A/N: So I was thinking … would you guys like Bertrand to make an appearance again? He was here briefly in chapter 1, but that was before Vlad made his wish. If you want Bertrand to come back to the story, send me a PM or let me know in a review. Have fun reading!
'Estelle,' Vlad nodded. 'That's a nice name.'
They were drinking tea out of a thermos flask, sitting on a bench in the middle of a council estate that looked as broken as Vlad felt. The paint was peeling from the flimsy wooden fences, the concrete buildings were decorated with graffiti, and the pavement was covered in a thin layer of shattered glass, which, when the sun shone, shimmered like diamonds. People passed them by without a second glance, not knowing, not caring, not wanting to know.
The corner of Estelle's mouth twitched. 'Really? I thought it was just the kind of name my mum would give me.' Her voice sounded bitter.
'Sorry,' Vlad muttered. He really wasn't good at this kind of thing.
'Anyway,' Estelle said, obviously attempting to brighten up, 'Vlad, now that's an interesting name. Where are you from?'
Where was he from? He wasn't so sure now. 'Transylvania,' he replied.
'Transylvania – with all the vampires,' she grinned wickedly, saying "vampires" in a fake accent.
As soon as he heard the word "vampire", all Vlad's memories flooded back. And it hurt, it hurt more than it should have done, but it hurt all the same. He glared at her. 'Don't talk to me about vampires,' he said through clenched teeth – regular, human teeth now, not fangs. 'Why does everyone always make such a big do over vampires?'
The words came out more vehement than he had meant them to. Estelle frowned. 'Calm down, I was only joking.'
'Sorry,' Vlad muttered again. Estelle looked amused. 'You really need to stop apologising for things, you know,' she told him conversationally. 'So anyway, what were you doing out on the street so late at night? You're one of them Garside Grange kids, they always get let out early.'
Vlad sighed. 'It's … complicated,' he said at length.
Estelle looked at him after a brief pause. 'Listen, if you've had an argument with your mum or your dad or your whatever, go home. Life on the streets – it ain't worth leaving your family for.'
'I've got no family left,' Vlad replied. Wondering how he could possibly explain his predicament while making it sound plausible at the same time, he slowly continued. 'My dad and my sister … they sort of kicked me out. It's like they don't know me anymore.'
'No mum on the scene then?'
'Nah, she left us for another guy when we were little … ever since then, she sort of comes and goes.'
'So what are your dad and your sister like, then?'
'They're completely evil,' Vlad said; he couldn't help smiling.
'Oh, come on, they can't be that bad.'
'Believe me they are – but at least they haven't managed to kill each other yet,' Vlad added.
'And … is there a girl around?' Estelle asked teasingly.
'Yeah,' Vlad murmured. 'Erin Noble – best girl ever.' He smiled sadly, gazing into the distance.
Estelle allowed him a few moments of reminiscence before clearing her throat. 'She obviously meant a lot to you,' she said softly.
'Yeah,' Vlad said again. 'Yeah, she did. And now she's gone.'
'Gone?' Estelle frowned. 'What do you mean? Did you break up, or something?'
'Or something,' Vlad nodded. 'One day she was there, the next morning, she was gone.'
'Then … maybe she wanted to, you know, end it,' Estelle suggested tentatively.
'No,' Vlad shook his head, and when he spoke again, his voice was full of conviction. 'No. Erin would never, ever just run off without saying goodbye. She'd have stayed, she'd have told me, and I'd have tried to get her to change her mind. But she'd never just take off without telling anyone first. She's Noble through and through. And I'll find her again. I will.'
If Estelle was feeling sceptical about this, she didn't show it. Vlad was grateful for that, because he knew he was right.
They sat in silence for a while, before Vlad finally asked the question that had been slowly burning into his tongue for the last hour. 'So what about you then? How long have you been on the streets?'
'A year and a half now,' Estelle replied. Vlad gaped. It wasn't so much how long she had been there, but her tone of voice when she said it, the matter-of-fact kind of air that showed she'd completely given up, that shocked him. There he had been, quarrelling with the Count and Bertrand and Ingrid, thinking that he had been having a tough time of it, when all this time the girl next to him had been freezing and worrying about being hungry. Vlad's problems seemed almost childish and trivial in comparison. 'What happened?' he asked when he'd found his tongue again.
'The usual story,' Estelle sighed. 'My mum got married again and, well, it didn't work for me. So I left.' She said this with such finality that Vlad didn't venture further. He nodded in what he hoped was an understanding manner, and for a long time they sat on the bench watching the people walk by.