Elsie and Hildreth sat in the back seat. Elsie sat by the right window. Hildreth sat at the other.
There was a lot of space in between them.
Hildreth watched the passing lights and buildings, but he didn’t really see any of it.
I’m being unreasonable. We’ve talked about it. We’ve come to an understanding.
But I don’t understand it.
She loves me, but she kissed him like that right in front of me. Did she think I wouldn’t notice? Did she think I wouldn’t care? Did she even think of me at all?
I need to let it go. She apologized. It’s all done and over with. He glanced at Elsie. I’ll forget it. I’ll move on.
He turned to his window again. The outside was nothing but colored streaks behind his reflection.
But it hurts so much.
Clarice let them in the house and made a big show of stretching her arms and yawning. “Oh, my! I need a bubble bath so bad. I’ve been needing it all day. I hope you two don’t mind if I leave you to your own devices. Just make sure you don’t do anything you don’t want to be caught doing.”
“Just saying.” She gave her daughter a significant look. “Remember what I told you.”
“Good! I’m off to bubble bath land! Bye, now.”
Hildreth waited until she left the room. “Well.” His stomach clenched up and he felt pretty certain he was going to throw up at some point. “She’s very…” He almost managed a smile. “…lively. And every bit as scary as I thought she’d be. But I think she’ll make a great mother-in-law.”
Elsie sat down on the sofa.
His smile gave up on him. “Okay. Can we just get this over with?”
“We need to talk about what happened with that vampire.”
“I thought we already did.”
“But it wasn’t enough for you, was it?”
He sat beside her.
“Sorry. That came out a whole lot sharper than I intended. It’s just…I don’t know what you and my mom expect me to say. So, I kissed him. It was a mistake. One I regret and will never repeat. And that’s it. There’s nothing more that can be said about it.”
“You let him kiss you.”
She sighed. “I want to give him all the blame, because he deserves it. He shouldn’t have been there. He shouldn’t have come anywhere near me. He shouldn’t have kissed me. But I didn’t stop him. I could have stopped him so easily. I didn’t because I lost control.”
“You wanted him to kiss you.” As soon as he said it, he knew that it was true. “You did. Why? Is there something wrong with me?”
“No! Of course not.”
“Am I not enough for you?”
“You’re more than enough.”
“Then, why?” It hurts so much. I want to scream. But if I start screaming, I don’t know how I’ll stop. “Do I have to become a vampire in order for you to love me like that?”
“That isn’t fair.” Her expression softened. “And it isn’t true.” Her fingers glided through his hair like someone touching silk for the first time.
He closed his eyes and laid his hand on top of her hand.
“I love you as you are, for who you are. Not for who I supposedly wish you were.” She turned her hand and folded her fingers along his fingers.
He opened his eyes. “That may be.”
“But you kissed that vampire right in front of me as if I weren’t even there. As if my feelings didn’t matter. As if you were engaged to him instead of me.”
“Hildreth. I could have walked out with Ambrose, but I stayed with you. I told him to leave. I stayed with you.”
“So, what? I have no right to feel hurt? Should I dismiss my feelings as irrelevant?”
“No. That’s not what I’m saying.” She looked down at their interlocked fingers. “When he kissed me, it threw me off. I wasn’t expecting it. I thought he’d try to bite my wrist. But he kissed me in that old, familiar way. I was enthralled.”
He tried to set his hand free, but she held tight.
“Then, I heard your voice and I knew what I wanted more than anything else. I wanted you. I chose you over him. I will always choose you over him, because I love you. Do you hear me? Do you understand me? I love you.”
“And if he were to stroll into the room right now—”
“I’d throw this sofa at him.”
He laughed. “I think you would.”
As Elsie joined in his laughter, Clarice stepped further back into the hallway and smiled. “The tension is finally gone. Good. Now, I can take my bubble bath.”