Eating Our Hearts Out

"If I'm sick of being a victim, but not cut out to be a hero, what does that make me?"

Scotty Matthews is an alcoholic- he’s used to waking up miles away from his university campus with no memories to explain where he was or who he was with. As he tries to recover from one night of drinking, though, he realises he doesn’t feel quite right. He has nightmares he can’t explain, sickness he can’t suppress, anger he can’t control, and- worst of all- hunger he can’t satisfy.

Scotty needs to know what happened to him that night, but he only has two leads- a neck wound that probably came from a broken bottle, and a vague image of a girl, taken from a dream and friends who aren’t sure what they saw. Scotty tries to convince himself she was just another drunk student at a party, but he’s soon forced to accept the far darker truth. Not only is she a monster- she’s turned him into a monster too.

And if he wants to get his symptoms under control, he’s going to need her help.

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Author's note

Hello!
This is a little trigger warning. "Eating Our Hearts Out" is a vampire story, but there isn't any sparkling or ballroom dancing, and the violence goes a HECK of a lot farther than a bit of vanilla stalking. This story is packed with blood, guts, violence, pitch-black humour and an unhealthy amount of cannibalism alongside themes of alcoholism and drug addiction. Also, both my protagonists make morally questionable decisions to say the least. If you're squeamish, proceed with caution. If none of that bothers you, then please have fun reading! Jem :)
AA

12. Heartbreaker

So far, my favourite part of being a vampire’s the sunlight thing. There couldn’t be anything lovelier than waking up on a lush green riverbank, my hands under your head, the singing of the birds floating through the crisp morning air, to the vomit-inducing agony of my face cooking like a piece of barbecue meat.

“Fuck.”

I blink thickly. Once. Twice. Then, I bolt to my feet, grab my backpack, and sprint back from the river and under the shade of the trees as fast as I can. Thin threads of steam trail up past my eye and the skin of my face pulls tight and dry when I twitch my lip. When I touch it, my raw, ragged flesh sparks with pain. I wince.

I cling to the nearest tree for a few more seconds, staring out at the thin ray of sunlight that fell right onto the patch of grass I was lying on, waiting to dissolve or burst into flames. I wait a second. Two. Then, I decide I’m probably safe. God, I wish I could still drink. I hate being this anxious.

The sky’s still purple with the early dawn, the clouds silver, the sun rose-pink. If I take the back alleys to reach the campus, I’ll probably be able to make it to the English building without flame-grilling myself to death. I sigh and start walking. Once I’ve made it back to the main road, I walk past a cyclist, who slows down and stares at me, incurring a tsunami of incessant beeping from the car behind him. I flip him off—and the owner of the car when she sees me too— but I don’t actually know how bad the burn is. Oh, God, is it even going to heal? Maria told me everything heals. I look over my shoulder; the cyclist’s still staring. Don’t stare; it’s rude, I imagine saying as I rip his neck in half, but I push the thought down as deep as it’ll go.

 

 

“Hi,” I mutter to Greg as I sit down next to him. He says nothing, but instead cranes around to look at my face. I try to turn away, but it’s too late.

“Dude. Dude. What’s wrong with your face?”

I look at him properly. He widens his eyes. I sigh. “I burned it.”

“Oh my God. Oh, God,” Greg says in a different tone, clapping his hand over his mouth. “I’m sorry. That was rude.”

I attempt a smile. “It doesn’t look that bad.”

“No—no, course not,” he says. My God—if it still hasn’t started to heal, maybe it’s not going to.

Greg laughs as he turns back to his books. The professor walks in, but somehow, I’ve already zoned out. I’m scanning heads. There’s hardly anyone here. I wonder if Maria’s around today. Maybe I could go to the art block some time today—no, she’ll be working. Besides, there’s no shaded route.

“I tripped and face-planted the cooker,” I whisper to Greg, who snorts as he opens his notebook.

“I didn’t know you could cook.”

I wince and twitch my cheek as the wound starts to itch, like there’s something crawling under my skin. Maybe the burn’s growing—maybe I’m going to melt into a giant sticky puddle right here and now. Somehow, the rest of the two-hour lecture passes in a blur of pain and prods and panic. We’re meant to be talking about Antony and Cleopatra, which I read for the tenth time yesterday in that stairwell. I poured a lot of time into revising it, but the only things I can think about as the lesson wears on are blood and whisky and Maria. I remember our conversation in the playground, play it over and over again. I watch her lips as she tells me how evil she is, and I feel myself nodding. But it all feels so damn distant.

At some point or another, Greg nudges me and softly says, “Scotty.”

I look over. “Yeah?”

“I was wondering if you two, uh… worked things out.”

“What?”

“You and Maria,” he says. “Y’know, after Friday night.”

“Oh, yeah, everything’s fine.” I turn back to the board, pretending to pay attention so he won’t prod me further.

“Good,” he says. “No, really, that’s good. I was worried you two were gonna stop speaking forever.”

“No, we’re fine.”

“How drunk was she?” Greg says with a giggle. “Did she realise who you were, when she… y’know?”

I look up at him, one eyebrow raised, and say nothing.

The lecture eventually ends, but I’m so wrapped up in thought I don’t notice the students packing up and making for the doors. As I sit in my seat, my cheeks in my hands, the thought of failing my degree occurs to me. I struggle to care. Greg’s the only other person on my row, so I’m not in a hurry.

“Scotty,” he says.

I look up. “What? Oh.”

I fumble to pack up my books, then get up and turn to him. I smile, but the smile drops as all the colour drains from his face.

“What’s wrong?” I say. Then, I notice the tightness is gone from my cheek. Cold floods through me. “Oh.”

Greg shakes his head slowly, then pushes past me and leaves the lecture theatre without another word.

As calmly as I can, I wander away with my bulging backpack, clatter down the stairs, and run into the toilets on the ground floor, knocking open the door and running to the mirror. Nothing.

How the hell can I keep forgetting these things? Vampires don’t have reflections. Imbecile. I blink at the mirror, trying to get used to the way it looks without me in it. I can see the cubicle directly behind me, right down to the words on the warning sign and the neat white circle of gum stuck to the partition, even though I should be blocking it. How does the mirror know? This makes no sense, and I fucking hate it.

Trying to decide whether I miss my own face, I run my hands over my cheek, fumbling and pressing my skin with my fingers. The burn is completely gone. The pain’s gone, the weird dry tightness is gone, and whatever mark was there before to make Greg and everyone else notice—however severe it was—must be gone too.

“Oh,” I say again as one of the toilets flushes, drowning me out. “That’s a relief.”

A boy from my class comes out of the cubicle, staring at me. Before he can notice my reflection is completely missing from the mirror, I give him a stupid smile, then turn and bolt for the library.

 

 

I check my phone as it pings for the fiftieth time, jerking several heads in my direction. When I open it to the usual slew of texts from Olivia, I idly wonder whether I should open them. I do, in the end, because I haven’t spoken to her in a few days, and the longer I hold her at arm’s length, the more furious she’ll be once she finally catches up with me.

Most of the texts were sent yesterday, but the most recent one reads: We need to talk. Meet me on plaza steps moment class is over. xoxo

I look up from my desk and through the glass fire exit door, noticing the burning white sunlight outside. Fat chance. I sigh, but instead of closing my phone and ignoring her, I find myself texting her back. I’m in the library, come find me.

That’s it. It’s curt. I open one of my textbooks and put my phone down on the table, remembering to switch the ringtone off before the screen fades to black. Over the next five minutes, it lights up green again and again and again—seven times in all—and I find myself smiling slightly as I read the texts.

What? I said plaza

Where are you

Where ARE you

I’m not playing Scotty, this isn’t funny

Fuck you

Where are you? Are you dead? Wouldn’t care much actually, you’re really starting to piss me off

Are you coming or not?

Instead of angering, scaring or confusing me, Olivia’s ridiculousness is starting to amuse me. If I don’t reply—if I let her wear herself out with texts—she’ll eventually get sick of it and come looking for me.

Now, as I wait for her to show up, I rehearse in my head what I’m planning to say to her. I haven’t wanted to be with her for years, but for the first time ever, I’m prepared to leave her. Telling Maria about my parents last night made me realise the way people treat me isn’t always my fault, and my new mind’s clear enough I can finally see she’s the one at fault. Besides, I might hurt her, just as I almost hurt Keith, and Greg. I’ve quit my job. I’ve moved out of my flat. I’ve cut off my parents. She’s the last part of my old, miserable life I need to lose. I can’t do it here, though. This is a library full of people, some of whom I know, and you’re not meant to talk in a libr-

Olivia bursts through the fire exit. “Scotty, what the FUCK?”

I stand up. “Hey, babe.”

“What are you doing, making me wait…”

As she keeps talking, I look at her. She’s red in the face. Oh, Christ—she’s fuming. For some reason, I find myself fighting back laughter. She spots it too.

“… and wipe that grin off your face!”

“Ssh,” I say, looking around at the other kids in the library, most of whom are staring at us. Only a few look angry at being interrupted. Most look like they’re enjoying the show.

“Don’t you ssh me!” she says. “I’ll—”

“But we’re in a library.”

“No SHIT we’re in a library, Scotty! I don’t give a shit about you and your stupid books! I’m sick of you. I’m sick of all this.”

I look at her, stuffing my hands into my pockets. “Me too, Livvy.”

“You’re a—”

“We should leave,” I say, glancing around. A couple of kids are whispering and the librarian’s looking up from her computer. “If we’re gonna be making a lot of noise.”

She ignores me. “You’re a disrespectful prick, and I can’t believe I’ve actually—I’ve actually put up with you for this long. I deserve way better than this shit.”

I’ve heard this whole breakup speech a thousand times before, but that phrase nearly makes me snort. I can’t believe I used to put up with this kind of bullying, from her—from anyone. Without another word, I take her hand and pull her towards the corridor. There’s usually an empty classroom we can fight in. To my surprise, Olivia lets me drag her. Eventually, we’re walking in step. I wait till the library’s out of earshot and imagine the giggles that must be going on in there now we’ve left. Then, I stop against a wall.

Olivia turns to face me, her hands planted on her hips, her brow furrowed. The red’s starting to leak from her face.

 I clear my throat. She doesn’t interrupt me.

I say softly, “If this is because of the, uh… the cheating, that’s fair enough.”

She bursts. “Of course it’s because of the cheating, you stupid moron! What else would it be about?”

“Uh…” I say. “The alcohol addiction?” I like the look on her face—the shock that I’m talking back. “The way I embarrass myself at parties? The fact I like parties, and spending time with my friends instead of you? God knows, you’ve gone off on one about that before.”

Olivia clears her throat. “I—”

“Oh, I’ve got another idea!” I say. “Is it about the way I look? It’s my big bug eyes, isn’t it? Or maybe it’s how tall I am, or how thin I am. Sorry, babe; I know you weren’t such a big fan of the anorexia, but I’ve fixed that now, thank God. You hate my face too, don’t you? And how long I’ve let my hair get. You say it makes me look like a greasy hobo. Every day we’re together, you say that to me.” I sigh. “You hate the way I dress, the way I talk, the way I act, the way I… everything. You hate me when I’m drunk, but you hate me when I’m sober too. Jesus, Olivia, what kind of a stupid goddamn question was that? Is there… is there a single damn thing about me you like? Has there been anything keeping us together besides your refusal to let me go since we were both teenagers?”

She swallows, turning red again. There’s a long silence.

“Well,” she says, shocked. “Look who finally figured out how to talk.”

I rub my face. “See?”

Olivia blinks up at me. Then, she smirks. “I know who you were with at that party, Scotty.”

Cold floods through me and I look at her, trying to appear nonchalant. “Oh,” I say, my voice shaky. “Do you?”

“Yeah.” She smirks. “You know Beth? My friend?”

“Which one?” I ask. Olivia’s three girlfriends blend together in my head. I’m not ignorant… I swear they all look the same.

Beth, you moron. She saw you with the girl, with the blonde hair… outside the art room.” Olivia smirks cruelly. “Maria McCammon.”

I sigh.

“That’s her, isn’t it, Scotty? The loopy fat one who dresses like the Devil’s escort and messes round that playground like a toddler? The one you always insisted was nothing to you?”

“I never told you she was nothing to me. She’s my best friend.”

“She’s the biggest slut on campus, and everyone knows it!” Olivia shouts. Anger bristles inside me, hot and untamed. “And you know it best of all, don’t you?” Her voice wavers. “Why her? Why the fat emo rent girl?” Olivia shoves me hard in the chest and I bite back a snarl. “Fine fucking couple you’d make. You, the stick insect, and that hippo.”

I grit my teeth. “Stop talking about her like that.”

“What, that she’s fat? She is.”

“So what? Stop insulting her, for God’s sake! She’s my friend!”

She just laughs. “You’re ridiculous.”

“So leave me.”

“You humiliate me, Scotty!” Olivia screams. “And yeah, you know what? All that shit you brought up’s true. I hate you sometimes. I hate everything about you. I hate the way you disrespect your parents, the way you act like they’re nothing to you when they’ve spent their lives dragging you out the gutter and keeping you from the loony asylum, alkie.” She shoves me again, and I take it, because I’m enjoying the anger running through my veins, faster and faster and faster. I’m also enjoying watching her get angrier as her shouting fails to bother me. “You quit your job, you left your flat, and now you’re back on the streets. It’s where you belong. You and your whore Maria. Alkie.”

“Don’t you call her that,” I say, my voice dripping venom. She looks up at me.

“What did you say?”

“Don’t…” I say. “Don’t call Maria a whore again. How dare you?”

Olivia smirks. “I’ll call the whore whatever I want. It’s not like you’re gonna do anything.”

“Oh, really?” I grit my teeth. She’s right, but I can’t stop fighting her. “Maria’s a hundred times what you are, Olivia. For God’s sake, you’ve met her; you know what she’s like. She’s a kind, sweet person who makes me feel like I’m worth something. You make me feel like dirt. Leave her alone, or say all that shit to her face.”

I imagine it. Olivia marching up to Maria, and Maria, in her calm, insincere way, nodding through the conversation as a grin grows on her face. The red explosion. Boom.

Olivia bites her lip, ready to start shouting again, but I hold my hands up and speak over her. “No. Shut up. Olivia, listen to me. I can’t live like this anymore. I can’t take any more of this from you.”

“Oh, really? Well, good, because I only came here to break up with you anyway.”

“No,” I say. “This isn’t like that. This isn’t another one of those times where you break up with me and leave me thinking it’s my fault, then come back two days later. We’re not getting back together after this, okay? I never want to see you again. Never, Olivia. I’ve had enough.”

She looks at me, her eyes sparking with worry. Even though she doesn’t want me, she wants me to want her. “Your parents won’t let you get away,” she says nervously.

“I don’t care about them.” I reply. “I’m leaving you, and I never want to see them again either. Not ever. You can move in with them if you’re so precious about their feelings. I’m staying in Scotland after I graduate.”

“Staying here?” She splutters with laughter. “Why?”

Because it’s cold and cloudy and there’s less chance of me melting. “Because there’re a few people here who treat me like a human being.”

“You can’t denounce your family, you dumb arse.”

“Yes, I can.”

“What are you gonna do for money? You’ll never graduate, Scotty. You’ll drop out and end up homeless. I won’t come dig you out the gutter once you’re wishing you’d kept me, y’know.”

“Okay,” I say. “I’ll be sure to keep that in mind.”

I turn, but then, I remember the sunlight on the other side of that door in front of me. I wanted to stalk off triumphantly, but the only dramatic end this conversation could have is the one where I dissolve into ten gallons of juice. I glance back at Olivia. Do I dare go back into the library?

“Well, go on then,” she says, red in the face and damp in the eyes. I realise with a strange twist in my chest that I do mean something to her. If not, she wouldn’t be crying at the prospect of losing me. But she still treats me like shit. Perhaps she treats me like shit because she’s scared of losing me. She nods at the door.

“Uh…” I rub my face. “No, I’m waiting for you to go.”

“Thick as a fucking brick,” she says, making a point of pushing past me so I stumble. I jump back from the light as she throws the door open, then walks out into the white blur.

“Remember this is permanent!” I yell after her. She turns, shoots me a look that could melt metal, and flips me off with both hands. Then, the door swings shut between us.

 

 

“You know,” Maria says as she faces me upside—down on the swings. “We could get rid of her.”

I stare at her. “What do you mean?”

“Olivia. We could get rid of her.”

I turn cold, breathe in too sharply, and choke, “Uh, no. D—don’t.”

Maria pauses for a long time, pressing her finger to her mouth. “If she knows anything about me, she’s a serious danger. If she finds out, we’ll have no choice, Scotty. I’m sorry. You have to stay away from her now.”

I nod, a little too enthusiastically. “Happy to.”

Maria stares at me for an uncomfortably long time. I look up at the stars, thinking. I imagined awful things while Olivia and I were fighting, yeah, but I don’t want any of it for real. I hate her, but I’ve known her for nine years. She’s violent, but I can’t be violent back. I’m a man and she’s a woman. It’s my job to keep her safe.

The sky starts spitting rain onto our faces. I don’t mind, but Maria detaches herself from the pole, lowers herself to the ground, and buries her chin in her collar as she stands facing me.

“You alright?” she says.

I nod. “Yeah.”

“You look spaced out.”

“Nah, I’m fine. I got burned today, though.”

She widens her eyes and drops her collar. “Oh, no! Are you okay? Was it when you woke up?”

I nod. “I’m fine. It’d healed by the time class was over.”

Maria covers her mouth with her hands. Shit, wrong thing to say. “You went to a class like that? Did… anyone see?”

“No.” I lie. Then, I sigh. “Greg saw.”

Maria presses her mouth.

“He’s okay. Maria. Look at me.” I’m terrified at having worried her. If I’m not careful, Olivia and even Greg might end up like poor Izzy and Emma, at the bottom of the river. “He didn’t see enough. To mean anything to him. There’s no need to worry.”

“Okay.” She nods. “Okay. Look, I trust you. If you say so. But Scotty, if it happens again, you could… you could die. You could get hurt. I’m not having it.”

I grind my teeth. “I’ve got nowhere else to go.”

“You—”

“I’m not coming home with you.”

“I’m not letting it happen!” she repeats. “You need to stay safe, Scotty. You’re being reckless.”

“I know,” I say. “But I’m getting used to it. I’ll learn.”

“You won’t so long as you’re sleeping out in the wilderness. You need a roof over you.”

“I’m not coming home with you.”

“Why not?”

“I…”

“Is it still because you’re scared of me? Scotty, don’t be scared. I swear to you, I’ll take care of you. I swear.”

“It’s because…” I falter as hurt pricks her eyes. She needs to know I’m not really scared of her.

“Oh, I get it.” Maria grins. “You still care what Olivia’s gonna say, don’t you?”

I say nothing.

“Because she thinks we’re… you know.” Maria wiggles her eyebrows. “Canoodling.”

“Stop it,” I say as she walks up to me and jokingly puts her hands on my shoulders, trying to coax a laugh out of me. “Stop it, Maria. You should’ve heard the things she said about you.”

“I’m sure I’ve heard worse,” Maria says. “It’s always the same old shit. Did she call me fat?”

“No.” I lie.

“Are you sure?”

“Uh-huh.”

“You’re lying. They always call me fat. It’s okay; I don’t mind.”

I clear my throat. “Anyone ever called you an emo rent girl before?”

I immediately regret saying it, but instead of being hurt, Maria lets bursts out laughing.

“Rent girl?” she laughs. “This blouse is Versace! I’m one hell of a rich rent girl! And I’m goth, not emo. Does your girlfriend not even know the difference?”

“Ex-girlfriend.”

“Mm. Anyway.” Maria yelps as the rain starts to pelt us harder. While we were talking, the thin mist of water in the air turned into a film, and then a sheet. I let the rain fall all over me, drenching my clothes and hair and plastering them to my skin, and watch with mild amusement as Maria yanks her coat off and holds it above her head. Then, she’s struck with fear for the coat, which she wads up into her arms and hugs. Her huge cloud of hair turns into a heavy nest of rat’s tails in an instant, the strands gluing to her bare shoulders. I laugh at her, and she screams and laughs back.

“Holy hell!” she yells.

“Why’re you freaking out? Torrential rain’s not exactly rare here.”

“Yes, I know that, you idiot.”

“So why didn’t you bring a coat?” I glance at her fur coat. “A real one.”

She laughs again, hitting my shoulder. “Why didn’t you?”

“I don’t own a coat. I like rain.” I push a sodden strip of hair out of my eyes and throw the rest back behind my shoulders. “Most days it matches my mood. It’s called pathetic fallacy.”

“Nerd!” Maria yelps. “Come on.”

“Wait.” I don’t protest as she starts to tug me towards the path. “Where are we going?”

“Home.” She looks back at me over her shoulder. “Don’t argue.”

I sigh. “What if I still want to argue?”

“You can shout all you want,” Maria says. I let her pull me right instead of left, and pick up my pace to walk in step with her. God, it’s freezing. “I won’t hear you! I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there’s a STORM going on!”

Thunder starts to mumble on the horizon as I follow her down the road and onto a side street, then another, then another. Does she live in a house? I don’t know any students who live in houses rather than flats or dorms. Still, I guess she and Frank aren’t exactly normal students.

My resolve wavers as I remember Frank. Maybe I just misinterpreted the way he acted by the river—the way he leered at me whilst I was looking and scowled like I was something he’d picked off his shoe when he thought I wasn’t. But I’m sure he resents me. And even if he doesn’t, he still terrifies me.

“Is Frank gonna be there?” I ask Maria. The rain’s let up slightly, though the thunder’s getting closer.

Maria glances back at me. “Don’t worry. He doesn’t hate you, I promise.”

“That didn’t sound very promising.”

“Oh, stop it.”

By the time Maria stops walking, the rain’s nearly disappeared altogether. We’re standing outside a tiny beige brick town house, with a chipped red-painted front door and all the blinds closed. I think about making an excuse to leave, but I don’t want to go back to that damn riverside now; it’ll be muddy.

Wow. In the end, all it took to crack my resolve was a bit of mud.

“Wait there,” Maria says, to my surprise, then runs up the path. She shoves open the red door, flooding the front steps with yellow light.

“Maria, I should be going,” I say as Frank calls her name from somewhere inside.

“Tosh,” she says. “Walk slowly towards the door?”

“Uh…” I say. “Oh… Okay?”

I start to walk towards her, picking my way over the crusted vines and weeds crawling over the path, and stop at the bottom of the steps. I look up at her.

She grins. “Come on. Keep walking. I’ve never tried this before. I want to see what happens.”

“What the hell d’you mean?” I take a step towards the door and then freeze, aware of a dull fist of pressure starting to squeeze my brain. One of my eyelids flutters shut.

“You know that thing, right?” Maria says. “Where vampires can’t come in your house unless you invite them?”

I blink back the sting in my head, but take a step back. “Doesn’t that—only work—if you’re a human?”

“No idea. I’ve never tried it. Can you?” Maria clatters down the steps and stands in front of me as I rub my eyes. Then, she gasps. “Holy crap! I’m so sorry; that was stupid. Are you okay?”

“What’s wrong?” I ask, looking up at her and wiping my nose as the sting shoves down into one nostril.

“Your nose is bleeding!” She covers her mouth with her hands.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake.” I smear away the blood and then wipe it on my jeans. “So that’d be a yes then, I’m assuming. Please, if you’re going to, could you invite me in before I turn inside out?”

She giggles. “I’m so sorry. Of course you can come in.”

I eye the doorway nervously. I don’t want to blow up. “Maybe… maybe you’ve gotta announce it properly.”

“What? Oh, alright.” Maria turns and runs back up the steps. As she stands in the doorway, facing me, she spreads her arms wide and bellows: “Scotty Matthews! You may enter!”

“Thank you.” I blink as the headache dissipates and follow her into the house. She shuts the door behind me.

“Ditch your shoes anywhere,” she says. “The bathroom’s upstairs if you need to get dry or shower or anything.”

“Maria, I’m not staying.”

Her reply is interrupted by footsteps from upstairs. Frank appears, taking two stairs at a time, and then furrows his brow at me.

“Oh,” he says.

“Hi,” I say.

He makes a visible effort to loosen his frown. “Hi.”

When Maria disappears into the kitchen, I have to resist the urge to follow her. When Frank steps down onto the floor, I notice I’m ever so slightly taller than him, though his muscles probably make him twice my weight.

“Something wrong?” he asks, raising an eyebrow. I hear the question as Why are you here?

“No, I’m okay,” I say. “Don’t worry; I’m not staying long.”

“Right.” Frank glances into the kitchen as the sound of squeaking swells up. It sounds like dogs at first, but Maria’s squeaking too. “She’s besotted with that new bloody dog.”

“Oh,” I say, watching Maria straighten up in the corner of the kitchen, clutching a squirming white puppy to her chest. She catches my eye and grins. I smile back, then turn to Frank. “Yeah. She talks about him quite a… quite a bit.”

“God, she won’t ever shut up, will she?” Frank chuckles.

I frown. As Maria walks back into the doorway of the kitchen, still holding the puppy, I spot her white Westie, Tricky, toddling behind her.

“Did you figure out what to call him yet?” I ask.

“Yes! This is Bounce,” she says, looking down at the puppy on her chest. “And you’ve met Tricky. So that’s all the important people in the house introduced.”

I smile at her. Frank’s eyes burn into my side.

“Oh, stop scowling,” Maria says to Frank, running her hand through his hair. I look from her to him, and the seriousness in both their eyes makes me wish I was somewhere else. They’re two dangerous people to be caught in the middle of. “It’s just a dog.”

Frank nods.

Maria walks into the living-room and dumps herself onto the sofa, holding Bounce on her lap. Frank and I follow her. He sits on the other sofa, so I sit next to her. Tricky jumps up between us and immediately plods over to me to lick my hand.

“Scotty’s staying with us for a little bit.” Maria tells Frank.

“What?” I say. “No I’m not.”

“Yes, you are. I’m not having you wandering around in the wilderness getting alternately burned and frozen and rained on.” Maria looks at Frank. “He slept out by the river last night! And nearly got melted by the sunlight.”

Frank sniffs. “Oh. Really?”

“Yes.”

“Cool.”

I don’t say anything. For a few minutes, we sit in silence. The moment Frank picks up the remote and turns the TV on, though, Maria jumps to her feet and switches it off again.

“We need to talk about Olivia,” she says.

The question’s directed at me, but Frank answers first. “Who’s Olivia?”

“Scotty’s girlfriend.”

“Ex-girlfriend.” I correct.

Frank leers at me. “Right.”

“And she knows who I am, Frank,” Maria says. “She and her side-piece saw me with Scotty the night of the party.”

“Oh.” Frank’s leer turns into a scowl. “Okay. So… Is she stupid?”

Maria starts, but I interrupt her. “No. Why?”

“I’ll pick on her next. I haven’t got my next girl yet. It’s a month or two before we need to kill again, but we can bring that day forward.”

“What?” I start to panic. “No. No. No, please don’t. Don’t touch her.” I look up at Maria. “Maria, don’t.”

“She could be a problem, Scotty. And she’s an awful person.”

“But—”

“So why are you begging for her?” Frank drawls. I stare at him. I’m getting angry, but it’s only because I’ve realised why I am begging for her. I’m scared to get dragged any further into this mess. I should never have come here. But now, I’m letting these two killers discuss my girlfriend, and Maria’s damn dog is still licking my hand. Maybe I should stop tickling his ears.

“Because she’s not that bad,” I say. “Look, I know the things I said about her were bad, but I was exaggerating! Coz I was upset. Olivia’s a good person. She doesn’t deserve this. Leave her out of it.”

Maria frowns. “So she didn’t befriend your Mum and bitch about you behind your back?”

I wet my lips.

“And she didn’t cheat on you with Jason from her drama class, and two guys at a nightclub? And three back in London?”

I look down at the ground. “Five.” I mumble.

“And she didn’t beat you down for being an alcoholic and simultaneously bully you into drinking so she could beat you down more?”

I sigh. “Don’t hurt her.”

“Because that sounds pretty bad to me, Scotty.”

“Man, she sounds like a stone-cold bitch,” Frank says with a laugh.

“Don’t hurt her,” I repeat.

“I’ll hurt who I want.”

“Frank, no, you won’t. Not her.”

“Stop begging.” He leans forwards. “You look desperate, Scotty.”

“Please. Please. You—”

“Okay, okay!” Maria holds her hands up. “Okay, okay, I’m bored of this now. Referee says stop. It’s okay, Scotty. We’re not going to do anything you don’t want to do.”

At that, I swear Frank growls. Maybe it was one of the dogs.

“No friends, no family, no children, no Olivia,” Maria says. “Frank, you hear that? New rules.”

He pouts. “Fuck off with your rules.”

“Have you ever…” I pause. “Have you ever thought about, y’know, killing… people who deserve it?”

Maria looks up at me. “What do you mean?”

“Like, murderers and druggies and stuff.” I wipe my nose again. “I dunno. I just thought, if you had to kill you could—”

“Stupid teenage girls who think vampires are sexy totally deserve to get murdered by a vampire,” Frank says, stretching out on the sofa. “It’s hilarious.”

A chill runs through me. I resist the urge to start arguing with him.

“Vampires are sexy,” Maria says with a grin. She turns to me. “It is pretty funny, Scotty. That’s a good idea, but it’s not… enough. I can’t explain it to you.”

“No, it’s fine.” I rub my eyes. “Sorry.” What’s wrong with me? Why do I feel so utterly drained? Maybe it’s the rain. Maybe it’s the way I can feel my fingers starting to itch for… something. Something to take the edge off my anxiety, maybe drown it altogether. “I should go now.”

“Nonsense.” Maria slaps my shoulder, standing up. “But we should leave you alone now. You need space. Frank, get up. He’s having the sofa.”

Frank mutters, but does as he’s told.

“No, it’s okay,” I say. “I can go. I only came for a minute.”

“Shut up, Scotty. You’re staying here.” Maria jumps and one of the dogs yelps as a crash of thunder explodes above us. Frank rubs Maria’s back, and she smiles up at him. Then, she snaps herself out of the stupor and turns back to me. “See? You’ll die out there. Make yourself comfortable. If you’re not used to staying up all night.”

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