“Trust children.–John Holt
Nothing could be more simple, or more difficult.
Difficult because to trust children we must first learn to trust ourselves, and most of us were taught as children that we could not be trusted.”
San Myshuno Spire Apartments Penthouse
The scent of fresh paint, new carpets and hardwood floors along with the woodsy smell of brand-new assembled furniture was heavily lingering in the air. The furniture looked generic, plain and soulless, it came with the place, advertised as fully furnished and top of the line, a rental with the option to buy, so if this turned into a sale, the generic furnishings would just make way to the new owners’ tastes.
Blaine’s frown dissipated, when Scarlett smiled over at him from her position of standing near the kitchen area with Caelan and his wife Rhiannon, talking and laughing, Blaine saw his and Scarlett’s daughter Caitlin, Heath and Leeora sitting at the dining table chatting away as if they hadn’t just spent the entire day together moving in.
How they all arrived at this scenario was fairly easily explained.
Ever since her 18th birthday some months ago, Leeora had run away from home countless times. Literally countless, as everyone had lost count of the actual number, harrowing each time, naturally Caelan was an excellent tracker due to his job, but if it happened while he was on an assignment, it had not been pretty. Nearly weekly, the Vatores and the vampire-side of the Camerons had spent out looking all over for Leeora.
Witches, often referred to as spellcasters, a blanket term, which included any sort of creed and guild with the ability to use any form of magic in their favor, be it mages, sages and witches/witchers, druids and the likes, were basically just enhanced mortals, a lot sturdier and more protected than average humans, due to their special abilities to help themselves in most dire situations. Between that and their potential skillset, theoretically a great advantage once mastered, at this point in her life it all still only added up to a fatal flaw to Leeora, by now she hated the whole idea of being a witch so much, that she felt it was the root cause of all her troubles. It bound her to secret laws and ancient rules, which control her life in a way that she couldn’t bear any longer.
So, one day, instead of running away to nowhere, with no plan, no money and no perceivable future, as everything she really wanted was beyond her reach due to said rules and laws binding her to something she no longer believed in, she went to the secret temple hidden from those not familiar with the Magic Realm and its ancient knowledge and great powers. There she sought out one of the Elder High Mages and renounced Wicca, descending from her status and resigning her abilities of magic. All her hard work gone in an instant, but finally freed from the much-hated stigmata.
After her deed she returned home to share her news with her mother Seraphina, in a way looking for support, but instead it upset her mother so much that after a bitter fight, during which things were said that should never be said between a parent and a child, Seraphina threw her daughter out on the street, something she later regretted and tried to undo, but Leeora wouldn’t even talk to her anymore.
Following that drama, Leeora bounced around several Vatore and Cameron homes for temporary stays, including Vatore Castle, the place she had longed to live at all her life, but now that the thrill of the forbidden was gone, she ended up bored to tears, realizing life at the castle wasn’t what she wanted after all. It was remote, there was little to do, and as a mortal without the ability to teleport it often took hours to get to civilization, and hours to return. During a visit at Liam and Vivien’s San Myshuno penthouse, Leeora discovered her love for the big city.
It was sheer coincidence that right around that time her cousin and good friend, 17-year-old Caitlin came to town with her parents and Heath for a casting call for the modeling career she so desperately wanted, Leeora tagged along to the appointment, mostly out of curiosity, but utilizing not only their stunning good looks, Caitlin’s famous pedigree and Leeora’s stand-out-in-any-crowd charisma, both girls were awarded multi-year contracts with a local agency, one of the largest worldwide. An incredible once-in-a-lifetime opportunity had presented itself, somehow the idea was born to let the three teens stay at an apartment in San Myshuno. With the help of Vivien and Liam, Blaine and Scarlett found them a fully furnished and recently remodeled three-story penthouse to move into on a trial basis.
Rules were put into place, about underage Cait and Heath attending high school, keeping up grades, and all three of them staying out of trouble. If they managed that on top of the modeling jobs, this would become permanent. So, now here it was, the dreaded day Blaine and Scarlett had to let go of their Caitlin – and Heath – over a year sooner than either of them had expected, even though for them, they were only ever a brief teleport away. Still, it was the principle of it all that burned. It required an immense amount of faith and trust in the young people and if the teens weren’t vampires this would likely never have happened.
When the time came for the parents to leave the teens to settle in and find their new routines, Caelan grabbed poor Heath to give him a thorough rundown of things he was not allowed to do around his daughter and niece. The usual warnings about keeping things platonic, which he finished off by saying
“You watch over the girls, got it? You are literally the man of the household now, a protector and the voice of reason. Blaine raised you to be strong and make the right decisions, here is your chance to prove you can.” Caelan’s face was as serious as his tone.
“Yes Sir! You can count on me. They will both be safe. Blaine already talked to me in great detail about all this. I won’t let him down. Or you.” Heath assured Caelan.
“If anything happens that makes you uncomfortable or worries you, you instantly call me, Scarlett, Blaine, Vivien or Liam, got it? Even if it turns out to be false alarm, no matter. I am really counting on you here, kid.”
“Of course. But I am strong myself now, you know that. I can protect them both. But I will call right away, you have my word. Promise.”
“And whatever you do, do NOT – I repeat – NOT let Leeora talk you into turning her. I know my daughter has her flaws and can be manipulative, I need you to rise above all that. And make sure you are good on supplies; we don’t need a repeat of the Everett Cameron incident. Copy that?”
“100%! Will never happen again. I won’t ever turn anyone ever. Blaine set up a cooler with a ton of blood bags in my room and Scarlett and I both have reminders on our phones. I am all set.”
Later that same day, a knock on Caitlin’s room door returned her from being lost in her dreams while staring out of the window at the San Myshuno skyline, shortly after Heath slipped in, wearing his sleepwear, making him look cute, but more like a boy than a young man. Caitlin smiled.
“Good, you are not asleep …” he said now, seeing her standing by one of the large windows.
“Nah, haven’t been tired since I hibernated before the move to make sure I didn’t go weak on everyone. It really messed me up. I need to get back on a mortal sleep routine. We may have a shoot coming up where I’d be at a hotel for several days with two other girls and I don’t want to seem too vampire-y then by not sleeping. What’s up?”
“Feeling iffy and lonely. My new room is so far away from yours. Feels weird. I can’t sleep either.”
“Far? You’re still next door! I let Leeora have the giant master bedroom with the walk-in closet, a huge en-suite bath and the KILLER view, even though my parents are funding this show and I was offered first dibs, just so you and I could have adjoining rooms even though it meant a much smaller bedroom, crappier view and I am sharing a small Jack-and-Jill bathroom with a boy – even though I am an aspiring top model now. And what does said boy do? COMPLAIN! Give me a gazillion breaks here, Heath.” Caitlin protested.
“Yes, I know. But your dad said if we end up staying here permanently, he’ll buy this place for you and remodel as you wish, so you can turn my room into a bathroom, I can take a couch, as long as it is near you. It’s the flight of stairs that is in between our rooms now. Feels disconnected.”
“There is just no making you happy, you Grinch. And that’ll be the day when I let you sleep on a couch while my butt is in a huge bed. But I really hope we don’t screw this opportunity up, I love this place already, but this furniture needs to go, and this place needs some serious paint and flooring help. I hate ALL of it. Yikes! I honestly think I am gonna invite Abigail out so she can take measurements and get started, so if and when we get the green light, all it takes is a phone call, as this decor makes my skin crawl and eyeballs bleed. Hey, is Leeora still up?”
“I don’t know. Don’t care.” Heath shrugged.
“You don’t like her at all, do you?”
“She’s your cousin and by default I like all your family, after all Blaine and Scarlett – and you – have done for me. Okay fine, Leeora’s never been my taste. When she visited at the Cameron Mansion it was easy to avoid her, but here I can’t escape her. She’s so … pushy and loud and in your face and just pokes and pokes and … everything. Ugh.”
“Poor Heath-y. I think what you meant is that she is too beautiful, making you uncomfortable. I have seen the men at the modeling agency stare at her, drool almost dripping off their faces, like I wasn’t even there. I probably only got my contract so they can flagship having a Cameron walk for them, Blaine’s daughter, ViVa’s, Blake and Chase’s sister, granddaughter to Rett & Reed. I bet they don’t even recall my first name. Oh, I wish I had Leeora’s boobs and her hair. Anything to stand out more than I do. I am just the typical vampire, made to fade into the woodwork like all vamps, when my future career needs me to stand out. Oof!”
“You DO stand out, Cait, without even trying! And no, I didn’t mean her looks. I don’t like red hair and I am used to beautiful. I grew up with you, remember?”
“Did you just call me beautiful?” Caitlin’s smile got big; Heath blushed.
“Just stating a fact, of course you are, or you wouldn’t be a model, duh. But I … she … I just don’t know. Leeora is just not my kind of people.”
He blushed again, started to fidget uncomfortably, so Caitlin wrapped her arms around him and he visibly relaxed.
“I don’t think you have a kind of people. You just don’t like anybody.”
“I do like a few people …” he smiled, knowing she was teasing him.
When Heath had first come to live with the Camerons, still a young boy then, any type of physical touch freaked him out. He never spoke about his father or his past, but everyone guessed that he had not only been neglected, but potentially even abused in some form, maybe even physically or mentally. Or maybe his father had simply lost all capability for emotion, which could wreak havoc on a young child’s soul. Heath claimed not to recall anything and maybe there was nothing to recall.
One of the greatest threats to vampires was them losing their humanity, basically turning them into the monsters mythology and literature usually depicted them as, incapable of feelings devoid of any emotions, cold-hearted and instinct-driven, only out for the next fill of blood. Loner vamps, who lacked social interactions with peers or mortals over long periods of time were exceptionally prone to that and often, once they lost their human side, it was irreversible.
Initially, when Heath came to live with Caitlin’s family, Blaine and Scarlett worried this may have happened to Heath, until they saw him alone with Cait. Even as a little boy he was very gentle with her, she seemed to instinctively know how to talk to him, calm him. From the first day on he had been Cait’s constant shadow. Purely platonic.
Needless to say, Heath never showed any interest in dating, even though most 17-year-olds at his and Cait’s Del Sol Valley school were several relationships in by now and quite experienced. But not Heath. Or Caitlin for that matter. She had a boyfriend at some point, KC McCoy, they went as far as kissing, but their relationship ended in heartbreak, after that, she would barely even flirt with boys.
“Can I sleep with you tonight?” Heath asked.
“Are you crazy? If my dad were to find out about that, he’d butcher both of us! We promised.”
“I didn’t mean it like THAT! I am not trying to get into your pants, Cait … just … you know what? Forget it. Stupid of me.” grimacing he headed for the door, Caitlin blocked it.
“I didn’t think you were … THAT didn’t even cross my mind … I just … we both promised dad we would sleep in our own rooms, no exceptions.”
“You would be sleeping in your own room. But I get it …” Heath’s words belied the tone and the expression on his face.
“No, you don’t. It’s not you, Heath, I know I can trust you. It’s just, look at this apartment. I don’t wanna blow it. Leeora would lose her shit if I did something to get all this revoked. I mean, you and I are not even 18. Not for another year. So, this is huge for all of us. Our parents are seriously giving us a LOT of trust here and we just cannot abuse it, no matter the reason.”
He nodded, then slipped out of the room past her.
“Heath, come on, don’t be like that! You know I didn’t mean that …”
She stood there for several moments, feeling like she let Heath down, then cursed under her breath before she followed him. She didn’t knock, said nothing, just quietly entered his room, carefully closing the door behind her trying not to make a sound, then slipped under his covers and snuggled up to him. With her eyes closed she never saw the relieved smile on his face as both drifted off to sleep.
The next morning Caitlin met Leeora in their kitchen.
“Good morning. Where’s your shadow?”
“Why does everyone call him that? Urgh. Heath is in the shower. He’ll be down shortly. He always showers first, since he’s quicker. Then he waits for me, and if I take too long, he makes sure I step on it, so we’re not late for school. He’ll probably show up any second now.”
“No rush on my account. I don’t get why you like that creep so much. He just weirds me out on several levels.”
“Heath is not a creep! Or weird! He is very sweet and kind, funny, caring, super-loyal. My best friend!”
“Okay okay, chill. Even though you do realize you just described a dog, right? Anyway … so are you two … you know? The types with extra benefits on the side?” Leeora wiggled her eyebrows suggestively, while making certain hand motions.
“What?! OMG! No, we are not! Which part of friend did you not get?!”
“I am only asking because when I came back from the kitchen last night to get some water, I saw you literally sneaking into his room. Surprised me, I had him pegged as gay, but guess not, considering the way he stares at you and follows you literally everywhere. No worries, I won’t tell anyone. Lips are sealed. But seriously, girl … you can do a LOT better.”
Caitlin blushed deeply, so she turned away from Leeora to grab two mugs and fill them.
“Are you sure you two are not a couple? Cos this looks awfully like couple stuff to me.” Leeora narrated the scene.
Blushing again, Cait snapped back.
“YES, I am sure! Heath is like my brother. Chase and I are close too, and we make each other’s coffee when visiting, but you never asked me if I am screwing him! Heath and I grew up together, spent a lot of time together and still do. Why wouldn’t I get him coffee I am right here by the coffeemaker and if after all those years I still didn’t know how he takes his, I would be a failure to society. Did you not have breakfasts with your family? Or was it some everyone fends for themselves kinda scenario?” Caitlin was angry.
“Actually no. When it was just mom and me, she was constantly busy with Grand Mage stuff, as soon as I could eat on my own, I had to, once she met my stepfather it was all about him, and once she was knocked up, she was too busy nesting. After the twins were born, I swear half the time she didn’t even remember I was still there too. Guess you probably know how that feels since you have younger twin sisters.” Leeora’s tone was matter-of-factly despite the gloom of her words, but it saddened Caitlin deeply, as she was already battling a severe case of homesickness. Embarrassingly so, after barely one day away from home.
“Ahem, no, actually nothing really changed when the twins were born. I don’t know how my parents do it, maybe because grandma and grandpa are there to help, but the only thing that changed was that we were two more people at some point. Sorry, Leeora. I don’t really know Seraphina, and I didn’t know you had it that rough growing up. You never really said anything when you came to stay with us for a summer or so. I mean, I knew you and your mom were always kinda at odds but … wow. I mean, my loyalty lies with your dad, since he is my uncle and I love him, and hardly know your mom, but I just can’t imagine not having my mom as my best friend. I never even felt like I had to share her. Or dad. I know we are a lot of siblings if you count the fosters, but we all always felt like only children in times when we needed mom and dad’s undivided focus. Even the older ones still do, Vivien said so herself when she was going through the divorce and really needed our parents a LOT and Blake was super-needy when he moved his family to Sulani and Celeste still calls them all the time for advice.”
“Why do you think I wanted to live with my father so badly? I always felt I could count on him, even though he couldn’t always be there, but I knew he tried hard to wring every last minute out of our time together. He fought like a lion because my mother doesn’t like your family and didn’t want me to spend summers with you guys, but I LOVED that, so dad made it so. He doesn’t even eat, but actually learned to cook, just because of me. And someone ALWAYS paid attention to me when I was at the castle. Even my step-mother is a much better mother to me than my real one ever was. And all that mama drama only because I remind her so much of my dad and she is STILL bitter A.F. about their breakup. It’s my eyes, they are his. She hates looking at me because of them. Oddly, I have my mother’s bright red hair, but it never bothered dad.”
“Man, Leeora, now I really feel bad. And I am glad I let you have the huge room, us, probably a nice career as a model, at least something good is happening to you now. Gotta say though, I wouldn’t call Uncle Caelan’s kitchen concoctions cooking per se, but he tries. There definitely is a very sweet and soft center under his rough edges. Just wish he wouldn’t always clash with my dad. So annoying. I love both of them, but those two in a room together without my mom to mediate – yikes.”
“I think it’s just some weird game those two play. I have seen them talk about my situation and they actually hugged. And I always really liked Uncle Blaine and Aunt Scarlett, but after they got us into THIS place, I want them to adopt me, sorry dad. You have no concept how lucky you are, Cait. I am well beyond jealous of you, always was. I wanted to hate you for having all I wanted so badly, but you are just too sweet and you always tried to share. Still do, cos that room is AWESOME.”
Heath appeared in the kitchen; Caitlin smiled at him as she handed him his filled coffee mug.
“Shower’s all yours, Caitie.” he smiled back before taking a sip. A rare sight. Smiling didn’t come easy to him.
Caitlin excused herself and went upstairs to shower and get ready for school, leaving Heath and Leeora.
“So, Heath. Is it true that you were the one who turned Cait’s grandpa?”
Heath got nervous, avoiding eye contact.
“An accident. I didn’t mean to and I didn’t finish it right, so Caleb had to fix it. Won’t happen again. You are 100% safe. I had a ton of intense training since.”
“Oh, not worried, I just think that’s really cool. So, you already have the ability to turn people. I thought you had to be a seasoned adult for that? Like in your 30s or so.”
“Guess not. I was 15 then, but like I said, I didn’t do it right and it almost killed him. I had blacked out and lost control.”
“Okay, so what would it take for you to do that one more time? I am literally willing to do anything. Sex, drugs … don’t have much money yet, but after a few big photo shoots I may be able to shell out some serious dough. I can even hook you up with Cait. For real I mean. You know the mommy and daddy kinda love thing where both of you actually get naked. I have nothing left in life, am just another boring mortal now unless that modeling thing comes through. But we all have something to gain. With a little help from you I could finally be a vampire, you’d get a fill of really fresh blood without any effort, and I am sure you’d finally look like a real man to Caitlin for being such a rebel with a cause.”
“WHAT?! Are you nuts?! I don’t need to impress Cait with BS like that! I don’t need to get all of us into big trouble like this! I gave my word to Blaine and to YOUR father, I am supposed to keep both you girls safe, not turn one and wreak havoc for a dozen or more people with some domino effect that would cause! And I am a real man, Cait already knows that even without me having to turn someone or sleep with people. I don’t need to prove anything to her!”
“Oh, come on Heath. We both know nothing would happen to you aside from some tongue-lashings. I know there is some serious punishment for vamps turning someone without prior approval, but no way Blaine or Scarlett would let that happen to you, Scarlett’s some big cheese in the vamp community and we both know she is Caleb’s darling so if she pleads for you, which she would, Caleb will let mass murder slide. And no matter what my dad says, I know he wants this too, just can’t do it himself because of grandpa. I’d ask Cait, but she doesn’t seem to know how to do this, you obviously do.”
“You are crazy! I am not going to do this no matter what you say or do! If you want to get turned, follow procedure and talk to your grandfather to get that approved and leave it to him when and how that’s done and who does it. Won’t be me and definitely not like this! And leave Caitlin out of this!”
Heath ran up the stairs to his room, locking himself in until Cait knocked on his door to go to the first day at their new high school together.
A few days later, Heath was awoken by Caitlin crawling into his bed, drowsily he reached for her to pull her closer, only to notice something was off, when lips already found his. Instantly, Heath froze, then pulled away. This wasn’t Cait. She had never kissed him, and she wouldn’t do it like this. This was – Leeora!
“Get away from me!” he yelped as he jumped up, and ran straight into Caitlin’s room, locking the door behind him, waking her. She assumed he had another nightmare, lifted her covers for him to slip in next to her and held him until both drifted off to sleep together.