Here's my next entry in Owen and Abby's ongoing story. It's a continuation of "I Was Almost Too Late." Reading the first story isn't a prerequisite, but it does help.
I Was Wondering...Why Do You Like Me?
Owen looked at his watch and closed the workbook on the old desk. He had been working most of the afternoon at his correspondence courses, ever since he had awakened around 2pm. It was now well past 7pm. He stood up and stretched, his muscles stiff from the enforced inactivity. He found he now grew stiff after sitting a long time. His muscles had been growing and adapting amazingly well to the hard physical labour he now did on his grandfather's ranch. As well, he'd been making sure to exercise on his own whenever he could, remembering Mr. Zoric's lessons from Los Alamos.
Even after only three months, Owen looked much different from the pale, weak looking boy who had fled Los Alamos back in late March. A timely growth spurt combined with daily physical activity had added close to an inch of height as well as broadened his chest and shoulders while thickening his upper arms.
Unlike most people who worked the land though, much of Owen's work was done at night. His days were more or less evenly divided between sleeping and doing his correspondence courses for the schoolwork that he was not in class for. He didn't mind any of that at all. Truth be told, he enjoyed it. Of course, even if he didn't, there wasn't much of a choice…at least for the schoolwork part of it. Owen knew he could probably never attend any sort of regular school again. He really couldn't go anywhere that public where people could get a good look at him for a sustained amount of time. To put it bluntly, Owen was far too hot for that. He didn't truly miss it. He worked well on his own –he always had. He had good self-discipline and focus. He noted with bitter amusement how much easier it was for him to read something and absorb the lesson if he wasn't having spitballs lobbed at him, hearing whispered taunts or generally fearing for his life every second of the schoolday.
The other reason he was perhaps the only swing-shift ranch hand in North America was also the indirect reason he was both here and unable to attend a school or anyplace where his identity might be checked. His heart pounded a little as he looked at both his Timex watch and out the window, as if a check of the sun angle was needed to confirm his wristwatch was accurate. Yes, the sun was still quite high in the sky, as it was only the first week of July. The Summer Solstice was barely past and it was still next to impossible to discern that the days had begun to grow shorter again.
But, that was a matter of perspective. For most people, the days had begun to grow shorter. For Owen, his days –or at least the part of the day he cherished- had begun to grow longer. He felt his heart beat in anticipation as he sensed the coming of night. That was the time he lived for. That was the time he got to be with her. That was the time he could be with Abby.
Abby. He rolled the name over in his head and simply could not contain the smile that spread across his face. He recalled her giving him a last kiss as she slipped out of his bed early that morning as the darkness in the eastern sky had begun to pale. She slipped an oversize shirt over her small, nude frame and slipped out the window. He had looked out in time to see her open the door that led down some steps to an old, long disused root cellar. She looked up and saw him watching her from his bedroom window. She giggled and blew him a kiss before descending the steps and locking the door after her. The old root cellar had a deceptively heavy door with an obscenely strong lock that would seem more fitting for the federal prison at Leavenworth, Kansas or Marion, Illinois that an old ranch in the foothills of the Rockies in Montana. There were two keys to that lock. She had one. Owen had the other, and IT was kept in a small, but highly secure lockbox in his room. He was the only person who knew the combination. Outsiders might have laughed at the type of security the two had built for an old cellar where –prior to the last week of this past March- all that it was used for was keeping broken tools and disused Christmas decorations. However, outsiders couldn't have guessed just what was now peacefully sleeping in the darkness down there. More than likely, they were far happier not knowing. Yes, definitely happier…. Owen, however did know, but it was no lie to say that knowledge –or more importantly, the person attendant to that knowledge- had made him happier than anything in his entire lifespan of nearly thirteen years. (That landmark birthday was a little over a week away yet.)
Owen sighed. He had at least two more hours before he could feel safe in entering the root cellar. He could have entered without any risk at 12 noon, if he had wanted. But, he knew that Abby would feel a little worried if she knew that the door had been opened at that time –even though there about three doors between her and daylight- so, for her sake, he didn't descend until the gloaming. It was the absolute least he could do. Abby was…well…she was everything to Owen. She was his best friend. She was his girlfriend. She was the other half –he was now certain- of his soul. To put it more bluntly, she was the reason he was still alive –literally. He was as certain as he was of the coming darkness that he would be dead by now, if it wasn't for her. He would have drowned in the deep end of the swimming pool at his old middle-school in Los Alamos, New Mexico back in March. There was no question about it. He had been literally seconds away from drowning. He would have been dead. The four sociopathic bullies would have left him floating face down in the pool while they fled the scene. Mr. Zoric, his gym teacher who he did miss as he had tried to help Owen out, would have returned from investigating a dumpster fire (that his prospective murderers had set as a distraction) to find him floating face down in the water. They would have gotten away with it too, most likely. He had been a poor swimmer then –although he had since rectified that situation in the river and deep pond that ran through the property- and his death would have been listed as a tragic accident. Zoric would probably have been fired for negligence if not charged.
Instead, Zoric returned to the pool to find something from out of a horror movie –one of those films that had become insanely (and, in Owen's opinion, inexplicably) popular in the last five or six years or so- where the whole point of the film seemed to be to show what happened when madmen with hockey masks used power tools on living human beings. Owen still could not believe the carnage he'd witnessed once he'd pulled himself from the water and got a look around. The previous two weeks he'd had his eyes opened (alright, more like sprung open) through his burgeoning relationship with Abby. He'd learned the truth about her and her nature. He'd even seen her attack and drain an unfortunate Los Alamos detective who'd stumbled onto her daytime lair. (Owen still felt sorry for that man. He wished he could turn back the clock and stop him from trying to enter the bathroom of the dingy apartment. However, he'd accepted the simple truth that it was that man or Abby, and that was not a choice. At least not to Owen.)
But, this carnage was something beyond the imagination. By the remains of a shattered window had been a pair of corpses (Donny and Mark, Kenny's two henchmen who perhaps had been a little more reluctant to follow Kenny's atrocities. Of course, if they had been MORE reluctant and actually refused, they would still be alive and in summer school now) who had no heads. They had been smashed together so hard, their heads had simply been obliterated. Brain tissue, blood and skull pieces littered the deck. Jimmy –the ringleader who'd been holding him under water- was mostly slumped over where he'd been holding Owen beneath the surface. (Mostly, because while his body was still there, his head now lay on the bottom of the pool, twelve feet beneath the surface.) The head had been ripped off with fearsome violence. It had not been cut off, but had literally been pulled off the torso. The spinal cord was actually protruding from the body. Jimmy's head was pulled off with such force that the brain was literally pulled free of the spinal column. And finally, there was Kenny. Kenny, the sociopathic bully who had tormented Owen for months, was hard to recognize. He had simply been pulled apart. His head lay on one part of the deck –enough of his neck remained to let Owen know that Abby had fed off of Kenny before her coup-de-grace. ( Owen suspected it was the one positive contribution Kenny had made to any being in his entire short yet vicious life.) Kenny's lower body, which Owen could tell even above the odour of the chlorine had defecated himself before his death, lay a fair bit away from the head. The rest of his torso was simply scattered around the rest of the deck. His ribcage lay next to the backboard. His two arms had come to rest, individually, close to the reaching pole (morbidly ironic much, thought Owen). And his organs were literally scattered about the deck like an interrupted game of "Operation". The pool deck was red. The water was turning red. The walls were red. And Abby herself was dripping red with blood.
(Owen did wonder on occasion just what Mr. Zoric's reaction was to the scene he returned to. He did hope that Zoric was alright. He'd been about the only teacher, and sadly he was about the only person period -prior to Abby moving in next door- to take an interest in Owen's well being. Owen hoped that Zoric was not suffering either personally or professionally from what he found at that pool.)
Owen's jaw had dropped when he took in the sight of the deck that now looked like an abattoir. Abby, however, was like a vision from Heaven. A day and a half prior, he had watched her get into a taxi and drive away from his life. He had felt that he would never see her again. Yet now, she was here and had saved his life. In the space of a minute or two he had gone from fully expecting to die, to being reunited with the person he could honestly say he loved more than anything else in the world. (To say it was a mild shock to his system would be an understatement along the lines of saying that a few drops of blood had been spilled around the pool.) Owen knew that he was being given a second chance with Abby. It was a gift he simply could not pass up without regretting it and cursing himself every second for the rest of his life. Owen was no fool. He left with Abby without a second thought.
Of course, that accounted for his inability to go to school. So far as the authorities were concerned, he was either one of two things. He was either a kidnap victim of a homicidal madman (more probably a fifth murder victim after three months) or he was the prime suspect. There was no third option, and Owen knew he did not want to find out which theory was the one favoured by the local, state and federal authorities. Hence, his schooling was now being done by correspondence course. Luckily, Montana was a large state and quite spread out. As well, there were still some people who didn't completely like the idea of sending their children off to learn with strangers in a public system. So, correspondence courses and home schooling were not an unheard of thing. Thus, Owen's education was continuing…under a fake name, of course.
Owen caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror as he left the room. He had to take note of his developing upper body. He felt that if he'd encountered any of those bullies now, things would be different. If he'd been so badly outnumbered again, they likely still would have prevailed, although Owen was certain that he would have been able to make it into a real fight. He was now sure that he would be able to get in enough hard shots that they would know it and have some pain given back to them. And, if there was only one of them, Owen felt he could now win. His stomach grumbled. Time for some dinner he thought.
Towards eight o'clock, Owen was finishing his meal when his grandfather Oscar came into the kitchen. He was a strong looking man of average height in his early sixties. He had a head full of hair that was not yet grey, a pleasant face and icy blue eyes. His hands and fingers were amazingly strong after a lifetime of working this ranch. He smiled at his grandson and patted his shoulder as he walked to get a drink of juice from the fridge.
"Evening, Owen. Did all your lessons for the day?"
"Yup. All set to be sent in. Just need some stamps for the envelopes."
"Leave them on the table. I'm going into town tomorrow morning. I'll mail them then."
"Thanks. What do you want us to do tonight?", Owen asked as he took a drink of his skim milk.
His grandfather scratched his bristly chin as he thought about it.
"Actually, I don't think there is anything big right now. You two did a good job on scraping the old paint off the tool shed last night."
"I'll have some new paint for it here next week. Think it can be done then?"
"I'll ask Abby. I don't think we have anything else to do.", Owen joked.
"What I like to see. Industriousness amongst the young.", Oscar Alfredson said with a smile. "Incidentally, I'll see if there are some new crossword puzzle magazines at the drugstore tomorrow. I'll, uh, be going past the butcher's as well. I'll get another ten-gallon drum from them."
"Thank you, Grandpa. I, uh, want to say that I really appreciate that. And, you know that Abby appreciates it too."
"Well, I appreciate the fact that if it wasn't for her, I wouldn't have a grandson anymore.", Oscar said as he reached over and tussled Owen's hair.
"You should tell her that more often. She can't believe how good you've been about all this since we just showed up in March."
"I know…But not tonight. I'm going over to the Lawton's now. Joe and I are going to watch the ballgame.", he stood up and patted his grandson on his shoulder. "I'll see you in the morning, I guess. Tell Abby I'll see her tomorrow night", he said this as a strange look came over his face.
"What's wrong, Grandpa?"
"I just wish…I wish I could tell Joe that you're here. He and Sally were there for me those eight miserable years I didn't see a sight of you. They had me at their place for Christmas. They came over on my birthday. They were good to me. And, well, sue me for wanting me to tell my best friend that my grandson is living with me."
"And that I have my vampire girlfriend living in the root cellar?", Owen asked sadly. They'd covered this before. He truly sympathized with his grandfather's desire (he himself wanted to shout from every rooftop west of the Mississippi River that he was in love with Abby), but that didn't change the facts. Nobody could know Owen was there. And nobody could even get a hint about Abby. Owen feared the policeman in Los Alamos had been searching for Abby when he was sniffing around her apartment. People had seen her and Owen together at the complex. All it would take was a hint to the wrong person about that missing boy from New Mexico possibly being seen on the Alfredson ranch (and a cursory check would reveal the familial connection) and it would be game over. Add to that, the potential for disaster if someone connected him to Abby and a girl of that description was seen there too. That would be it. Their chances for a new life together would be over. They'd be forced to flee. Abby would lose the chance at the secure home she'd come to love these past three months and have to resume her nomadic lifestyle. Owen would go with her no matter what…But he'd hate to leave here as well. The stability was good for both of them. Abby looked as happy as he'd ever seen her. The blood brought back from the butcher's shop on a twice-weekly basis was far from enjoyable for her….But it did the job in sating her hunger, to their mutual delight. She was in the fourth month of not having attacked any human being. Each passing day brought a brighter smile to her face and her laugh became gayer. Abby said that the good feeling from that outweighed the distaste for the stored animal blood. As well, on occasion, she also would make visits to some of the surrounding towns or cities, more specifically, the local hospitals and their blood banks. The few bags of stored blood that were taken were seldom missed -Abby always took care to take units that were relatively close to their expiry date for medical use, as well as ensuring that there were enough units remaining to cover any emergencies. (Abby was very proud and happy that she was in the fourth month of not having attacked or harmed anyone. She certainly didn't want to inadverntently cause someone harm by taking units or blood types that were limited in quantity.)
"I know, my boy. I'm just an old man wishing out loud. I tell you the God's honest truth: I would rather have the two of you here in secret than not having you here at all. I've gotten used to having a grandson again. And as for Abby…She saved you, and you're here now. I can never repay that. As for what she is…She's a good person. You and I both see that. What's more, I've gotten used to having her here too. I know I'd miss her just as much as you if you both had to leave."
"Thank you, grandpa.", Owen said quietly. "It means so much to her."
"Everyone in this world, my boy needs certain things. It doesn't matter what they are, they need things. They need love, they need acceptance and they need a real place to call home. You just keep reminding her about that. I wish I'd remembered that fact in time myself when your Uncle Lyle…Nevermind!", he shook his head to clear the memory. "I'm off to Joe's. You two have fun tonight."
"We will. Enjoy the game.!"
"I always do.", his grandfather said happily as he strolled out the door. A few minutes later, the sound of his pick-up truck coming to life was heard, followed by the sound of it heading down the drive to the main road.
Owen couldn't believe his grandfather. It was one thing to welcome his long unseen grandson into his home and life…and keep that fact a secret. It was entirely another to accept that he had a travelling companion…who happened to be a 220 year old vampire. Yet, somehow, he had. Maybe the happiness of Owen's presence outweighed the sheer shock of the revelation of what Abby was. Maybe his grandfather was like him and could see the same person he saw when he looked at Abby –a sweet and loving girl who had been suppressed by a monster within her from the time a decade before the American Revolution. Owen had managed to bring that girl out. His grandfather saw nothing but that girl and stunned Abby by suggesting she make her bedroom in the root cellar. After four months now, he simply considered Abby a part of his family as well.
Speaking of Abby, he thought. He looked at his watch and glanced out the window at the western sky. The sun was now down enough to begin his happiest time of the day.
First, he descended the basement steps. Downstairs, beside the washing machine, was an old fridge. His grandfather has used it primarily for keeping beer cold and storing extra meat or fish when the hunting or fishing had been good. Now, it served a slightly different purpose. Owen opened it up. Inside were at least two dozen old beer bottles. Each had been carefully washed, sterilized and recapped. Each was now full of blood brought back from the local butcher at least once a week. Owen selected two bottles, shut the door and returned upstairs.
A few minutes later, Owen –carrying what he needed, walked around the stone ranch house to the entrance to the root cellar. He paused at the top of the steps and looked at the western sky. The sun was setting behind the mountains, casting the ranch in heavenly pink glow. It illuminated the house, the barn and garage, the toolshed that he and Abby would paint in the coming week. It cast its ethereal light on the paths leading into the pine woods that surrounded the place. Off in the distance, he could see the herds of cattle and sheep the ranch raised, all grazing in their fields. Sunset in the Rocky Mountains could take your breath away. It did for Owen. Yet, truth be told, it was not a sight he wanted to see too much more of. It was not that he was tired of the beauty. He simply wanted to no longer be able to walk around outside when there was sun in the sky. It was a simple choice. He loved Abby. He loved her more than anything. He knew that she was his destiny and there was no other. The dye was cast. He wanted her to change him into a vampire like herself. They both knew that it was the only way for their love to truly survive. Otherwise, time would inevitably force them apart. Owen couldn't stand the thought of that. He sighed to himself. He suspected she wanted the same thing…but was afraid to admit it. At any rate, he felt he could convince her sooner or later.
He unlocked the heavy main door and stepped in. Ahead and to his left was a second door that he went through. Beyond that, was a third one. All were offset enough so that no light from behind could get through if –on the off chance- one door was opened before the other was closed.
Passing the third door, Owen stopped and flicked on a light. The low wattage bulb illuminated the cozy room. It held an old dresser, upon which a completed Rubik's Cube sat. (t was his first ever gift to her, and it was the first thing she had placed on the dresser when they set it up in her new room.) Against one wall was a bookshelf that contained the rest of Abby's numerous puzzles and books. (During her very long nomadic existence, doing her puzzles and reading had been her two main enjoyments). The air in the room was far fresher than he would have thought. A hidden vent opened to the outside. It allowed fresh air to enter, but no light. It was uncertain if Abby needed it, or not. But, she didn't seem to mind. His eyes fell on the bed. It was an old double-bed frame and mattress brought down the attic. It had a heavy, old fashioned brassframed headboard that seemed to dwarf the small figure that now slept in the bed. A pair of rickety, but serviceable bedside tables, with -ironically- reading lamps (that Grandpa Oscar had said he had planned to get rid of anyway, so Abby may as well have used them in her new room) completed the furnishings. Abby's large and solid steamer trunk was kept upstairs in Owen's room. They decided to keep it their in case of some sort of emergency. (Namely if Abby were to fall asleep in Owen's room at night and couldn't make it back downstairs safely, she would have a secure -if cramped- sleeping place where no light could enter during the daytime.)
He set down the bucket which contained the two bottles of blood from the fridge. They were in hot water, which was causing the contents to warm to a temperature that would be far more palatable for Abby when she got up.
Owen silently walked over to the old double bed and gently sat down. For the first time he let himself look at the sleeping figure. This was a near-daily ritual for him now. Yet, everyday he felt like a character from Sleeping Beauty. Not that that's a bad thing, Owen thought wryly.
Abby was lying on her side, facing him. The shirt she'd put on in Owen's room was draped across the foot of the bed. She was nude, which was no surprise to Owen since she'd been that way she had put the shirt on in his room that morning. The shirt was the only article of clothing anywhere, and the bedsheet was only to her waist. There were no shoes anywhere, which didn't surprise him either. Since he'd met her the only time, she'd *ever* worn shoes by her own choice was on their first date when they went to the arcade in Los Alamos. (The only other time had been on their way to Montana from New Mexico, back in March. But then, she'd worn them at his suggestion so nobody might take notice at the unusual sight of a young girl walking through train stations in her barefeet in wintertime.)
He looked at her beautiful face. She was absolutely still. It freaked him out a little bit when he watched her sleep. She didn't make the usual noises of movements when she slept. Of course, she shouldn't do that, he thought. She's a vampire. Techincally, they're supposed to be dead and that's what they should look like when they go do sleep during the day. It was still hard for him to reconcile the image of her apparently lifeless body lying here now and the happy and joyous girl she was (or had at least was becoming more and more since their arrival here towards the end of March). He wondered if she dreamed. He should ask her about that. She was always quite matter-of-fact about the details of her condition. It was a sign of how much she trusted him.
Well, he thought, it should be any minute now….
As if on cue, Abby's blue eyes shot open. She took in the sight of her beloved Owen, sitting beside her, propped agains the pillows against the wall, looking at his watch. He saw her awake now and smiled. Abby smiled back and pushed herself up in the bed.
She leaned forward and kissed Owen deeply on the lips. She truly loved to wake up with him right there. It reminded her that she wasn't alone now. She had more than a Caretaker. She had someone who truly loved her and simply couldn't believe she could be that fortunate. She took his hand in both of hers and placed them on her cheek. Owen smiled as he recognized her non-verbal gesture of love and affection.
"Good morning.", she said with a soft smile on her face.
"Morning.", he replied as gestured to the two bottles. "I brought you breakfast in bed.", he said with his own broad smile.