Destiny finds you and blows you away
Spins you in circles pulls you in pieces
Bleeds you like Jesus and goes on its way
But it's oh so simple sometimes
Just to let your heart open wide
If you want to get to heaven then you gotta take a ride
Love lift me wherever you are
Convince me I'm safe in your arms
Love lift me make sense of it all
Teach me to fly and don't let me fall
"Love Lift Me" – Amanda Marshall
"You're sure you want to do this?" Dwayne reached out, brushing his fingers down Anna's cheek in a long, slow caress that reached from the faint blonde fuzz at her hairline to the hard sweep of her jaw.
"I'm tired of having secrets," Anna lifted her hand to capture his, trapping him within her slender fingers. "I'm tired of being afraid; I trust you to know what I was like…before."
"Nothing you could have done as a mortal would make me stop loving you, wanting you," Dwayne promised her, twisting his hand until he could slip his fingers in between hers, taking the power from her, but not forcing the touch.
"You can't promise me that," she whispered, ducking her head so that her curls fell as a curtain over her face. As of late her thoughts had been predominantly filled with images from her past…a speckled array of darkness that left her breathless at times, unable to understand why she had survived long enough to reach Santa Carla.
"I can, and I do," Dwayne argued, lifting her hand to his chest, where he cradled it as a hope-driven child would cradle a dying bird. "I am a vampire; nothing you have done hasn't been done by one of our kind before. Beyond that, I love you, and whatever you did is a part of what I love."
"You're asking for it," Anna muttered, but she shook her hair out of her face, baring her shining blue eyes to his steady, fathomless gaze. She had to break eye contact first; Dwayne's way of remaining silent as he watched her never failed to batter down whatever barriers she tried to erect. "Come on, we'll go and I'll tell you a story."
"A bedtime story?" he teased as she led him through the main room of the cave. Adam and Victoria waved to Anna, but she merely flipped her fingers in their direction, too intent on spilling everything to Dwayne to let even her precious werewolves distract her now.
They ignored their bikes, parked enticingly near the entrance to the cave, hidden from view in the trees that ran up along the side of the cliff, and instead took to the air, their hands still entwined as they sped through the darkness, leaving twisting strands of disturbed fog in their wake.
As they had bikes, so too did they avoid the Boardwalk, bypassing its raging lights and heady blood-scent for the relative peace of the wharf, where fewer miscreants threatened their privacy. A bench at the very end of the wooden structure offered an unimpeded view of the ocean as well as the star-sprinkled night sky.
"This is as good a place as any," Anna murmured as she dropped down on one end of the bench. Dwayne settled himself next to her, situated his arm along the hard back so that she could lean against him, and waited for her to speak, knowing instinctively that she needed to be the one to proceed. "And the best place to begin is…well, the beginning, at least of that part of my life."
She tilted her head back until her eyes were filled with the faint white light of a million stars, all shining just to provide background lighting as she wove this tale of pain and fear. Dwayne leaned forward, resting his chin on her shoulder, his steady gaze fixed on her throat, a move that comforted her, though she couldn't quite put her finger on why.
"When I ran, I headed for New York City. As surprising as it may seem, nothing of importance happened the first time I visited. The second…" Anna's voice trailed off; after a moment, she shook her head to drive away the disturbing thoughts. "But that's for later. I spent a great amount of time exhausted, because I couldn't sleep, and drunk, because that's all I wanted do. The first city I remember clearly, can really picture in my mind, is St. Louis. It's tiny, compared to some of the places I went, but it was filled with bars; they were small, out of the way places, perfect for getting lost in. And lost was what I wanted; what I got was more than I ever imagined…"
Lost inside this angel town
Lost like I could not be found
No connections of the heart
Love was glass that broke apart
Gimme faith in dreams
And someone to hold
Gimme love 'cause I'm out here in the cold
There are no secrets
No angels at my door
And oh, when you touch my hand
I fall from grace
And oh, when you reach for me
I fall from grace
"Fall From Grace" – Amanda Marshall
Mississippi Nights hosted a live band each weekend and for all major holidays. More local dive than prospering nightclub, the alcohol selection was large, the tables were set in darkness, and no one paid attention to anyone else…just like Anna wanted it.
She was a year on her own, a year of running and crying and feeling her past press down upon her head like a large, metal plate intent on ramming her into the ground. A hair cut, dye job, and twenty pounds weight added to her frame because of the copious amounts of alcohol she took in each night helped her to feel free from the Cipriani background she struggled to escape, but no physical changes would drive away the remaining terror of being associated with the betrayals that speckled her short life.
Perhaps a mental change was in order.
Anna settled herself at her usual table, her typical drink—a rum and coke, double shot of rum—clutched in one hand. The bartender didn't even wait for her to reach the wooden bar running along the back half of the room before he made her drink; she'd somehow become a regular over the past few weeks, a dangerous accomplishment indeed. She allowed that thought to roll around in her head for less than a moment before she flung her hand up and chugged half the glass, sending her latest worry deep into the technicolor muck that she delegated all serious matters to.
"Let them track me down through here," she muttered into her drink. "I'll show them…." Talking and swallowing were not activities that went well together, however, and she choked, gagging on the dark liquid. She slammed the glass down against the table with one hand, pressing the other tightly to her mouth as she tried to hold back the torrent of regurgitated alcohol that threatened to spew forth onto any who ventured too near.
As oxygen began to flood her body again, Anna grew aware of the fact that someone was patting her back with slow, gentle strokes. She launched herself from her chair, sending it—and herself, almost, for the alcohol she'd already drank was thickening her sense of balance—skittering across the floor as she whirled to face her opponent, a knife bare in her right hand.
"Are you ok?" The man ignored the gleam of lights off of the wicked looking blade; instead he held both hands out in front of his body, palms up, to reveal that he himself had no weapons. "I wasn't sure if you were going to start breathing there."
Anna cocked her head to one side, her bright blue eyes, now hidden behind gray contacts, perusing the figure standing before her. He was older, mid-thirties at the very least, with short-cropped brown hair the color of mud after a heavy rain, and big, matching brown eyes that reminded her of nothing more than those of an old dog who knows his time has come.
The last thing he looked was dangerous.
"Yeah, I'm fine," she replied after a moment, tucking the knife back into its sheath with slow movements that belied her reluctance. "Thank you…I think." He opened his mouth, presumably to tell her no thanks was needed, but her next words burst out before he could draw breath. "Don't you know it's stupid to sneak up on someone like that, to just touch someone when they don't know you're there, or who you are? I could be some psycho who would slit your throat rather than look at you, for all you know…"
She stopped when one of his eyebrows lifted and his gaze shifted to where the knife had disappeared to; no malice filled his eyes, only a pointed suggestion that perhaps he knew exactly what he was doing. Anna pressed her lips together, and then lashed one hand out to retrieve her chair.
"Thank you." The words were safe and so she repeated them as she settled back at the edge of the table. One hand lifted her drink back to her lips as the other massaged her neck, trying to reach the tender muscles inside.
"No problem." Without being asked to join her, the man grabbed the other chair, turned it backward so he could straddle it, and then sat, resting his chin on the tall back, his skin almost as dark as the wood.
Silence stretched between them, thick and unsteady, until Anna set the glass back down on the table, laced her fingers together in her lap, and began to return his unwavering gaze. When at last his attention grew to be too much for her to deal with, she lowered her eyes, focusing them on the table, and spoke.
"You look like you need something to do." She'd expected him to tell her she needed a friend and that he was just such a thing; he'd then try to "comfort" her with touches as gentle as he could make them and whisper promises of safety and caring. She'd seen that type before; had sent many home with bruises and broken muscles for fucking with her while she tried to drown her sorrows.
But this man, this father figure, for he was that if nothing else, had been the first to pick up on her looming boredom. She'd barely begun to notice it herself; in the first rush of running away and changing her body into something unrecognizable, every moment had held new adventures, sour as they were. But as of late…
"A job you mean?" she drawled, draining the last of the alcohol from her glass. She dropped it back onto the table and watched as it rocked back and forth, waiting for it to fall and shatter, tossing bits of ice and broken glass onto the wood. "Do I look like a miscreant?"
"You look aimless," he corrected, reaching out to steady the moving glass. When he drew his hand back, the cup was still, resting in the center of the table like a crystal ball, elongated and filled with chips of knowledge. "You look like you're drifting from here to there with no real reason."
Anna turned to meet his eyes, but his steady gaze was still too much for her to hold; she glared down at the table, casting quick glances at him out of the corners of her eyes. She pressed her hands together in her lap, enjoying the feel of sharp nails piercing into skin, and waited.
"I…." He trailed off, rubbing one hand down his face as he searched for words that eluded him. "I don't even know if this is the right place." He glanced back at the bartender, who was busy with the latest group of dancers stealing from the wooden floor in front of the stage, and sighed. "I need someone to knock some sense into my daughter."
Anna's eyebrows shot up her forehead; the expression was gone after a moment, but the rush of shock was slower to fade. He hadn't come out and said it, as such, but he wanted to hire her, as if she were muscle to be bought and sold, no better than an animal…
"I don't want her seriously hurt," he rushed to add the information, reaching toward Anna with one hand; it fell back into his lap as if he'd remembered her knife and thought better of it. "But she just won't listen. She runs around with the worst crowd; hoodlums and troublemakers, the whole lot. If only she'd let me send her away to school…"
"You want someone to beat her up because she won't follow the life you're forcing her into?" Anna hadn't meant for her words to come out so…so bitter, so twisting with hatred and disgust. He blinked at her, short black lashes coming down to cover the defeat in his brown eyes, and then nodded, standing slowly.
"I'm sorry," he muttered, catching his hands on the table when his foot struck the side of the chair and threatened to tip him sideways. "I didn't mean to disturb you." Anna lifted her head, watching him slide between the crowds of youngsters, his age setting him up as one not to be trusted.
The alcohol she'd drank swam within her stomach; Anna's head pounded in ways she still wasn't used to. Her wallet was almost empty; a year of spending money on whatever she wanted just to drive away the memory of the past had taken its toll on her resources.
She jumped up, knocking her chair down again, and bolted for the door, not bothering to call back harried excuses when she slammed into the other youth around her. The door slammed open before her fingers had completely touched it and she ignored the bouncer standing there, instead hurrying out onto the sidewalk.
He was there, at the end of the street, just about to cross the road into the public parking lot that no doubt held a minivan that wouldn't look complete without a sticker that said "My daughter is an Honor Student at _______" fill in the blank with the name of some highly prestigious private school that cost more for a month than she had for a year's worth of food.
"Mister," she ran, her lungs sucking in a deep breath of oxygen just so she could expel it in another cry. "Mister, wait up!" He stopped, one foot in the street, one on the sidewalk, and turned to look at her.
"I'll do it." The words left before she'd completely decided that this was for the best; still, she was bored, she did need money, and hell, this was a change from her past. She stopped in front of him, sucking down oxygen as she struggled to catch her breath, and straightened her shoulders, settling them back in a proud stance. "Just give me the details."
He smiled, the expression spreading across his face as peanut butter slides across bread, sticking in places, but on the whole a smooth transition from defeat to success. He gestured to his car and she walked at his side, pacing her steps to his, listening as he began to weave the tale of his daughter's disobedience.
On a steel town boulevard
Life's a promise that doesn't last
Resurrections of the past
Children come and are gone so fast
So gimme faith in love
Gimme arms to hold you here so tight
There are no secrets
No angels at my door
And oh, when you touch my hand
I fall from grace
And oh, when you reach for me
I fall from grace
“Fall From Grace” – Amanda Marshall
The girl was easy to find, even among the throngs of college-age and younger youths who frequented riverfront St. Louis and the multitude of clubs and bars available to them. From the man’s description, Anna picked the young woman out within the first half hour; she then spent a good two hours sitting in a corner and watching her dance, grinding her lithe body against any number of available—and probably not-so-available—boys.
Her hair was short; chin length, and a white-blonde that could have only come from a bottle. Long earrings brushed her shoulders and caught the light whenever she tossed her head, which was often. Her slender body carved intricate circles in the air as she twisted to whatever beat the DJ—only working while the band took a break—offered up to the throngs of hungry, horny teenagers, all seeking a way to lose themselves and forget about whatever problems might fester in their immature minds.
Tina, as her father had informed Anna his daughter’s name was, began to take on a personality of her own to her silent watcher. Anna did have preconceived notions of what she’d be like, all colored by her lengthy conversation with the girl’s father, but as she watched her dance, watched her twine her way around boys and girls alike, watched her never take a drink or a drag or a pill, she began to wonder just what this woman-child was made of.
Tina stumbled as she walked to the bar, catching herself on the edge of one of the tables. She cast a small, sheepish smile to the lone woman sitting on the other side, but didn’t stop to make her apologies; her throat was tight with thirst and up ahead the bar offered sanctuary in the form of her favorite drink—bottled water.
“Evian, please,” she murmured, knowing the words were incongruous with the atmosphere of this place. Still, the bartender stocked what his customers wanted, and she and her friends drank Evian.
“Evian backward spells na´ve, did you know that?”
Tina whirled, the slippery bottle dropping through her fingers, leaving a fine film of condensation wherever it touched. The young woman from the table reached out one hand to catch the water, and then offered it to Tina, a small smile quirking her lips.
“No, I didn’t,” Tina whispered, reaching out with shaking fingers to grasp her drink. She unscrewed the cap with one hand and lifted it to her mouth with the other, gulping down the cool, smooth water, letting it soothe her throat and give her a moment to gather her wits about her.
“Yeah,” the woman shrugged, tossing back her head, which caused her red hair to bounce lightly about her shoulders. “Makes me wonder why people pay money for water; it’s everywhere, you know?”
Tina’s spine tightened at the implied insult; though she was usually an easy-going girl, when her back was pressed to the wall, she could come out swinging with the best of them. “Slime passed as water,” she corrected, sniffing the air disdainfully with her delicately uplifted nose. “Same thing is used in alcohol…I don’t know how *anyone* could drink that.”
Anna dropped her eyes to the glass of rum and coke she still held in her hand, and let herself break into a quiet laugh; the sound was sharp in the ears of those who heard it and the bartender moved away, though Tina remained where she was.
“You’ve got a quick wit,” Anna admitted, downing the rest of her alcohol in one quick gulp. Tina nodded, glancing back toward the dance floor where her friends were still gathered, oblivious to her predicament.
“Thanks, I guess,” she whispered, taking another sip of her water before closing the cap tightly once more. Her brown-black eyes returned to Anna’s face and something within her loosened, easing the tension until it bled out of her limbs. “I’m Tina.”
“Angie.” Anna’s lie slid past her perfect lips without the slightest tremor of body or voice; she hadn’t chosen a name up until that moment, but it worked well in her mind and tasted right within her mouth, so who was she to complain?
“Well, Angie, I’d probably better get back to my friends,” Tina jerked her head toward the others, who were pressing ever closer to the raised stage, stretching out their hands to reach whatever local superstar graced the wooden floor.
“Yeah, go on then,” Anna nodded and dismissed her by turning back to the bar, waving for the bartender to refill her drink. Tina hesitated, grasping the water bottle in both hands, and then backed away, waiting for the young woman to turn back and say something, anything…silence followed her retreat.
Anna’s perusal of Tina had to take an even less obvious route now that the girl knew who she was, relatively; she kept glancing back into Anna’s secluded corner, and was about to drive her crazy.
Something nudged the corners of Anna’s mind, worming its way through the dark plans of pain and mayhem that she kept at the front of her consciousness. Something about the girl called to her, begging for release, and she struggled to remain on track for this job.
Tina was the first of her friends to leave; she swept from the bar in a flurry of soft-yelled good-byes and a few gently given hugs to choice people. She cast one glance back in the shadowed corner that that woman, Angie, had filled, but it had been empty for many moments now.
She slid out into the darkness, almost tripping over the wooden doorstep; no one else had wanted to leave, but she wasn’t scared of the dark. Night had always held a special place in her heart and though she knew how dangerous St. Louis was after dark, she didn’t have a worry to spare for it…
Until a tight arm wrapped around her throat, pressing muscles into her skin, and a cool hand clamped down over her mouth. Her attacker, whoever it was, dragged her backward into the shadows between buildings, and then farther down, over a street and down to the waterfront. The sound of the Mississippi River, fighting itself within the earthen confines of the riverbed, muffled the whimpering that spilled from Tina’s covered mouth.
“Don’t scream,” the voice that filled her ears was low, throaty, and far too familiar for an attacker in the night. Tina nodded, jerking her head up and down as much as she could against the hands that bound her; she was released suddenly, tumbling forward to her knees on the concrete.
“Who are you?” she gasped out, one hand pressed to her throat, pressing against her bruised skin to try to ease the pain there. The other shoved against the ground and she stood, turning slowly to face the perpetrator. “Angie?”
“Tina.” Anna wiped one hand through her hair, her skin thrown into high relief by the vibrant shades of red, colors that set off her paleness to extremes. Her gray eyes caught Tina’s own, boring into them as if she could press her way inside.
“What…what do you want?” Tina dropped both hands to her sides, her fingers gripping the edges of her tight black pants. “You startled me.”
“What do I want?” Anna mused, tilting her head to the right at the slightest incline. “That’s a really grand question, Tina.” She ran one hand down her face, pressing away any facial expressions that might have given her away, or at least that’s what the movement was supposed to do. “I want to leave the past behind….”
“What past?” Tina pressed when it became clear that she wouldn’t say anything else. Anna shrugged, turning away for a brief moment, her eyes focused on the rolling brown waters of the Mississippi. The contacts were heavy within her eyes; they burned and she wished she could remove them.
“Never mind.” When she turned back to the young woman, her heart beat steadily again, whatever faint skip that had appeared in it at the sight of Tina’s dark eyes turned toward her so trustingly long gone. “I want you to start listening to your father, Tina.”
“My…father?” Tina frowned, her thin eyebrows squeezing together until it looked like there might only be one. “What are you talking about, Angie? You don’t even know my father.”
“I know him.” Anna turned away for a moment as her brain twisted and searched for a way to keep the conversation off of Tina’s father. It wouldn’t do for his name to come up too much; it might incriminate him and that’s the last thing he—and therefore she—wanted. “But that’s not the point.”
“What is?” Tina asked, wincing when her voice grew soft and trembled even over those two short words. Anna turned back around, reaching out and grabbing Tina’s shoulders with both her hands.
“You’re being stupid, Tina. Listen to what your elders want; they know what’s best for you. What you choose, your friends, your clothes…” she trailed off, freeing one hand long enough to motion vaguely toward the city around them. “This will get you hurt.”
“I like my friends,” Tina sniffed, drawing her chin up into the air, her shoulders tensing beneath Anna’s hands. Anna sighed, and then let her fingers tighten down until Tina whimpered, the sound light and bird-like beneath the thrum of humanity at the distant corners of their consciousness.
“They’re bad for you.” Anna released the young girl, stepping backward just enough to clear a space between them, one that she could punch through and cause the most damage. Her fingers twisted into fists, tight and ready to lash out, but she held her vibrating arms at her sides. “And if you don’t want to listen to me, to you father, to your elders…you will when I get done.”
“When you get done?” Tina backed up another step; one foot caught on a loose stone and she stumbled backward, her arms whirring through the air to try to stop her fall. Anna waited, her breath expelling in slow, deep movements, for the girl to catch her balance again. “What are you going to do, Angie?”
“Nothing much,” Anna muttered and drew her shoulders up her neck, gathering her strength as she tried to squash the warning signals lancing through her brain. She cocked back her right elbow, lining up the punch with unconscious skill.
Tina flung her hands up in front of her face, but she didn’t cry out. The lack of a fearful sound startled Anna and she stopped the punch, dropping her hand down to her thigh an instant before it would have hit.
It was like trying to fight against a thick rubber band wrapped around her wrist; every time she tried to reach out for Tina with the intent of causing her real pain, something drew her back, something invisible, but far stronger than she herself was.
“Get out of here.” Anna heard her own voice shoving advice at Tina, thrusting the words into her face as she had just struggled to plant her fist there. “Get away from your father and this town before he kills you.”
“What?” Tina let her hands slide down her body, leaving her head unprotected; it didn’t matter, for she trusted Angie now, again, and knew the young stranger wouldn’t hurt her. “Leave?”
“Yeah, leave. Get gone!” Anna turned away, dragging her hands down her face slowly, pulling the skin out of place. Her nails dug into her cheeks, leaving crescent moon cuts that filled with faint drops of blood. “Go!”
Tina reached for her, but the girl—whom she’d hoped to be her new friend—moved away with a caustic jerk. Tina knew better than to touch her again and instead turned and fled into the night, leaving Anna staring up at the murky sky and the handful of stars that crept through the smog.
“Stars,” Tina whispered, smacking her hands against her thighs as she crept up the back staircase that stopped right outside her room. “Star….” And just like that, quick as any contrived thought, she’d found her new identity. Her mind swept over the mental image of Angie’s red curls and she nodded, running her fingers through her own short hair. When it grew out, it was like that, and she’d stop cutting it and stop dying it and let it be all natural…as a Star should.