Claire woke up one morning and got ready for class like any other day. She picked up her phone after she dried her hair and saw a text message from her sister wishing her a happy birthday. Claire smiled and grabbed her bag before departing for class. She put up her hood as soon as she walked outside. It was cold, gray, and raining. Beautiful October morning. She walked through puddles on her way to her first class. She walked in after shaking off the water and headed to her seat. She stopped when she saw a single yellow rose on her desk. She looked around, but noticed she was the only one in the room. She smiled and picked it up as she sat down at her desk.
After class, she walked to her next one in the same building and found another rose, this time a pink rose, sitting on her desk. She picked it up and smelled it, inhaling the sweet fragrance. She stayed after class to ask the professor a question about the homework and then headed to the computer lab. She walked to a computer and saw a lavender rose on the keyboard. Claire, astonished, looked around the room for her admirer. She finally sat down at the computer, mesmerized by whoever was sending her roses.
She headed to her last morning class before lunch. She was running a bit late since the printer was acting up in the computer lab. The three roses hung out of her bag as she rushed into the classroom. Some of the girls giggled when they saw her. She looked at her desk and saw an orange rose. She flushed as she quickly sat down and took the rose.
In the lunch line she grabbed a yogurt and a sandwich to go so that she could go study in the library before her next class. She went to check out when the cashier looked at her ID and handed her a red rose.
“A young man wanted me to give this to you.” Claire took it slowly, gazing at the beautiful flower. Then she took her food and went to the library, expecting more roses to show up any minute.
She went to her last class of the day and walked into the room to find a vase of a dozen red roses sitting on her desk. They were beautiful with a red ribbon wrapped around the clear vase. Claire was shocked and blushed as she made her way to her seat. She sat down and hid behind her roses. Everyone who walked into the room looked at her. Then Claire noticed a card folded in between the flowers. She picked it up and read it.
Meet me in the park at 4. Dress nice.
Claire folded it up and smiled to herself. She practically ran to her room after class and put the roses on her dresser. Her roommate raised her eyebrows at her.
“Someone really likes you.”
“Shut up and help me pick out something nice to wear.” She laughed and got up to help Claire search through her closet.
Claire walked through the park. It had stopped raining and a light fog had settled near the ground. She saw Van standing in the fog, wearing a suit. Claire had picked a red knee-length dress that matched her roses to wear. He kissed her cheek when she reached him, and he led her to a blanket on the ground. Claire saw a picnic set out with a basket and everything. They sat down and Claire couldn’t keep from smiling. Van opened the basket and started pulling out food.
“You look gorgeous. That color really compliments our skin.” Claire blushed. Van pulled out a bottle of wine and poured them each a glass. Claire looked at him questioningly. “It’s a special day.”
“Yeah?” Van smiled.
“Yeah.” He set out their food and handed her a plate with chicken alfredo. They began eating, Claire more than Van.
“Did you make this?”
“In more ways than you know.” They continued eating. Van sipped his red wine slowly. “Thank you for the roses.”
“Did you like them?”
“Yes. They were beautiful.”
“Do you know what they mean?” Claire shook her head. Van took her hand, palm up. He traced the creases on her palm slowly. “The yellow rose represents happiness. Pink represents admiration.” He traced his finger up her arm, giving her goosebumps. “The lavender rose represents enchantment.” His finger went up to her shoulder and then her neck. “Orange represents desire.” He cupped her face and then ran his hand up to her cheek and rubbed her skin with his thumb. “Red represents love.” He kissed her lightly on the lips. It was the perfect kiss. Claire could still taste him on her lips as he stood up and pulled her with him. He held her close and they started slow dancing together. Claire sighed happily as she relaxed into his arms. She could feel his breath on her forehead. “Happy Birthday, Claire.” His voice was soft. After several minutes of dancing in the fog, tiny raindrops started to fall. Neither of them cared. They kept dancing, even as the rain fell harder.
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 four of them sat in a booth at a casual restaurant with a bar. Korbin was drinking a beer as they waited for their food.
“You eat your steak raw?” Korbin smiled at Claire and saw that Van was tense.
“Yeah. Would you like to try a bite when it comes?”
“Uh, no thank you.” Korbin laughed. “Aren’t you afraid of getting a worm or disease or something?”
“No.” Korbin smiled. “I like you, Claire. You’re so innocent.” Van growled, but only Korbin heard. Korbin continued to smile but leaned back in his seat.
“So, how did you and Nyx meet?” Korbin glanced at Nyx sitting next to him.
“By accident.” They both laughed at an inside joke. Claire looked at Van and he just shrugged his shoulders. “Tell us about yourself, Claire.”
“What would you like to know?”
“What’s your favorite food?”
“Well, that’s a tough question. I love my mom’s homemade macaroni and cheese.”
“What’s your favorite color?”
“Your favorite sport?”
“Football.” Korbin looked at his brother.
“I like her so far.” Then he looked back at Claire. “Why did you choose the school we attend?”
“Well, it had a good program and it was in the mountains. I enjoy the outdoors.”
“Huh.” Their food arrived and Claire wrinkled her nose up at Korbin’s steak.
“Relax, Van.” Korbin and Van were walking side by side a little ways behind the girls. They were walking around town, enjoying the night life. Van hadn’t relaxed all evening. “It’s not like we’re going to bite her.”
“I’m just afraid one of us will say something that will give it away to Claire.”
“You mean you’re afraid I’m going to say something to mess things up. Chill, Van. Look, the girls are enjoying themselves. Don’t spoil it.” Van looked at the girls, talking and giggling, a few feet in front of them.
“You’re right. I should enjoy the night.” Korbin slapped Van’s back and smiled.
“That’s the spirit.” They continued walking until the girls spotted a clothing store. The boys reluctantly followed the girls in. The girls went right to work picking out outfits and giggling secretively. Claire brought a sweater over to Van and held it up to him.
“You’d look great in this!” Van raised an eyebrow and looked at Korbin, who shrugged his shoulder and grinned. Claire joined Nyx, and they went to the dressing room. They tried on clothes in stalls next to each other.
“I’m not trying to sound like an older sister, but be gentle with Van’s heart.”
“Of course. Why wouldn’t I?”
“Well, don’t let him know I told you, but you’re his first girlfriend.”
“Yeah. He’s never really dated and Korbin and I are thrilled he finally is, but…”
“I just hope things work out.”
“Me too. I really like Van. More than I should.”
“Why do you say that?”
“I’ve never fallen so hard and so fast for a boy. It’s new to me, and I have goals and dreams. I just don’t want my feelings to get in the way of my dreams and vice versa.”
“May I ask what attracted you to Korbin?” Nyx smiled to herself.
“He’s such a man.” Claire laughed. “I’m serious. He’s the kind of guy who will protect his family, defend his honor, and be the man of the house. He’s a real man.” Nyx laughed. “I also like a guy with a sense of humor. What attracts you to Van?”
“He’s so romantic.”
“I can see that.”
“He is just so sweet and thoughtful.”
“Sounds like someone’s in love.”
“I am not.”
“How long have you and Korbin been together?”
“Nice change of subject. Five years. I was sixteen when I met him.”
“Wow. Are you going to get married?”
“Eventually. Although he hasn’t asked me formally. We’ve talked about it, though.” Claire walked out of the stall.
“What do you think?” Nyx looked at her.
“Why don’t we try something that will drive Van crazy?” Nyx grinned and grabbed something from her stack of clothes. She threw it at Claire, who put it on. Then Nyx teased Claire’s hair and scrunched it, so that it was bigger and slightly curly. Then she dug in her purse and pulled out eye liner. She applied more makeup on Claire and then stepped back to take a look. “You’re gonna knock him dead.” Claire turned toward the mirror and gasped. She looked like a model. She was wearing black stilettos and a short red dress. Her eyes were smoky and dark, which made the color of her irises pop.
“Wow.” Nyx smiled and then applied more lipstick to her own lips. Nyx had changed also. She wore a tight black dress with black heals. The dress hugged every curve she had.
“Korbin loves black.” Claire smiled, but kept staring at her own reflection. “C’mon.” Nyx grabbed her hand and led her out of the dressing room. Nyx paid for the clothes and they walked out to where the boys were waiting. They had been talking, but upon seeing the girls, stopped. Their jaws dropped and they just stared. Nyx walked up to Korbin and slid her finger along his jaw line. “We’re ready.” Then she led the way out of the store, Claire following. The guys walked after them. The boys couldn’t keep their eyes or hands off of their girls. Nyx laughed every time she pushed Korbin away. His hands were all over her. Van was speechless and kept close to Claire the whole evening. They headed back to the school. When they arrived, Nyx walked toward the dorm. Korbin looked at Van.
“Mind if I have some privacy in the room for a while?” Van smirked.
“No. Have fun.” Korbin playfully punched Van’s shoulder and then ran after Nyx. Claire grabbed and turned Van’s head to look at her.
“You’ve been so good all night.” She slid her hands down the front of his shirt. Van swallowed hard.
“What do you mean?”
“You haven’t even put an arm around me.” Van closed his eyes.
“I’m trying to be a gentleman.”
“Let’s go hang out in my room.”
“Okay. I can’t go to mine.” Claire laughed as they went to her dorm. She opened the door and turned on the light. “Where’s your roommate?”
“She went home for the weekend. She’ll be back Sunday night.” Claire sat on her bed and Van sat next to her. “I had a wonderful evening.”
“I’m glad. I had fun too. You and Nyx hit it off.”
“She’s so cool. We had some good conversations.”
“Oh, yeah? About what?” Claire smiled.
“I can’t tell you. Girl stuff.”
“Not even a little?”
“No.” Claire smiled and poked his chest playfully. Van looked into her eyes.
“You are stunning.” He swept her hair behind her ear and touched her lips, before kissing her softly. He let go and continued looking at her. She put her hand through his thick hair and kissed him, deepening it. Van’s hands found her waist. The kiss deepened as Claire pulled off Van’s jacket and leaned back on her bed. Van continued kissing her as she unbuttoned his shirt. Van felt his fangs break through his gums. His eyes darkened into black holes and he flew off of Claire to the other side of the room. He turned his face away for several minutes until his features went back to normal. Claire sat up and looked at him.
“What’s wrong, Van?” Van slowed his breathing and then turned around to look at Claire.
“You freak out every time we kiss.” Van sighed heavily and ran a hand through his hair. “What’s wrong with me?” Van was at her side in an instant. He put his hands on either side of her face and kissed the tears that ran down her cheeks.
“I’m sorry, Claire. It’s me. I have…control problems. I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to ruin the night.” Claire sniffed and wiped her eyes, smearing her makeup. She turned her head.
“I look horrible.” Van turned her face back toward him and kissed her nose.
“You are beautiful, Claire. Never think otherwise.” Then he cradled her as she leaned her head against his chest and leaned back against the bed. He stroked her hair until she fell asleep in his arms. “I’m sorry, Claire.” He whispered so as to not wake her, but deep in his heart he regretted ever meeting her. How could he curse one so innocent and caring? How could he take a life that was not his to begin with? It was at that moment that Van realized if he could cry, he would have.
Over the next two weeks, Claire and Van were busy with schoolwork, but they tried to see each other at least once during the week. They sometimes even studied together in the library.
The library was quiet as everyone leaned over their textbooks. Claire looked up from her anatomy book and saw Van staring at her.
“Why do you keep looking at me?”
“I enjoy watching you study.”
“Your forehead crinkles when you concentrate.” Claire blushed and looked down. “It’s cute.”
“You’re going to make me self-conscious when I study now.”
“Nonsense. Just don’t look up.” Van smirked and Claire hit him with her book playfully. They both laughed. Van moved to the chair next to her. “There. Now I can’t look at you as easily.”
“Still won’t stop you.”
“Do you want me to stop?” Claire bit her lip as she smiled and looked down at her book.
“No.” Van leaned in close to her ear. She could feel his hot breath on her skin.
“Claire, will you be my girl?” Claire held her breath as her heart thumped hard in her chest and butterflies swarmed her stomach. She couldn’t think but just nodded yes. Van smiled and kissed her cheek.
“You’re in a hurry.” Van threw his shirt on. “You seein’ Claire?”
“Yeah.” Van grabbed a belt and put it on, getting ready to walk out the door.
“Van.” Van stopped and looked at his brother. “Can we talk?”
“Can’t it wait?”
“Don’t have time for your brother anymore?” Van shut the door and turned around toward Korbin. “How long have you been seeing Claire now?”
“Korbin. What’s on your mind?”
“Van, I just want you to be careful, that’s all.”
“Korbin.” Korbin held up his hand, silencing Van.
“Hear me out. I trust you, I do. I know you will make the right decisions and I know you have Claire’s best interests in mind, but you’re my family, Van. My only family. I just don’t want anything to happen to you.” Van looked at his brother.
“What do you think is going to happen, Korb?”
“I don’t know, but someone is bound to be hurt, either physically or emotionally.”
“Look, I like Claire…a lot. I don’t know what I’m going to do, but for the first time since mom and dad’s death, I’m happy and I’m living life.”
“Just be careful, okay?”
“I will. I promise.” Van then left to go meet Claire.
“How were classes this week?” Van and Claire were walking through the parks during a cloudy day.
“They were okay. Anatomy is challenging and the professor is boring. Yours?”
“I had trouble concentrating. I couldn’t stop thinking of you.” Claire blushed and smiled. They were holding hands. The breeze whipped around them and they could feel autumn approaching. “What do you want to do today? We have all weekend.”
“Well, I will have to do homework sometime, but for now, I don’t know. What do you want to do?”
“Nope. I asked you first.” Van smiled.
“Not fair.” Claire thought for a minute. “I like what we’re doing right now. I love being outside. It’s so much more free and relaxing and natural.” They kept walking, listening to the birds and wind. “Do you ever look up at the trees and wonder what they’ve seen?” They stopped walking and looked up at a huge white oak tree.
“I never really thought about it.”
“Really? You probably think I’m weird.”
“No. Tell me.”
“Well, I just think it’s amazing that these trees are hundreds of years old, and they continue to grow. We only live to about eighty years. They live for hundreds. It’s remarkable.”
“I suppose it is.” They looked up at the tree some more. Then Van turned and grabbed her around the waist and twirled her in a circle. Their foreheads were touching when they stopped spinning.
“How is this real?”
“I don’t know.” Van kissed the tip of her nose. “Claire, I never want to be without you.” She smiled.
“I’ll be a busy girl in med school.” Van’s smile faltered a little.
“I’m a patient guy.” They started walking again, hand in hand. They heard footsteps approach them from behind and turned to see Korbin and Nyx walking toward them.
“Hey.” Van looked at Korbin. “Nyx and I are going out tonight and wanted to know if you two would like to join us.” Claire smiled.
“Like a double date?”
“That would be great!” Korbin looked at his brother.
“Yeah sure, sounds fun.” Korbin smiled and draped his arm around Nyx before leaving them.