Dylan playfully hopped his little butt up on the counter beside me with a smile and opened the bag of candy with a grin. "You sure you don't want some?" He asked.
"No....no thanks." I told him.
"Suit yourself." He put a strawberry flavored Jolly Rancher in his mouth and sucked happily on it, turning his lips an even more alluring shade of rose. "So...did you finish the drawing? What'd you do with it?"
"Oh...it turned out to be nothing."
"Yeah. Whatever extra I was using...I must have lost it. So..."
"Hmmm..." He shrugged his shoulders, and looked down at the floor. "...Well, you dropped your pencil, for one thing. Just try it again. Maybe it'll be something cool?"
"I don't think so. It was...I think I was just goofing around or something. The feeling's gone anyway."
"Aww, that sucks." Dylan replied. "Hey...tell me something, how does it feel? I mean, having all those freaky powers and stuff?"
"Uhh...well...it's kinda hard to explain, really?" I said, happy to see him interested in another topic of conversation. "I feel kinda 'full' sometimes. You know, like...'bloated' or something. And then...at other times, I feel lighter than air." I tried to find the words, but it's difficult to really define for someone who isn't experiencing the same thing. "I guess it's kinda like walking on stilts."
"Really?" He said, wrinkling up his nose.
"Yeah. Like...it's kinda hard to keep yourself balanced most of the time. And the lightest lean, one way or the other, just results in you just losing it completely and falling back on your ass." The idea of it made Dylan giggle with the cutest laugh, and he covered his mouth bashfully as I smiled back at him.
"Sorry. But I can't really imagine you 'falling down' ever again. Hehehe..God, I wish I could do what you do."
"No...believe me, you don't. It's a lot of pressure that you could do without." I told him. "That we could BOTH do without, actually."
He seemed to fidget a little bit, and he asked, "So...do you, like, know what you're gonna tell everybody? I mean, like...when the time comes?" I gave him a look, and he said, "I read a couple of chapters on Mimics from some of Doc's old books, and it said you're supposed to have some big 'message' or something for the rest of us." I looked away, and put my head down, feeling the weight of it all pressing down on my shoulders again. "So...do you have any idea what it is?"
"No." I replied softly.
"Oh..." He said, now wondering if he was 'bothering' me with the questions. I could feel it just in the tone of his voice.
"It's ok, Dylan. Really, I just...I don't know what I'm doing. I don't even know how to figure it out for later." I said. "Sometimes....it feels like I'm running out of time. And I don't have a single answer yet."
Dylan thought about it for a moment, and he said, "You know, Mistress Velora's third book on life purpose..."
"Misses who?" I asked.
"Mistress Velora. You know...the scriptures I told you about, remember?"
"Oh...yeah. Your 'idol', right?"
He smiled warmly. "Well, next to you, yeah." He grinned. "Anyway, so like...she says that purpose comes from action, not 'effort'. And it is maintained by grace, and not 'strength'."
I allowed a smirk to cross my face. "I certainly hope that you studied that little pearl of wisdom deeply enough for it to make more sense to me."
"Hehehe, see? I TOLD ya you should have read the scriptures in my car."
"I know, I know...." I moaned playfully, but he tried to explain it to me anyway.
"Basically, what it means...and it's just MY interpretation of it...is that you don't really have to do 'anything' to find out what it is you have to do. The key isn't to force your way into some sort of discipline about it. The key is to let go and just let it happen."
"Somehow, Dylan...I don't think I have enough faith in the world to just 'let things happen' anymore." I said. "I've been doing that my whole life..it always puts me in a bad place." I turned to look at him and said, "Maybe I will get some of those verses from you when we get back to the lot. Maybe they'll help me figure things out."
"What verses?" Dylan asked me.
"What verses? Hehehe, the verses we were just talking about"
Dylan gave me the oddest look. "I wasn't talking about any 'verses'. I said me and Dion were thinking about getting our own place away from the lot someday. And then you said something about reading verses."
I giggled at first, thinking that maybe he was playing some kind of a weird 'game' with me, but he seriously had no idea what the hell I was talking about. And when I looked down at his hands...they were 'empty'. No Jolly Ranchers. And at that moment, I looked to my left, and saw my hand diligently drawing the exact same picture that it was drawing before.
Did I...? Was this....another circle? Did ANY of that just happen? Or...is it happening again?
Dylan looked over my shoulder with a smile and asked, "Hehehe! What the heck are you drawing?"
I quickly pulled my hand away from the page, and swiftly ripped the page from the book to tear it up into even smaller pieces than I had the first time. "It's NOTHING! I was just...'scribbling'...." I said, hiding the notepad behind me as Dylan wrinkled his forehead at my reaction.
"You're freaking me out." Dylan grinned. "I'm gonna get some jolly ranchers candies from next door. You want one?"
It was all happening again. Just like before. I looked around the laundromat to see everything moving in the exact same fashion as it had before. The details were exact. Everything had been locked into playing out on the same path as it had before...and I just sat there in silence as I tried to figure out if I was in tune with the linear passage of time...or if I had somehow slipped in front of or behind it. It was getting so hard to tell what was real and what wasn't anymore.
"Justin?" Dylan asked, and I realized that I had been staring off into space while he waited for a reply.
"No. No thanks." I said, trying to hide my concern from him as best as I could.
"Suit yourself. I'll be right back, k?" He bounced out of that place just as happily as he had before, and I found myself sitting there, in what felt like a haunted memory. Being forced to live it out all over again, with hardly any change at all. The path had been set, the events were already in motion...and I sat there terrified as my mind tried to grasp some sort of meaning from it as it fought to find a way out of the circle.
Dylan came back in the exact same amount of time, and said the exact same words to me. But I didn't really respond. A part of me wanted to change what was going on...but every time I slipped out of one circle, I found myself stuck in the middle of another one. And the circles were getting smaller. More repetitive. Every little detail that I tried to change caused me to keep living the same moment over and over again until the path became consistent with what I had seen before. The only way to actually move forward again...was to let the circle play to its end...word for word, action for action...until the scene was complete. Dylan saw the distress in my eyes, and I got up to go to the small bathroom at the back of the laundromat. Just to splash some water on my face and get a grip.
Funny thing...sometimes I can look at myself in the mirror...and I can't tell which one is me...and which one is the reflection.
I came out of the bathroom a few minutes later, and Dylan seemed a bit disturbed about my sudden change in attitude as he was putting the first couple of loads in the dryer. I tried to slide by his questioning eyes without having to explaining myself, but despite his silence, he was screaming with 'worry'. I could see it in his innocent stare alone. I could have easily used his shyness against him, and forced him to squirm from being too polite to say anything, but it seemed almost like a cruel sense of torture to force him to keep his deepest concerns to himself. I was gonna have to say SOMETHING if I was ever gonna get him to relax.
I grabbed a handful of clothes to help him fill up the second dryer, and tried to look him in the eye through the distracting activity. "Dylan?"
"Yeah???" He asked excitedly, looking for a release from the anxiety.
It made me giggle to see him so eager. "You know I'm ok, right? I mean...I'm just...being a spaz, that's all. It's nothing serious."
I think Dylan struggled a bit with the idea of believing that everything was ok...but whether he believed it or not, he managed to give me a pretty convincing grin. "I...I know...you just..." He couldn't find the words. "....Sometimes you seem so....lost."
I think my eye contact with him scared him out of his honesty, and he swiftly went back to loading clothes in the dryer. "No...you're right. Sometimes...I do feel a little lost. But...it's not something I want you to worry about, alright? You've got...'big plans' ahead of you." I smiled. Ugh! It almost made me sick to my stomach to say it...knowing what I know. Or at least, what I think I know. But seeing Dylan flash me a much more heartfelt grin made it all worth it.
"Yeah...I guess I do." He said, holding up his hand, and he noticed that he was holding a pair of white delicate panties. "Umm...I think those are Jenna's."
The look on his face was PRICELESS! He frowned a bit, blushed a deep red, and then tossed them into the dryer as though they were radioactive or something. "Eww..." He said quietly.
I couldn't help but to laugh. "Hahaha! Dude, they're CLEAN!"
"Clean for a girl...."
"Omigod, quit being such a sissy!" I said, and it made him giggle. "Come on, let's just finish these and go home. K?"
He nodded, and helped me put money and fabric softener in so we could wrap things up. After that, it was just a 45 minute chat-fest until it was time to pull everything out and go back to the lot. It breezed by like you wouldn't believe. For someone who was so 'fragile' in his presentation, Dylan could really brighten up the feeling in your soul with his presence alone. He was sweet in a way that wouldn't register in the first few months...but my GOD was it ever addictive once you got to know him. I imagine Dion must have even greater access to that beautiful heart than I do. And that must be an amazing spotlight to be in.
Something about it....made me miss Taryn all the more.
I have to admit that he was the first person I looked for when we wheeled that raggedy old shopping cart full of clothes back through that front gate. Naturally, everybody crowded around us and basically started digging through the sacks to get their clothes back. After a few seconds of Max pushing me one way and Rain pushing me the other, I just stepped back and gave the 'jackals' their space. Geez, a 'thank you' would be nice. Even if washing their stuff was a punishment.
Then...as I took a few more steps back, I caught sight of my angel. He was timidly peeking over at me, those reddish brown locks attempting to hide the splendor of those magically green eyes from me. Without much success, I might add. He seemed so distant at that moment, but the invisible blockade he had set up between us didn't seem so impenetrable anymore. And that alone was enough to make my heart sing.
I started to send him a mental message to say hello, but with him standing right there, it seemed silly. I took a chance, and just walked over. He got more beautiful with every step I took in his direction, and I felt myself begin to blush as the tiniest smirk spread out on his sweet lips. "Hey." I said, feeling slightly awkward.
"Sup?" He replied, shifting from one foot to the other. "That sucks about the laundry duty. I'm sorry. I tried to stall Bryson last night but he just...'knows' sometimes."
"Yeah, I know. It's not your fault." I said. "Besides...I had some good company, so...." God, I wanted to hold him. I wanted to kiss those lips and just...just....invite my angel home again.
"So, Bryson says you're gonna talk to that Jeweler guy again. Doc's been obsessing about him for hours now. The poor guy is gonna burn his eyes out staring at that laptop screen for so long." Taryn would look me in the eye, but only for a few short moments before turning away again. Something about him being bashful in front of me was so cute that I could barely stand still.
"I promised him that I would try." I said.
"Yeah, well...you should. I really can't wait until things get...you know?"
"Back to normal?" I said.
There was a pause in our conversation, where neither one of us knew exactly what level of affection would be 'safe'...considering our previous time apart. But after a few moments of pointless resistance, I just stopped being silly about it, and moved forward to give him a hug. I saw Taryn's eyes widen for a split second, and he gasped slightly as my arms wrapped themselves around his delicate frame. But once I had made the first move towards something we both wanted...he let out a sigh, and melted deeply into my warm embrace. There was no better feeling in the world, than having Taryn's soft hands slowly slide up my back, as his warm breath fell lightly on the fabric of my shirt. I could smell the sweetened fragrance of his hair, and it compelled me to kiss the top of his head, squeezing him even tighter against me.
"I missed you." I told him.
"I miss you too, Justy..." His voice had a slight tremble in it, and I knew that he meant every word. But somehow...I didn't know if he was fully ready to be a part of 'us' again. Not just yet. As I heard him sniffle once or twice, I felt Jenna's empathic abilities activate, and there was the sad sensation of guilt rushing into me out of the boy I loved. As though he just...REALLY didn't want to hurt me, but he knew that he was going to have to...the second I let him go.
So I let go first.
"I'm sorry. I just...had a moment of weakness." I gave him a grin, and he looked at me with a bit of confusion. "It's ok. I understand. Just...concentrate on 'you' right now, if that's what it takes. I'll be alright."
Taryn wiped his eyes with a smile, and just above a whisper, he said, "Heh...you've been cheating." Referring to me knowing so much about his emotions.
"Yeah. Maybe just a little." He stood motionless for a second, and then we both looked over to Rain watching from the corner of the lot. The look in her eyes was one of loss, but she hid it pretty well. Taryn reconnected his gaze to mine, and I gave him a nod. "Go on. It's ok. I'll be around later if you...wanna talk or something. K?"
Taryn nodded, his eyes watering up again already. And he walked right up to me to give me a warm kiss on the lips. Soft and effortless. Transmitting an indescribable feeling of love and tenderness between his lips and mine. The contact nearly left me swooning off balance, and we he stepped back, he said, "I'll come home. Soon. I promise." And I nodded in agreement as he walked off to be with Rain. There's no way I could have waited this long...if he wasn't worth waiting for.
I started to go over and see if maybe Doc was ready to put me in touch with this...'Jeweler' person again, when I looked over and saw Dion leaning back against his truck, with Dylan facing away from him, snuggled deeply in his arms. He looked soooo content. Like a kitten curled up next to a sleeping child. And as Dion wrapped his arms around Dylan's soft middle, kissing him sweetly on the nape of his neck...I prayed that their happiness was meant to last. That the drawing from the laundromat was already a forgotten piece of trash, with no further importance than any of the other rubbish in the can. They deserved to be happy. It was their turn God knows they've spent enough time in misery, struggling to find a life that gave them just one shred of decency, one small glimmer of hope. Despite the odds, they found true love...and hopefully that's enough to break the chains of any misfortune ahead of them. I'm really praying for that to be case. Because if there's hope for them...
..Then there's hope for me and Taryn.
Only time will tell.
I also happened to notice Jun coming back into the lot for the night. He looked like he had scratch marks on his face, and some blood on his shirt I take it his latest donor put up a pretty good fight for his or her survival. Even when lost in the thirst, that can be an emotional blow to a vampire's heart. The kicking, the screaming...and the apologetic draining of their life essence as you feel them fade away in your arms. The despair of it showed on Jun's face, and he couldn't wait to peel his shirt off and climb back into his car to just...escape the rest of us for a while. He'll be alright soon. He always is. But it doesn't make it any less painful to look at when it's really bugging him.
I continued to walk over to see Doc, who was so fascinated and rapped up in his 'computer doings' that he didn't even see me approach him. "Doc?"
"Just a minute." He replied without even looking up from his keyboard. He kept typing away in silence while I stood there waiting. He was seriously 'focused' on that screen.
"Doc, Bryson told me to come...."
"SHHH!!!!" He said abruptly, and kept typing. His eyes flittering back and forth wildly on the screen. Getting impatient, I almost started to walk away, when I heard him stop typing. "DON'T GO! Come back." I came back a bit closer, but he went right back to typing. It was starting to bother me.
"I can come back later if you..."
"SHHHH!!!!!" He snapped, and I felt a bitter surge of annoyance rush through my veins.
"Don't just have me STANDING here for NOTHING!" I said, and suddenly, a slight electric spark rattled the picture on his screen, causing him to gasp and hold onto it for dear life. I couldn't explain why my emotions were so easy to slip away from me these days, but at least it got him to pay me some attention.
"I'm sorry, Justin. I just...I can't figure this stuff out, and it's driving me crazy." He said, wheeling himself back from me a bit to prevent any further distortion. "That business card you gave me...it was like MAGIC! It's practically a skeleton key for an entire underground network of hidden vampire frequencies. It's like a whole other community of secret entities living right here in the city, and they just keep expanding further and further apart. The more I follow the links in the chain of communication, the further they go. Some already stretch out as far as Detroit, Cleveland, Minneapolis...one of them even travels as far south as Nashville I've never SEEN anything like this before."
"Is that...a 'good' thing?" I asked.
"Oh well...it's very good to find, sure. But very BAD to get caught with. These communications are STRICTLY forbidden by the Elders. Technically, none of these frequencies are supposed to even exist. If this got out, chances are the Elders would have all of these vampires slaughtered without mercy. But...they don't seem to care about the consequences. Whatever it is they're doing in here...they must think it's pretty damn important."
I waited a moment or two longer for Doc to finish his little online meddling, but he didn't seem to be in any hurry to pay me any more attention. "C'mon, Doc? I already spent half of my evening doing laundry, I gotta spend the other half watching you type on your computer from a distance now?"
Doc let out a semi-frustrated sigh, and finally looked me in the eye. "I've been doing some 'research' on your Jeweler friend, and I can't seem to find a visible trace of him anywhere. He's a total ghost. And I can't really ASK anybody about him, because if he finds out that I'm digging, he'll shut down communications immediately." Then, with an excited twinkle in his eye, he said, "Now...HERE'S where things get a little weird. These audio frequencies he's using have been increasing in number by the hour. He's having some pretty intense conversations with some very powerful vampires in the city. And those conversations are being repeated to other links in the chain. It's been doubling in number since he first talked to you."
"He's TELLING people about me???" I said, wondering if this so called 'teacher' was systematically ratting me out to every vampire in town.
"He's definitely telling them SOMETHING. But as hard as I try, I can't figure it out." He said. "You see, they've avoided using text altogether. I guess so they don't leave any digital footprints behind. Everything is being 'spoken'. And spoken 'live'. It's sorta...here one minute and gone the next, without leaving a hint behind that it was ever even there. It's the only way certain transmissions are being made concerning you."
"So...what are they saying about me?"
"That's what I can't seem to figure out." He told me, pushing up his glasses and staring at the screen even harder, as though the intense look on his face would somehow force the answers to leap into the back of his head. "I've never heard a language like this before. I thought it was just 'gibberish' first few times, but...it's consistent. This is an actual form of correspondence, but I don't know where it came from. It's definitely got a strong link to Latin, albeit an extremely old version of it. Probably dates back to the very beginning of modern language itself. We're talking ancient here." Doc clicked a few more buttons, and looked even more puzzled. "I've been going through language after language, dialect after dialect, even the hidden and forgotten ones...and I still can't find a single match. It's not French, it's not Italian, it's not Spanish, it's not Romanian...it sounds vaguely related, but it doesn't actually 'match' a single one of them. Whatever it is they're speaking...it's not a language you can overhear at your local bus stop, that's for sure. The accent alone suggests something that predates...well, pretty much everything that I'VE ever heard." He tried to pull himself away from his obsession for a minute and tone down his fascination to look me in the eye. "I'll see if I can secretly record some of the samples and send it to Pan, see what he thinks. I'm telling you, he's gonna go NUTS over this one!" At that moment, an alert came on Doc's screen, and he quickly shut down all of his other windows as fast as his fingers would allow. "He's here..."
"The Jeweler?" I asked, already feeling a sense of dread taking a tight hold of my chest.
Doc nodded and made contact, but his eyes widened when he said, "He wants to speak with you."
"How does he always know when I'm here?"
"I dunno, he just does." Doc typed in and reminded him that I couldn't approach the laptop, because of the energy surge I emit. But when he got a reply, he said to me, "The Jeweler says to close your eyes."
"I don't know...he says close your eyes, step forward, and take slow deep breaths."
"What the hell for?" Doc shrugged his shoulders, holding his 'baby' in his lap for fear that I'd wreck it or something. "Sighhh...fine."
I did as he asked. I closed my eyes, took deep breaths and blindly stepped forward. I felt around for the corner of Doc's chair, and he pulled over a milk crate for me to sit on. So far so good. No sparks, no distortions, no malfunctions. I heard Doc say, with a bit of hesitation..."He wants me to give you the laptop. But DON'T screw it up! I MEAN it!" He said, and detached the device from his lap for the first time in forever. He set it down on my lap, and I held it steady.
"How the heck am I supposed to TYPE now? How do I know what he's saying?" I asked.
"He says just 'feel' it. You should be able to tune in just fine." Yeah, whatever the fuck THAT means!
There was a long silence, where I kept my hands on the keyboard and waited for something to happen. I got nothing. "This is so stupid." I said to Doc...but it was then that I heard an actual 'voice' ring out from inside my head.
"What's stupid about it, Justin? You merely have to focus." It said.
"Is...is that you?" I asked, and it confused Doc to see me talking to 'nobody', but I quickly told him to "SHHH!!!"
The voice spoke again, and it was no doubt the voice of the Jeweler himself. "The distortions you felt and the malfunctions you were causing was an attempt by your extras to answer my call. Nothing more. We have been searching for you for quite some time, we had to be sure you were real. Only a true Mimic would have been able to answer back."
I didn't waste much time. "Why are you doing this? What do you want from me?"
"It is much more than a 'want', Justin. We NEED you. And we need the truths that only you can provide."
"I don't HAVE any truths!" I said, feeling my fingers moving across the keyboard all on their own as I spoke the words aloud. "Listen, I don't know what you think I can do for you or for anybody else, for that matter. I just want to know if you can help me get this curse of mine under control."
There was a pause, and the voice told me, "Your idea of 'control' is but an illusion. You never had it. Without our help...you never will." Then it asked, "Have you been seeing more circles, Justin?"
I didn't want to answer right away. Not in a way that Doc could hear what I was saying. But finally, I said, "Yes. What.....what do they mean?"
"That is one of the many things that we must find out. For it is those circles that will ultimately guide you on a path of understanding...which will ultimately bring you to the early teachings of the Dawn. I have spent decades seeking the signs, and you demonstrate some of the most brilliant and unexpected signs of being a true spirit. Everything I have studied..has become manifest through you."
I frowned a bit. "If you know so much...then why don't YOU figure the Dawn out on your own? Why do you need me?"
"It is not my message to understand." He said. "Whatever it is about you, your life, and your personal experience that created the vampire Mimic..it is unique to you, and ONLY you. You hold the key!"
"I don't know what you're TALKING about! Don't you understand that? I haven't learned a goddamn thing! Nothing! I'm not a prophet, or a messenger, or ANY of those things! I don't have any of the answers you're looking for."
But the Jeweler persisted. "On the contrary, boy. You have already found the answer. You've LIVED the answer your entire life. Both in darkness and in daylight." He told me. "You have the truth, Justin. The problem is...you don't know who you are. You have yet to discover your true self. And it is THAT person...the part of you with no name, the spirit that has collected all of your life experiences and created an understanding that no one else can comprehend...that you must find. It is HE that will bring about the Dawn for all of us."
"What do you....what do you mean, 'I don't know myself'? I don't understand..."
"You've been separated from your full potential by your own demons, Justin. You have spent your life building an invisible prison for yourself, and you didn't even realize it. You are not who you think you are. You are MUCH much more. As is everybody around you."
"You're not making any sense." I said.
"The person you ARE is a slave to the person you THOUGHT you were. You've built yourself a false image from the broken pieces of other people's perception of you. Up until now, you have been simply following a pattern based on your circumstances. Based on rewards and consequences. Fears and doubts. This is what must change. Your personalities will continue to divide and fight for control if you don't act soon. It is imperative that we bring you back into harmony with your true self as quickly as possible so that you may begin to see the paths that we cannot." He still had me confused. As much as I tried to make heads or tails of what he was talking about, it was just one big riddle wrapped inside of another. At this point, he seemed to almost plead with me to surrender. "Justin..you MUST let us teach you! You MUST prepare for the days to come. The Vampire Dawn goes so much deeper than you can ever imagine. Your mind will not be able to handle the teachings if we do not free you from the walls you've erected around you. There is only ONE key to finding the path to enlightenment...and it is in YOU. It is hiding behind your anger, your joy, your pain, your love, and your suffering. You CANNOT allow yourself to self destruct! Your gift will be forever lost in madness if you refuse us any longer!"
I could practically feel the heat of his desperation coming up through my fingers as they remained attached to the keyboard. I took a moment to think about what he was offering, and what it might mean...if I don't go along with it. As much as I wanted to pretend that I was alright, that I could handle this power all by myself...I could feel it slipping away more and more by the hour. I could see the circles forcing me to live my life in an inescapable series of 'reruns'. And after what I did to those men who attacked me in the alley...after what I almost did to Alec in that club...who knows what kind of damage I'm going to be doing a week or two from now. Ugh...it's getting increasingly harder to think. Hard to stay focused. I made the Jeweler wait while I thought things over. But after a minute or two, he reached out to me again.
"I know what you fear, Justin. I know that you can't bear to think of the impact of your sacrifice..." His words gave me a chill, and I almost took the comment with a touch of insult. "...But if you allow us to guide you in using your gifts, you might be able to break that chain. You may find a way to rewrite the prophecy entirely."
That certainly got my attention. "Is it possible? If...If I come see you..will you teach me how?"
"We will do all we can, Justin. But you MUST hurry. Please." Why was I getting such a bad vibe from his so called 'promise'. It seemed a far cry from what he told me before. "You HAVE the answers, Justin. What you lack are the questions needed to unlock them. Become a student of my teachings, and I swear to you that we will do all we can to save your sire."
With another hesitation, I asked, "You promise you'll help me?"
"You have my word."
And....with a defeated sigh, I gave in to what might as well have been a 'bully' tactic as far as my heart was concerned. With the thought of Taryn's last kiss on my lips in the center of the lot...I gave him my answer....
"Where do I meet you?"