AN: Thanks readers, some of whom pushed me to finish this. I don't know why the words didn't flow, but they didn't for a bit. I tried to make up for it with SX updates. I want to call out carrollfamily02, bells just bells and noble korhedron for their gently pushy ways. :) There's probably more of you who made hints here and there, and I appreciate all of you.
Edward-bella-harry-ginny and thedu helped with words and suggestions, even though they are both in the midst of big stuff in real life. Thanks to you both, for so many things.
RECAP: A little history of Josh and Tanya: in TCW, Josh and Tanya spent six days together in Wolfeboro while the Cullens struggled with Randall, Sarah, and the Volturi. She was brought in to protect him, but quickly became enamored of the young human as he was of her. Unfortunately, a thousand years of bachelorette-hood wasn't easy to dismiss, and Tanya rejected him. Josh suffered one of his bouts of selective amnesia, choosing to forget everything related to vampires and werewolves. Tanya enrolled in his English 101 course as the Russian exchange student Sasha, and conducted a slow seduction of words and glances. Once the summer session ended, Josh was ready to make his move but was called down to Atlanta by his "uncle" Kimani Ellis to discuss serious issues about his stepmother Sylvia. Tanya has chosen to follow him, and he has caught sight of her while out shopping at the mall.
I could see Sasha was upset, and I hoped that it wasn't anything serious. "Sasha?" Her green eyes came up from the table and looked into mine. I always remembered she was beautiful, but every time I saw her, I was thunderstruck again. My memories could never do the reality justice. Her mouth fell open, and she dropped her phone.
"Josh?" Her face lit up in the loveliest smile I had ever seen.
The venom clamours of a jealous woman
Poisons more deadly than a mad dog's tooth.
A Comedy of Errors, Act V scene i. Shakespeare.
Chap. 8. Defend
Josh stood at the table holding a cup and a wax paper bag, his face lit up with what I guessed to be joy and relief. He does miss me. The thought warmed me. Even though I had followed him discreetly for the last two hours, I had to check each of his features from chin to eyebrows, remembering them and the way expressions would cross his face. "What are you doing here?" I asked disingenuously.
"I'm here visiting family, uh, family friends," he answered, the smile lingering on his face. "May I join you, Miss Doletskaya?"
"Of course, Mr. Clemson. Please have a chair." He chose to sit next to me rather than across, and this too raised my confidence.
"I was about to eat a cookie to raise my spirits about clothes shopping. Would you care to share?" he asked, opening the waxed paper bag. The brown, dry food item was less repulsive than, say, cheese, but it was still highly unpleasant.
"No, thank you. I don't find such things tempting," I answered, placing one hand lightly on his forearm, about two inches above the wrist. I kept my eyes strictly on his as I touched him. An odd, muted shiver ran through his entire body which was echoed by one in my own. It had been too long since I'd touched him; it was something I hadn't allowed myself while I was his student. I had noticed from the first few days of classes that he avoided touching me at all costs, and I had done my best to observe his boundaries. Now that we were freed of that relationship, all bets were off. I wanted to tell myself that touching him and using provocative words were all part of my game, but I knew that it wasn't true. I was drawn to him by something beyond myself, and I was only barely in control of my actions.
"Can I get you something else?" asked Josh. I could tell he was affected as well; his heart rate and respiration had risen slightly and his pupils had dilated.
"No, I don't need anything," I answered, as I broke off a corner of his cookie. I raised it to his lips, and his mouth opened to eat it, his gaze still locked with my own. I could feel the softness of his lower lip with the tip of my finger, and then the soft caress of his tongue as it darted out to catch a crumb. Was I seducing him, or was he seducing me? His expression changed to one of almost possessive hunger, and I felt sure that I could see the vampire he could one day become. My own breath hitched.
"Sister, this is hardly appropriate, even for you. Remember the cover story; I'm approaching your table now." Kate's voice at vampire pitch interrupted the moment, and I didn't think I'd ever disliked Kate as much as I did in that moment. I resisted the instinctive need to defend, to protect…not my kill, not my prey, my mate? I pulled back from Josh with a combination of reluctance and panic.
"Sasha." Josh's voice was pitched lower than usual, in volume only a murmur. It wasn't a question. I needed to know what he was going to tell me; his eyes were trying to convey a message. We were both leaning forward, closer, closer….
"Hello, I'm Katrina, Sasha's older sister, and who are you?" announced Kate loudly with a hint less of an accent than I was using. I glanced at her in disgust, noting she had put in the contacts. She was in jeans with a flirty but classy top. We had decided she was an engineering student at Georgia Tech, and we had secured a small apartment not far from the campus. The traffic was very unpleasant, we had discovered.
I turned back to Josh, who was clearly surprised and I thought disappointed, but his face became open and welcoming as he stood. "I'm Joshua Clemson. I know Sasha from school. Very pleased to meet you, Katrina." He extended a hand, which Kate shook lightly as I panicked that she would shock him, however lightly. I suppressed the growl which was brewing in my chest. I was not at all used to feeling protective about my men. Kate and I had shared on more than one occasion. This would not be one of them.
"So you are from Boston?" Kate asked, sitting across from me (and therefore next to Josh). She was grinning widely, recognizing my body language, I was sure.
"Yes, well, I'm from here. I go to school in Boston. Why are you all here in Atlanta?" I noticed Josh had slurred his "you all" into a more southern sound. I hadn't heard him talk that way before. In fact, he was speaking more slowly and slightly lower in pitch than I was used to. Interesting.
"I am in school in electrical engineering at Georgia Tech, and Sasha has come to visit for our holiday," Kate answered.
"Perhaps I can help you around the city," Josh offered. His eyes slid to mine, an encouraging look on his face.
"Oh, we couldn't take your time," Kate responded quickly. What? The whole point was to spend time with him?
"I can make a deal with you," he cajoled. "If you help me select some new clothes here, I can pay you back by taking you to see some of the nicer attractions in the city. I hate shopping. I need help." Josh's eyes broke from Kate. I realized he'd barely looked anywhere but at my face. He took this moment to rake his eyes down my body, examining my outfit. "You look like you know what you're doing with clothes." It had pained me to dress down all summer, but I was supposed to be a poor college exchange student. Still, I had standards.
"Should I join you two, sister?" asked Kate at vampire speed. I was certain she was joking. Fairly certain.
"Stay and plan to be armless for the rest of this century," I hissed back while maintaining my smile at Josh. I felt sorry for Garrett, but he would cope with an armless mate.
"Like you could take me," Kate shot back. She then smiled apologetically at us both, and spoke normally. "I have to be in the laboratory for the afternoon, but I can return to get Sasha at seven this evening. Where can I meet you then?"
"I can take her home, it's really no trouble," Josh answered. "Here's my number." He handed his phone to Kate, presumably to assure her that he wasn't a homicidal maniac. Kate entered his number in her phone and wisely took her leave of us.
"Where were we?" asked Josh with a smile.
"Before we were so rudely interrupted?" I added.
"I didn't find your sister rude, but I'm afraid I prefer your company. If you don't want to shop with me, that would be fine. I do need clothes, but it was really an excuse to spend more time with you," he told me sincerely. "We can do anything you like."
"I would be pleased to help you find new clothes," I told him. I took him to the best of the anchors in the mall, and immediately chose four pairs of shorts, two pairs of pants, and a variety of summer-weight shirts. He was pleasantly surprised by my choices, and modeled for me. He was clowning a little, doing runway walks for me and twirling in each outfit. He had me giggling. Me! Unfortunately, the sales associate was also watching him with ill-contained interest. Josh ended up buying everything I'd selected and approved, much to my surprise.
"How do you pay for all this as a teaching assistant?" I asked.
"I have some money my parents left for me," he answered, somewhat curtly. He swallowed and turned to me. "I didn't mean to snap. I haven't told you much about myself, about the things I've gone through in the past two years. I will tell you soon, but not today, okay? I've waited too long to spend time with you like this." Josh stroked my shoulder with one hand. "I don't want anything to ruin our day together."
I was mesmerized by the sincerity Josh radiated when he spoke to me. Had it always been this way? Or did he actually like Sasha more than he liked Tanya?
"I can wait to hear about it," I told him. "It means we will see each other again, true?"
"Oh, very true," he agreed. "Now, I think I will need one more formal outfit. I can no longer wear the blazers in my closet. Most of them are from high school, and I'm a little bulkier." He pushed out his chest and postured for me, earning another giggle.
We wandered into the men's suits area, and Josh started to pull different colors off the rack – grey, blue, pinstripe, and black. I squinted at him, trying to imagine the best choice of color for him. In the end, we selected a very dark grey suit with a vest. The sales associate checked the fit, took a few measurements, and arranged for Josh to pick up the altered suit in three days.
"I can't shop for another minute," Josh told me. "I think the fluorescent lights are starting to hypnotize me." He stuck his hands out in front of him like a zombie and crossed his eyes. "No. More. Mall. No. More. Mall."
"We don't have to stay," I told him, lightly tapping his shoulder. I didn't want to knock him over by smacking him. "Where would we go, or do you want to take me home now?"
"Oh, no, I'm not taking you home. You're my hostage for the afternoon." His grin was blazingly brilliant, crinkling his eyes, making these adorable creases in his cheeks. He looked young and happy and in love. I knew the look because I had seen it on Josh's face before, but this time it wasn't for me, not really. I had to hope he would remember me one day, and that whatever he felt for Sasha would transfer back to me. He hooked his free arm in mine (he was carrying a fairly large bag of purchases) and led me toward an exit. At some point, we crossed Kate's path. She must have parked near Josh after dropping me off earlier. We were nearly at the glass bank of doors when I detected a second scent trail crossing Kate's and then following her trail out of the building. The scent was no one I had ever met before.
"Let me call my sister and let her know we're leaving the mall," I said, stopping Josh. I turned as I reached into my purse, trying to surreptitiously survey everyone around us. The scent trail seemed old, and it appeared to follow Kate. Pick up! Please pick up.
"Sasha?" Kate had answered.
"Katrina. Another vampire followed you out of the mall. I'm leaving the mall now with Josh," I told her, slipping high speed phrases in between the conversation Josh could hear. I was torn between my need to protect my family and the need to protect Josh.
"Only one vampire? I'm with Garrett, and Carmen and Eleazar will be here in just a moment. What are you going to do with your boy?" What indeed? How do I protect him alone? And if I took Carmen and Eleazar away from Garrett and Kate, would they be able to adequately protect themselves?
I put the phone to my chest. "Where are we going next?" I asked Josh.
"Hmm? Oh, I thought maybe the aquarium downtown? It was always one of my favorite places to visit." He looked adorably bashful. I could work with the aquarium.
"Josh says the aquarium," I told Kate. "Call Alice, and have Carmen and Eleazar go straight to the aquarium. I don't want anyone following them." If Alice saw something dire, I could send Josh home alone and we could regroup. Would Josh be safer away from us or with us?
"Will do. I'll call you later. Enjoy your outing." Kate hung up. Suddenly I felt exposed. My family was spread all over the city, and Josh was inadequately protected. I wanted Kate and Garrett near Josh; they were the best fighters of us, but if Kate had been followed, it wasn't safe for her to circle back to us. Of course, if Demetri and a hybrid were involved, it didn't matter where any of us were.
"Are you ready?" asked Josh.
"Yes." I smiled. I tried to keep a positive attitude while staying hyper-vigilant of our surroundings.
The aquarium was lovely, although it was difficult to concentrate on the exhibits while keeping watch in every direction. There were so many people swirling about us. We had only been in the aquarium a short time when I caught a glimpse of Eleazar. I was relieved that there were now three of us to watch Josh, but it was imperative that we all watch. I did my best to maintain conversation with Josh as we wandered the exhibit halls, but I was concerned that he noticed my distraction.
I could tell Josh had an agenda as we wandered. He ignored some tanks and gave others only a cursory examination. Other displays demanded long perusal; a stream of visitors parted around his still figure and rejoined on the other side like water flowing around a rock in a stream. After these long pauses, he would explain something he found fascinating about the fish or other creature – there was a Japanese crab he liked for its alienness and an African cichlid he liked for its humanness. I ascertained we had reached one of his major destinations when he pulled me onto a bench near the whale tank.
"This was one of my favorites when I was a kid." Josh, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees, chin in hands, watched raptly as the beluga whales circled their enclosure. I was relieved that the large mammals seemed unthreatened or unaware of my presence. Eleazar nodded to me from a strategic position to let me know he had an eye on the situation, and I relaxed, marginally. "I had planned to spend the morning shopping and my afternoon here, but as you saw, the shopping nearly did me in." Josh sat up and put one hand on my shoulder, giving me a contented smile. "You've made this day for me." I was speechless for a moment.
"Thank you for inviting me," was the best I could muster.
Finally, we entered the huge ocean exhibit. The sheer feat of engineering was amazing. We sat in the back row of the darkened amphitheatre to admire the display window and the undulating movements of the aquatic life, and Josh leaned in to talk to me. Our faces were very close, and his scent, tones of pine and male animal, was filling me. I wasn't tempted to feed, exactly, but I wanted to indulge in the flavors. I knew from experience that the perspiration on the skin of his neck was decadent. Of course, I could see everything in the lowered light, but I wondered how much Josh could see.
"Are you enjoying the afternoon?" he asked, some anxiety coloring his tone. He had noticed my distraction, and now he thought I was bored with his company. He gently took one of my hands in his. His warmth travelled all the way up my arm, but simultaneously caused a shiver to run down my back.
"There's nowhere I would have preferred to be than with you," I answered, completely truthfully. A beatific smile spread across his face.
"That's true for me as well. I had a hard time this summer staying away from you. I think I fell for you on the first day of class. The moment I saw you, I don't know what it was. It was like I'd been waiting for you." His words cut straight to my heart. Even though he didn't remember me, part of him recognized me, and I wanted to cry and rejoice and hug him all at the same time. My eyes started to sting with the unshed venom tears, and then I felt it happen. The contacts disintegrated at a moment when Josh was staring straight into my eyes.
"What's happening? Sasha, your eyes," Josh said, a crease appearing between his eyes. Abruptly, his face contorted with pain as he clutched his temples. "Aah!" He grunted in pain, squeezing his eyes shut, and when they opened once again, his face was filled with surprise and recognition. "Tanya?" My name was infused with emotion, a mixture of hope and relief and love, and a corresponding hope welled up in me. If he could say my name with that tone of voice, I felt confident we could be fixed. He still cared and could forgive. But before I could respond, he groaned again, and his body went slack against me.
Carmen was at my side in a matter of moments. "What happened?" she asked.
"My contacts dissolved, and he remembered. He remembers me." I cradled his unconscious form.
"Tanya, this isn't right. Remember, Edward and Carlisle thought it was potentially dangerous for him to be forced to remember. Put in your contacts, quickly. I'll hold him," she said quietly. In the low light, we hadn't yet been noticed by the other visitors.
"But, what if this helps him?" I hissed. "He has to remember eventually." He had to.
"It doesn't look like it's helping anything," responded Carmen. "You can always take them out later when we're not in public like this. You should have Jasper or Edward or Carlisle nearby if you're going to try this." I realized she was being reasonable, even if I felt like I was simultaneously deceiving Josh and ripping my own heart out. I slipped in a new pair quickly.
"I think he's coming around," Carmen said softly. She slipped away into the darkness.
"Mmm," Josh murmured. His head was resting on my shoulder, and he slowly stirred and sat up. "What happened?" A surge of disappointment filled me, and I struggled to maintain control of myself.
"I don't know. You passed out, I think, but just for a moment." He looked a little dazed in the soft blue light from the display window.
"I think I need to eat," he said apologetically. "My head hurts a little. I'm sorry, Sasha." I heard Carmen murmuring a faint apology from behind me. The one brief flash of hope that Josh and I were back to how we'd been was now gone. The excitement I had felt when he called my name made me realize that this substitute relationship where he didn't recognize me, didn't remember me, was not enough. I wanted him to know me.
"We can go to the food court," I told him. I would be Sasha for him, for now. It was the only way to keep him safe. We both stood, and I noticed Josh swayed a bit at first, but recovered quickly. As we wandered out of the exhibit, my phone buzzed. Glancing at the screen, I discovered a welcome text from Alice.
Safe for now.
I saw Eleazar in the lobby area as we left the exhibit for the food area. "Should we join Kate and Garrett, then?" he asked, presumably having received the same text. I gave him a nod. There had been no sign of a vampire near us since that trace of scent at the mall, and now that I knew Alice was watching, I felt better about the situation.
Josh and I wandered slowly through the food court as he looked over the choices. He was quieter than he had been at the mall, but seemed steady on his feet now. He settled for soup and I chose a salad. Many years of dating and seducing human men had taught me that lettuce was relatively benign. You could imagine that you'd accidentally gotten a mouthful of grass or hay, which had happened to me on an occasion or two. That thought led to others which were much naughtier; I had some very nice memories of a hot tub in Wolfeboro. I wondered if Josh and I would ever return to that level of intimacy. I watched him carefully as we went through the slow-moving checkout line. Other than being more subdued, he seemed to be fully recovered. His heartbeat was as strong as ever, and I let its rhythm comfort me.
We found a table in the middle of the dining area. Although we were surrounded by masses of people, the buzzing of random conversations masked our discussion. We were effectively alone.
"Are you feeling better?" I asked as I picked at a limp green leaf. Josh swallowed a mouthful of his soup before he responded.
"The only thing really hurt is my pride. I don't usually black out when I'm on a date." The rueful smile he gave me made butterflies buffet my useless stomach. I had never met anyone so sincerely vulnerable and open and yet fully confident in himself. With less surety, his openness would have seemed like earnestness or desperation. Instead, he had consistently taken the lead in our relationship, except when I had ruthlessly turned him away. He had chosen to share his feelings with me at every point where he felt free to do so. Perhaps that was what had frightened me the most; his candor was nothing like the games of seduction I had played with less secure men. There was no machismo cloak concealing who he was, no mask of indifference. Josh had decided that he wanted to be with me, and he had put everything on the line. I wondered if that willingness to expose his feelings was why he made himself forget the pain or if forgetting the pain allowed him to continue to be open. I was reminded that his current bout of amnesia was completely my fault.
"Do you want to take me home after we leave from here?"
"No." Josh's blue gaze was steady and intense. He reached across the table and put his hand over mine. "Leaving you is the last thing I want to do right now. What I want is to get changed and take you out for the evening, but to do that, I need to take you where I'm staying. You would have to meet my aunt and uncle, and you might find that overwhelming."
"Do you want me to meet them?"
"Then I would be very pleased to meet your aunt and uncle." I couldn't help the smile I gave him. I felt like the nineteen-year-old I was pretending to be. "Do you want me to change clothing as well?" I had no idea what Josh had in mind for a date. I also had no desire to go "home" since that would potentially expose him to the strange vampires. I needed to know more before I could rejoin my family.
"You look delectable as you are," he answered. "Are you ready to go?" When I nodded, he stood and took my hand to lead me. As we stepped out into the moist heat, I noted with relief that thunderstorms were rolling in. The sky was almost black towards the southwest. Josh sighed.
"Is there a problem?"
"Not exactly. We'll probably be stuck in traffic during the coming downpour."
"Perhaps it will cool the air?" I noticed that my cool skin combined with the humid air was causing a condensation issue. My clothes were going to get wet.
"Ah, no. Rain in August just raises the humidity." He gave me a wide grin that made his eyes crinkle and that crease appear in his cheeks. He was absolutely stunning when he smiled. I found myself responding with a smile, and he reached for my hand as we walked. And then it hit me. I was heading to my first "meet the parents" of my very long existence.
My brain began to go wild with thoughts. One stream of thought relived the early part of my relationship with Josh, particularly the parts where I had rejected him. I rehashed my own feelings from that time, trying to understand my own mind and emotions. Josh represented a change that was much more than moving from a single lifestyle to a mated lifestyle. He was human; he was young; he was a product of a time so different from my own that occasionally I suffered vertigo when I thought about it. To take him from what he knew and pull him into my life – it felt like stealing or destruction. To include him in my life – it felt like change and weakness. The beautiful six days we had spent together were enough for Josh to choose me above all else in his life, but it was too much for me too fast.
Another stream of thought dwelled on the emptiness when he and I were separated in April and May. I had fought the pull to be with him in any way I could, finally succumbing to the subterfuge of Sasha. I remembered the relief when I touched him on the first day of class, and the joy when I saw how it affected him. I couldn't admit it then, but I was his as much as he was mine. Neither of us could let go, despite his inability to consciously remember our time together. To be away from him now would be agony.
A third stream wondered what it was about Josh in particular. True, he was handsome and well-educated, but no more so than many others I had seduced and left without a backward glance. There was something about his solicitous manners, his almost courtly behavior. The way the world had changed into one in which incivility and even vulgarity were the norms had been difficult for me and, honestly, for most in my coven and among the Cullens. Emmett was fine with it, but he was youngest save for Bella. Not to mention the old saying "raised in a barn" probably applied to him. Josh had the manners of another time, but although that contributed to his draw for me, it wasn't the entire story. I think it was his commitment. Maybe that was the wrong word? His singularity of purpose? Even men I had seduced, ones literally hypnotized by my vampiric nature, were distractible by selfish need and the minutiae of their lives. When Josh spoke to me, when he had been with me (before, in Wolfeboro), it was as if in that moment nothing else existed for him. When we were together, I was his only concern. It was intoxicating.
No man before had triggered my urge to defend a mate. (I'd defended a few as prey, but that had felt different.) It was worrisome; if Kate's humorous teasing could cause such a reaction, I didn't know if I could retain reason if a more serious threat arose.
I also worried about the unknown vampire who had followed Kate's scent. Atlanta should have been free of danger; since the purge in the late nineties by the Volturi, it was said that no one wanted to retake the city. Clearly, whoever was saying Atlanta was a vampire ghost town had gotten something wrong. My coven was fully capable of taking on the odd nomad or group of nomads, but some of the southern cities had, if not armies, then certainly militia. This concern went around and around in my head, weaving through my memories of and worries about Josh. The Cullens would support us, I had no doubt. I hoped Garrett wouldn't try anything foolish before we could discuss our options. I hoped Alice was talking in more detail with Kate. "Safe for now"? I know explicit discussion via texting was unwise, but she could have at least given me a bit more information for my own peace of mind.
A small part of my mind was cognizant of my surroundings. We had been in very slow-moving interstate traffic hearing nothing but car horns, swishing wipers, rumbles of thunder, and pounding raindrops for nearly twenty minutes when Josh broke the awkward silence. "If this is making you too uncomfortable, you'll have to let me know. With your words. I've read your essays and I know you can be eloquent when you choose. Otherwise, I'm going to take your previous agreement to meet my aunt and uncle at face value." Again with the honesty – he was sincere and disarming.
"What if they don't like me?" I asked. Why did I care? I could imagine Kate snickering at me. Wench. It's not like Garrett had family for her to meet. The truth was that I did care. I wanted to meet people who understood Josh and his life. I wanted to hear what they said about him. I wanted to see him interacting with people he cared about – he was isolated in New Hampshire and in Boston. I wanted him to share me with people he cared about.
"I can't guarantee someone else's opinions, but I think my Aunt Adrienne may die from happiness if I bring you home. She's getting worried that I'll never settle down." His mouth curved into a small smile. I wondered what he was thinking. "They're not really my aunt and uncle, but I grew up calling them that. Uncle Kimani is not really judgmental. I don't know how to explain it, but he has a gift of being able to find common ground with anyone. Some of that is the politician in him, but maybe he makes a good politician because he assesses people and approaches them where they are." Josh scratched his head. "This will make more sense if you meet them."
The house we pulled up to after nearly an hour of driving through traffic was neither modest nor mansion; it was an elegant two-story affair in a comfortable suburban neighborhood.
"Are you all right?" asked Josh, concern on his face.
"I have some nerves," I admitted.
"I promise; they will love you. Come on." Josh urged me out of the car, and I followed. He gave me his beautiful smile, as he opened the front door. I hesitated for a moment on the doorstep – maybe a similar situation had given rise to the myth about vampires needing permission to enter a home?
"Josh? Are you home?"
"Yes, Adrienne. And I've brought a guest with me." I'd heard the phrase "bursting with pride" before, but I'd never witnessed it. He was adorable. A petite woman with mocha skin and a smart skirt and top came out into the formal living area. If I hadn't known they weren't related, I would have thought the smile was genetic. "Aunt Adrienne, this is my friend Sasha Doletskaya. Sasha, this is Adrienne Ellis."
"Very nice to meet you, Mrs. Ellis," I said, doing my best to channel my inner human. Josh was oblivious to my predatory aura, but few humans were comfortable in close quarters with me unless I was seducing them.
"Oh, you're lovely. Where did you meet? I know you weren't in school with him here," she said, taking my arm and leading me out of the room. I looked over my shoulder in surprise at Josh, but he just shrugged with that grin on his face.
Twenty minutes later, I'd survived the first round of polite questions from Josh's aunt. She was friendly and gracious, but unabashedly interested in Josh's life and my part in it.
"I hope I haven't overstepped any bounds, Sasha, but Josh is very important to me. He hasn't had a girl here since I made him enroll in cotillion training in high school," she confided. Josh had stepped out of the room to make dinner reservations for us. "He escorted a young lady to her debutante ball, and I haven't seen him with another girl since."
"Cotillion?" I asked, although I had a good idea what it involved. I didn't think Sasha the exchange student would know. At the same time, I wondered who this young lady was and whether Josh had liked her. My hand curled into a fist under the table, and I had to struggle to relax my hand and subsequently my thoughts.
"Oh, yes. How does one describe cotillion? It's a tradition where the young men and ladies learn to interact socially, and it culminates in a ball where they're introduced to society. Josh may not always demonstrate it, but he is capable of organizing and hosting society events. He can dance, dress, dine, and make small talk with the best," Adrienne confided fondly. I supposed that explained part of Josh's personality.
"Adrienne, please. I've put that part of my life firmly behind me." Josh was clearly embarrassed. He had changed clothes to khaki pants and a light-blue button down shirt.
"I would hate to think that manners were something you would choose to shed," Adrienne responded, but her tone was light. "I don't think he likes to admit he can dance," she added to me conspiratorially, although Josh could obviously overhear her.
I heard a car pull into the garage, although I didn't think Josh or Adrienne had noticed. Suddenly, there was an enormous racket at the door adjacent to where we sat in the kitchen. The door burst open, and a short, robust man called out "Heeere's Johnny!" as he leered evilly into the kitchen. When he caught sight of me, he choked a bit.
"Kimani! We have a guest!" Adrienne scolded, but Josh couldn't hold back his laughter.
"Your face…when you…and then Adrienne…" he stuttered incoherently between guffaws.
Josh's uncle entered the room, and charmingly took my hand. "I apologize, miss. I'm Kimani Ellis, uncle to the young hyena in the corner."
"Sasha Doletskaya. Pleased to make your acquaintance," I answered, shaking his hand.
"A friend of Josh's? I think I have a few stories to tell you," he began.
"Actually, we're going to miss our reservation if we don't leave right away," Josh interrupted, his laughing fit hastily concluded. "I'm sure you can save all the embarrassing stories for another time."
"And the pictures!" Adrienne cried with dismay. "We have a lot of photos!"
"Good night, everyone," Josh sang out, dragging me by my elbow.
"Your aunt and uncle are very nice," I told Josh as I pushed yet another lettuce leaf around my plate. "I can tell they care for you very much."
"They've been really supportive since my dad died. Before then, too." Josh paused, and a flicker of pain passed over his face. "I didn't want to tell you this now, but I had a lot of trouble after. My stepmother didn't like me very much."
I wanted more than anything to hear Josh's story straight from him; of course, Edward and Jasper had filled in the factual details for me long ago. Unfortunately, a tickle in my eye let me know I needed to get to the restroom to change contacts before I caused another meltdown for Josh. I must have looked distressed, because Josh responded immediately.
"Is everything all right?"
"I need to get to the restroom; I think something is in my eye." I covered the ticklish eye, and headed away quickly, noting that Josh stood when I did. The restroom was smelly, but thankfully empty. I quickly put in a new set of contacts. I wondered if Emmett would consider designing a less fragile substance for vampires needing ocular disguise. I was taking one last look in the mirror when I heard Josh's voice.
"No, I'm not alone. We can talk some other time." His tone was cold and harsh, more so than I'd ever heard him. I hurried out of the restroom and toward our table. As I approached, I saw he had been joined by a blonde woman; she had taken my chair and had her back to me. Josh's face was uncompromisingly hard; a vein pulsed angrily in his forehead. An emotion I'd only recently become acquainted with surged inside me; I wanted to eviscerate this female who was hovering around Josh. Mine. Venom surged in my mouth, my eyes narrowed, and I barely resisted the urge to knock her out of the chair. Josh's eyes flicked up to me, and his face softened; I tried to modulate my own expression to match his. The woman turned swiftly in the chair, and I came face to face with a woman in perhaps her mid thirties, golden blonde, and fit. Her mouth was twisted with what I guessed was a bitter flavor, but then her hazel eyes opened wider and she smiled.
"Well, you must be the young lady my Joshua has been telling me about. I'm his step-mother, Sylvia Clemson." Her grin got bigger, and I could almost see wheels turning. She wanted him, or something from him, and she thought I was in her way.
I had lived a thousand years. I could recite poetry in eight languages – I had written love poetry which still stood unattributed but was reread in small volumes in scholarly settings. I had been a mistress to a king (well, for a short time). I knew I was beautiful, elegant, and sophisticated.
All I could think was bring it on little girl.
AN2: The quote says that the jealous woman is more dangerous than the mad dog. And trust me, in this context, Sylvia is definitely the dog.
The Death of Joham, my one-shot featuring Demetri, is up for "Best Volturi" at the Single Shot Awards, singleshotawards dot blogspot dot com. Voting is open until Aug. 30. I noticed EliseShaw also has a oneshot in two categories. I encourage everyone to go to the awards site and at least find some fun shorts to read. You *could* also vote for my story. :)