I post these right after I’ve put them up on Twitter, so there will almost certainly be typos that need correction and other edits that need to be done. –M
Blood Tint, Part 3
I moved past oglers of acrylic-and-metal canvases of mundane and clever design. The lighting in here was that infernal new “natural spectrum” kind, so I kept my sunglasses on. I’m sure it helped me fit right in. My quarry had spun herself away from her turtle-necked friend and wended her way between patrons, kissing women’s cheeks and smiling demurely at the offered hands of men. It was easy to put myself in her path, observing a brass sculpture – a cross between a can-opener and a brassiere. I turned to move on to the next piece just as she swept from a chatty exchange with the septuagenarian art critic from the Voice.
The collision was brief, her dark tresses swinging against my open collar as we rebounded. I didn’t let it splash more than a drop or two of wine onto my hand.
“Oh dear, I’m terribly sorry.”
Definitely Irish, south coast? Away ten years or less…I accepted the napkin she grabbed from a nearby server.
“Not at all, very clumsy of me, I-”
I stopped mid sentence, though, as her fingers touched mine on the napkin handoff. I was almost dangerously slow tonight for some reason. I found myself staring at her for a moment, something I just don’t do.
“Are you all right?” she asked with quirked smile. Her face showed some genuine concern; I must have looked quite jostled. It wasn’t even acting, either. In close proximity her beauty fulfilled the promise of the distant view, but more than that- She reached out to touch my arm, and the contact was electric. My senses all jumped.
“Oh, I’m quite all right, thank you. You know, and I am sure you hear this often, you look somewhat familiar to me, though I am sure we haven’t met before.”
Her smile was like a remembered flash of sunshine – but without the pain.
“Yes, I get that a lot, both honestly and as a pickup line. Which was that?”
Bold, and challenging. Looking to see the reaction of someone she was calling out. I laughed, easing into the game.
“Both, honestly. But I have much better lines than that. I only used that one because it was true. Truth has real benefits.”
She nodded, frankly assessing me.
“I bet you don’t get that line very often,” she said. I chuckled again.
“No, there, you are quite right.”
“Which may make it seem odd that I have the same feeling.”
“Indeed?” I extended my hand, “Well, let us try to remember each other better, then. My name is Alak.”
After a pause, she shook my hand.
“Neave” she said, and, though I had already known, a thrill went through me. I brought her hand to my lips for a kiss, and the scent of her blood welled through her skin. As my lips grazed the back of her hand, I inhaled deeply, surreptitiously. And let the kiss linger a heartbeat or two longer than appropriate for a first introduction.
I heard her breath catch, and felt the tension race up her arm to her hand. She almost jerked it away, but didn’t.
When I looked back up to her, a faint blush colored her cheeks. My fangs had emerged fully of their own accord, and I kept my own smile closed lipped until I could get that back under control. I had thrown her off her hunt. But she’d thrown me off mine, so we were somewhat even now. I had to show her to Daci.
“Neave,” I said. “Neave Flynn?”
“That is your portrait by the door? Your show coming next, yes?”
She smiled. She knew I knew the answer, knew we’d started the dance. I hadn’t let go of her hand.
“It is exquisite. Your style is completely different from the current artists.”
“We shared a studio until last year. Poul helped swing my own show”
“Good friends are like jewels.”
“He’d call that bourgeois,” she laughed, “but Poul’s a good guy.”
We made our way through the gallery.
“And now you have your own space?”
“Yes, half a loft, not too far from here. And you?”
“Oh, I stay usually a bit more toward the park.”
“So you’re just visiting the City?”
“Yes, but I come regularly”
We both knew how this went, hinting without telling too much, teasing without revealing. She played it well, but then so did I. And while she had already caught me from first sight, I know I was catching her as well. And it wasn’t just my dashing charm either. There was something else in her – something that she saw, more raw, more instinctive than socialite games.
By the time we arrived back her painting, Daci was still there – or, more likely, back from her own circulation. I was certain she’d picked Neave up much earlier, but let me bring her back there myself. When I introduced them, Daci smiled broadly, and instead of an air kiss, took the back of Neave’s hand to her own lips. As I had done, I saw her inhaled the woman’s scent and glow with it. A glance at me showed how pleased she was.
Neave took the fact I had a companion already in stride, but Daci’s kiss disconcerted her a little. Daci was just as taken with her close up as I was, though she, as always, exhibited just a little more control than I ever could. Her teeth betrayed no hint in her broad smile.
“And so this dark, brooding man is yours?” Daci asked Neave, pointing to the painting, but facing me.
“Oh, no! Well yes, sort of, he’s mine in that I thought of him. I didn’t use a model. I usually don’t.”
“And how do you fix the blood so it doesn’t decay?
Neave jerked her hand from Daci’s with short gasp and looked around, as if to check if Daci could be overheard.
“Blood? What makes you say that? What do you mean?”
“Oh, come now dear, it is quite obvious. There is a textural and element you simply cannot get any other way.”
Now Daci was playing. My eye can pick that out, but hers can’t.
“I… I only use a iny bit, a dilution in the red. It’s not… You won’t..”
“Tell anyone? Not at all. We wouldn’t dream of it. Please, we have no interest in playing police or holding any secrets over your head.”
She looked a little relieved, but we’d, seen straight through a mystique she had created for herself.
“Do you always paint with blood?” I asked.
“Yes. Yes, it’s my ‘thing’”
“Isn’t it a bit of a lonely thing if no one knows?”
“A little. And, well, a few people know. People I trust.”
We had nearly spooked her, but she couldn’t run. We did have a secret of hers, and she didn’t trust us.
“Neave,” I said, “We don’t want to make you uncomfortable, or afraid. And I think I know how to put you at your ease.”
“Yes.” I looked over at Daci and arched an eyebrow. She shrugged, giving the move, the decision to me. “I’ll trade you our secret for yours.”
I smiled full at Neave.
She looked at me, uncertainly, unreassured by a stranger’s smile, but then she looked at my mouth, my teeth.