My heart was pounding through my heaving chest as my eyes popped up at precisely 3:58AM as it did every morning. Ophelia lay on my chest and opened a single yellow cat eye to peer at me before she gave a disgruntled meow as I sat up. “I don’t know why you insist on laying on top of me when you know I’m going to get up before you are ready.” I said to the gray scruffy cat that proceeded to curl up on the pillow that was hers. That she only slept on after I got out of bed.
Ophelia gave a curt meow before she curled up with her back to me to go back to sleep. I’d had her for almost five years and in that time we had never come to terms with the sleeping arrangements. I swiped the alarm two minutes later as I got out of bed.
Despite the movement my heart still raced, although my breathing had calmed considerably just talking to Ophelia. I pulled my sketchbook from under my pillow and quickly formed a piece of graphite with the elements and started sketching the remnants of my dream. This one was nearly full, only a few more pages left in it. I made a note to buy a new one before I ran out of room then started to sketch the dream. It was always the same. Darkness, fog, tentacles of made up of the four elements flaying my skin. There was no gashes to heal only the painful reminders of my memory.
I’d started drawing this so long ago I had perfected the image. The only saving grace was that the eyes weren’t blue. Those nights were particularly rough, I could deal with the red devil eyes of my greatest fear. But not the blue…
And just like every other morning my heart slowed to a normal pace as I sketched out the fear. It was calming and perfect lead into my normal yoga/bodyweight routine I did. I never varied from my morning routine. Not even if I didn’t wake with the nightmare, my alarm would wake me, but I always woke up before it – always two minutes before 4. Like clockwork.
It was 6AM by the time I finished my yoga routine and had a shower. As I started breakfast I set a bowl of milk on the bar in front of Ophelia’s stool. I stirred the eggs and the bacon started to give off its wonderful aroma. Ophelia hopped up into the stool and lapped at her milk with an ungrateful meow. “So sorry, it’s not to the temperature you like. I’m not going to warm it.”
I rolled my eyes. “You can complain all you want. I’m busy. You are lazy.”
Ophelia hissed and then continued lapping at her milk.
“Keep it up and I won’t give you any bacon.”
Ophelia looked up with fire in her eyes and then it softened. She knew I was serious and she hung her head and lapped at her milk quietly. I’d won. I didn’t always win. But bacon was one of Fee’s favorite things to eat. That and steak. Her love of meat was not human. But then she’d been stuck in a cat body for 18 years? I had never asked Oma how long the ghost of Breanna Thicket had been in the body of a cat – cursed forever to be a feline by Oma herself for trying to steal away her daughter from her.
Breanna was long since gone, and Ophelia remained. A victim of a drowning who took revenge upon those that had watched her life slip away. Ophelia was content in her body, never growing old, she’d gone through her nine lives and then some by my account. Half her tail was missing from some accident she’d gotten into while she was outside my apartment. And that was the most recent scuffle she had. Stupid fearless cat!
She looked up at me like she’d heard my thoughts, and sometimes I was sure she could. There was a bond of sorts between us. Oma had transferred it to me thus preserving the curse and tying Ophelia to my life span. That alone had curbed some of my desire to jump from high places and drink countless ounces of alcohol or get high on the really bad days. I at least had Ant to keep me on the straight and narrow now.
It was funny how a simple playful hunt had turned into one of the best friendships in my life. There were others, some I didn’t want to think about muchless talk about, not even to Margo and she didn’t push it. My friendship with Sage and Mia had slowly grown distant, not because we weren’t friends, they were married, Mia and Jace had a daughter. And Sage was with Dee now, he didn’t need me anymore. I was grateful for Ant and Ryan. Their friendship had gotten me through some very rough times.
Bacon was given to the cat and I ate my roasted tomato and spinach frittata. Then I went for a run. The last couple of weeks had seen one minor change to my morning run. Every morning when I left the building sitting at the coffee shop sat the same guy. He had been watching me for a while I think, but I didn’t start noticing him everywhere until I had run into him a few weeks ago at the grocery store.
I was leaving the small shop where I bought my meat and he stopped short to tie his shoe and I tripped over him. I fell over top of him and when I sat up to apologize I was looking into a pair of gorgeous ice blue eyes. Perfect eyes and yet anytime I saw those eyes a jolt of fear pierced my body. I was speechless. He offered me a hand up with a smile. I stammered out, “I’m sorry. I didn’t see you there.” He grinned and nodded but never said a word. “I gotta go.” I said and walked the way I had been going. I felt his eyes on me the whole way home. But I never turned around to see if he was following me.
That was when I noticed those blue eyes sitting a table in the downstairs coffee shop. I wondered if he knew the whole chain was run by vampires and had a secret menu. Probably not.
One morning I heard him following me as I ran through Central Park. When I sped up so did he. I stopped at the chess guy’s board and looked down at it, studied the patterns of the pieces and where they all might move, how far, how fast. It was a very short glimpse into what my father say on a day to day basis. The first time I realized that me and Kai had a long talk about the mechanics of his ability.
He’d been more surprised that I wanted to know about it but was more than happy to answer my questions, though 8 out of 10 times he didn’t know the answer.
After I made my move and started on my journey I lost track of him. Like he lost me in the park or something. It didn’t matter, but I wondered who he was. And why he was taking so much interest me. He was a path of some sort, but I could never tell with paths what kind exactly they were. Some of them didn’t even know what they were.
And then it was back to the grind. Most Venatori looked for news from the media. But these days you never could tell what was what. So I took to the streets. I made weekly checks with all of my contacts. Every Monday night I’d have dinner with Ant and Cari’s herd. I cooked them all breakfast. It had become my go to Monday Night dinner even if they were out of town. And they never complained that I made the same basic thing every single time. A frittata with bacon on the side, and when I cooked en masse I always made sweet potato cakes – slightly more healthy than hash browns but they didn’t mind.
Tuesday afternoon I met with whichever of Dom’s lackies he wanted to send my direction for coffee. The Manhattan Werewolf Pack Leader rarely came himself. And I was alright with that, I’d rather flirt with Liam than him anyway. Liam always blushed and I enjoyed trying to make it happen as often as possible.
Wednesday morning I stopped in at V&M to take a meeting with Marshall Mitchell. I always tried to catch them near dawn but Desmond was already asleep. He wasn’t a very strong vampire for head of his line. I think the CCB was the only thing keeping the Empath in power. Which was probably why he lived in the V&M with Marshall.
Thursday Night I met with Adrian and we chatted. He had been surprised the first time I showed up on his doorstep asking if he had time for a drink with me. From then on out me and my former therapist met at a bar down the road, had a few drinks and discussed the happenings of the rogue pack. They were the ones that were most likely to make trouble. Them and the CCB. The vampires not so much.
But I met with Armande in Harlem late Friday nights. Gave him a nightly pick me up for information on the vampires who didn’t fall under the scrutiny of Il Cane and her posse.
Saturday nights were my nights. I frequented Flit – a dance club owned by a good friend of mine who had gone to Adrian too when we were young. Unlike Aspect, I didn’t try to pick up girls on the dance floor. I went to dance and drink a beer or two and nothing more. I went to Aspect less and less these days. The desire for a family was growing strong inside me. Watching my brothers grow up had sparked the desire.
Laker and Rider had come to visit me every summer. They would like be here for a few weeks in July. They never once complained that I never went to see them. They understood my fear of flying and that I had a job to do. It was hard to believe they’d be sixteen in a few months.
I wasn’t very close with my Dad’s side siblings. Except Nick – we didn’t hang out much these days. He and Henry were a serious couple despite the fact that progeny program was breathing down Nick’s neck to procreate.
I hadn’t been approached yet by anyone and it made me wonder why, not that I was in a hurry to find some random Venatori woman to have a baby with. The Venatori were a stupid race, they didn’t believe in artificial insemination. It really would make everyone’s lives a lot easier. Specially for people like Dorian and Nick who didn’t even like women a little. I at least could have sex with one and I rather enjoyed it.
Sunday was my day to be alone. I hated Sunday’s. I hated to be alone. Because when I was alone I could flip through old drawings, or rummage through the old treasure box that I kept under my bed. They weren’t my treasures, but I had added a match book from Aspect to the box – a memory I wanted to forget.
It didn’t matter how far I shoved the box under my bed. Every Sunday I found it sitting next to my box of little used toys at the front edge of my bed like I never even pushed it back.
Ant and Ryan would usually stopped by at night and keep me company. It had kinda turned into a poker night. They’d bring Doc, Terry and Larry. Sometimes Allison would come with them but she didn’t like being the only woman around. I had invited Sage and Mia but they never came by. It wasn’t really their scene. They expected sex when they hung out with me and I wasn’t living that life anymore. I hadn’t been for five years. I was boring. When the fuck did that happen.
My phone started singing the marvel opening credits to any movie that they ever made recently. I flicked the screen with a charged weave of air and answered on speaker, “What’s up Sage?”
“We still on for Friday night? Everyone is looking forward to seeing you.”
“Did Mia get a babysitter?” I asked.
“She did. Her mom is gonna watch Naya. We can’t wait to hang out it’s been a while.”
I shrugged though I knew he couldn’t see it. “I invited you over for poker night.”
Sage sighed, “But those are your friends, it’s never just us anymore.”
“You got married what did you expect.”
“Just cause we have significant others doesn’t mean we don’t love you.”
“I know, Sage.” I said, “But I can’t do it, you know that.”
“We know. So Aspect?”
“Yeah. I guess. Why break the tradition.” Though I would much rather go to Flit than Aspect.
“I was wondering if you wanted to grab a coffee with me later today. I was gonna be in the area figured I could bring a cup up to you at the office. I know Dae’lin’s got you digging through paperwork in the afternoon’s before you hit the gym.”
“Sounds good. I can take off early if you want to take some food home to Dee.”
“Oh, my god, yes. She’d kill me if I didn’t bring her something after I told her I saw you.”
“No problem. It’s chicken night.”
Sage laughed. “I know. It hasn’t been that long since I was over.”
Sage and I were still good friends, but it had been a while since we’d hung out. Just the two of us. So when he brought me coffee I finished up the paperwork I’d been dealing with while Sage sat on my desk fiddling with the archaic computer cords. “This is such a fucking mess, Nox. What the hell do your IT guys do to make this such a mess?”
I shrugged. I didn’t know what our IT guys did. My laptop which sat on my desk closed wasn’t Venatori issued. Sage had given it to me last year as a Christmas present – free of charge he said. He knew our former arrangement didn’t work for me so he found loopholes. Ones I couldn’t wiggle out of. So instead I fed him and Dee any chance I got.
Tonight I’d normally just grill some chicken and roast some vegetables and have that for dinner. But since I was cooking for them I’d go more all out. Still roast the veggies and grill the chicken but it would all be tied together in a nice lemon garlic sauce and some bread I’d grab from the commissary since I didn’t actually keep any in the apartment.
Sage walked into my apartment before me, I found Ophelia rubbing up against his legs and throwing heated looks at me. She knew dinner was going to be different than usual. “What, am I boring you? You could go hunt your own fucking food.”
She hissed at me and hopped into her seat with a demanding look. “You keep it up and I’ll give you roasted brussel sprouts for dinner.”
Sage giggle and plucked Ophelia from her seat. “Be nice to the good wittle kitty.” He said as he sat down in her seat. Sage was the only one she didn’t hiss at when they sat down in her seat. And also the only one she allowed to pick her up. Even I couldn’t remove that cat from her stool without having claws in my body. But Ophelia got his issues better than most people. He was a billion times better than he was before I left on my first hunt, but he still didn’t let people touch him. Dee and I were the only ones and even I didn’t do it without his express permission. But Fee she let him pick her up, pet her and coddle her. Not that she really minded the attention, but she usually didn’t want to be manhandled.
We chatted for an hour before he left with his doggie bag for his and Dee’s dinner that night. Then I made my way to the gym and back to my room for a shower, yoga and a relaxing book. And tomorrow I’d do the same. I was such a creature of habit. I knew people who set their clocks by my actions.