Just before sunrise, Brad and I made our way back to the cabin. Since we were both still super-sensitive to our environment, we didn't dare test our endurance to sunlight, at least not yet; the results could be deadly. I didn't like the idea of having to spend all of daylight indoors but Brad thought we should give ourselves 24 hours before testing our luck on UV rays.
Since neither of us required much sleep, a plus stemming from being a mutant, I mean hybrid, Brad thought it would be a good idea to use the time spent in the cabin to fill me in on some things I needed to know.
Our clothing smelled of the outdoors and a little of mildew from the hours spent holed up in the cave. I stripped off my clothing and decided to see if my skin would tolerate the pressure of water from a shower.
Brad hung our clothes up on hangers, hoping to air them out. We needed to buy more clothes but couldn't get out to do so until the next day. We were stuck with what we had.
The shower was irritating but not painful. At least I felt clean when I was done. I came out of the bathroom wrapped in a towel my hair wet. "Your turn," I said.
"Unpleasant, wasn't it?" said Brad.
"But necessary," I answered.
"Are you going to make me go through water torture?" he asked.
"Don't give me those sad puppy dog eyes," I said laughing. "I'm not letting you crawl into bed smelling like a wet dog."
"Okay, but only if you promise to kiss it and make it feel better."
Brad got up from the chair he was sitting in and grinned. "Whatever's hurting when I get out of the shower."
"I think you're well enough to put up with a little discomfort."
"Oh the pain!" Brad placed his hand over his heart with dramatic flair. "I have fallen in love with a cruel woman." He then bowed to me and backed into the bathroom and closed the door.
I broke down in helpless giggles. Little did I know that pain was exactly what was in store for Brad.
I heard swearing as soon as he closed the shower curtain behind him. And I could feel (literally) the pain he was enduring. The water pressure was torture enough for Brad, adjusting the temperature wouldn't have helped. I was sorry I had insisted he shower, not realizing that I was still changing faster than he was healing. Funny, I hadn't sensed how sensitive he still was to his environment. But I had no trouble feeling what was going on with him when his pain threshold was seriously compromised. This sharing our feelings was going to take an enormous amount of getting used to. How was I going to act normal in public if I knew what he was feeling and thinking all the time?
Thankfully, for both of us, Brad's shower was a fast one. Had he entered a contest, he probably would have won the world's record for quickest shower. When he opened the bathroom door, he was wet, naked and not happy.
I felt like I needed to say something.
"Understatement," was all he said. The look he gave me said that he wasn't going to ask me to kiss anything. I just let it go. Sometimes it's better that way.
Brad lay on the bed on top of the covers. It was an hour before he could even stand a sheet against his skin. Once his sensitivity calmed down and he could cover himself without pain, he felt like talking.
"It's going to be impossible to keep your vampirism a secret," said Brad.
"Why is that?" I asked.
"You'll discover it soon enough," he answered turning toward me. "You'll be able to smell the difference between vampire and human."
"That means some vampire is bound to say something to Jack about his sister being a vamp," I said.
"Ah, the lady catches on fast," Brad said tapping a finger lightly against my temple.
"And then Jack will start asking questions," I said.
"Just tell him that you allowed me to turn you," said Brad.
"He won't buy it."
"And there's another problem..." I looked at Brad.
"Sunlight," we said it at the same time.
"Jack sees you walking around in the daylight, he'll know you're different than other vampires. Vamps will know it too; they'll put two and two together and come up 'hybrid.'"
"Is that the only way they could find out," I asked.
"If they tasted your blood they would know immediately," he said. "That's something to be avoided at all costs."
"Then I must pretend to be like any other vampire," I said.
"Or I could marry you and whisk you out of the country."
"You're kidding, right?"
"No, honestly, marriage has crossed my mind."
"Well, uncross it," I said. "It's the last thing on my mind right now. I'm still trying to get used to being "vampire." Don't try tacking a "wife" label on me too."
"It is an option," said Brad matter-of-factly.
"An option? Brad, I have a business to run."
"But if you married me, you would never have to work. You know I'm extremely wealthy."
"Yeah, extremely rich, extremely handsome, extremely vampire..." I said just beginning to get wound up.
Brad interrupted, "And don't forget extremely in love with you."
"I know, I know. But you've got to understand, I've studied and worked hard to get my funeral directors license and to get where I am now," I said. "I don't need your money or need you to take care of me."
"Some women would see this as an opportunity."
"Well, I'm not opportunistic," I said. "If I marry you, it will be for reasons other than protection and money."
"You're being stubborn," he said sulking.
"For a guy as old as you are...how old are you anyway?"
"Five-hundred-years, give or take a few."
"Well, for a five-hundred-year-old man, you sure don't understand career women very well."
"Your career could put you in danger."
"From the sound of things, there's not much I can do that won't put me in some kind of danger," I said. "You can't lock me up. You can't hide me. You can't keep me from running into people or vamps who might somehow find me out.
"Train me the best you can and let the chips fall where they may."
"I don't know what I will do if anything happens to you," Brad said. "I can't train you for every circumstance. There'll always be something we didn't think of that could go wrong."
"Just train me," I said.
He placed his hand on the side of my face and looked deep into my eyes. "I'll train you. I'll teach you everything I know. And whatever happens to you, will happen to me."
"I can't ask for anything more than that," I said staring into his eyes.
"You should," he said. "But knowing you, you won't."
Daylight seemed to last forever. We left the shelter of the cabin as soon as the sun fell behind the trees. It was still light outside but we had protection and that was all that mattered.
We both felt fine, the hypersensitivity to noises, smells and touch had calmed to a manageable level. I was now aware of being able to see clearly even though many areas around me were in shadows. This was thrilling and I kept looking around at everything as if I'd never been in the woods before. I caught Brad glancing sideways at me with a knowing smile on his lips.
"What?" I asked.
"Being vampire does have its advantages," he said.
"It comes with a whole string of disadvantages, too," I said. "So don't act so cocky."
Irritatingly, he continued to smile.
"We'll catch Trail 1 and catch Trail 3 over the Suspension Bridge," said Brad. "Keep an eye out for Park Rangers. They'll try to keep us from going on any trails this late in the afternoon."
"What's on Trail 3?" I asked.
"It's the most treacherous trail, rugged, narrow walkways, steep cliffs, high canyon walls, lots of trees and a stream. It's a great survival-playground."
"I like that. A 'survival-playground,'" I said. "You certainly have a way with words."
We stayed at a distance waiting and listening for all hikers to cross the bridge and be out-of-sight before we approached the suspension bridge that crossed Sugar Creek.
"When I tell you, I want you to use your vampire speed to climb the stairs and then cross the bridge," said Brad. "Don't stop until you're completely across. If you hear someone on the other side, cross back to me, otherwise stay there until I cross."
"I've never used my vampire speed before," I said. "Will I be able to see everything as quickly as I pass it?"
"Would you like to practice first?" asked Brad.
"Well...yeah," I answered. Duh.
"Okay, the ground is fairly clear and flat from here to the edge of the creek. Go!"
I was there and back before he had a chance to say 'Go.'
"Cool," I said.
"Speed is the main thing that has kept me alive all these years," said Brad. "Every vampire has speed. We must hone your speed to be better than any other vampire's."
"You're telling me that a vampire's skills aren't natural?"
"A vampire is naturally very strong, very fast, and has senses like those of an animal, therefore he is a natural predator and dangerous to humans," said Brad. "In order for you to survive the vampire world, you must be more than a natural vampire and train your body with combat and agility exercises. That experience added to your hybrid-abilities will make you a force to be reckoned with, or avoided."
"Brad, what are you really getting me ready for?"
"I told you."
"You're holding something back. What's this stuff about surviving the vampire world?"
"The word on the bloodline is that Chicago is getting ready to make a move on Champaign before the year end," answered Brad. "That means any and all vamp related businesses in East-Central Illinois are potential targets."
"Oh my god!"
"If you don't intend to allow them to take over, you'll have to fight them."
Well, that was sobering.
"You've got to decide if the business is worth keeping and if it is, who you'll partner with as an alliance in battle."
"Vamp politics," I said.
"Exactly," said Brad.
"That sucks," I said.
Brad burst out laughing. "Hit the bridge, vamp," he said.
Within seconds he was by my side.
"Take your shoes off," he said.
"Did I hear you right?"
He was already taking his off and hid them behind weeds on a boulder next to the bridge wires. I followed suit.
"Follow me," he said. He climbed over the side of the bridge and hung from it by his hands.
"Brad, are you nuts?"
"Yes," he said. "Now, do it."
I climbed over the side of the bridge and hung beside him. It was easy for me.
"I want you to do everything I do from now on," he said. "Don't question why, just do it. You have to trust me, Dawn. I'll never tell you to do anything that isn't for your best interest. Do we understand each other?"
This was hard for me. He was asking me to completely trust him and not always know the full story or picture behind his actions. Could I do that? I took too long to answer.
Brad let out a frustrated breath. "I'm only asking you to trust me the same way that I am choosing to trust you," he said. "I have made it my life to trust no one but myself. We are now connected by blood, so you are a part of me - trusting you is like trusting myself. I trust you with my life. I'm asking the same from you."
Well, since he put it that way..."I trust you," I said. "Without question."
"Okay," he said, "When I count to three, we both let go. One...two..."
I was going to die.
To Be continued...