Van was confused and decided to focus on his studies the following week, instead of Claire. He even avoided any of the places he might run into her and stayed mainly in the room and taking walks in the forest behind the campus. He knew running away from his problems wouldn’t solve anything, but secretly he wished someone else would solve them for him. On Friday, after his last class of the week, he was walking by the cafeteria when someone called his name.
“Van!” Van stopped walking and turned to see Claire running toward him. She caught up to him with a smile on her face. “Hey!”
“I haven’t seen you all week.”
“I’ve been busy.”
“Yeah, me too. My classes have been crazy with midterms coming up, but . . . you haven’t called.”
“I’ve just been doing some thinking.”
“Oh.” Neither of them said anything. Claire’s smile disappeared. After a few minutes, she turned and started walking away. Van closed his eyes. Selfish bastard.
“Claire, wait.” Claire stopped and turned around, her eyes sad. “I’m sorry. It’s just . . . I’ve been thinking a lot about my parents. I miss them.” Claire walked back to him. “It’s been hard, and each year I feel like I’m losing them more.” He felt bad about lying to her, but that was a small lie compared to his big secret. Claire reached up and touched his cheek as he looked at the ground.
“You’re so strong, though.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because I’ve never seen you cry. You know, sometimes it’s good to let it out.” Van turned his face away. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you.”
“I’m not as strong as I look. It may appear that way, but . . .” He turned back around and looked at Claire. “I don’t think I’m the kind of guy you want.”
“Why do you say that? How do you know what kind of guy I want?”
“Just not me.”
“You must have really loved them.”
“Your parents. You’re hurting inside, Van. You haven’t healed from their death. I’m here. You can tell me.” Van stared at her incredulously. “You can trust me. I’m choosing to be with you. I’m not going anywhere.” She took his hand and intertwined their fingers.
The next morning Van walked into his room. Korbin was lying casually on his bed, half-dressed. Van unbuttoned his shirt and threw it in the corner of the room before sitting on his bed. Korbin turned down the television and looked at his brother.
“What’s wrong, Van? I thought the evening was successful.”
“For one of us. Mine ended rather solemnly.”
“Why is that? I gave you the opportunity-”
“Do you honestly think I could have slept with Claire, Korbin? I would have killed her!”
“You’re a little touchy this morning.”
“Shut up, Korbin. And wipe that stupid grin off your face.”
“Ah, such brotherly affection.” Korbin sat up and leaned forward on his knees. “Not my fault you chose a human girl to be with. You could have anyone you want, Van. Why choose a human?”
“I didn’t choose her! It just happened.” Van ran his hands through his thick hair and sighed. “I don’t know what to do.”
“Tell her the truth?” Van gave Korbin a mean look. “Ok. Don’t tell her the truth. She’ll find out eventually, though.” They were both silent. “She’d make a beautiful vamp, I think. I mean, Nyx and her seemed to hit it off pretty well. Nyx really likes her.” Van didn’t say anything. “But I can see that’s not your intent. What are you going to do then, Van? Be with her ‘til you can’t and then leave her? Tell her lies and be in misery the rest of your eternal life? Sounds like hell to me…”
“What do you want me to do, Korbin? I really don’t have a choice. She has a life, a nice one, and I’m not taking that away from her. She has dreams and goals!”
“She could still have a life, Van! It’d just be slightly different. You wouldn’t kill her! We aren’t dead, Van! We’re immortal.”
“Whatever you want to call us! Vampires, Immortals, Cursed humans, demons, monsters! I don’t care! This is who we are! And you enjoyed it until you met her. Stop being this new Van! I hate it! Tell me, Van. What happens when you leave Claire and become a miserable person? What kind of brother will you be? You’ll be like an empty corpse! And what if there is a cure out there? Would you find it and turn human? What about me, Van?! Your brother! I’ve never asked anything of you and I’ve always been there for you. What would I do without you? Am I not a reason to live? Am I so horrible that you don’t want to be my family?”
“No, Korbin, of course not.”
“Then what? Stop being so depressed and enjoy life!”
“I’m sorry, Korbin. It’s just…I see you and Nyx and you’re so lucky! You found the love of your life and can be with her. You’re going to marry her and have kids and be together forever. I just want that. I want what you have! I want a girl I can hold without craving her blood! I want to have a family of my own, but I want to keep you too! I want all of us to grow together and live forever!” Korbin stood up and hugged his brother. “I wish I could cry, Korbin. Do you ever want to cry?”
“Yeah. When mom and dad died. Sometimes I still want to cry when I think about them.”
“I wish they were still here. They would know exactly what to do. They always had the answer.”
“I wish they were still here, too, Van. I wish I knew the answer to help you. I’m trying. I’m trying to be the brother you need, but I can’t be dad.”
“I know, Korb. You’re always there for me. I don’t thank you enough.”
“You don’t need to. You’re my family. Family sticks together through thick or thin.”
“Enjoying the meal?” Claire nodded. She had almost finished her plate, but Van had only touched his food. He had drunk a couple of glasses of wine, however. “Tell me, Claire, how is it that a beautiful girl like you doesn’t have a boyfriend?” Claire wiped her mouth.
“Well, since you mention it, I do have a boyfriend back home, who is buff and would kill anyone who took me out.” Claire laughed at Van’s expression. “Not really. I don’t know. I’ve always been serious with my schoolwork and…well, I guess no one asked me.”
“Your gain?” Van smirked.
“Definitely.” The waiter brought the check and Van slipped a few bills into the folder. Then he stood up and offered his hand to Claire. “Shall we go?”
“I figured we could walk around the city for a bit.” Claire smiled as she took Van’s hand, and he led her out of the restaurant. “Have you ever walked around the city?”
“Not at night.”
“It’s the best time.” They walked down the block and passed restaurants, clubs, and shops. Claire was looking at everything, and Van enjoyed watching her reactions. They walked through the bustling streets and talked more about their families and home lives. Claire did most of the talking as Van listened. They stopped momentarily to listen to music playing in a shop. They looked through the front, which was a giant window, and saw couples eating and dancing. Van stared at Claire as she watched the couples with delight. Then he grabbed her hand and pulled her into a dancing position. Claire caught her breath as she realized how close they were. She couldn’t find words to say and looked up to see Van smiling. He started dancing with her, slowly turning in circles to the music. She relaxed into his arms and stepped closer to him. She rested her head on his chest and closed her eyes. He softly hummed the tune in her ear. He breathed in her scent and it filled his nerves with impulses, which he ignored. Nothing was more perfect than that moment.
“Claire, I have to tell you something.”
“Mm-hmm.” He smiled to himself and held her closer.
“I think I’m falling in love with you.” She looked up at him, then, and stared into his eyes. She brushed his hair away from his eyes and leaned up to kiss him. He held her close and kissed her gently, never wanting to let go. The kiss deepened and Van felt his fangs penetrate the skin in his mouth. He opened his eyes and stepped away from Claire, not showing her his face. His breathing was heavy. “I’m sorry. I just…this is all so new for me.”
“It’s okay.” She stepped toward him. “I’m sorry if I’m going too fast.”
“No. It’s just…” He turned back around and smiled at her, his fangs receded. “I don’t want to mess this up.” She smiled and touched his cheek.
“You won’t.” She lightly kissed his cheek. “I think I’m falling for you too, Poet Boy.” Van smiled and they finished the dance.
They arrived back at the campus and headed to Van’s room. He unlocked the door as they were laughing and walked inside. Claire was about to say something when they both noticed Korbin sitting on his bed. He was reading a book and sipping a crimson liquid through a straw from a bag. Van’s eyes widened in alarm.
“I thought you and Nyx were going out?” Korbin raised his eyebrows and looked at them.
“Something came up. How was the date?”
“Hello, Claire. Nice to see you again.”
“You too, Korbin. What are you drinking? It looks interesting.” Korbin looked down at his drink and then up at Van, whose face was frozen.
“Just cranberry juice. It’s high in antioxidants.” Van let out a breath.
“Oh. I never liked cranberry juice. My grandma tried to make me drink it when I was younger.”
“It’s a favorite of mine.” Korbin smiled.
“Okay, well, I guess we’ll head out. I don’t want to bother you.” Van started to herd Claire out of the room.
“You’re not a bother. You’re more than welcome to stay.”
“Thanks. Maybe another time.” Korbin waved good-bye.
“You look great, Claire, by the way.”
“Thanks!” Van shut the door behind them and they went outside. “Why didn’t you want to stay?”
“Um…sometimes Korbin can be a bit…uncomfortable. He, uh, asks really personal questions.”
“Let’s just watch the stars. It’s a perfect night.” Claire smiled and followed Van down to the park.