"Tawnya had an interesting theory to share with me when I got home last night."
"I thought she might."
"But it can't be right...her theory. It's too ridiculous."
"Perhaps you should share her theory with me, so I can tell you if it is ridiculous."
I looked at him, sitting so still and stiff, as though bracing himself for a blow and I felt the tears well in my eyes. No matter what, if I said the words waiting on the tip of my tongue, there would be no going back.
"Promise you won't laugh," I said, trying to lighten the mood.
"I'm certain whatever Tawnya told you is no laughing matter, Mairin."
"No, I suppose not," I admitted. "She...Tawnya...thinks you're a vampire."
"And what do you think, Mairin?" When he didn't immediately laugh and deny my accusation, hope trickled out of my soul.
"I think...I think you're the most wonderful person I've ever met."
He smiled sadly. "That isn't all you think," he said. "Ask me, Mairin. Ask me the question that makes your eyes shine with tears."
"Am I what? You have to say the word or you will never believe my answer."
I took a deep breath and looked into Mathias' eyes. I wished I could drown in the black pools staring back at me. The eyes I had come to love so easily were so blank now, icy and closed to me. What had I done? Realizing I'd already gone too far to turn back, I blurted out, "Are you a vampire, Mathias?"
He never blinked nor shifted his eyes from mine. "Yes."
"I told you I was selfish. That I had never been denied anything I truly wanted. That is the sad truth of my life. I was seventeen in 1922. My family was wealthy in a way that doesn't really translate now. We had everything we could ever want or need, but we worked hard for it all. I was a man poised to get everything I'd ever wanted. My father was turning our shipping company over to me and I was engaged to the most beautiful girl in the county. Her name was Kathryn." I started in surprise. Did this revelation confirm that my dreams were his memories? I shuddered at the thought.
Mathias waited silently, pausing in his tale and reaching to touch my face. "She had lovely red-brown hair and green eyes and she loved me. I loved her, too. Loved her enough to die for her."
"The fiend that changed my world found us walking near the docks. Kathryn often met me at the ship my father was currently unloading so we could walk in the evenings before she had to return to her parents' home. We were to be married only days from my last night as a human."
"I heard the monster coming and shoved Kathryn out of the way as it charged us. Kathryn was able to run as I held it and let it sink its foul teeth into my arm."
I shuddered. I could hear the Mathias from my dream scream, "Kathryn, run. Don't look back, just go!"
Mathias smiled softly, stroking my cheek again. "It drank until I could no longer see anything but a dark tunnel. I saw my own death in that last moment and I welcomed it. I knew Kathryn had escaped. That was all that mattered. And then I heard the watch running down the alley. Kathryn had sent them back for me. Would that she had not, I could have died in that fiend's embrace rather than become what it was. Instead of finishing me, it dropped me and ran, leaving my diseased body behind."
My heart was thundering in my chest as I listened to Mathias speak. I could almost hear the watch running on cobble stones and hear Kathryn screaming for him. Screaming for him as I would have screamed had I witnessed the horror he described.
"Kathryn sat with me for the several days during which I lingered at death's door. She refused to believe that the doctors my father sent for could not save me. Perhaps if she had let them lead her away...if she hadn't been there...but she was."
I could see the lovely woman from my dream silently praying for Mathias, mopping his brow, and waiting for him to be well. My mind refused to move past that moment in my dream, to move on to what I knew was the outcome before Mathias spoke the words.
"The moment my eyes opened after my heart finally gave up its battle, I could think of nothing but the scorching thirst that burned my throat. I didn't recognize my Kathryn until she lay still in my arms. Pale, still, and very dead. I ran. Coward that I am, I ran rather than face the rightful punishment for my evil. I hid like the base, cowardly monster that I was until the thirst drove me out."
A sob slipped between my lips. Mathias looked at me, wonder in his eyes. He didn't know that what made me cry out was his own anguished face, the chaste kiss he'd left on Kathryn's lips, the promise he'd made to mourn her for eternity. Such love, so much more than I believed I was capable of, couldn't exist in an evil creature. It couldn't be allowed.
He shook himself, coming back from his past to join me in our present. "For too many years, I wandered the night, hiding in alleys, taking life in order to sustain my own existence. Women flocked to me, walked into the dark with me as though they could not see the evil in my heart. I walked the night and I mourned the sun."
Each word he spoke brought with it the visions of my dreams. I had walked those alleys with him. I had seen the death he brought to those women. I had mourned the sun with him. For the first time in my life, I cursed the gift I had been given. I didn't want his memories, their details sharp and horrible. I wanted to continue to be able to doubt his words so I could stay with him, love him.
"It wasn't until decades later that I met Alfred. It was he who shared the secrets of our existence with me. How home soil allows us to live in the light. How our venom makes more of us. How if I were careful, if I could control myself, I could take blood without killing or turning my donors. It was only with his teaching that I was able to step out of the sewers and return to the human world. But even then, I was still a monster, still a killer."
"I count meeting Alfred as my third birthday," Mathias said. "My first was when my mother brought me to this world, the second when my Kathryn left it."
"And even though I'd found ways to be reborn into the light, the light of my mortal life haunted my every moment. There has been a gaping hole in my chest from the moment I realized what I had done, how my selfishness had taken Kathryn from this world. I vowed I would never be that selfish again, that I would never again allow my desire to live in and be surrounded by the light to endanger someone I loved."
Mathias smiled at me. "But I cannot be anything but what I am."