Elsie ran as if she were in a dream. She ran through the spots of crowds without searching for his face.
She ran without the fear of missing him.
Her heart pounded and seemed to say, He is this way! This way! This way! Follow me! He is this way!
So, she followed the pounding of her heart and it matched the pounding of her feet on the pavement. Every step brought her closer and closer to him and she knew it.
She could feel it as if there were marionette strings attached to her, pulling her along.
He is here. I will find him.
Elsie broke out of a group of gossiping teenagers and gasped.
There he is!
He was walking with a young, perplexed-looking woman, but Elsie didn’t care who he was with.
She ran to him.
Hildreth shrugged. “I know. It’s kind of confusing, but I’m kind of—-”
A woman burst out of the crowd and barreled into him, knocking him flat on his back. “Gah.” He winced and rubbed the back of his head.
A hand stroked the side of his face. “Hildreth.”
He sat up and she was there. “Elsie baby.”
Elsie blushed. She rose to her feet and stood there a moment, trying so hard to look nonchalant as she brushed nanodirt off her slacks.
Hildreth watched how her hands moved down her thighs. Her fingers splayed out as they traveled downwards. It was a simple, nothing gesture, but it mesmerized him. “Els.”
Her hands returned to her sides as she apparently noticed his intent staring. “I’m sorry. I was just. I needed to see you.”
The young woman Hildreth had been escorting discreetly excused herself, leaving the happy couple alone.
Elsie knelt beside him. “Hildreth.”
He was going to say something teasing and/or provocative, but her serious expression stopped him. “What’s wrong?”
She looked at him as if she were trying to memorize his features.
“Els, what is it? What happened?”
“I never want to see you changed. I don’t want to see you like that. I don’t.”
“Els. Elsie baby.”
“I never want to see you broken, so horribly broken. I love you. I love you so much.”
He tucked his hand under her thick, frizzy hair and trailed it down to the back of her neck.
“I saw a hunter who’d been changed.”
His stomach fell. “Who was it?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t recognize her. Honestly, I didn’t get a good look at her.”
“Did you have to stake her?”
Elsie shook her head. “She was out with her husband. He was with her while she was hunting. He. Hildreth. If I am ever changed, please stake me. Don’t let me live on like that. No matter what. I don’t want to be like that. Please don’t let me be like that.”
“Els.” He hugged her. “My Els.”
He closed his eyes and hugged her tighter. “I promise.”