“Thanks. And I don’t mean to be rude, but you’re kind of freaking me out right now.”
“Sorry.” He shook his head and went back to slicing a tomato. “I just can’t not smell you, you know?”
“Well, try not to fantasize about eating me at least,” I grimaced.
Milo managed to not eat me while he made the rest of my meal. He sat down and watched me eat, but it still felt nice, like we were eating together like we used to. Even though he didn’t really look like my brother, and he wasn’t really anymore, we were still family.
We were just turning into a whole different kind of family.
- 17 -
Vampires needed oxygen, just not as much as people. Living on minimal oxygen was an important skill vampires could add to their arsenal, if only they could master it. That’s pretty much a direct quote from Jack, right there. Maybe not all of it, but the word “arsenal” was definitely in there. That’s the explanation he gave for today’s exercise.
“Exercise” was another word he used, and I hadn’t realized how seriously he took everything with Milo. When he had texted me earlier, he said that I could come over, but he’d be pretty busy with Milo. Ezra had gone somewhere, so Mae could use the company.
Jack picked me up, giving me the briefest of explanations before he and Milo changed into their swim trunks. That only made it harder for me to understand things because Jack shirtless was captivating.
Not to mention how distracting Milo was. Obviously, I wasn’t attracted to him in anyway, but I had spent all summer seeing him in swim trunks, and he had looked nothing like he did now. He was all muscle and chiseled abs.
Milo didn’t need to breathe as much as he did, but his body didn’t realize that yet. The best way to train his lungs would be to put him somewhere he wouldn’t be able to breathe. Jack’s idea was to submerge him underwater, the same way Peter taught Jack not to breathe.
Apparently, it’s terrifying the first couple of times he did it, since his mind didn’t understand that it wasn’t about to die. So Jack recommended that I stay in the house while he went out with Milo, lest I get freaked out.
I stood at the French doors, staring out at the black lake behind the house. There wasn’t a moon in the sky, and a rather eerie cloud cover had swept over, blinding all the stars.
The back deck lights were off, making it easier for me to see the dock and lake, but I couldn’t really see much of anything. The water was like a black abyss, and every now again, I would catch something shimmering off it, but Milo and Jack were completely lost in it.
Matilda sat next to me, whimpering with anticipation. Jack left her inside because, like me, she had the habit of getting nervous and freaking out. I knew Milo was perfectly safe. Almost nothing in the world could hurt him, and certainly nothing in that lake. But that’s where he had almost died, where his blood still stained the end of the dock, and my heart felt cold and tight in my chest.
“They’re going to be fine,” Mae reassured me for the seven-hundredth time that night.
She stood behind me, leaning against the doorway into the dining room, with her arms crossed loosely over her chest. In the other room, I heard Nina Simone playing, and I imagined that Mae was curled up on the couch, reading a book. Or at least that’s what she was doing when she wasn’t busy checking on me.
“I know.” I thought I saw something, but it was gone before I could even make it out.
“You’re just going to stand there all night then?” Her words came out soft and disappointed.
“I don’t know.” I wanted to pull myself away, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that if I looked away, something would happen. As if the lake somehow had it in for Milo, and it was just waiting to finish the job when I wasn’t paying attention.
“You know what? That’s not good enough.” Before I could protest, Mae looped her arm through mine and pulled me away from the glass. “Come on. That’s more than enough for one night.”
“Mae.” I actually tried to free myself from her. While her grip felt friendly and gentle, it was really a death grip. Any amount of tugging and pulling I did would do little more than bruise me. “I just feel better if I’m watching.”
“I know that, love, but it’s not accomplishing anything. Honest.”
She led me into the living room. It was dimly lit with several candles and a lamp, but my eyes had been so accustomed with darkness that it almost hurt to look around. Everything smelled of lilacs and lilies, courtesy of the candles, and I breathed in.
“What are we going to accomplish in here?” I asked.
“You’re going to relax.” Mae yanked me down on to the overstuffed couch with her.
Matilda had followed us in and stood in the middle of the room, looking at me questioningly. Apparently, she felt guilty for abandoning her post too.
“I relax all the time. I’ve done nothing but relax all summer long. Maybe my entire life, even.” I pulled my knees up to my chest, and Mae laughed faintly.
“Alice, if you’re going to live forever, you’ve really got to learn how to live!” Mae teased.
Her fingers combed through my hair, and she turned me so my back was to her. I heard the clamor of something, and when I looked out of the corner of my eye, I saw her getting a brush and hair clips off the end table beside her.
Following suit, I patted the couch with my hand, and Matilda hopped up next to me. As Mae played with my hair, I ran my hands through Matilda’s thick, white fur.
“What does that even mean?” I asked as Mae pulled and teased at my hair.
“Hmm?” She’d already forgotten what she’d said to me.
“That I have to learn how to live. What’s wrong with the way I live?”
“Nothing,” Mae replied, but with a heavy sigh, she changes her mind. “Well, you need to worry less.”
“Less?” I asked incredulously. “I think if anything, I’m a little over relaxed, given my circumstance.”
“But you know you have nothing to worry about. You’re always concerning yourself with how things are going to end, when they’re not going to end for a very long time. It’s much better to live in the here and now.”
“Really?” I scratched Matilda’s ear and had to suppress a laugh. “Every time Jack and I get caught living in the here and now, we get a lecture. I don’t think that’s really what you want for me.”