the mystery out of it, wouldn't it?" he answered lightly.
"Why me?" her eyes were glued to his face, as if the answer was hidden there.
"Maybe, 'cause it's getting late and I'm turning into some sentimental sissy," he ran his hand through his hair, then shook his head as if his own words didn't agree with him. "Maybe, 'cause this is the first decent conversation I had in a long time."
"Yeah, me too," she admitted and gave him a shy smile.
"So… there isn't perhaps a chance for you to get out of this alive?" Jesse added in an afterthought.
What he saw in her eyes was maybe the beginning of true concern. So he was even more sorry to say what he had to, "Not bloody likely. Ever heard the infamous 'snowball in hell' metaphor? Well, that about sums it up…," his lips narrowed to a thin line which made the sharp outline of his chin appear even more prominent, then the expression on his face softened noticeably when his eyes settled on her, "But I could try."
"That would be nice."
"Even knowing the creature of the night bit?"
"Does it change anything?"
"Except that I don't age, I'm on a liquid diet and strolls on the beach on a sunny day are pretty much a no-no? Doesn't change a thing. Oh, and I almost forget to mention, I killed a couple of people, back when I was evil," he raised his eyebrow at her.
Jesse gulped involuntarily and scooted a little bit away from him, "But now you're good?"
"I don't go around killing people anymore, I got myself a soul and I'm big with the atoning…if that answers you're question."
"Pretty much," she let out a sigh, this talk was starting to exhaust her. It took so much out of her. She had to process all this new information and at the same time find out, how she felt about it.
"You didn't understand what I was trying to say," she continued after a brief pause, "In a way it doesn't change anything. I mean you're still the kind of guy you are, right? Being a vampire maybe just a part of your personality, but it doesn't necessary have to define who you are. It would be kind of sad if everybody just saw me as 'the barwoman'. There's more to me than that. And surely there's more to you than just the vampire thing."
He just sat there for a while and looked at her pensively. "A pity, I haven't met you sooner," William finally said somewhat regretfully.
"Ditto," she sighed. "It still might take me some time to work through the fact that vampires actually exist, but hey… I've got the feeling by tomorrow I'll probably be over that," then she realized that given the fact that he would probably not return, her words were kind of inappropriate, "I'd really like to see you tomorrow," that was her, being the most brave and open-heart, when it came to her feelings in her whole life. She felt herself blush, but she held his gaze. It was too important for her to see his reaction.
"Me, too. Believe me," his voice sounded softer than usually and the way he looked at her she could tell he meant what he said. His eyes interlocked with hers and for a few seconds neither of them said a word.
"I hate to ask this…, but I have to," Jesse finally broke the silence and shifted uncomfortably on her seat. Her gaze shifted between the clock behind the bar and him.
He understood what she was trying to say, "We've still got half an hour. Sun will be up soon. I'll have to rest before I'll go and do something insanely heroic."
She nodded wordlessly. Now that their time was limited to only 30 minutes, the pressure of making the best out of them increased. There was so much she wanted to ask him, but she felt with a nagging certainty that she wouldn't be able to anymore. She wanted to be eloquent, intelligent and witty, but probably the quality of the conversation didn't matter that much. What was important though, was the fact that they spent the time together.
"Can you believe this? We've almost talked all night. Weird, uh?" Jesse asked him in astonishment, when she suddenly realized how much time had passed.
"Yeah, I've never done this before, but I wouldn't mind an encore," he yawned contently and stretched his arms behind his back. "Getting old and rusty," William smiled in self-irony.
"How old and rusty exactly?"
"A 126, why'd you ask?" he grinned. As far as she could tell, he enjoyed giving away that piece of information. Maybe he just liked to shock people, but unfortunately she had to disappoint him. Instead of being absolutely stunned, she was fascinated.
"Wicked….," she briefly lost herself in the thought what it must be like having lived this long. It wasn't like she had never thought about it. Like every other human she was fascinated by the idea of immortality, though she had never desired it for herself. She couldn't quite explain why. It just didn't seem right. Nevertheless she was curious.
"So is it true what they say? Does wisdom come with age?" Her question was a mixture of real interest and playful provocation.
"Honestly? I don't know," he scratched the back of his neck pensively, "I don't feel a lot wiser than back in the day I was sired. I mean, sure I've seen a lot, but that doesn't make me any smarter than the next guy, maybe just a tad bit more experienced. "
"Hmmm….what were you like back then…always the rebel?" she looked at him with a frown, as if she was trying very hard to figure him out and wasn't quite able to.
"Do you really think so, after my stage performance tonight? Quite the opposite, dear," he didn't say those words without a subtle trace of self-irony to them.
"Okay, so you were a poet…sensitive…head in the clouds? Stop me if I'm wrong…"
"I'd like to, but unfortunately it's the truth."
"Do you hate who you were back then?" she squinted her eyes in disapproval.
"Not hate…I prefer not to mention it to anyone…most of the time…in fact never," he said and crossed his arms over his chest in defiance.
"That's the OALD definition of being ashamed of something…," Jesse pointed out calmly.
"Okay," he raised his hands defensively, "so maybe I'm not too bloody proud of having been a nancy boy…"
"And yet you come here of all places to recite a poem…why?"
"And you said you weren't a shrink…," he let out a snort.
"Would it help you to know that I've actually liked your poem?" she gave him a sweet smile.
"Maybe a little," he smiled back at her. "You're not just being nice, because by tomorrow I'll be dust in the wind?"
"Was I being nice, when it came to the name Spike?"
"No," he shook his head and grinned in remembrance of the beginnings of their conversation.
"Then I suggest you take the compliment and shut the hell up," her choice of words was a bit rough, but her eyes betrayed her. They sparkled at him in merriment. Like every positive emotion tonight that, too, was only a fleeting one. Her mood quickly changed from playful to depressed.
"Don't you sometimes wish there was a reason behind all this? I mean, why does something like this happen? Why do we have meet today? Couldn't it have been any other day?...I wish I could believe more in faith. There better be a higher purpose behind this or else this would really suck," she probed up her head on her hands.
"I'm glad we've met. Glad it was today, because I would have missed out on something exceptional if this hadn't happened," he looked pensively at the empty bottle of bourbon that sat on the table in front of him. Then he froze. The expression on his face grew serious.
"What is it?"
"It's time. I have to leave," nevertheless he didn't move and neither did she.
"About tomorrow…How will I know you're okay?" Jesse asked finally.
"If I survive this, I'll come for you," he purposefully avoided her gaze. Though he didn't look at her she tell from his body language that two conflicting emotions were battling inside of him. His fist clenched so tightly his knuckles protruded and turned white, but at the same time there was this dejected expression on his face, this utter sadness. "Why does this have to be so bloody hard?" he muttered and she was not being sure whether his words referred to the situation in general or the fact that he had to leave.
"Because if it was easy, it would mean nothing at all," she smiled at him consolingly.
He nodded and slowly got up.
She walked with him towards the exist silently. Funny, just a couple of hours she wanted to throw him out, now she didn't want him to leave. He hovered at the door and nervously played with his Zippo, until he got aware of what he was doing and stuffed his hands in his pockets. Clearly he didn't know how to behave either. He awkwardly stepped up to her and for a moment she wasn't sure whether he was going to hug her and just give her his hand. Apparently he wasn't either. After a while he finally decided on the last option.
"Goodbye," he said in a low voice, "it's been nice knowing you, pet." His cool palm touched hers. It was not an unpleasant feeling.
"It's been nice knowing you, too," she bit her lip, trying to suppress her emotions as she looked up into his face (he was a few inches taller than her).
After a few seconds he let go of her hand and slowly walked towards the door. Then he was gone. Jesse closed her eyes and let out a breath, that almost sounded like a sigh, but the pressure just wouldn't disappear. She felt the knots in her stomach, the strangling feeling of sadness in her throat…What was that supposed to mean? Maybe, that she felt sorry for him…but most of the time that actually means that you're feeling sorry for yourself. This just didn't make any sense. She hardly knew him…and yet again there was the fact that they had so easily fallen into conversation like they had known each other for a lifetime. So what? It didn't mean anything at all…
Jesse wasn't a huge believer in signs, love at first sight and all that over romantic bullshit. There was one thing she believed in though…life. At an very early age she had found out that it wasn't easy, that it was in fact a constant succession of ups and downs. At times she even lost her sense of direction and couldn't tell the good from the bad, so she ran on blindly. The important thing is not to surrender, not let happiness pass you by, because that's what keeps you going.
She thought about what she told him before…about the one happy moment and how it was important to seize it and remember it. So if everything were over tomorrow, would she go out without regret, because she could cling to a happy memory? Probably not. She had the feeling there was something she had forgotten to do and like he was the only one who could tell her what it was, if she only could see him again and talk to him. Make things right….in a way.
Maybe it was not too late. Maybe she could still catch up with him. She strode towards the door determinedly and pushed it open purposefully. Her feet carried her swiftly across the threshold and then a few steps into the alley, which was absolutely deserted. She just stood there for a couple of seconds motionlessly and stared into the dirty and empty street. Somehow she just couldn't find the strength to move, not yet anyways.
Suddenly she felt the soft pressure of a hand on her shoulder. "Hey," a familiar male voice sounded in her ears.
"Hey, thought you were gone," she said somewhat unintelligently and cringed inwardly at her inept choice of words.
"Stopped for a smoke," he lied. The truth was he had been standing there, hanging after his thoughts, because he wasn't ready to leave yet. Somehow he was feeling oddly nervous like he hadn't in a long time. He stuffed his hands inside his pockets and drew his duster closer around him.
"I was….I wanted to…I…," she stammered ineloquently, then fell silent resignedly. A soft blush crept up her cheeks, which made her look younger than she was.
"Yeah?" he looked at her expectantly.
"I didn't want you to leave like that," she said cautiously as if her words would suffice to scare him off.
"Mhm," he just said not knowing what else to say. He wordlessly looked at her, his head tilted slightly to the left. His gaze was neither hostile or inquisitive, there was an unusual softness to it (it wasn't as if she could judge after knowing him a couple of hours, but she certainly had not seen that look in his eyes before) It was almost like a caress.
She stepped closer, then a slight tremor ran through her body as she stopped hesitantly in mid movement. Her eyes searched his face for a sign of disapproval and didn't find any so she continued. Jesse closed the distance between them to hug him somewhat awkwardly. At first he tensed, then she felt his arms encircle her as well. It was as if they both had to get used to the thought of physical closeness, because after a while the embrace started feeling comfortable…nice…and in a way very natural. It gave her courage to do what she had initially intended to do.
Her small little hand with the chipped black nail polish reached out and touched his cheek. His skin was pleasantly cool against hers. She felt him lean into her touch like someone who hadn't felt that type of caress in a long time. When she looked up at his face she saw he had his eyes closed in an expression of utter contentment. His reaction to her shy advance made her a little bit bolder. She leant her forehead against his, very much aware of the fact that this embrace was only seconds away from becoming a kiss. Her fingers were trembling ever so slightly, when she caressed the nape of his neck. Then her lips finally grazed his so very tenderly, so carefully, that it was just the ghost of a kiss, just a hint at what could be and probably would not be, but he wasn't satisfied with just a fantasy. His arms snug around her waist and softly drew her closer. He wanted something real, something to remember. The kiss deepened, but nevertheless stayed tender and innocent.
Then they slowly broke apart. She looked at him with a paradox mixture of happiness and despair in her eyes, while he still held her in his arms.
"Please, come back tomorrow," she pleaded with him.
"I'll try. I'll really do," he answered in all sincerity.
"Okay," she nodded bravely and blinked the tears in her eyes away.
He slowly stepped away from her, but didn't let go of her hand immediately. When his hand slid out of hers, the final touch of his fingers on hers felt like a caress.
"See you tomorrow," she said softly.
"See you," he answered, trying to sound casual, but the emotion in his voice betrayed him. He gave her one final regretful look, then turned abruptly to walk away.
She stepped outside for a smoke. Her hands were shaking wildly, when she pulled the cigarette out of the packet. The cheap plastic lighter she used to ignite it would have almost slipped from her fingers. It was a slow night so she actually had time for a break. She looked up at the night sky. By now it was normally pitch black, completely starless. Tonight it had an eerie violet colour instead. The clouds formed strange shapes. They were not round and fluffy like usual. Their contours assumed strange appearances that seemed threatening and beautiful at the same time.
Whenever the wind swept through the little alley in which 'The Gates of Hell' lay, it sounded as if it was filled with screams that were savage and inhuman. Involuntarily she shivered. Maybe it wasn't just imagination. Since yesterday she saw the world with very different eyes, suddenly noticed the oddity that lurked behind the normal.
Her mood was changeful, always alternating with the minute. It varied between happy, angry, preoccupied, desperate, anxious…She couldn't even find a name for the emotions she was currently feeling. She was waiting. It didn't matter what happened around her. It didn't matter that one of her customers had called her a bitch. The insult didn't even reach her. Only when Fat Tony dragged the guy out by the collar she realized what had happened, but even then she felt nothing. There was just callousness. She didn't care for the world. All she cared about was one thing.
Her eyes were constantly clued to the entrance all night and that's why she now went back inside. She was afraid that if she stayed away too long she would miss him. So she hurried back. It was already 2 a.m. and the crowd was starting to thin out. Before she had started her shift, she had told Fat Tony there was something important she needed to talk about. He had noticed that there was something wrong with her the minute she walked in. Her usual confidence had made way to some kind of nervous tension. She was literally on edge all night. He was afraid if something happened, she might snap. Now that most of the customers had left, he could finally talk to her. He sat down opposite of her at the counter with a sigh.
"What's up with you, Jesse?" the small eyes that sat in his bulky face looked at her with paternal worry.
"Nothing," she lied somewhat ineptly.
"I've known you since you were 16, so cut the crap, missy," Tony told her sternly.
"I'm sorry, but I can't talk about it know. Just give me some time," Jesse tried to reason with him.
"Okay," he made a dismissive gesture with his huge callous hands.
A long pause followed, filled out by the background noise of the bar: the loud chatter of their last remaining customers, a group of five guys – probably bikers, the buzz of heavy metal music. "Tony,…you are one of my oldest friends…so this is especially hard…," Jesse started hesitantly.
"I want to quit."
"Of course, if you need me the next couple of weeks, I'll work my shifts," she hurried to add.
Tony's reaction to this news was completely different from what she expected. She had thought he would get mad and yell, instead he just smiled, "I knew that day would come…"
"You're not angry?" Jesse asked in astonishment."No, it's a pity I have to let you go, but it's for you're best. I always knew you could do better than this Jesse."
"Thank you," she hugged him, but still didn't leave the door out of sight.
The rest of the night passed pretty much uneventful. At 3 a.m., just as usual, Fat Tony left together with their last customers, she convinced him that she had to stay just a little bit longer to clean up the tables. He looked at her suspiciously, but then nodded and left. He figured she had her reasons. So there she was now, completely alone.
Jesse sat down in the bolstered cube that faced the entrance and waited. As the time progressed her spirits sank. She started to doubt whether he would still come for her and as the hours passed that doubt became a certainty. Her gaze alternated between the clock that hung above the bar and the door. When it was precisely 5: 30 she stood up to walk over to the juke box. Her steps were quick and determined, but right in front of the merrily blinking electronic machine she froze in tracks. She just stood there for a while motionlessly, her expression completely blank. After a couple of seconds she pulled herself out of her trance like state and produced a silver dollar, inserted it in the slot and chose a song.
She sat down at her place again to listen to the lyrics of the song:
Allison Crowe: Secrets (That Aren't My Own)
You know I hold these in
and I take them for myself
I am covered in guilt
but it's not my own
There isn't any reason
for me to feel like I am dying
I am done with being afraid
And I am done with lying
And I am not an angel
I'm more like Mona Lisa
there is something hiding in me
there's always something behind my smile
And I know that I'm not perfect
Maybe I am the court jester
I am the life of the party
but I know too much about the court
I have these secrets that aren't my own
I hold these secrets that aren't my own
So take this how you want to
I'm not here to judge you
I just want to be in love with you
I just want to forget myself
And I want to just be ignorant
please take this pain away from me
down to the river and out to the sea
And I am not an angel
I'm more like Mona Lisa
there is something hiding in me
there's always something behind my smile
And I know that I'm not perfect
Yeah, I am the court jester
I am the life of the party
but I know too much about the court
I have these secrets that aren't my own
I hold these secrets that aren't my own
It's too far to reach
but I'm too scared to let go
It's too close to ignore
but I feel so far away now
And I am crawling in the ceiling
I am scratching through the walls
I am trying to scream out now
But my own hand is on my throat
And I am not an angel
I'm more like Mona Lisa
there is something hiding in me
there's always something behind my smile
And I want to be like Venus
to just bare it all and face the world
but I am tangled up in these blankets
And I'm caught in between the lines I have these secrets
that aren't my own
I hold these secrets that aren't my own
Jesse lay her head on the table and listened to the last notes of the song resound in the empty bar. Outside the sun began to rise, while her hopes fell to pieces. Tears ran down her cheeks and dropped on the table. She felt cold inside, chilled to the bone. Her fingernails dug into the surface of the table, as she let out a frustrated scream. For a couple of minutes she indulged in those emotions until they finally subsided a little, though she knew they were still there and would probably soon resurface. She brushed the tears from her face, stood up and got her coat from behind the bar, then stepped outside into the light of the morning sun.
Jesse stood in front of the Jukebox motionlessly. Its bright colours reflected on her face, so it was bathed in warm red light. Suddenly the stillness was interrupted by a soft sound. It could have been the accusatory meow of a straw cat that roamed the alley, but also a human voice. The young woman cautiously made her way to the backdoor from where she had heard the strange noise come. As she stepped outside a chilly breeze swept over her body. She slightly shivered as she let her eyes roam over her surroundings. Then she heard the sound again. It was a moan. In the greyish twilight of the morning hours she could make out a huddled figure that lay on the ground right next to the dustbins. Her heart did a jump, when she stepped closer. She noticed that blood covered the ground around the body, a smeary red handprint in the middle of it caught her attention. Jesse ripped her eyes away from it to kneel down beside the curled up form. When her eyes fell on her face her suspicions were verified…it was him.
Her happiness to see him was somewhat overshadowed by the condition he was in. Oddly his face was intact, except for some minor cuts and a bloody lip. She couldn't say as much for his body. Gashes on his legs, on his arms. It looked like his abdomen had been pierced quite recently by a sword. His clothes were torn and stuck to his wounds. She flinched inwardly at the sight of his mauled body, but her face bore no traces of her inward recoil.
The first coherent thoughts Jesse formed where rather pragmatic ones. She had to get him inside ere the sun would rise. He let out a cry of pain, when she her arms reached underneath his armpits and she started dragging him towards the door. Luckily it were only a couple of meters. She grimly noticed the trail of blood his body left.
She had no idea at all how she had managed to drag him inside, but somehow they had made it. When the door closed behind them, she collapsed on the floor next to him. Her breath was coming rapidly, thanks to the exertion, but she didn't allow herself to lie there for long. Shortly after she was at her feet again and behind the counter to search for the mandatory first aid kid that was stored beneath it and some scissors. Now was no time to get sentimental. When she had taken care of him, she could allow herself the luxury of indulging in her feelings.
She knew that he was a vampire and probably a quick healer, but she didn't know for sure. Her knowledge was limited to what she had learned from their conversation yesterday. She positioned the scissor on the hem of his black shirt and briefly hesitated. There was a fleeting moment of inhibition, because she was about to transgress a boundary, but than those thoughts dissolved quickly. She cut the shirt from his body and he moaned in pain when she removed pieces of black fabrics from his wounds. She just prayed he wasn't conscious and would not have to suffer all this pain in all its intensity.
Jesse opened the first aid kit and started patching him up. While she worked she lost all sense of time and she only came to herself, when she was done. To her horror she saw that the fresh bandages was already drenched in blood. For a moment her entire body threatened to congeal in shock as her eyes were glued to the by now completely dark red strip of linen. 'All this blood," she kept thinking over and over.
In this moment of deepest despair she had an epiphany. Jesse hurried to fetch a knife from the bar, then positioned herself next to his head. The cool steel of the blade rested on the middle of the forearm. She momentarily hesitated to make the cut, but then finally did it with grim determination on her face. The knife cut the surface of her skin and immediately the blood started flowing. With her intact arm she lifted his head so it rested on her knees and brought the open wound to his mouth. At first nothing happened, then she felt the pressure of his lips against her skin as he started sucking the blood from the cut. His hold on her got firmer and he drank with a certain greed.
"Let go," she screamed at him, when she noticed she was growing fainter, but he just held on.
"Let go!" this time her cry was more urgent. Desperately to pry her arm from him she hit him hard against the shin. Luckily it worked and she managed to wrestle her arm out of his grasp. She leant against the bar breathing heavily as she pressed a cloth against the wound to stop the bleeding. She felt strangely dizzy, yet euphoric.
Her eyes observed him curiously. At first nothing happened, but then he started stirring. She dragged herself over to him, feeling very much exhausted. When she looked down at his face his eyes finally fluttered opened. Initially his gaze was unfocused, but then settled on her.
"Hey," she managed to get out. The feeling of relief was so dominant that it didn't allow her to find any other words that were more adequate. But what were the rights words in a situation like that anyways? I'm glad you didn't die, because we wouldn't have been able to figure out this thing that is going on between us certainly didn't qualify…
"Hey," his voice was raspy and sounded very tried. The expression on his face was tense – he was still in a lot of pain, but he wasn't complaining. At least that meant he was still alive…alive and in one piece. He carefully tried to sit up and immediately a fresh wave of pain shot through his body. Apparently not such a brilliant idea.
"Are you fucking out of your mind?" Jesse exclaimed agitatedly. "Just a couple of minutes you were bleeding all over the floor and now you're trying to get up. No, way in hell!" she shot him a reproachful look.
"I won't try again, love. No worries," he told her with a tense voice. His limbs were still throbbing with pain. His bandaged limbs….He practically looked like a mummy, but it must have been necessary, judging by what he remembered.
"You've patched me up…," he stated matter-of-factly, then suddenly his gaze fell on bloodied piece of cloth she pressed to her forearm. His eyes widened in realization. What she had done went beyond mere first aid, she had fed him her own blood to ensure his survival. "Thank you," he finally said in an emotionally charged voice, his eyes still fixed on her injured arm.
"Don't mention it," her voice was almost a whisper, as if she was embarrassed to acknowledge the selflessness of her deed. "Will you need more?" she hurried to ask to quickly steer him away from this sensitive topic of conversation.
"Yes…," he nodded and winched, because even this slight movement was rather painful.
"Where do I get it? Blood bank?" she looked at him worriedly.
"No, at the Butcher's, love," despite the situation he had to smile a little, but then again it occurred to him what she was actually willing to go through for him and suddenly her question lost all humour.
Jesse was already at her feet and had gotten her jacket from behind the bar, then froze, when a new thought hit her "Can I leave you like that? Will you be alright?"
"What is it?"
"I'm glad I made it back," he admitted softly.
"Me, too," she smiled at him.