"Damon, let's stop. Face it, we need a break. We're not going to catch up with them today and I for one, need something to eat." He put his hands on his hips and looked at the sun beginning to peep its way across the horizon. They had tracked Stefan through the night into this very rural part of Serbia, but found nothing but the carcasses of dead livestock. It was hard-going traveling at night. They usually rested in the day. He nodded in response to Elena's suggestion.
"Sure. There's a barn over there. Let's go check it out. Perhaps we can sleep there."
They walked in companionable silence through the long growing wheat crop that came up to their shins. The bright green shoots were still young and looked like grass. The morning dew soaked through his shoes and jeans. Wet feet was a feeling he was never going to get to like no matter how long he lived. As soon as he was indoors he was going to strip off his second-hand trainers and socks and dry off.
She was getting ahead of him, but she knew the drill and before she was too close, she ducked down, watched and waited. He joined her. His knees clicked as he crouched. "Shh!" She joked. He smiled.
"Anything?" He asked her, she shook her head.
"All quiet. I reckon we give it a couple of minutes, then check it out."
"Okay, boss." He said.
Eventually they moved towards the barn. It was sizable timber construction and the shape of it reminded him of the barns the Amish built back home. In the front there was a large, sliding, double door, which was closed, but they moved to the smaller side entrance. It was a habit that they had gotten into to walk all the way around the building once before entering, just to make sure nobody was coming at the building from behind. Once they had done a full circuit, he made sure he opened the door first and took a peak inside. All clear. He felt for her hand and lead her inside.
Inside the barn were a large number of square hay bales, neatly stacked against the back wall and upstairs on the mezzanine level, were even more. On the ground level, opposite to where they entered there was a section separated off by a wooden enclosure which had been built to keep animals in. And inside it, were a handful of brown Swiss cows. They nuzzled at a bale of hay which had been raked into a feeder in front of them. He looked at Elena and she smiled.
"Aw, they're lovely." She said and walked over to them. She reached out her hand and tried to pet one, but it tossed its head away from her. She grabbed a handful of hay from the feeder, flattened her hand and tried to feed it instead. The cow pushed its velvety nose into her hand and she grinned widely, using her other hand to surreptitiously give it a stroke between the ears. The hay was quickly gone and the cow backed off, kicking out and causing the three others to anxiously shift around.
"Come over here." She said turning to face him.
"Animals don't like me." He said.
"Don't be silly." She said. "Come on." She leaned on the three bar fence and watched the cattle settle again. One began to low - the sound echoed comfortingly around the barn. Fine, he would have to prove it to her. He took a deep breath and walked closer to the enclosure; as he anticipated the cows began to get immensely nervous, they banged against each other and scuffed at the ground. Elena put the palm of her hand flat out towards him and he halted.
"Whoa! Okay! Don't come any closer. I get it. Predator, right."
"I told you." He said with a shrug.
"Fine. Well, I'm going to stay down here with my new friends and you are going to go up to the mezzanine to make a nice bed."
"Am I now?"
"Yep." She turned her back on him and began to shush and calm the anxious creatures, who flicked their ears in protest at his presence.
He spotted the fixed ladder, but he felt like leaping up to the mezzanine. So he crouched and then leaped up the fifteen feet or so to the next level, landing lightly. He forgot too late that it would probably upset the cows again. Elena was cursing his name as they began to fidget and kick out.
"Sorry!" He called down to her.
"You will be." She said back to him. After a while she climbed up the split-log ladder to join him. He was in the process of making a space amongst the hay-bales and folding up his sweater to act as a pillow.
"You don't mind sleeping next to me tonight, do you?" He asked. "It's just I'll have to re-arrange all this if you do."
"Nope. That's fine. Whatever." She came and climbed up on one of his abandoned bail stacks and pulled her feet up. "You have bare feet." She said, noticing his socks and shoes were drying on a bail behind him.
"I can't stand them being damp. When we get home, I swear I will never ever own a pair of trainers. I hate them." She smiled.
"What else do you hate?"
He stopped what he was doing and sat down on a bail that was just below her level.
"Slow cars, bad manners, Florida, Vegemite and varicose veins." He shuddered. "Uch, especially varicose veins."
"What the hell is Vegemite?"
"If you ever go to Australia and someone offers it to you, just don't. That's my advice."
"Bad manners?" She teased. "You are so old fashioned."
"Well, I can't help it. I liked the days when men used to stand when a lady entered or left the room." She smiled.
"How would you have greeted me if I came to your house?"
"Well, you'd have to come in first." She jumped off the stack of bales and he also stood up. She faked knocking on his door.
"Oh no, you would have had your servant do that." He corrected her "And I would have mine answer the door." She gave him a look on annoyance and he grinned. "Okay, okay, I'll play along."
"Knock, knock." She said. He pretended to open the door and when he saw her, gave her a bow of the head from his shoulders, keeping his arms straight, he then took her hand, raised it to his lips and kissed it. He raised his eyes to look into her own and a moment passed between them. He changed the vibe by continuing with their little role-play.
"Why, if it isn't the beautiful Miss Gilbert. What an honor, Miss Gilbert to have this opportunity to welcome you into my humble home." He gave a flourish with his free hand towards their hay-bale bed.
"Where's the party at?" She said giving him attitude and pretending to chew gum whilst swinging her fist onto one hip. He dropped her hand and she peeled into giggles.
"I suppose you think I'm hilarious."
"No, no. I think its nice. I really do." She said. "Oh, don't sulk. I was only teasing." She jumped back on her bale and let her feet dangle off the floor. She patted the space on the bale next to her and he made her wait for a few seconds before he leapt up beside her. She rested her head on his shoulder.
"Go and milk your new friends." He suggested, she shoved an elbow into his side.
"You know as well as I do that they are bullocks."
"I don't think you are gonna find much food round here, unless you fancy finding the farmhouse and breaking into it. Could be dangerous."
"Yeah, I figured. I'll be fine I guess."
"Mind you, I'm hungry too; I could certainly eat a nice big cow right now. Now, where would I find one of those?"
"You leave them alone!" She slapped his arm.
"A vampire has to eat, Elena." He smirked.
"No! Find something else to menace. You stay away from them. They haven't done anything to you, poor things."
"You're too soft hearted."
"Probably." She nestled back into the crook of his neck and he smelled her.
"How are you feeling today."
"Okay, I guess. Not as nauseous as before."
"You're still too hot." He noted and she agreed.
"I know. I would give anything for a bath right now."
"Want me to see if I can find some water?"
"Sure, that would be awesome."
He moved away from her and took the ladder back down to the ground so as to avoid a row about upsetting her cows.
"I may try and find something to eat. Why don't you make yourself comfortable."
"Sure, take your time."
Outside he was pleased to find that only a few minutes walk away from the barn, ran a slow moving river. It had good tree cover and smooth rocks from which it would be easy enough to bathe. He looked around for a bit to see if he could find any food for her, but there were no fruit trees, mushrooms or anything. She would have to wait until tomorrow when they would aim to move on. He couldn't see any signs of a farmhouse nearby, so it seemed safe enough for them to come down here even in daylight. He went back to fetch her.
"Do you want to go first?"
"Nope, you can. I'll be your lookout."
"Yeah, well, you make sure you are looking out, and not looking at me." She said, mischief in her eyes. He feigned hurt.
"I'll spare m'ladies blushes. I'll go and sit over there." He said, pointing to a tree a little further up river, which had a low overhanging branch across the water.
"Okay. See you soon."
"I'll let you know if there are any sharks." She said.
"Do you have to be sarcastic about everything?" He complained. She walked away from him.
"Only because you are such an old woman." She ran off.
He wandered over to his tree and climbed onto the branch, letting his feet dangle over the water. He could hear her splashing about, but he didn't look in that direction. He watched the horizon and the sunrise which was in full glory. Suddenly he realized she was closer than she had been before, only a few meters away. He fixed his eyes on the horizon, but it was so damn hard. Eventually, his resolve slipped and he glanced in her direction. Through the blossoming branches of his tree he could see her swimming. She was nude and he immediately looked away, but he looked back again, to see her ducking under the water then resurfacing, pushing her hair out of her eyes. He saw the pale cream of her skin against the water, which was crystal clear... He looked away again, as she decided to float on her back. This was painful. He tried so hard not to look, but he was weak. Really, really weak.
He flicked his eyes up to where she was and she was now back on her front, her long pale body moving through the water. He jumped down out of the tree and turned his back on her.
"Elena. Time you got out the water, you shouldn't stay in it too long."
"Sure, Dad!" She shouted back. He shook his head, he didn't need to see her to know the impish grin she would have on her face. She just loved to tease him whenever he tried to look out for her. Never stopped him though.
Eventually, she came walking over to him, squeezing out her hair as she walked.
"You want to go in?" She asked him.
"You sat up here, didn't you?" She asked. He tried to look innocent.
"Mm-hmm." She climbed up into his abandoned spot.
"Cool. I'll wait here then."
As he took his clothes off and strode into the cool water, he felt an overwhelming urge to swim in her direction. He did so, stopping just where she had been. He dove down to the bottom and collected rocks from the river bed. He swam back to his clothes and got dressed.
She called out. "Decent?"
"As I'll ever be."
She walked into his clearing.
"You, er, keep your eyes on the horizon?" He asked. She blushed.
"Lovely sunrise." He said, his eyes twinkling.
"Sure it wasn't the moon?" She asked, swallowing a giggle and turning hurriedly away from him leading their way back to the barn.
"Here, I found this." He said, pressing a small, perfectly white pebble into her hand. She smiled and put it into her pocket.
"I don't have anything for you." She complained. He shrugged. No matter.
Her stomach rumbled. She gripped it and looked unhappy. He pulled a piece of hay from the hay bale he was sat on and offered it to her.
"Hey Lennie, you just gotta learn how to live off the fat of the land." He said, misquoting Of Mice and Men.
She took it from him and chewed on it, pulling her eyebrows up and making faces at him. He smiled.
"If I'm Lennie, I guess that makes ya George, don't it?" She said, adopting a Hicksville voice.
"Sure, he's the smart one, right?"
"Oh well, in that case..." She shrugged. He looked at her and she waggled her eyebrows at him, poking the piece of hay right up in the air. He shook his head like he was sorry for her.
"If you could eat anything right now," she said, "what would you eat?"
"Well, you are looking mighty tasty..." He replied.
"Come on, be serious."
"Nah, you tell me what you'd like to eat."
"Oh, I don't know, steak and chips I guess."
"Shh! Your new friends may hear you." He teased. She pushed him and he rolled off the hay bale stack and onto their makeshift bed. She jumped down and lay next to him, still chewing on the hay he had given her. "Come on, you can do better than steak. What would you really like to eat?"
"Oh, I don't know. Why don't you take me out to dinner? Where would you take me?"
"Hmm, RyuGin in Tokyo I guess, for the kobe beef, seeing as you like steak so much." He could tell she was disappointed that he wasn't giving her more. "No, not Tokyo, then. Italy. I would take you to the island of Capri just off the coast of Naples. The whole island smells of the lemon groves. To get there from the mainland you can hire a little boat and the sea is the most amazing turquoise color. There is a restaurant in the north of the island which only the locals know about. Its very hard to find because it looks like a shed from the outside. But when you get inside you see the little checkered tablecloths and candles on the tables and when you look up you realize there is an open roof, which is strung with lines of tomatoes that dry in the sun. To begin with I'd order you gnocchi, then risotto and we'd drink Verdicchio and Grappa and look up at the stars, and the family who run the restaurant would come out and sing for us." He turned his head towards at her, and realized she had grown quiet.
"That sounds lovely." She said, seriously. He smiled at her, but felt his smile fade. He wanted to reach out and touch her, but instead he looked away.
"So George, shall we sleep under the stars tonight?" She said, her playful mood returning.
"What, after I went to all the trouble of making us this fine bed?" She nudged him. "Okay. Okay. Look, up there - is that the Plough?" He said pointing to the barn roof.
"Mmm, probably. That one is Cassiopeia. Look how she sparkles."
"Yes, she's very beautiful." He grew quiet.
"I think I'm going to go to sleep now." She said.
"Watch over the stars for me."
"I will." She turned over and wriggled into the hay.
"What is it, Lennie?"
"There better still be four cows there in the morning."
"Go to sleep."
"Sleep tight, Elena."