"Do you know why I love you?" she asked with a smile, nestled against me in the tub. She caressed the water, making the bubbles and candlelight dance at her fingertips as if she were magical. Sometimes I'm inclined to believe she is.
"Hmm," I mumbled thoughtfully, my own fingertips skimming up her ribcage. She shivered under my touch and I found myself returning her smile. "Is it my fashion sense and cunning wit?" Her bright laughter filled the room, bouncing off the tile, making it echo. She turned in the water to face me, bringing her body close.
"That," she said softly, leaning in to brush her lips against mine, "and you're an incredible kisser."
I smiled into her mouth, capturing her bottom lip between my teeth and using my tongue before drawing her into a full on kiss.
Resisting the urge to kiss her forever, I pulled away and licked my lips.
"You're not so bad yourself."
The quiet knock at the door drags me from my memories and my eyes turn first to the figure in the bed. She's quiet and pale against the white hospital sheets and can hardly be detected under her thick comforter. But she lives. That's what's important. I raise my eyes to meet Immanuel's across the room.
"Any difference?" he asks, sticking his head through the doorway, not bothering to cross the threshold. He's been in and out all day, stopping by the hospital whenever he's had a spare moment, and exhaustion is etched into his face.
"She is unchanged," I report, turning back to Miriam as Immanuel steps into the hall wordlessly and closes the door behind him. I know without him saying that he's going to go home to sleep for a few hours before returning to sit with sister. It's become his routine. It's become our routine. It's one that seems to be nearing it's end.
Though Miriam has been sick for a long time, I watch her every day getting sicker. She's sleeping more than she used to, eating less than she needs, and is dying in front of me. Not even my blood seems to have much effect on her anymore. She hasn't awoken in days. At least she doesn't seem to be in pain.
I lean forward in my chair and brush a hand over her forehead, smoothing away the tendrils of hair that somehow won't stay away out of her face. She hasn't moved for hours, I'm told, but still can't seem to tame her hair. I smile despite myself. Her hair is the same as it's always been, as free and wild as Miriam is. Or maybe I should say as free and wild as she once was. She certainly isn't free now.
The smile wilts off my face at the thought.
The urge to turn her is overwhelming. The desire to return that spark, that freedom to her is unrelenting. If I've ever felt for someone the way I do for Miriam, I don't remember it, either in my human life or life as a vampire. But despite my desire to keep her and her desire to live, I can't turn her. It's been forbidden.
Hot, violent rage lashes up in me at the injustice and I ever so gently release the frail hand that I'd held cocooned in mine since I sat down. Thoughts of Victor set me on edge and I don't want to damage her in my frustration. Especially since it's likely the hospital staff won't permit me in to see her if I do.
The table next to her bed is filled with her things, and I turn my attention to it, trying to distract my mind.
I feel helpless. She's closer to death than she is to life and there's literally nothing I can do. My blood might as well be water for all the good it does her.
I spot her brush on the far side of the table and I have to stretch past flowers, mementos, some magazines to reach it. The least I can do is help her tame that wild hair. Photos shift when I pick up the brush and one in particular catches my eye. It's a picture of Miriam. She looks amazing and so incredibly alive. Her eyes are sparkling, her skin is glowing, and her hair is escaping it's ponytail in a way that only flatters her. I scatter the pile to get a better look and can't help but laugh when my own face comes into view.
"Picnic with Pam" it says on the back, earning another laugh from me. I remember that day, of course, but it seems so long ago it was nearly another lifetime. It was so long ago we were almost different people. It was so long ago leukemia hadn't even crossed our minds. But it was an important day. It was the first day I realized Miriam is different. It's the first day I thought maybe I could love her.
"Who takes a vampire on a picnic?" I grumbled, climbing out of the car and trudging along after her through woods to get to her preselected picnic spot. It was Miriam's turn to choose our date, and so far I wasn't impressed.
"Just hush and carry the basket," she commanded grumpily, dumping the woven basket into my arms and continuing up the hills and through the trees. Though the moon wasn't full, it was bright, and her human eyes had no trouble picking up the path by the moonlight shining through the leaves.
"I don't eat human food you know," I continued a minute or two later, ignoring the dirty looks she was shooting my way. "What did you pack in here anyway? Sandwiches?" I sniffed at the basket but wasn't able to smell more than the wood used to craft it.
"Why does it matter to you? You can't eat them anyway." she said with an unladylike snort, plucking the basket from my hands before I was able to lift the lid and examine the contents. "And stop trying to smell the basket. This is supposed to be a surprise."
"Alright, alright," I said, holding my hands up in surrender. "I'll be good." It wasn't fair for me to be so grouchy with her before our date even started. Maybe I would learn to like picnics. Then again, maybe her plan wasn't for a picnic at all, but instead to have wild sex in the wilderness. That thought cheered me up a bit and I managed a smile as we walk.
We stopped just short of the edge of the woods.
"Close your eyes," she said, circling behind me and laying a warm hand across my face. My first instinct was to free myself from her grasp and regain my sight but I resisted the impulse. I trusted her, and could overpower her if need be. I took a few steps forward blindly.
"Okay, now what?"
"Keep walking." She nudged me forward step by step until I was certain we were out of the woods, then nudged me forward a bit more.
"Can I look now?" I asked impatiently. Being sightless temporarily was one thing, but I thought I'd played along long enough. She dropped her hand.
"Sure, take a look."
My eyes opened to a clearing in the woods, abutting a lake, bathed in moonlight. It was a pretty sight but did it really warrant being a surprise? I didn't think so.
"It's nice," I said neutrally, glancing at her to gauge her reaction. I wasn't quite sure what she was expecting, but didn't want to disappoint her. There was, after all, a chance we can here for wilderness sex.
She scoffs. "It's more than nice. Check out the boat." My head swivels and my neck cranes looking for a boat. I don't see one in the water but finally spot it at the edge of the lake. It's a canoe, turned opening down on the shore. Surely her plan wasn't for us to paddle out and picnic on the water. Though possibly romantic by human standards, that kind of date was not for me. Just the thought of sitting in a speck of a boat in the middle of the lake watching her eat was making me uncomfortable.
"A canoe?" I asked, raising my eyebrows just a bit, keeping my true feelings off my face. She smiled at me sweetly.
"Uh huh. I thought with your vampire speed you'd be able to get us going really fast." I opened my mouth to speak, but nothing came out. The look on my face must have been priceless because she burst into laughter. "I'm sorry, I couldn't resist. It's not the canoe. It's the boat. The boat by the trees."
I looked again and glimpsed the gleaming white hull of a small boat on the water. A few steps toward the shore revealed a motor on the back. And were those water skis in racks along the side? Now this was turning into my kind of a date.
"Can I drive it?" I asked with a smile, nearly quivering with excitement at the prospect.
"Of course you can, that's what we're here for," Miriam said with a laugh, dropping the picnic basket to the ground and retrieving two bathing suits from it's depths. "Like I'd really try to take you on a picnic."
I dropped the photo is if it had become hot and scoop it into a stack with the others, turning them face down on the table.
It was hard to look at her like that and remember her like that when she was withering to nothing in front of me. She wasn't even a shadow of her former self anymore. She'd been reduced to a lifeless shell of blood and tissues that barely resembled my Miriam.
Remembering the brush in my hands, I sit on the chair next to her bed and free her fair from behind her shoulders. I brush the fine strands smooth until static has them crackling and levitating off her pillow. I smoothed her hair down and set her brush aside, perching myself on her bed for a moment before lying down and stretching my body out alongside hers. Her body against mine feels comfortable and familiar, and I breathe deeply, struggling to smell her scent over the smell of drugs and antiseptic and permeates every floor of the hospital.
"I'll get you back, Miriam," I promise quietly in her ear, tracing the planes of her face with my fingertips, trying to remember her as she was, picturing her as she one day will be. "One way or another you'll be vampire, even if I have to change you against everyone's wishes." I hope it won't come to that but I'm willing if it does. I will not lose her. Not if I have the power to keep her forever. Not if I can bring her back to me.
My phone vibrates in my pocket and I answer it without moving from her side, not quite ready to leave her.
"This is Pam," I say quietly, tucking already errant strands of hair behind her ear.
"It's Eric," he says through the phone. "There have been some developments where Victor is concerned. Can you come to my house immediately?"
Developments? What kind of developments? Am I wrong to feel hopeful? Could this be the beginning of what we have been waiting for?
"I'm on my way."
I slide from the bed, careful not to disturb her, and retrieve my purse from it's spot on the floor. I drop my phone inside before turning back to Miriam. Does she look even worse than she did when I got here? It's hard to tell.
"I don't want to leave you," I whisper in her ear so softly I doubt she could hear me even if she were awake and well. "But I'll be back, just wait for me. And always know that I love you." I press my lips to her forehead for the briefest of moments before turning back to her bedside table. Against my better judgment, I sift through the photos, avoiding the smiling faces on the front, using the familiar scrawl on the back to guide me. "Picnic with Pam" is at the bottom of the pile and I slide it carefully into my purse.
"I'll be back soon," I promise again, leaning over her for one more kiss before leaving the bright, coolness of the hospital for the warm, overcast night.