"But...but... how in the HELL did you know???" I said, feeling the slight tremors in my chest, probably speaking up louder than I should have, and then looking around to see who might have heard me.
"Justin...it's ok. Calm down." Tiana said, looking at me as though I were going to pop like a balloon any second.
"Can you tell? Did I say something wrong?"
"No, no...I read your extra the second you met me. It's a little parlor trick I learned from Comicality a few years ago. But I never would have told you if I thought it would shake you up this much."
Another bomb had been dropped on me, and I couldn't believe what I was hearing at all. "You...you actually MET Comicality?" The look on her face was almost saying 'hasn't everybody', and I found myself losing the little understanding that I had of her in the first place.
"Hehehe, yes. Once or twice. He found me once when I was out on my own, wandering the streets, sleeping wherever I could find an accepting pit of vampires who would take in a stray for a few nights at a time. I was never really sure how he found me, or why, but a lot of things changed for me after that."
Finally...somebody I could talk to. Openly, without holding back or watching my every word to give away the things I had been told to keep secret. She already knew about it, and that made it easier to resist choking back every question and emotion I had inside about certain things. "He helped you? Comicality was able to help you figure things out?"
"Yes, in many ways he did. He taught me how to see certain things that I never thought existed. Little things that once seemed so unimportant. The gentle heat that rises out of the concrete, the beauty of cool rain drops on a hot summer night, the texture in the skin of the one you love when you glide your finger over it...so many things that we overlook in our rush to grow up and get rich and get laid. Hehehe, I never knew that I was taking so many beautiful details and glorious moments for granted until he showed me they were there. They pass by so quick, and they're so easily forgotten when we want to feel sorry for ourselves." She said, brushing a handful of dreads off of her forehead.
"And the extras...?"
"Once he demonstrated how to look at things from a different perspective, the rest came naturally. Now I can't help but be fascinated by the individual stories told by every pair of eyes that I peer into. Your's included."
"But he DID teach you though, right? He trained you, showed you how to control it all and perfect it?" I asked, hoping...PRAYING...that I might still have a chance to find all of the answers I needed to get through this.
"Not exactly, babe. Basically, what he did was give me an understanding of life from the outside. How to just...'live', despite all the distractions in this world that are supposed to make me happy. When I looked deep down, I was already happy, just ignoring it. Everything that I thought I knew seemed so foreign to me after that...even myself. Soon, when he figured I was ready, he taught me a few more of the extras he had picked up over time, telling me how to develop them in a way that would fit me as opposed to how they fit someone else. Reading other people's extras was just one of those many tricks. Not as an 'invasion' mind you, but as a way of seeing people beyond the shield of who they think they are. Seeing the parts that they never explore, extras included." Tiana gave me a motherly smile. "He found you too, didn't he? I can tell."
"He can help you. You know that, right? But you're going to have to assume 100% of the responsibility for the change that happens inside of you. He'll cease to train you if you don't."
"What do you mean?" I asked, slightly confused.
"One of the most dangerous things in this world is the power of influence. If all you're going to do is wait to be controlled, or accept whatever answer makes the most sense to you at the time without any ability to change your own mind to match your heart...then you become potentially dangerous. To everyone. Com doesn't want a puppet who will do whatever he tells it to do, that's not what his teachings are about. What he needs is someone that simply can't be 'molded', and yet will reflect the forces that are trying to."
"But that's ridiculous! How is that supposed to help me at all?"
"It isn't. It's supposed to force you to help yourself in a way that no one else can." Tiana rubbed me on my back lightly, sensing my distress, and she made another attempt to help me understand. "I had an art teacher once when I was still human. I was about your age, living a little further north from here. And I remember getting SOOO frustrated with myself because I really wanted to know how to draw. But nothing I did, no amount of practicing and tutoring and slaving with pencil and paper, could ever teach me how to really draw anything like I wanted to. I would throw these pouty little fits and break my pencils, or I would scratch everything out and quit entirely. But no matter how many times I started over, it would never get any better, and I was furious because she couldn't teach me. I wanted her to SHOW ME HOW! TEACH ME! FORCE me to do it right until it was perfect! I guess she knew I was having problems and decided to give me a helping hand. So one day...she took me aside, seeing my aggravation, and she told me that no one would ever be able to teach me how to draw. Not ever." Tiana grinned, looking up at the sky as she immersed herself in the memory.
"Ouch...that's kinda mean." I said.
"Well, as you can imagine, this only made me even angrier and I was almost at the point of tears. Because I wanted this soooo bad that it hurt! But THEN...she told me something I'll never forget. She told me that, although she can't teach me how to draw....she CAN teach me how to SEE."
"Wait...I don't get it."
"Justin, every drawing is composed of lines, curves, shapes, space and negative space, shades, colors...but in a certain sequence, it forms a picture. We SEE the picture, but never notice or comprehend what it took to put it all together. That's the flaw. We try to reach this perfect end result without the slightest dicipline of knowing how to build up to it. Without knowing how much work went into it, even when it looks like it should be so easy. We often are so busy looking at what we want that we have no idea what it will take to get it." I gave her a bewildered look. "Look...when you go searching for explanations, Comicality isn't going to give you some life altering indisputable truth that's going to suddenly 'force' you into seeing the big picture. That's not his job. What he can do is help you to see the lines, Justin. The curves, the shapes, the shades, the colors. He can help you to focus on all of the tools at your disposal and how to use them. But don't expect him to draw the picture for you. It's up to YOU to find the proper sequence for perfection on your own. Only you can draw the picture that you want to see. Only you can draw the picture that will make you happy." It was no big mystery to her that I was still a bit lost, although I think I was creeping up on the epiphany she was expecting me to have. Who knows, maybe she was speaking from 106 years experience and I was too new to all of this to see her point of view fully. But the strange thing is...she accepted my 'not knowing', and gave me a pat on the shoulder anyway. "Don't worry hon. Just like everything else, it's not exactly something I can teach you. You'll learn, you'll grow, and eventually you'll find yourself coming to your own set of answers to the questions you have now. And when you do, you'll have even MORE difficulty trying to explain it to the people who come after you."
"Hehehe, I certainly hope so." I giggled.
"The main thing for you to focus on now is living your life. Take whatever experiences you can gather, and soon the questions will answer themselves. Got it?"
"Yeah..." As I saw the sky getting a lighter shade of navy blue and a few of the other vampires started to thin out in the crowd, I knew I didn't have much longer. Soon....Tiana would be gone. "I know I just met you tonight. But I think I miss you already." I tried to work up a witty smile, but the urge to tear up was balancing everything out to keep me almost emotionless.
"You really are a sweet boy, you know that? I am willing to bet that everyone is going to see great accomplishments from you someday. The next time you see Com...open your mind. Open it wider than you've ever opened it before. If you just stick to what you think you know about life and the world, the same limited view of right and wrong, white and black, words and numbers...you'll never get it. Trust me. It took me decades to understand what I do, and even NOW I doubt I've got it all. But it was well worth the time I spent trying."
"I would love to learn something...ANYTHING...from him. But I don't know how to find him. I don't know how to get his attention, or get him to ever talk to me. It's like, one second he's there and the next...nothing. It's like he doesn't give a shit at all whether I get it or not."
Another feminine laugh escaped Tiana's lips, and she shook her head. "Hehehe...Justin, sweetie...Comicality isn't some runaway dog that you have to search for and chase all over town. You don't have to 'lure' him in with treats and kissy faces either." She took her index finger and pointed it at my heart, "If you ever want to find him, all you have to do is look in here. He's always there, even when you don't WANT him to be! Hehehe!"
"But I need to TALK to him!"
"No you don't. What you need is to take the lessons he gives you, and use them to talk to your own heart. If you're looking for answers, he doesn't have them. And if he did, you wouldn't be able to grasp them anyway unless you had done enough soul searching to know the answer for yourself." "In other words, I should just let him keep ignoring me and leave it alone..."
"He's not ignoring you, he's heard every word. Believe me on this. The only question is, how deep is your faith in him to believe that he cares? Even when he's not around to say so for himself." She replied. "It may be hard to believe now, but chances are that if you reached out to him...at some point, he'll be reaching back. Probably when you least expect it."
I sighed to myself, knowing deep down that her answer wasn't going to be anywhere NEAR enough to make me feel any better. I needed help...REAL help! And all this blind faith bullshit wasn't going to make life any easier. I needed answers now, and if Comicality was too damn busy to help me, then I'll just go somewhere else. He can come find me when he's focused enough to give a damn about me. "Tiana...I need to find someone else who will listen to me. I need to find somebody who will be there. Please? I think something may be wrong with me, and I can't wait much longer for an answer. Faith is one thing, but what I need now is a concrete answer." She almost didn't want to give in, but I could see that she was struggling with a second option. And I had every intention of wrestling it out of her. "PLEASE? I've been adjusting to things as best as I could, but everything is going out of whack, and I'm having these awful nightmares, and...I just can't wait for Comicality to find me again. I'm in serious trouble here, Tiana...serious fucking trouble!"
She looked at me, biting her lower lip as she searched her thoughts for a possible third option to help me. But I guess she gave up. That's when she leaned down to whisper, "Sigh...listen, I know someone who might be able to assist you. But he's....um....a 'few sandwiches short of a picnic basket', if you know what I mean." She turned my back to the remining vampires in the circle so no one could catch on to what she was telling me. "His name is 'Zero', he's a little bit older than I am but something tells me his mind is going to snap pretty soon. Anyway, his extra has been honed and refined for more than a century and he's probably one of the most powerful readers that you can come across in this particular area of the world, I'd assume. If anyone can help you adjust to your new abilities and avoid any further problems, he can. But I'm warning you...he's not what he used to be."
"Is he...like...dangerous?" I asked.
"Dangerous? I doubt he would hurt you. But he's a living example that too much information can hurt you in the long run." She said, and gave me detailed directions to an old house in a nearby western suburb. "Just be careful, Justin. Ok? If you allow him to get too deep into your thoughts, you're liable to go a little nuts yourself."
"I'll keep that in mind. I'll be ok, I promise." I said, searching for a way to say goodbye. I noticed her looking over my shoulder at the crowd as it got ready to go back to their individual homes.
"One more thing..." Tiana smiled, putting her hands on each of my shoulders and looking directly into my eyes, "Crushes come and go, infatuations fade over time, and there is a lot of love out there that gets showered onto people who don't return it." Then she slid one hand down to lift up my shirt sleeve and reveal the markings on my arm from when I crossed over. "But true love? An honest love shared between two people whose only dilemma is deciding whether to give more love or enjoy what they take from the love they get in return? That, my dear boy...is more rare, more precious, than your Mimic ability ever could be. Don't let it slip through your fingers while trying to hold on to your pride. Only one of the two is worth the strength it takes to carry it. Understand?"
A teary smile spread across my face. And I gave Tiana a hug. "Yeah...I do." But instead of letting go, I let the moment sink in a bit. And I became aware of the fact that this would be the last hug that I'd ever get to give her. I squeezed even tighter, refusing to let go, and felt the emotion well up in the back of my throat. "You've helped me so much, Tiana. Thank you."
"Hey...hey now..." She said tenderly. "No matter what, I'm going to be ok. Alright?"
"I just...I wish there was something I could do..."
"You just remember what I told you tonight. You take those elements with you and agree or disagree with them as you see fit. Think about them, honestly, whether you like the idea or not. Use the thoughts I've inspired in you to better yourself and the people around you. Do that...and I'll live forever. Through you, and through the lives of the people you've touched. Deal?"
I wiped my eyes, sniffling a bit. "Deal." I finally released her from my final embrace, and stepped back.
Jenna and Dion approached us from behind, and Dion said, "The dawn's coming pretty fast. We have to go if we're gonna get back in time." Just then, Jenna felt a sudden rush of emotion through me and began bawling her eyes out! The outburst startled us at first, and then Tiana started laughing. "Oh great. NOW look what you did, you got Jenna all started up again." Dion smiled, moving closer to hold Jenna who was almost weak in the knees with wracking sobs.
It was enough to stop whatever tears I had left. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry...just give me a minute. I'll get it under control." Jenna said, her eyes overflowing with tears.
Dion and Jenna said their final goodbyes, and Dion took our emotional blond angel back to join the others who were ready to go back. I looked back, watching as Tiana sat down on a large rock, just high enough to let her feet dangle above the water. She looked so...content. So complete. Almost like she was waiting for a bus instead of certain death. I suppose a Sun Quest is as close as we vampires come to a divine experience, so why shouldn't she be happy? Then she gave me a nod. "Go. Go and find your answers, Justin. They're not out there, they're inside of you. They're the buried treasures that are just waiting to be found if only you dig deep enough." I waved as I backed away from her chosen resting place. "And take some food with you. That was too much for me anyway. I've got all I need right here." She said, and pulled a large sliver of strawberry cheesecake from behind the rock to show me.
I couldn't help but laugh. "What the heck is THAT about?" I giggled.
"Hey, I've been on a strict diet of the 'red stuff' for the last 106 years! I want to know what cheesecake tastes like again! And no chewing and spitting this time like with the other stuff, I'm going to indulge like I've never indulged before, while I watch the sun come up. Consider it my final sin." She smiled. After that, Bryson called out to me to follow them home...and Tiana waved me off. I felt a giant thorn of sadness pierce my heart from the inside as she turned to look back out into the constantly moving waves. But...when I saw her proudly take that first bite of cheesecake in over a hundred years, closing her eyes to completely immerse herself in the forgotten flavor of it...I knew that she would be alright. Protected by a moment of true happiness. A level of fulfillment that people spend their whole lives trying to reach.
"I'm gonna miss you, Tiana." I whispered to myself, and left her there, for eternity to take her from us once and for all.
Coming home was a much more relaxing experience than going out was. My mind felt a bit more at ease, a little less pressured by the current situations that were hounding me, always one step behind my every happy experience. Instead, I found myself just enjoying that one particular moment. Those few minutes of silence away from pain and frustration that allowed me to push it all aside and smile...before it all came collapsing in on me again. I suppose if I didn't take a break every now and then, the weight of my fears and doubts would wear me down until it crushed me entirely. Maybe Tiana's talk helped me to realize that, among other things. To just keep growing, keep searching, until I can't go any further...and then reach further still. And if I don't stop to enjoy the moment, to really learn from it and experience it, then I haven't grown at all. I'm just walking by the Van Gogh in the museum and trying to 'get it' in passing. You know, if this keeps up, I'm going to end up being just as spacey and philosophical as the rest of these guys.
During the travel back to the lot, I felt the approaching dawn wearing down my conscious mind. And as we walked through the font gate, I think that was the brightest that I had seen the sky since my crossover. And the scary thing is...I had to think, really CONCENTRATE, on just how long ago that was. Everything was kinda sketchy, shifty, faded. My very life was becoming a memory. Perhaps because I was so involved with everything else, learning, loving, experiencing the whole world for the first time all over again. But I'd be lying if I said that I didn't get small pangs of homesickness from time to time. And that fact made me wonder if I was treating this as I would a summer camp, with the false idea of being able to come home again once the summer was over. I worry. God, how I worry. So much for my moment of bliss.
"Here. Take this. It's getting heavy." Max grumbled at me, and he then tossed me the limp body of Kid, who had obviously already fallen under the spell of today's sunrise.
"Ugh! Max..." I said. The additional weight of a ten year old boy caught me by surprise. And he seemed TWICE as heavy when he was asleep. I fumbled awkwardly, trying to find a comfortable way of carrying him back to his car. But Max just kept walking. I turned to Rain, "Um...little help here?"
"Sure, no problem..." She said, and pointed off to Max's truck. "Put him down over there. He likes sleeping with Max." Then she just walked away.
"Thanks a LOT Rain!" I shouted, getting her middle finger at full mast...as I should have expected.
"Don't worry, I got you, hon." Jenna said smiling. "G'night, Justin." She took him up in her arms like a natural born mother. And laying his head on her shoulder, she gracefully carried him over to Max's place. Gyro had already beaten us back and was knocked out cold for the day. Dylan, even in his exhausted state, said a quick prayer before going to sleep. All following in their usual behavorial patterns...and yet they never seemed 'predictable' to me. Everything in this world seems to contradict itself at some point or another, and then come around full circle to make sense somewhere else. Strange.
"Hey..." Taryn whispered. He had no idea what to say to me, and I was just as speechless. "I...I hope you had a good time."
"Yeah...I did." I answered, nervously. Taryn, at a loss for words, directed his eyes over to the van. I could see him struggling, and I wonder if he could see me doing the same. Say something, Justin. Just...SOMETHING. This should NOT be hard! "Uh...look..."
"BED...now you two! Let's go, let's go! I'm seeing 'gold' here on the East horizon!" Bryson hollered out. We were the last two to be locked away, and he wasn't about to trust us to go to bed on my own.
That said, Taryn's face transformed, a slight hint of sadness merging in with his boyish appearance. His bottom lip stuck ever so slightly, almost unnoticeably, in the cutest little pout...and he turned to the van. "Goodnight then. See you tomorrow." He said, expecting me to retreat to Gyro's again.
"Do you mind if I join you?" I asked. Taryn turned around, and I felt a tiny grin cross my lips. "Please?"
Taryn looked at me seriously for a moment, with his green eyes shining brightly, and he said, "...No farting under the covers." And he sleepily stepped inside, leaving the door open for me. I stood there bewildered for a second, and then started giggling as I trotted over to join him for another day's slumber.
Too run down at this point to even get undressed, Taryn simply kicked off his shoes, and plopped down on the bed. His eyes were half closed, trying to force themselves open to look upon me for as long as they could. I rembered to turn the tape player on this time, so that Tim's protection from the nightmares would keep me safe, and then I leaned forward to gently pulled off Taryn's socks and toss them to the side of the bed. I had just begun to undress myself when I felt the big sleep hitting me so hard that it was enough to almost make me fall over. I got my shirt, shoes, and socks off just before being magnetically pulled onto the bed. And, with only a slight moment of hesitation, Taryn carefully wrapped his loving arms around me, and gave my body a tender squeeze. God...it felt so good to be in his embrace again. I kissed him on his sweet ruby lips, and rubbed the tip of my nose against his as he stared at me in a dreamy haze. Then he sighed and whispered, "I love you, Justin."
"I know." I smiled.
"No...I don't think you do." He yawned, the sleep pulling on him hard, but he was struggling to get this out. "I love you so much...it hurts. It hurts to be with you...almost as bad as it does being without you." A stray tear, a single drop of pure silver, slid from the corner of his eye and glided down his cheek. A smooth trail, unhindered by any flaws or faults at all.
"I love you too." I sniffled, ashamed at the pain I must have put him through that night. "I...I didn't mean to hurt you, Taryn. I never want to hurt you."
"Don't worry..." He whispered, his eyes closing all the way at last. "...because, pain or no pain...I've never felt so alive..." He trailed off, and I felt the warmth of his embrace begin to fade away. His body went cold, and he retreated into a peaceful sleep. I didn't even have the opportunity to get one last kiss before the darkness pulled me in as well. But at least I knew I had my angel back.
The next evening, I awoke slightly early, but this time it was only minutes before sunset. The first full day's sleep that I had experienced since the nightmares had began. However, whatever it was trying to walk through the deepest corridors of my mind...it was still keeping its presence in my dreams everytime I shut my eyes. Even with the sounds of the cassette tape weakening the signal and preventing it from taking control, it still appeared. As though it were more than just an interference...it was slowly becoming a living, breathing, part of me. My dream had me falsely waking up, and stepping outside into the lot, which was totally abandoned at the moment. No one around me. And it was then that I noticed a thin brown haired boy sitting on the hood of a truck. As I moved closer, and the boy came into focus, I saw that it was Richie. Completely healed, well, smiling even. All of his hair had grown back in full, a shiny chestnut brown that I hadn't seen in such a long time. He smiled at me, and beckoned for me to join him. But as I walked closer, I noticed a reflection in one of the side mirrors of the car next to me...a reflection of the creature. But the second I noticed it, it was gone. Only to appear in the window of the car on the other side. It was there...and it ws watching me.
"Come on over." Richie grinned, and I walked over to give him a hug. This was no nightmare. It was as plain as any other dream. We had only been talking for a few seconds, when Richie suddenly looked up at the sky above. "I can't stay here."
"Why?" I asked.
"Storm's comin'...my time is almost up." Richie said, and I heard a crackle of thunder come from the darkness above. Followed by the guttural growl of this still invisible beast. "Goodbye, Justin...I'll miss you." And with that, Richie slid down off of the hood and began walking away from me. I called after him, telling him that he didn't have to go. That I didn't WANT him to go. But he kept walking anyway, as though he didn't hear me. Then, he turned a corner...and the dream came to an end. I hadn't regained consciousness filled with the same panic that I had with the other dreams, but there was a certain level of sadness inside of me. A pain, an ache that was always there, but never this strong.
I was still entangled in the hug that Taryn had given me before passing out for the day, but managed to roll over anyway, my back facing him. My mind sifted through the many thoughts I was entertaining at that moment, trying to just keep itself busy in those last few minutes before Taryn woke up again. But...there was one thought...one idea...hiding behind all of the others. Something poking me mentally, trying to come to the surface despite my attempts to deny its existence. It refused to go away. Richie...my friend. At one time, he was my ONLY friend. And he was still out there somewhere. Still in pain. Still suffering. Still wondering where I was or what happened to me a few months back. I thought about him, about the nightmares, about how 'normal' he looked in the dream I had just awaken from...and then I thought about Dion, and how he was able to save Napolean from certain death. He saved him...he actually SAVED him. And he got better. Maybe....maybe...if I could just...
As I felt Taryn's body heat return to him, his breathing becoming audible again, I took the thought and swallowed it back down into the recesses of my mind again. But I knew what it was that I was contemplating that night. I had always known that it was there. And something tells me, that the thought was going to be coming back to pay me a visit...real soon.
Before he even opened his eyes, Taryn's limbs loosened up to slide a gentle hand slowly up and down my side, and then I felt his loving kiss land sensually on the back of my neck as he held me close. The warmth of his soft breath made the fine dusting of hair on my neck prickle up as it tickled its way over my shoulders. It was the most comfortable place in the world, being in the safe embrace of my eternal love. "It was only one night, but you won't believe how much I missed waking up with you by my side." Taryn whispered, kissing me again, this time on the smooth curve of my neck. He let his lips linger there for a moment, and I closed my eyes. Passionately sighing outloud and melting even further into his arms. "This bed seems so cold, so empty...when you're gone."
I reached up and held Taryn's hand, lifting it to my lips to kiss it. "I lost my perspective. I lost my faith." I paused for a moment, bringing a dear memory of mine into focus. And I rolled over to look my sweet boyfriend in the eyes. "How I lost my way, I don't know. Everything seems so backwards sometimes, Taryn. But...every time that I forget, I remember the night that you came out to that pier. That night when you reached out to me on the railing, and you rescued me from...giving up."
"Justin..." He tried to tell me that I didn't have to say anymore. I could see it in his eyes. But I stopped him by putting my fingers up to his lips.
"Shhhh...don't." I ran my fingertips up into his hair, so incredibly soft and clean, shining as though it were made of fiberglass. And yet smooth as silk. "You helped me to see sooo much. Inspired me to reach for things that I didn't even know existed. Loving you was the best thing that ever happened to me Taryn. Loving you is what keeps me alive." I kissed Taryn on the lips, hugging him close, and let the emotions from my body flow out of me into him. It was at that moment that I realized...that it was almost time. Time to believe in him, time to trust him. Time to tell him exactly what it was that was keeping me distant over the last little while. I was tired of running, I was tired of hiding...sooo tired. This was as close as I'd ever get to Taryn without telling him the truth. And since love knows no boundaries, since it was always thirsting for more...this just wasn't close enough. "Taryn...I have to go out tonight, it's important. And hopefully it's going to give me some answers that will help me to understand exactly...how to handle things."
Taryn loosened his hug, and looked at me, bewildered. "I don't...I don't understand."
"I know. I know you don't. And that's been my fault because I've been holding back. And...Taryn I don't want to hold back. I'm tired of holding back." I could feel tears welling up in my eyes as the confession fought to burst forth from my lips. But I didn't want it to, not yet. Not until I found this 'Zero' character that Tiana told me about and got some idea of what was happening to me. Otherwise I'd have no way to keep Taryn from worrying. I didn't even know how to keep MYSELF from worrying at this point. But I knew that Taryn would sacrifice everything to help me, and if he agonized over it too much, he'd go to Bryson for answers, and the secret would be out. I couldn't have that. This is something I've got to break into slowly as far as other people are concerned. "Listen...I just...I want you to trust me. I'm going to figure this out, and when I come back...I want to unlock the door and welcome you inside. Ok? I promise."
It took nothing more than a smile to know that Taryn believed in me, and he accepted with a kiss. "If you can do that...then so can I. We'll...we'll talk later, k? I guess, I've got my secrets too." He grinned, and then he got up out of bed.
Once we got out of our clothes from the night before and into new ones, we stepped out of the van. The first thing that caught my eye was Doc rolling by in his wheelchair, toting something that looked similar to a shopping cart behind him. It was full of dirty clothes from the rest of the 'camp' and he was on his way to get ours. "Sup, lovebirds? We've got enough cash for about three loads today, and that's it. Kid's been pickpocketing from extremely broke tourists these days. You two better pick and choose your favorites this week for the wash." He said.
"No problem, we don't have that much anyway. I'll grab a few things." Taryn replied, and I told him to just pick out a few of my things to toss in too. I needed to talk to a friend, and pray that I could trust him. Something tells me, I didn't need much faith to believe in that.
I saw the door to Dion's truck swing open as I approached it, and Napolean was the first to jump out. The dog shook off what was left of the day's sleep, and yawned and strectched until his body was feeling alive again. The pooch walked over to me lazily and licked my hand as I waited for Dion to climb out and join the rest of us outside. He was still putting on his shirt as he came over to say hello. "Feeling better?" He asked.
"A little, I suppose." I said.
Dion put his hand on my shoulder with a warm smile crossing his lips. "Good. Because when you're not smiling, I'm not smiling either. And I like to smile as much as possible." He pressed his forehead against mine, "So don't go killing my buzz anymore. Got it?"
"Hehehe, I'll do my best."
"I take it you and Gyro are going out to jump into the club scene again tonight?"
"Umm...no. Actually...I kinda have to talk to you. It's important." I told him.
"Oh. Ok...well, shoot."
"Not here. In private. Can we go someplace else for a second? Just to another part of the lot or something?" Dion gave me a strange look, but grabbed his shoes and followed me anyway. We walked around a few corners, losing ourselves in the maze of wrecked cars and trash, and walked back out into the clearing where he had taken me before to train me in the 'art of self defense'. And that's when I looked over his shoulder to make sure that we hadn't been followed.
"What is it? You're acting awfully weird these days, you know that?" He said.
"Dion...I know." I looked at him as he tried to figure out what the hell I was getting at.
"You know? Know what?"
"Okaaay...that's um...great. Glad you told me. Can I go now?" He replied, still without any clue as to what was wrong with me.
He began to walk away, but I continued, "I know you guys have been following me." Dion stopped walking. "I know about the chasers. You've all been keeping me under surveillance from day one. I know." He turned around and came back over to talk.
"Ok, you've got my attention." He said. "Let me guess...Gyro. Right?"
"Son of a bitch! I should have known he'd..."
"It's ok, Dion. Really. Besides, that's not why I brought you over here. I...I need your help tonight."
"You need my help with what?"
"I need you to chase me tonight." I said.
"What?" He was quite surprised.
"I need YOU to be the one to follow me tonight. Look, I have something serious to do tonight, and I can't have Bryson finding out and freaking out about it. If he sends anybody else out with me they'll report it all back to him in an effort to 'protect' me. And if I outrun them again, Bryson will put me under such a tight watch that I won't be able to BREATHE without him knowing about it. That's where you come in."
"Justin, this is crazy. If Bryson finds out that I was helping you keep stuff like this from the rest of us, we'd BOTH be in a lot of trouble!"
"What's he gonna do? Come on, it's not like he can spank us!" I said.
"This isn't like sneaking out of detention, Justin. This is your crossover we're talking about here. This is the most crucial time in a vampire's existence, if we screw this up, chances are you'll never ever get yourself right again."
"Dion....please? I'm asking you as a friend. There are things that you guys don't know about me, things you all can't help me with. But I know of someone who can. Someone who can help me to find out who I am, and I can't do that if I'm being suffocated and restricted here." Dion looked up at the sky, in disbelief that I would ask him to interfere in what was supposed to be a critical and highly unstable time in my training. "I can't let anyone know that I know just yet. So you're the only one that I can come to for help with all this. Dion, please! I need you."
"Sigh..." Dion growled to himself. Then he closed his eyes and mumbled, "I'll see what I can do."
"SERIOUSLY???" I said, a grin bursting out from inside me.
"Yeah...but you are REALLY pushing me here, dude! I hope you know what you're doing."
"That makes two of us." I hugged Dion tightly around the neck. "Thank you...thank you sooooo much. This means a lot to me."
He hugged me back, his arms squeezing me tight. "You just make sure that you keep yourself together, Justin. Please...we can't have another lost friend out here. After Dennis...we can't bare to let another one go. So you keep yourself on the right path, you hear me?" He whispered, hugging me even tighter.