Without anxiety-induced snafus to get in the way, breakfast went smoothly. Hans and Emma made the last two trips to the basement. Hans had swapped his apron for a tee shirt and carried a plate of food in each hand. Emma had thrown on a pair of tight jeans and one of the blouses I had passed on yesterday. She carried two more plates, as well.
The platter Hans had brought down originally was piled up with bacon, kielbasa, Canadian bacon, and hash browns. One of the plates had John’s omelet – a concoction that appeared to be one part egg to one part cheese to four parts meat. The other three plates had enormous, fluffy waffles covered in whipped cream, chopped strawberries, and drizzled with chocolate syrup.
I didn’t participate in the conversation much – I was over half-way through my waffle before I could convince myself to take a break to thank and compliment Hans. There wasn’t really a lot of chatter at first, anyway: the food was good, it was plentiful, and everyone seemed pretty hungry.
I spent some of that time going over my plan for the morning in my head. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a lot there to distract me: it was pretty much a two-parter, consisting of “get alone time with Hans” and “jump him.” Eventually I gave up on planning and just listened to the conversation that did start up. While making eyes at Hans, of course.
At least, I thought I was making eyes at him. That was the intention anyway. Instead of blushing and averting my eyes when Hans caught me at it (well, I may have blushed a little), I smiled at him. Then I let him watch me look him up and down, and then I gave him a wink before turning my attention back to my food.
I thought that was pretty unambiguous.
The conversation between Emma and John was interesting. I found out that ghouls couldn’t eat anything that was mostly fruit, grain, or vegetable (it wouldn’t digest, John explained). And apparently when they’d been traveling together Hans would ride along in wolf form so John could get plain hamburger patties without buns “for his dog” at drive-throughs without getting weird looks.
Emma asked if Hans had ever ridden along with his head out the window and Hans – with an exaggerated embarrassment that answered for him – declined to answer. I had to chuckle at the mental image, too. And I didn’t even feel bad about it because I caught Hans grinning before he ducked his head in feigned shame; hamming it up for a laugh.
Entertaining as that was, by the end of breakfast I was starting to get antsy. That was a little weird since I was vampy enough to not be my usual hyper-anxious self – but I chalked it up to a combination of mild uncertainty and lots of anticipation toward getting Hans alone for a bit.
When we were all done eating, John stood and stretched. “Well,” he said, “that hit the spot.” He patted his stomach appreciatively. “But nonetheless, I need to get going. I don’t have the worst sun allergy here but I do feel it rising, and I’d like to get back to my hotel before it gets too bright out.”
“Wait,” I found myself blurting as I focused on the out of place anxious feeling bubbling in the back of my head. “Is that what that is?” I looked at John and hastened to clarify: “I’m feeling weirdly anxious, and energetic, and sort of like I want to hide,” I told him.
John chuckled. “That would be your instincts telling you the sun is coming,” he confirmed. “I’ve never met a vampire or ghoul who couldn’t sense the sunrise.”
I frowned, still focused on the crawling sensation of dread. My leg was bouncing unconsciously, I realized, and I made the effort to keep it still. “It’s kind of unpleasant,” I noted.
John nodded. “It gets more pronounced in vampires as they age, I’ve been told – but once the sun actually rises for the day, it goes away. You should start to feel really tired after that; maybe even lethargic. That’s the curse trying to keep you dormant in order to conserve your aura through the daylight hours. The lethargy only lasts until nightfall, even if you let it take you under – or until you feed, or something else shocks you out of it.”
“Huh,” I said. I blinked and stood up. “Okay. Thanks for letting me know to expect that. Oh! Does that mean if I keep to a nocturnal schedule I won’t need to feed as much? I can just be ‘dormant’ through the day?” It sounded a little creepy, but maybe it would be like sleeping. If it took some of the pressure off of Hans and Emma, though, it would be worth doing.
“Maybe?” John answered. “The vampires I’ve known have always had enough donors that feeding conservatively wasn’t really an issue for them. I think it would work like that, but if you do decide to try going the day without feeding I’d suggest you feed right before sunrise to lessen your chance of ‘waking up hungry.’ And keep a donor nearby, just in case.”
I nodded. That was sensible – although I had a strong suspicion it would prove unnecessary. I’d gone a long time since last night’s feeding and I didn’t think I was all that dangerously close to the ‘danger zone’ of my thirst. When it came to conserving my aura it seemed that the main gotchas were keeping out of the sun and not using my supernatural abilities. Otherwise, it looked like I could reliably go a full night on one feeding – and hopefully a full day on another.
“Okay,” I said. “I’ll make sure to do that. Um, I don’t want to keep you from getting home safe, so is it okay if I get your number from Hans? I want to make sure I can call you if anything else weird comes up.”
John smiled widely. “Of course,” he said. “And I’m up at all hours, so don’t hesitate to call. I can even be out and about in the daylight,” he added, “so I can rush over if you need something more than conversation can provide.”
“Really?” I asked in surprise. “Thank you!” I couldn’t imagine what I might need that Hans or Emma couldn’t get for me, but having one more person willing to run my daylight errands was a gift I wasn’t going to turn up my nose at. In fact, it was a gesture I wanted to reciprocate.
I took a deep breath. “John,” I said, “I’m not ready to be a Salvatore. I don’t know if I ever will be, not with having been mur… killed by your dad. But I figure if you can have step-moms then a vampire family can be more complex than just ‘in it or not.’ So I’m not going to claim any relationship to Mr. Salvatore. At all. But if you wanted, like, an adopted sister with no relation to your folks, then… Well, it would take some getting used to but I think I could be okay with that.”
John lit up. “Really?” he asked. “That’s wonderful!”
I smiled. “Yeah,” I said. I felt anxious about it – but that was just me projecting the impending sunrise. “Just don’t try to kill me or any of my friends,” I warned, “or I swear to God I will emancipate my ass,” I added, only half teasing.
John laughed. “Noted,” he said solemnly. Then he turned to Hans. “Thank you for calling me over,” John said. “It’s been a good night.”
“Of course,” Hans said. They shook hands and then Hans rose to pull John into a manly embrace, complete with back slapping. I decided to replace Mr. Salvatore in my BL slashfic with John. They looked the same, but John was much less creepy. “Next time you should come by earlier,” Hans said. “We can catch up.”
“I’d appreciate that,” John said. “I mean, I think I’ve heard the highlights now but it seems like your life has been very interesting of late.”
Hans laughed and let his friend go. “That it has,” he agreed.
“You know,” I chimed in, “I’m planning on taking Emma out tonight. If you two wanted to hang out without worrying about the girls listening in on bro time, tonight would probably be good for that.” I figured John would probably want to ask Hans about me at some point, but with my enhanced hearing there was no way I’d miss out on that conversation if I were anywhere in the same house as the two of them. This way Hans would have some privacy and I’d be sparing myself God knows how much embarrassment. Plus it was a way for me to keep from feeling guilty about abandoning Hans to a lonely, boring evening. And that would be one less thing for me to obsess about and freak out over while I was out on the date.
Hans and John exchanged a glance. Hans raised an inquisitive eyebrow and John chuckled. “Sounds good,” John said. Then he turned to Emma. “And in case I don’t run into you this evening, have a good day and a good night, and keep safe.”
Emma twisted around a little further in her chair to smile at him. “You too,” she said. “Drive safe.”
John nodded to her and turned to me. “And Abigail… Don’t forget to get my number from this lunk.” He poked Hans in the bicep. “And take care. Call if you need anything.” He hesitated and then added: “I know it must feel like you’re off to a rocky start, but don’t be disheartened. I actually think you’re doing really well, sis.”
I smiled back at him and decided to just let him have his big brother moment. “Thanks,” I said. I didn’t actually think I was adapting that well, personally. But I was getting the sense that I’d been unfairly lucky in the quality of people who’d chosen to help me out.
After those farewells John turned and saw himself out. Hans started collecting the breakfast dishes and I sighed in relief. “I think that went really well,” I said to no one in particular.
Emma gave me a sideways glance. “Were you expecting otherwise?”
“No,” I said – then backtracked. “Well, yes,” I admitted, “but not for very good reasons. When I was alive, I used to be very anxious around people, especially strangers.” The admission felt like even more of an understatement because I didn’t have trouble getting it out. “I had a bad habit of getting flustered and letting my mouth run away with me.”
“Really?” Emma asked. “I didn’t notice anything like that when we met last night.”
I laughed despite myself. “Emma,” I said, “I was terrified. I’ve told you I’ve never been in a relationship before, right? Well, I never expected to be, either. I’d certainly never taken a good look at my sexuality. I’d just gone with the societal default and assumed I was straight.” I chuckled. It was strange to look back at my normal mindset. From the clarity of my current one, I could see how wildly exaggerated my emotions had been; how I’d always been leaping from one extreme to another. I wouldn’t have been able to talk about what was going on in my head while I was like that. I would have been too mortified to admit what was ‘wrong’ with me, and I would have leapt to the assumption that anyone who knew would look down on me as a person for it.
Now, though, from my current emotional equilibrium? I could see that it just was what it was: A somewhat sad, somewhat tragic emotional flaw that didn’t actually say anything about me as a person. From this perspective I could see that my anxiety had been extreme, out of control, and not actually my fault. Whether it was fae manipulations or just some sort of chemical imbalance in my brain… I wasn’t to blame for my freak outs. And because of that – because I wasn’t putting that blame on myself or admitting to a moral failing – I wasn’t embarrassed to talk about it. Actually, it was kind of nice to be able to explain what it was like without making the condition worse.
“Anyway,” I said, “The whole reason I was staring at you is that I thought you were so pretty I couldn’t even think about talking to you. Which was good, because usually when I get like that I just start blurting things out as soon as they come into my head – and from the moment you pulled me onto the dance floor to the time when Katherine interrupted us I didn’t have a single PG-13 thought.”
That admission made Emma’s cheeks turn a particularly fun shade of red. I finished my orange juice and hid a smile in my cup. The way she blushed made me glad to have been able to share.
“It was worse with Hans,” I added when Emma didn’t reply. “When he introduced himself to me my mind went so far in the gutter Megan had to handle my introduction. When I finally did talk to him, it was to accuse him of incompetence and throw him out of my office. And what makes it even worse is that I’d just found out he was going to be my boss.”
Emma’s jaw dropped. “No,” she gasped – torn between not believing it and wanting to laugh.
I grinned and shot Hans a sidelong glance. “Oh yes,” I confirmed. “Once I found out he was a werewolf I realized the only reason he was going out with me was because he was picking up ‘hello, I am in heat for you’ pheromones with that wolfy nose of his.”
“Hey!” Hans protested. He collected my empty cup and added it to his stack of dirty plates. “That’s not the only reason,” he said in imitation indignation.
It made me laugh. “Oh, sure. I believe you – but I might not after I feed again,” I warned. “Actually, that’s what I meant about this going well. I was worried I might have an anxiety attack and flip out on John. And I did, a little – but when I got past that things just started getting progressively easier.” I shrugged. “I think it’s because when I start to get vampire-hungry, fear and anxiety are the first bits of humanity to go.”