We all left shortly after I became a part of the huddle. Me, Taryn, Dion, Jenna, Rain, Bryson, and Max with Kid in tow behind him as usual. Jun, while feeling a lot better after having both his legs 'burned out' from running, declined to go. I wasn't talking to anyone outside of a few phrases here and there, and that was only to answer when spoken to, so I didn't get the whole story behind it. But I got the impression that Jun had a rather bad experience with a Sun Quest once, and that made things difficult for him when even mentioning that one was coming up. So he stayed behind. As we began walking out, Trevor shouted out that he and Michael would meet us there later. It seems his 'beloved' boyfriend was getting hungry, and they were going to involve themselves in a hunt and shower up before coming to this 'living wake' that Dion was talking about. Even after all I've seen and all I've done since my crossover, I still wonder if someday all of this death and blood will become as routine and 'matter of fact' for me as it has for them. Maybe Trevor was right all along. Maybe it's just a matter of making the act common enough to desensitize myself to it. Maybe all it takes is a subtle switch in my pattern of thinking to make it right somehow. When you really sit down and think about it, you have to ask yourself, "Is it peer pressure that makes that young boy smoke dope for the first time? Or is it just the sudden realization that it is normal and accepted in your current circle...that the very 'taboo' behind it doesn't exist anymore?" And if THAT'S the case....did the taboo ever exist at all, or were the people outside of that circle the ones who have got it backwards? I can honestly say this...living life this way is guaranteed to have you thinking in circles.
We all left the lot in a group, one big happy family except for me, but the group began to split up little by little along the way. With some of us walking faster to get to the celebration earlier, some straggling behind to enjoy the peace of their own thoughts. However, Taryn was trying to keep me in sight every step of the way. Wanting so badly to talk to me, and not having the courage to even look in my direction half the time. Still, he kept his pace pretty even with my own, trying hard not to let on. In spite of my attempts to hold on to my anger...I actually thought it was kinda cute. Not that I would DARE to smile visibly.
"I'm glad you came." Dylan said out of nowhere, jolting me out of my thoughts.
"WHY do you keep doing that?" I snapped.
"Jumping out of the shadows like the freaking midnight stalker."
"I've been talking to you for a couple of minutes now." Dylan's eyes reflected a certain level of sadness, reinforced by the timid flutter in his voice, and I felt a sudden rush of emotion coming from inside him. A feeling of rejection that resembled this weird emotional 'pressure', pushing down on him and away from him simultaneously. Like trying to hold a large balloon underwater. I could also feel his fear, and his need to get back into my 'good graces'. All at once, the sensations flooded into me and I did my best to calm down my reaction to the stimulation.
"I'm...I'm sorry. I didn't hear you." I toned it down a bit for his sake, Dylan's feelings would break as easily as a thin sheet of glass if I said the wrong thing in the wrong tone of voice.
"Sigh...rats." He mumbled to himself. "My extra gets so out of hand when I get nervous. I don't understand why it does that." He said quietly to himself.
"Your extra? That's what keeps making you sneak up on me like that?" I asked.
"I don't mean to. It just happens. Whenever I get really shy or worried about something, it swirls up by itself and tries to protect me." He said, bashfully wiping a few of his light brown locks out of his face. Even if they fell right back into his eyes, Dylan keeping his head down so often.
"What swirls up?"
"Invisibility." He whispered.
"You...you can become invisible?"
"Well...no, not in the visual sense. But pretty much in any other sense. It's undetectable most of the time, even to me, so I don't always know whether I'm using it or not."
"Well...how? I mean, how do you do it? Like, if you had to do it on purpose?" I took a great interest in something like this. Especially since Dylan was always so quiet most of the time. I guess the extra kinda fit him.
"It's a bit hard to explain unless you're actually doing it. You just...find your place, your special little piece of someone's focus. Then...you just....kinda remove yourself from the picture. They won't notice you anymore." Dylan's eyes dropped even lower to his feet, "It can be a good thing sometimes...to not be noticed. There are a lot of times...when I'm feeling alone, that I wish I could just conjure it up and wear it all the time."
I wasn't exactly sure how to respond to that. If maybe I should ask more questions, or take the opportunity to pay him a compliment to reverse the bad vibe I was getting from him, or if I should just...stay silent. "Dylan...I'm glad you're not invisible." I said. It was the best I could come up with on such short notice.
He looked up at me, and a very small, almost unnoticeable, grin appeared on his face. His cheeks became slightly pinkish in color and he just said, "Thanks Justin." But it was so soft, there would have been no way for me to have deciphered it if I hadn't been reading his thin red lips.
"We're almost there." Dion said, slowing up a bit to walk with us. And, as was to be expected, Dylan began having his own little panic attack. The last time, I thought it was unbelievably adorable the way Dylan's hormones flared up and he went running off everytime Dion came anywhere near us. But this time was different. This time, I could feel it too. Trevor's extra helped me to locate and define the desires surging through Dylan at that very moment. And Jenna's extra mirrored the emotion flawlessly in my own body. With both extras working at once beyond my control, I got hit with a huge doseage of puppy love jitters. It was almost enough to rattle me down to me knees. That shakey feeling inside that refused to go away, the tightening of every muscle in your stomach from just being near him, and that burning conflict inside that wanted you to burst forth and scream how you feel to the heavens and swallow the feelings whole to protect your sense of dignity at the same time. The impact of it hitting me so suddenly was intense. "So you ready, Justin?" Dion threw his arm over my shoulder, and my whole body shuddered uncontrollably from the contact. Not to mention that I was getting aroused amazingly fast! I had to get away from this.
"Yeah, sure." I said, and slipped out from under his arm. Hopefully, he would take it as me still being upset with him and the rest and nothing more. But even though the feelings began to die down a bit as I walked faster to avoid the both of them, I couldn't help but remember the feel of his skin, the sound of his voice, the brightness of his eyes. Get a grip, Justin. Let it go...let it mellow out a little. Jesus, if THAT'S how Dylan feels about him, I don't blame him for being terrified to talk to him.
We followed the street to its end, where it turned into sand and took us out to the beach. Looking ahead, I could see a few people milling around by the water, having a few laughs...but it wasn't until we got closer to the waves that I was able to see even more. Maybe about 30 different vampires, give or take. Some our age, some older...all coming out to join in the festivities. There was a large pallet on the ground, made up of many multicolored beach towels, spread out for a few 'final gifts'. Most of it was food or drinks of some sort, but there were also a few trinkets here and there as well. A small stereo was more than enough to fill the air with music, quiet to most I'm sure...but our sensitive hearing could pick it up easily. The whole idea seemed normal enough until I realized that this was an actual FUNERAL. After that point, the need for a 'party' didn't seem to make much sense at all.
"Bryson! Awwww babe, you CAME!" Shouted out a young lady from the center of the crowd of people. She broke away from her friends and switched her attention over to us. She was what you would call exotically beautiful from her facial features all the way down to her toes. Her body was curved so sensually that it seemed to be above anything 'natural'. Her skin was a shade slightly darker than Dion's, like rich coffee, and yet she had eyes that sparkled brightly with a greenish golden glow. Even brighter than Taryn's did. I figured her to be about 18 or 19 from the look of her, and she had clean looking strands of thin black dreadlocks, cascading down almost to her shoulders, but not quite. Instead, hovering a half inch above them. She moved over to give Bryson a hug, and then looked to the rest of us to say "Welcome, welcome. Come on over, help yourself to whatever you want."
She led Bryson by the hand and he signaled for us to follow. I was still a bit confused as to what it all meant, however. The significance was evidently over my head conceptually. As we were blended together with the other vampires and the art of 'mingling' was dropped into or laps, I figured that I might feel a bit less out of place if I knew more about what this ceremony was. I leaned over to Rain and whispered, "Is that the one that's dying?"
But Rain just gave me an evil look. What else is new. "She's NOT dying, dumbass. It's a sun quest." She snarled.
"Give me a break! It's my first time doing anything like this." I said in retaliation.
"Yeah, well, just don't do or say anything stupid. This is a special night for her. As her friends, we're supposed to make sure that her last night on Earth is spent enjoying the moments she has left."
She didn't really tell me much of anything with what she said, but I guess that's what I get for going to her for answers. "Fine. Why don't I just sit here and not say anything then? Would that make you happy?"
"Extremely happy, yes." She replied, and sped up her pace to walk ahead of me and go over to the drink table. Arrrgh! Fuck her! I'M the one who's supposed to be pissed and throwing around insults afterall.
"Don't mind her, dude." Taryn said, walking over to stand next to me. "You know Rain, she's always been kinda touchy." I didn't want to speak much more than a few words to him at the time, but I just couldn't bring myself to be mean to him. And yet, I couldn't bring myself to act like everything was alright either. So I just didn't say anything at all. We stood there under the veil of uncomfortable silence for minute or so, and Taryn got the nerve up to try again. "So...I guess Gyro told you about the IceZone invitations, huh?"
"Yeah. He did." I answered, without making any eye contact and staring off into space.
Taryn waited another few seconds and then added, "It's pretty cool. I've never been there myself, but I met somebody who got invited there a few years back. He said that it was 'absolutely undefinable'. I take that to mean that it's one hell of a good time." He looked to see if any of this was sinking in. It wasn't.
"Yeah, it sounds like a blast." If I had put any LESS emotion in my reply, it wouldn't have come out of my mouth at all.
"So...you gonna come with us?"
"I suppose. What else is there to do?"
More time, more silence, more tension. Then Taryn quietly said, "You know.....I missed you last night." Here it comes. The old 'Fall in love with me all over again so I can trick you and make you look even MORE pathetic' routine. Well I wasn't about to allow myself to be a sucker again. Not right now.
"Whatever..." I mumbled, and I got up to walk away. Leaving Taryn to sit by himself.
I pressed through the crowd and grabbed some concoction of alcahol off of the table. I took a healthy few gulps of it and continued until it was gone. Then, as soon as the slight sting of it had gone down a bit and the warm sensation had filled my belly, I looked for a refill. That cup was going to be my only friend tonight, it seemed. Not that it was going to get rid of any of my confusion, but it would at least make it so I didn't care about it anymore. I poured another helping into my plastic cup, and then grabbed a hold of the bottle to take it with me. To hell with this. I don't know what it is I was supposed to learn from all this anyway. I should have stayed home. If they were just trying to teach me how to willingly kill myself, I already know how to do that, thanks. "Justin...?" It was Taryn again, following me carefully so as not to force any kind of hostile reaction on my part. He sat down next to me with a drink of his own, already half full from the sips he had taken from it. I couldn't help but think, 'God he smells good. I can't believe that he can always smell this good.'
"What?" I answered, almost annoyed at the fact that he was trying to settle things with me so soon. I didn't WANT to be settled already. I wanted him to wait a few days, to suffer a little, and to really take some kind of MEANING from it all.
"Why aren't you talking to me? What's the matter?" He said.
"I just wanna be left alone for a while, is that such a crime? To want some privacy for once?"
"I want to know what I did to make you act like this. I want to..."
"This isn't about what you want...not this time." I said, and he was quiet at that moment.
Then he shot up to his feet and finished his drink all in one swallow. I guess he had had enough for the time being. "Fine. Have it your way." He said. Taryn threw the cup down at my feet, walking out of the crowd and going to stand out by the lake by himself. In a way, I guess I wanted to quietly provke him, to make him mad at me too so it would be easier to keep my distance. The truth is, loving him was easy...trusting him again was going to be a bit of a struggle. And I hated him, all of them, for taking that tiny piece of the puzzle away from me.
I kept to myself for the next hour or so. None of the other people knew who I was, and I had purposely alienated myself from everyone at the lot. So I sat alone, brooding, occassionally wetting my lips with the numbness of the 'magic elixir' in the bottle. It felt good to escape for a while, but not as good as I was hoping it would. I'll bet money that Gyro never lets things like this dwell on his mind for longer than a few minutes. Then again, I guess he's not the sucker I am. I looked into the crowd of smiling faces, not a single one of them really showing any signs of sadness or distress at all. Except for maybe Kid, who was clinging to Max's waist and keeping his distance from the many people who wanted to reach out and pet him like the cute little chipmunk that he was. Still, if this was what we do at a funeral, I'd hate to see what we do for an execution. "Shit..." I said to myself, the bottle's empty. Time to get more.
I got up and noticed a certain familiar sway in my walk, as I melted into the herd of people once again...only looking for another fix. Jenna looked over at me and smiled, but I pretended not to see her and kept moving my way to the drink table. Trevor and Michael had arrived and were easily charming the people who came to greet them. But it didn't really phase me or strike me as anything special. Nothing did. Trevor was a natural charmer anyway, no doubt about that. "Had enough to drink yet?" Came a voice from over my shoulder. It was Rain, probably looking for another chance to insult me. I didn't want to give her the satisfaction.
"Fuck off, Rain." I pouted, and I walked away before she could get another shot in at my self esteem. Another healthy dose of liquid entertainment filling my cup. I doubt she cared enough to chase after me though. Something tells me I should be thankful for that.
On my way back to privacy, Jenna stopped me. "So are you going to talk about this?"
"What the hell is wrong with you people? I TOLD you, I'm FINE!"
"You are NOT fine, Justin. And frankly I don't like what you're doing to Taryn. He's been through enough without having to deal with this too." She said. I couldn't tell if it was her own agitation or a reflection of mine as it flowed through her. But she softened a bit before speaking again. "I don't like seeing YOU like this, either. Justin please talk to me. Talk to somebody."
But before I could open my mouth, Bryson walked over and we cut our conversation short. "Justin, this is Tiana. Tiana, this is the new addition to our little family at the lot." He said, and next to him was the girl that greeted us when we arrived.
I turned to give her the most 'polite' smile that I could manage to keep on my face and shook her hand. "So this is Justin? Very cute. I can see why Taryn would be so crazy over you." She said.
"Thanks." I wasn't quite sure what else to say. She WAS...um...dying tomorrow, afterall. "I'm...I'm sorry. About the Sun Quest and all." I stumbled for words, wondering if anything would sound even remotely comforting.
"Why would you be sorry?" She asked, wrinkling her brow and smiling through a strange look of bewilderment.
"Well...I thought that...I mean aren't you..."
"Ohhhh...I see. This is your first time, isn't it? I can see that you and I have a lot to talk about then. I'm sure you've got a lot of questions." She said, and with that, she ruffled my hair a bit and put an arm on my shoulder. "We'll be right back. I kinda like this part."
Tiana walked with me over to the lake and took a deep breath, soaking in the air around her. "I didn't mean to...offend you back there or anything..." I started, but she stopped me.
"Oh please. The act of being offended was made for old nuns and priests. And I am neither one, thank God." She grinned. She was an easily approachable young woman, one who set you at ease about everything before you even had the chance to feel weird about it. "So..." She started, "...I'm assuming your first question would be...why. Am I right?"
I have to admit, I felt really awkward talking to someone about their own demise, but I figured that I'd never get another chance, right? "Um...yeah, for starters. If...if you don't mind."
"Simply put, I've lived my life." There was a short pause while I waited for her to go on, but she didn't.
"I don't understand. That's it?" I asked.
"That's it. Easy, huh?"
"It will be. Someday. A long long time from now for you, but someday." Tiana stared out into the lake and took another deep breath, a smile spreading across her face as though she could see something out in the darkness that I couldn't. "Do you realize...that I haven't laid eyes on the sun, in over 106 years?"
"THAT LONG???" I shouted, surprised beyond belief!
"Hehehe, yes, Justin. That long!" Her giggle was so pleasantly feminine. It was a beautiful thing to behold. "But in a few hours, a few short moments of time, I'm going to get to see it again. I'm going to watch it rise right over there, and I'm going to feel it's gentle warmth on me one last time. It's going to be so beautiful. Sooooo beautiful."
The way she kept staring out at the waves, I was forced to look out and examine them too, wondering if I was missing some great deal of beauty that wasn't there before. "So...you're just 'done'? I mean, you just don't want to live anymore?" I certainly hoped I wasn't treading on personal feelings here, but I was finding it hard to believe that what she's doing now, and what I was doing on that night when Taryn rescued me from the same waves, are so unrelated.
"I know it's a bit hard to grasp at first. Especially for one so young. Your idea of eternity is so very undeveloped at this point, Justin. It will change over time." Tiana looked in my eyes, and playfully gave me a shove. "Not for the worse, kid. It will just change. You'll learn more, understand more, things will become clear once you get to a certain age."
"I don't know...it just seems kinda sad."
"Oh honey, there's nothing sad about it. It's a choice based on a feeling of being complete. Do you see any tears in my eyes? Any big regrets? Any deeply guarded secrets? I'm HAPPY to have done what I've done, and seen what I've seen in the past century or so." The mention of the time period seemed so unbelievable to me.
"But you could see more, right? I mean, if you decided you wanted to keep going."
Tiana's smile faded slightly, and she got down on one knee, feeling the cool water pass through her fingertips as the tide crept up the shore. And she gave me a serious look, "Justin...it will be many MANY years from this night when you experience the same revelation that I've had guiding me towards this night. But I guarantee you...one day, you'll wake up, go out to your usual haunts to do your usual thing, and you'll understand that everything is different." Tiana splashed her hand in the water a bit, and brought it to her face, feeling the wetness of it against her smooth flawless skin. "When you understand that everyone you've ever known, ever loved, is dead and gone, when you realize that every actor and actress, singer and songwriter, every artist and acquaintance...have all passed away...then you'll get it. There just comes a time when you've played every game, and had every kind of sex, tried every flavor of ice cream, been to every city on the Earth, read every book, and asked every question that there is to ask. And you'll understand that it's time to go."
"I can't imagine ever getting to that point. The world is always growing, isn't it?"
"In some small ways, yes. I suppose it is. But I've been there, done that. I look at the world and I see reruns. The same ideas regurgitated over and over again as though they were brand new. Society's mentality stays the same. Sure the slang gets updated, fashion comes and goes, prejudices shift from one oppressed group to another, wars make the same threats and end with the same results. Sometimes I take a really good look at everything, and I see that the world hasn't changed much at all. It's just been covered and masked with different cosmetics. Same bullshit, just driven deeper into the subconscious where people can get away with it easier. After 106 years, people are still greedy, still racist, still homophobic, still cheat on their spouses, still allow their religion to arrogantly judge the people around them...it's an endless circle that will never break because nobody wants to acknowledge that they're a PART of it." She looked back out into the waves again, that look of utter peace and understanding dancing along with the sparkle in her eyes. "People are born, breed, die, and seem to get reborn again as somebody else. It's weird. The world, however, it's not going to get any evolutionary jumps anytime soon. I'm sure they'll repeat the same mistakes and give it a different name, and they might suddenly discover something that was already here but nobody paid attention to...but NEW? Nothing much ever happens in that category."
===== Did it make sense on some level that I hadn't reached yet? Perhaps. The others keep telling me that no one can really fathom the concept of eternity until after you've lived for a hundred years. I guess it's not as promising and magical as it sounds. Still, for someone I had just met, Tiana came off as an incredibly sweet person. Someone that I didn't want to just 'give in' and say 'I've lived all that I can', that's crazy! "Tiana...I just...I just wish you didn't see this as your only way out."
"This isn't a way out, Justin. It's a way to move forward. I've answered the questions that I needed to answer here. If I don't move on, if I don't at least try to reach forward...then I'll just get stuck here. Never growing, never changing, getting 'comfortable' and refusing to move, just like everything else in this place."
"But Tiana..." What could I say to her? She didn't seem to get what I was really asking her. "...how do you know that tomorrow won't be the day that everything changes?"
"Hehehe, I did wonder about that. Everyday for the past 38, 722 days in a row approximately! Now I'm ready to leave that equation for the next person to solve." I guess she could see the frustration appearing on my face, and she ran her fingers through my hair as she lifted my head to look her in the eye. "The human body wasn't made to last forever, Justin. As vampires, we've been given eternal youth, and we've conquered that single aspect of our existence. But...the mind, the soul...THEY weren't built to last an eternity either. You do what you can, you learn what you're able, and you philosophize about all of life's little intricacies until you've touched them all...but eventually, you'll find yourself feeding a youthful and beautiful body, but existing in a life that simply doesn't want you anymore. When you've literally 'done it all', we vampires go on a Sun Quest. It's a venture forth into the next world, where a whole new set of questions are waiting for us."
"What if I like it here? I mean, what if I just decide to stay?" I asked, now wondering how long it would be before I found myself out here on this beach, surrounded by these same vampires, all looking the exact same age, and wondering whether or not I'll want my life anymore either. Even if I still have Taryn to share it with.
"Well it's definitely your choice. If you ever have to think twice about it, then a Sun Quest probably isn't for you. It wouldn't be your time yet. Technically, whether or not you want to have that experience should be the very last question that you ever need answered. When the answer honestly becomes yes, then that means you've become complete, and that this chapter of your life is ready to give way to a whole new one. Does that make any sense to you?"
"I'm trying Tiana. I really am." I felt a pinch of sadness as I saw the night sky begin, almost invisible to the eye, to brighten up with a dawn that was maybe an hour away at the most. "Are you SURE that you want to do this?" I pleaded.
"Positive. The average age for most vampires is about 120 to 130 years tops. There are some that go past that point, sure, but I've seen what living for much too long can do. I've seen vampires driven mad by it, or they become secluded in some dark cave somewhere, or they become obsessed with any promise of new information. The mind is so fragile, hon. The brain needs input in order to survive. Without new and intriguing material, the mind's proccesses break down. Even your dreams become repetitive and insane after a while. I don't want that to be me, Justin...so lost in my own insanity that I don't even realize that I NEED to move on from this place. No, that won't be me." I watched as Tiana picked up some sand and sprinkled it out into the water. "By this time tomorrow night, I'll be a part of this beach forever. And you can come visit me anytime you want." She grinned. I walked over, and gave her the tightest goodbye hug that my arms would allow as a few tears leaked from my eyes.
"Will it hurt?" I sobbed.
"I suppose so. There is no growth without some kind of harsh process. But whether or not it 'hurts' or whether or not it will be 'difficult' or 'wrong' or 'irreversible' isn't the point now. What matters is that I'm prepared to deal with what lies ahead of me, and that I am doing so by my own free will."
I finally let her go, and she took a step back from me. "I hope you're right...and...I hope it's everything you're looking for."
"Your contacts have been breached." She said, as the tears caused my eyes to glow brightly directly through them. Bright enough to reflect off of the tone of her skin. "Now then, enough of this depressing talk. This is supposed to be a party afterall." Tiana led me away from the lake with a huge smile.
"So..." I asked, "You have really seen everything you've ever wanted to see, huh?" I was trying to dry my eyes when she surprised me with quite an unexpected answer.
"Well, I thought I had at one time. But even after all this years, I never once thought that I'd ever get the chance to meet a Mimic. I guess there ARE one or two surprises left in the world afterall." And she winked in my direction. The shock that shot over my face made her laugh. "Hahahaha! Don't look so worried! I won't tell. It'll be a secret I take to the 'grave' with me, I promise." She giggled.