Phantom (Endlessly Book 3) (9 page)

“Let’s just pretend it didn’t happen,” she said.

I grabbed the edge of the pool. Keeping one foot on the ledge, I swung my body in front of her and placed my other foot opposite her. I gripped the edge of the pool, trapping her. She shrank back from me and crossed her arms over her chest. I pulled myself closer.

“I think you’re afraid of me.”

She looked up at me with a straight face and relaxed her arms. I eyed her stone necklace, the constant reminder of Verloren. Would he be pissed at me for trying to fuck Ash? What did it matter? He was gone. I pulled closer, leaving only inches between us.

“I think you’re afraid to give in. You’re afraid to kiss me and let go. Deep down you care for me, but you’re terrified to let yourself fall in love again.” I pulled myself close enough that our bodies were touching. She turned from me and frowned, clenching her fists. They became lethal. I leaned my head down and whispered: “Prove me wrong, Ashley. Kiss me
… kiss me and tell me you don’t feel anything.”

She punched me hard in the chest and knocked me off the ledge. I inhaled a lot of water, resurfaced, and coughed.

“You know you are an ass head, right?” she barked.

I swam back to the ledge, keeping my d
istance. “I am completely aware that I am Jason Zurk, king of the ass heads. They have an annual festival in my name.”

She laughed. “You’re such a jerk. You need to get a girlfriend and leave me alone.” She hung on to the edge and kicked her legs underwater.

I sighed and changed the subject. “Any more thoughts on who called Jack?”

I listened
and heard a hurt she was trying to hide. She shook her head and chuckled.

“What’s so funny?” I asked.

“I just find it ironic her name is Oz.”

“Why?”

“The night after you and I became connected, remember the night at the beach?”

“Yes,” I said, and started edging toward her again.

How could I forget? The night that I first fed after her, and the night I realized I loved her. She fought a smile as she read my thoughts, then held up her hand.

It’s a lost cause
, Jason, don’t touch me again,
she thought. She then said out loud: “I’ve thought of you as the tin man since then, always looking for a heart. Now you’ve got one.”

 

 

 

10 TABOO LOVE

 

Like any other soul mates, Sarah and Jack were inseparable. In normal circumstances Hania would have erased h
is memory and sent Jack back to the human world, but Sarah had kept him like a stray. This raised issues. The biggest concern was that Jack was human and Sarah had no intention to change him immediately. She protected Jack fiercely, and sternly tutored Abby about self-control around humans — something Ash had never done.

By the time Jack had been there a week, it was growing unbearable. I couldn’t stand to be in the same room with them. They were like a disgustingly happy little family, falling into their places like subjects of a screwed up Rockwell painting. The way Sarah and Jack looked at
each other made me want to barf and it seemed as if Ash felt the same way. It was a reminder of what we didn’t have.

Yet there were times when Ash would absorb and reflect Jack’s happiness on me. She was trying to show me how it could be, in an attempt to steer me to Oz.

The pulling turned painful, making me irritable. I was picking a lot of stupid fights, determined to prove them all wrong. I felt the blind frustrations of failure. At night I lay in bed, staring into the darkness, wondering what I was missing. My mind felt trapped in the ache of this strange attraction.

When Ash and Verloren fell for each other, it had been a natural progression of two becoming one. This seemed different. Sarah had created an instant family, and their connection felt forced and sickening. Despite Jack’s human form, he and Sarah touched
constantly. It was as if Sarah had taken to making out with a cheeseburger. It might have been different with a werewolf. Our bodies are human, with far different needs, but a vampire making out with a human seemed almost ugly to me. The more I thought about it, the more disgusted I got. Sarah was leading the poor guy along, never quite giving him what he wanted. And what in the hell was she teaching Abigail?

Sarah resisted making Jack into a vampire. With her inability to transform into a human, and Jack’s obsession with her growing, there seemed to be only one option. Jack acted as if his life depended on having sex with her. I wished she would get it over with.

I wondered if Sarah had changed at all. Could this be her ultimate torture? She could give up hunting and killing every evil man she could find and concentrate on torturing this one. She could stretch it out, putting off his death indefinitely. Whenever Ashley caught these thoughts, she scolded me, saying I shouldn’t judge Sarah unless I’d walked in her shoes. It seemed as if Ashley and I were on a collision course over our opinions of the situation.

One day Ash sat with Hania at the card table in the game room. Josh and I were playing a video game. Abby leaned on the back of the sofa, kicking it, as she annoyed me with dumb questions about the game. A subtle shift occurred in my mind, so subtle that at first I barely noticed it. When I finally felt it I knew it must either be Ash or Oz. Detecting some change between Ash and Hania, I glanced back at them. They were engrossed in a private conversation.

I snatched the bag of chips from Josh and shoved a handful in my mouth. I punched the controller buttons too hard and too fast, pausing to feed myself.

“You’re gonna break the controller again!” Josh yelled.

“No I’m not,” I said, spitting chips from my overfilled mouth.

“And you’re getting the controller all fucking greasy with your potato fingers, asshole!”

Abby laughed, kicking the sofa again.

“Quit kicking the couch, kid!” I sneered.

She glared at me. “What? You mean this?” She swung her leg again.

I tried to catch her leg, but she danced back and taunted me.

“Do it again and I’ll break that leg,” I snapped.

“It won’t hurt,” she taunted.

“I’ll make it fucking hurt.”

Ash butted in, saying: “Jason, watch your mouth.”

“What?”

Sarah and Jack were just coming in. “Don’t swear around her,” Sarah ordered. “She’s already learned too much from you.”

“Josh cussed too,” I protested.

Sarah sighed
and sat down with her leech. I turned back to my game. I could hear them kissing and knew that his mouth must be latching onto her neck, hand or face.

“Sarah.” Hania’s voice sounded fragile.

Sarah spoke to Abigail: “You should go play outside for a little while.”

“But—

“I want you
to — now.”

Once Abby had left
, Sarah and Jack joined Hania and Ash at the card table. Though Josh was still needling me, I overheard the others’ conversation.

“You can’t let him suffer like this,” Hania said.

“But I don’t think I can make him like me,” Sarah replied. “I didn’t ask for this. It was forced on me. I wouldn’t wish it on him.”

“I’m not being forced,” Jack pleaded. “This is what I want.”

“I will not damn your soul to be like mine,” Sarah argued.

“I would take damnation over losing you,” Jack whimpered.

“You have to do something, Sarah,” Hania reiterated.

Why don’t you do it?
I thought to Ash.
That way it’s over and she can’t complain that it’s her fault.

“No!” Ash barked.

A silence fell. Josh and I continued our game for a moment, but then I found myself in the middle of the conversation.

Jason has a morbid fascination with my virus. It’s not a good idea,
Ash told everyone.

“I think we’ve seen what it’s capable of,” Hania said. “Do we need reminded of the mindless corpses? And then there is Abby.”

Against Josh’s protests I paused the video game and turned to stare at Ash. “Tell them what I’m really curious about,” I said. “You’re always in my head and know what I want. Abby was human and she lived; we know what Jack would become. What would happen to an incarnate?”

“We don’t conduct experiments,” Ash hissed.

“See, Ash, that’s why you don’t make a good vampire. You’ve got too much conscience. You and Sarah both need to learn to kill without giving a fuck.”

Hania scolded: “We are not like Kale, Jason. We don’t experiment just to see what happens.”

“Okay,” I agreed, “we’re not like Kale. But remember, without his experiments we would have never had Verloren.”

Ash jumped up knocking over her chair.

“Without his experiments Verloren could have been reborn!” Ashley glared at me through black-tearing eyes as she touched her necklace.

“So I take it that you’re
on Sarah’s side,” I said.

Ash laid her hands on the table, while the other three leaned away, avoiding the vibrations.

“Sarah and Jack are different; they need each other,” she said evenly.

I blocked a new thought from her. What if I could provoke her into a fight? I’d done it a hundred times when it was just the two of us. If I could keep her from laying her hands on me, I could goad her into biting, but keep her from killing me. She’d always had enough self-restraint to keep from injuring me. This time I would have to keep hold of her while pushing her anger. That way I could do the experiment without them knowing.

“Just like you and I need each other?” I asked. “Then why won’t you turn me?”

Ash slammed her hand down hard on the table as Hania shook his head at me. It was working. A
ll I had to do was keep pushing and I was sure she would snap.

“Why are you being difficult
, Jason?” Ash yelled. “You’ve been picking fights with everyone!”

She was onto me.

“I’m not being difficult,” I said. “I’m realistic. You should leave your fucking fantasyland and join me sometime.”

Ash lunged. I braced to catch her, when Hania shouted in an unfamiliar language. Ash hung in midair like a puppet, then fell on her back. She stared dumbstruck at the ceiling. As anger at Hania surged through me, I struggled to stay human. Ash jumped to her feet, glaring at me. Hania pointed a tiny woo
den wand at Ash. My body shook as I yearned to attack. Ash stood still, anger rippling into her hands. She too wanted to strike, but the thought of being slammed down on the floor again made her reconsider. She turned and ran outside.

“No!” I growled, starting after her, then I caught myself just in time. Hania lowered the wand.

I closed my eyes and breathed deeply. That stupid old man had fucked up my chance to be immortal. I fell back on the sofa beside Josh. He avoided my gaze. I hit “Resume.”

“That was a bullshit thing to do, Jason!” Sarah snarled.

I ignored her as she reassured Jack. Once she’d calmed him, she followed Ash outside.

“Jason,” Hania said.

“I don’t want to hear it, old man!”

He spoke another strange word. The controller flew from my hand, slamming into the console. That shut everything off.

“Goddamn it!” I screamed.

“You will listen to me!” Hania bellowed. His ferocity belied his frail body. “You complained that Ashley tortured you when Verloren died. Now you’ve turned the tables. You’re hurting her. Your constant nagging and endless desire must stop! We all know you love her, Jason, but you cannot, and won’t ever fill Verloren’s shoes. No one can.

“I see your mind, Jason. You act tough, refusing to find your true soul mate. Why? Because you’re terrified of any possible and permanent connection. The only reason you peruse the permanence of being a hybrid is because you know Ash, and the rest of us, won’t let it happen. You always want what you can’t have.”

“Bullshit!” I spat.

“Is it?” Hania asked. “Then prove me wrong.”

I got up and walked out, mumbling: “Nice fucking try.”

When I reached my apartment I slammed the door.
Me torturing her,
I thought.
What a fucking joke. She’s the one torturing herself.
If she would let go of him, she could be happy with me. She could’ve had a life with me in Indiana. When she was still a beautiful powerful human, we might’ve shared an almost normal life. Instead everyone wanted me to run after some girl I don’t even know. How could you love someone you don’t know?

The ache in my chest wasn’t much worse. Maybe this would be as bad as it got. If so, I could deal with it. I grabbed a cigarette, flopped down on the sofa and turned on the stereo, cranking up the volume on
Sirens and Sailors. After a few songs someone knocked on my door. I turned the music down and opened the door to find Jack.

“What do you want?” I growled.

“Can I talk to you?” He fidgeted and looked at the ground.

“Talk.”

“In private.”

I stepped out of the way, gesturing for him to enter. He walked past me avoiding eye contact. I closed the door and looked at this walking nervous wreck. “You live in a house of monsters, Jack. There are no private conversations.” I tapped my ear. “Everyone can hear better than any human. Now sit down.”

Jack sat on the edge of the sofa. Looking at him I was suddenly reminded of Verloren. He’d had the same bewildered realization of love when he’d found Ashley, like someone reborn. Once a soul mate found his or her match, a new light shone in their eyes. After taking that great leap of faith their eyes seemed to call out, “Join us in this cult of love.”

“What do you have to say that I haven’t heard before,” I asked, crossing my arms.

“Uh, well…” His eyes danced around the room. “Nothing. I was just curious. You seem bitter about Sarah and me. They say you’ve met your soul mate, but you’re avoiding her. I guess… I just don’t understand why.”

“Have you met Ashley?” I sneered.

Jack rubbed his palms, debating whether to respond. His answer was a nervous silence.

“They say I’m avoiding her, huh?” I said. “Did they put you up to this?”

He shook his head. “No, it was my own curiosity… and I was trying to figure out why you hate me so much.”

“I’m shocked. You actually grew a pair on your own.” I chuckled. “I don’t hate you, Jack. I just hate what you represent.”

“Humans?”

“No… happiness.”

“How can you hate being happy?”

“Nothing good can last forever,” I said. “Ask Ashley. She’ll tell you all about it. And when her mental walls come tumbling down and you feel all the pain she does, tell me if you really think it’s all worth it.”

“You see the glass as half empty.”

I chuckled. “I was born a monster, Jack. There’s no other way to look at life.”

Jack changed the subject, mentioning the motorcycle. Our conversa
tion devolved into pleasantries and, as I sensed the nearness of Ashley and Sarah, I told him his beloved was back. He left to join her and I turned the music back up.

I could hear Sarah finally agreeing to the idea that Jack should become a vampire. It was best for him, her, and Abby. They planned it all out like a fucking honeymoon. They would take a room at a nearby hotel. Sarah would feed, then the fucking succubus would bite him. Once he’d been bitten, they would come back home. That’s what they told us, but I knew there was more to it than that. She wanted to screw him without Abby, or any of us, hearing them.

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