To anyone who cares:
I am leaving this world behind.
There is too much pain, too much want. I am too alone and I cannot wait any longer for someone else to take the action that will save me. Our desire to be loved for who and what we are may never be answered, unless I am willing. I know that now.
To those who knew me, I apologize. You may learn to hate me. We are what we are. It may seem I've taken the coward's way out. That is fitting, I suppose. I have been a coward in life, made fearful by the depth of emotion I feel and the lack of respite we feel. You did your best. It's not your fault that your love could not save us. This was the only way, the only purge, the only way I could say, 'Jasper, let go.'
I post this as I take this life.
"Alice, come here!" My voice held my disbelief and tumult. I had written no such letter.
"Jasper, what is it –," she broke off suddenly. I knew that look.
She came back to the here and now. "You have to go. It's too late for him, but you have to go." Alice looked at me with a wellspring of inner confidence conflicted with doubt. "I don't know who or why, Jasper. I can see it in my vision, though, you go and you'll meet someone…"
Sea-Tac seemed enormous compared to John Wayne Airport. I brought no luggage or carry-on, so I was first off the crowded plane – one of the better advantages of first class. I was relieved to move away from the woman who'd sat next to me, jabbering on her daughter, her tardiness and her inability to find a man. I was unsure how many times I'd flashed my wedding ring.
I headed to the taxi stand and climbed in the first cab. The woman driving the cab looked up, emitting excitement and fear as she looked at me in the rear-view mirror. She half-smiled and finally managed to mumble, "Um, where to?"
I realized at this moment that other than going to Orange, I was fairly uncertain about my destination. "Orange?" I said, hoping against hope she'd fill in the blanks somehow.
"Uh, ok. Like, downtown Orange? The Circle?" She pulled the lever on the meter as she spoke, pulling out into traffic.
"Yes, ma'am. That would be perfect." I sat back in the cab and looked out the window.
I could never have made this trip if it weren't for Alice. Once I agreed to the trip, the details of the arrival became clear: a rare spattering of rain would soak the sun-baked town, unusual for this time of year. Alice foresaw my flight and arrival, but past that, the possibilities flew through her head.
"Once you get there, you'll know what to do, I'm sure of it," she said, kissing me at the airport. "I just can't see until you make up your mind."
"The circle, as requested," the cab driver said as she pulled the car to a stop. "That'll be –"
I cut her off with a bill and said, "Keep the change." I opened the door, and felt as if I'd stepped back in time.
I stood on the northeast corner, checking out the narrow streets. Shops harkening back to the fifties lined the streets; most sold antiques or food, although there was an old-time, honest to God soda fountain across from where I stood. The streets were narrow, and in the center of the intersection was a plaza and fountain, speckled with citizens huddled under umbrellas.
I realized I would attract attention, standing in the rain. I turned up the collar of my coat, put my head down and walked down the street.
About halfway down, a little shop caught my eye called the Heavenly Hostess. Knick-knacks, soaps and fancy aprons festooned the store window in an altogether cheery fashion. I stood under the awning, pretending to look inside as I tried to get my bearings and make some decisions.
I felt a pulling, tearing despair roll out of the shop. The pain of it was so keen, I wondered if it pulled me here from where I'd gotten out of the cab, subconsciously projecting out for anyone or anything who could recognize it. I looked in the shop, and saw the cashier standing stiff-backed and scowling at the register. The woman at the counter was having a bad day; she was the source of the pull. I moved inside.
"I just don't know where I could have put it," she said, tears rolling down her cheeks. Her nose was runny, and the crying wasn't helping. She was disheveled, unkempt and completely raw with emotion. "If he were here, he'd know where I put it. He always knew…" She began to sob more in earnest now.
The young woman behind the register was sending out waves of revulsion and dismissal to the woman. I couldn't understand it; how could someone desert so wretched a woman? She turned to me and asked, "Can I help… " She saw me then, really saw me. She gulped a bit and repeated, "Can I help you?" Lust. I knew this kind of person.
"No, ma'am, just looking around." I dismissed her attention by turning my back to her. The few moments she spoke to me were filled with waves of loss and sorrow emanating close to where she stood. She now turned back to the source of the waves. "Look," she started, then readjusted her tone. "Do you just want me to hold it until you can go home and get your card?" She was curt and snippy, trying to disguise her rudeness with kinder words.
"Uh, ok. Ok, then, um, I'll see you tomorrow, I guess…" The woman turned and I saw she had her hanky at her nose, trying to dam up the veil of tears. As she left the store, I felt her pulling the sorrow into herself as she moved away.
It felt right to go with her, even though the ache and agony she discharge was intense and uncomfortable.. I watched her move toward a bagel shop across the street; she smelled of coffee and saccharine. I decided I'd follow her in.
She went to a table and sat down. The people behind the counter accepted that she was there without welcome or joy. No one moved to help her; it was as if each person behind the counter had just remembered that important task that had to be done somewhere else.
I found myself staring at the woman, and unconsciously moving toward her. I stood at the edge of her table, looking down, acknowledging and recognizing her. She looked up.
"I'm sorry… Was this your table?" She was dangerously close to tears once again, and began to scoot the chair back to stand.
"No, ma'am, it's not my table, you're fine," I said, rebuffing her sadness. I tried to emanate a sense of understanding, of acceptance strong enough to overpower her misery.
She looked up at me, her tearstained eyes awash with mild apprehension and hope. "Would you sit with me?" she asked.
I forced a smile and pulled out the chair across from her. "It'd be my pleasure, ma'am."
"Oh, you're not from around here, are you son?"
"No ma'am. I'm from up North." I realized this must sound ridiculous, given my drawl. "By way of Texas." I smiled, still focusing on sending comfort to her.
"That's funny," she said, looking down. Her brow knit together in a cloud of self-consciousness; her embarrassment at being seen in her current state competed with her sadness. "My husband was from Texas." She lifted the handkerchief to her eye. Puzzlement, unsurety.
"Really? Whereabouts?" It didn't escape me that she'd used the past tense when referring to him. "Maybe I know his family."
"Oh, I don't think so. He only had one brother, and they were estranged." She sniffed, and went on, "I have some nieces and nephews, but they don't know me." Sadness, regret, loss.
"Now, that's a shame. Seems like you could use some kin right about now." I let my drawl deepen, oozing ease and peace of mind.
She took a deep breath, and, for the first time since I'd seen her, let her mask of sorrow drop. I felt her relax and was grateful for the release. "You're right. It would be good to have someone just now. I'm a bit of a mess, I'm afraid. I can't seem to pull myself together since my husband died."
"Ma'am, I'm so sorry for your loss." I tried to keep my face a mask of concern as I held our emotions in check, an ambivalent and difficult act.
She stared right into my eyes. "He killed himself. He killed himself while I was away." She searched my eyes, looking for some answer she'd never find. "I don't know why… My poor Jasper."
I took in a sharp breath and my eyes were wide. She gripped the side of the table and looked scared. "Whoa! I – whoa…" She tottered in her chair, swaying from side to side. "Maybe I ought to eat something." I knew she suffering from my shock and surprise. I needed to get a hold of myself.
"Let me get it, ma'am. It'd be my pleasure." I stood up before any discussion could ensue and walked to the counter. "A bagel with cream cheese and a large cup of coffee with saccharine," I barked to the kid behind the register. I tossed a bill on the counter, and held waited for my change. The kid looked confused for a moment when I didn't hold out my hand, then slapped the change on the counter. I picked it up, ignoring the tip cup as she shoved a plastic tent card with the emblazoned number thirteen. "You're number thirteen," she said.
I took the tent card and moved back to the table, determined to get to the bottom of this mystery while keeping my psyche in check. The woman looked up at me with care exuding. "You're nice. Thank you. I needed a kind word today."
I pulled the chair back out and sat down. I needed to know what this was all about, but I wasn't sure how to start the conversation and keep my curiosity from tinting her tale. I looked up at her and smiled.
"I know. I'm a crazy old woman." She smiled timidly. I could tell she was receiving what I emanated. I let curiosity seep into the warmth just an iota more. She picked it up beautifully. "This whole town must hate me by now. They all knew I'd gone to take care of my mother, but no one checked in on him. I don't blame them, really," she said, as another counter kid took the plastic tentcard and slid the bagel and coffee in front of her. "He was mine, and I should have taken care of him better."
Pain, regret, remorse, pain.
I redoubled the radiance of warmth and comfort and motioned to the food, indicating it was for her.
"Thank you," she said, astonishment clear in her voice and mood. "I don't know what to say."
"Please, you were telling me about your husband." Peacefulness, repose. Comfort.
"Yes," she took a sip of coffee. "I'm sorry, I'm sure you don't want to hear this." Embarrassment flooded the table.
"No, please, go on." I sent a wave of familiarity peppered with concern towards her. I held my breath, hoping this would give her what she needed.
"You're so kind. I've so wanted to talk to someone about this, but, well, they don't want to hear it. It's hard." She took another sip of coffee as I sent interest and encouragement into the air. "He always felt like he wasn't alone. He used to tell me he felt half of him was here with me, and the other half was wandering, trying to find a place to fit in, looking for release from some torture. He battled with himself, he said.
"I didn't know what to tell him. I told him I loved him and I hoped he felt that. He said he did, but then he'd get so dark. It was just scary." She shuddered, then inhaled deeply through her nose. "He said his rage and hunger were the color of blood." She winced at the recollection.
Trust, friendship, acceptance.
Breathing deep, she said, "The night I left to take care of my mother, he seemed in good spirits, in fact, better than I'd seen him in, well, ever," She looked optimistic. "He said he found a way to kill it, to be happy. I asked him if he was okay being alone, considering he was breaking through. He said, 'Yes, go. We'll be fine.' I left, feeling more hopeful than I'd felt in a long time.
"I'd been at mom's about a day and a half and I got a call. The police said they'd found a suicide note on the web, and came to the house. My mother's number was by the phone." She looked down and shook her head. "I don't know why he didn't call me. I don't know why he posted that thing on the web. I don't know why… " She swallowed a sob.
I could not believe my ears. Could this man, this faceless human with my name, could he have felt me? How? I stared into her face, looking for an answer, searching for a revelation to manifest itself to me.
"Ma'am," I started, and stopped. What could I ask her? Did he feel bloodlust? Was he fighting feeding on humans? Even if he'd felt that, how could I ask her without frightening her? I dropped my head and stared at my feet. What was going on?
"Are you okay? You look like you saw a ghost," she said, ducking her head to try to catch my eye. I looked into her eyes, caring and concerned. "Do you want something to eat?"
Shock. Bewildering amazement.
I was not hungry.
As I sat looking into her eyes, I realized that I did not feel hunger. I did not feel at risk, tempted to devour the first human who crossed my path. The bloodlust… was… gone.
"Son, are you okay? I know it's a lot to take in. I'm sorry to burden you with this. I just… Well, no one has really asked me about him. I don't know what to say; I feel like I've taken advantage of you. Can you forgive me?" She fumbled nervously with a chain around her neck, pulling and tugging it up out of her blouse the longer I sat unresponsive.
"What is that?" I asked. My tone surprised me, but I pressed on. "Is that a… button?"
"Oh this. My Jasper gave it to me a long time ago. He said it was a major's button they found in Galveston." The button was dull with age, brightness clouded by years of wear. "I never really believed that, but this always reminds me of him." She kissed it gently. "Want to see it?"
"No. No ma'am." I already knew what it was.
When Maria had attacked and changed me, she'd ripped my coat to access my neck. How could this tiny remnant of the past pull two strangers together, entwining their needs, their lives, their souls? I knew the truth in a twinkling, as assuredly as I'd realized the release of the bloodlust.
My phone in my pocket buzzed. "Will you excuse me a moment?" I asked, without waiting for an answer. Alice.
"You're free to come home when you want," she said, and I realized how free I truly was.