Timeline: March 25th, 2008
Jesse and Ann-Marie left the Blood and Brew and headed to Ann-Marie’s home. Jesse was quiet on the way out and remained so until they arrived at the house.
“Why so quiet Jesse?” Ann-Marie asked.
She looked at Ann-Marie. “Hm? Oh! Sorry I was just thinking I need to do some research at the library.”
Ann-Marie thought there was more, “Would you rather have stayed in the bar tonight? You seemed to enjoy yourself.”
“They’re interesting people,” Jesse said. “Most of the locals aren’t really all that talkative, at least not me since I’m a stranger.”
“I’m afraid you already know Rey better than I do. She rarely talks to me, and so far never alone except as a bar tender. Cambion and I have friends in common, but our conversations have been brief. I’m afraid all he is interested in is my body, something I’m not at liberty to give him,” replied Ann-Marie. “If you are not careful, you might end up a notch on his belt.” She said jokingly. “He does have an infectious smile though, doesn’t he?”
“I guess so,” Jesse replied. “He’s definitely a pretty man.”
Ann-Marie opened the door and they stepped inside. Once there she looked quizzically at Jesse, “Besides the library, is there something on your mind? You know you can ask me anything.”
Jesse stepped inside and waited for Ann-Marie to close the door before asking. “Well, I’m just trying to get my vampire lore right. I mean, I know we just have a business arrangement, and that’s a good thing. But I was thinking that… well, the character of Renfield in Dracula also had a ‘business’ arrangement with a vampire. It didn’t turn out so well for him and… well… the idea something like that could happen scares the hell out of me. I mean, I thought it was just an exaggeration, a lie of fiction and it’s really hard for me to believe you’d ever do something like that to someone…
“So I wanted to know, are you going to break my mind, turn me into something like him?”
“Like a Renfield?” said Ann-Marie quizzically, “If I had wanted to do that, I would have already done so and we wouldn’t be having this conversation.” Slightly annoyed, but still friendly enough she continues, “I see you are having some second thoughts, even after what I made clear to you. May I ask why?”
Jesse recoiled a bit, stung by the reproach. “Oh it’s no biggy. It’s just that I thought I knew the risks going in and then I realized I might have been just assuming I was right and not really questioning it.” She shook her head and smiled. “So, what kind of business did you want to attend to tonight?”
Ann-Marie was calm, “We’ll get to that in a moment. I’m sorry if I seemed annoyed. But it is a big deal, a very big deal. You have so much potential and I need to know you really want to pursue this. What are your expectations? Please be honest with me, I need to know I can trust you.”
“That’s the thing,” Jesse said. “That’s it exactly. I need to know I can trust you, too. I just thought this would be a great way to earn a living.” As Ann-Marie looked at her, she seemed so very vulnerable, very mortal at this moment.
She sat down next to her and took her hand. “If all you wanted is to earn a living, you could have easily gotten a job anywhere, even with that lawyer. You are here because you sense you can be more than textbooks and grades have made you. That you can taste more of life than a simple 9 to 5 job. I can someday offer you immortality Jesse, and more power and understanding than your grandmother ever imagined, but I won’t make you a slave my sweet. I have no use for that here. I need a friend and a true confident. You could be her. Listen to the goddess within you.”
“If you wish, you may go and no more will be said. We’ll conduct our business like professionals and forget that I am what I am and never speak of it again to anyone – ever. Or you may stay and learn,” said Ann-Marie, taking the part of the learned mother to a great potential student.
Jesse thought about that for a long moment. “I would like to stay,” she said somberly. “But… maybe you should know the kind of person I really am before you let me.” She looked down at her own hands as if she saw something terrible there. “Maybe once you know about me, you won’t want me around anyway.”
“What could you have done that make you so terrible?” She took both her hands and held them close. “Tell me what troubles you so.”
“Well,” Jesse began, “not only do I need a job and a place to crash so badly, but I really need to not be in New York for a good, long time. See, it started just after I graduated college. I didn’t have work prospects, so I just scraped by as a waitress while my best friend tried to break out on Broadway. I tried my hand at that, too — I was that desperate. Then Katrina hit and my Aunt Milli came to stay for a while…”
Jesse continued to tell her story. By the end of it all, she had broken down into tears and heart-broken sobs.
Ann-Marie held her close for a long time, letting her cry. After a little while she looked her in the eyes and said, “What you’ve been through is hard, but you can learn from it and learn to forgive yourself. What they did to you,” she paused – wiping away her tears, “is unforgivable. Plain and simple. And what you did can either haunt you, or you can learn from the pain and anguish and grow stronger for it.”
She wiped at her tears. “I don’t have any place to go. Renee is… ” she shook her head and tears began to flow again. “That’s why this is important to me, having a place and a job. I can’t face my parents. And the ones that hurt me, I hate them. I hate them all. I know it’s wrong but I can’t help it.”
Ann-Marie consoled her, “There is nothing wrong with feeling emotions. It is what you do with them that matters. Each trial we face in our existence can either destroy us, or as I said, make us stronger. It is within you to choose how you face your tribulations. Believe it or not, you are lucky, my sweet.”
Jesse seemed to get control of herself. She wiped her eyes and settled down. After a moment she looked at Ann-Marie and asked, “Why do you call me that?”
Ann-Marie smiled, “Because in many ways I’ve faced what you have faced. I’ve felt pain like yours before. Like a mother who shares their experiences with a daughter; her wisdom and knowledge. I see a lot of me in you, Jesse. If you let me, I can guide you through this. I am not here to seduce you, nor to turn you into a slave. I offer myself as teacher and surrogate mother, who can open your eyes to a wider world.”
“I know you’re older than me,” Jesse said, “but I really need a friend, not a mother or an elder. Is that okay? I’ll go miles and miles for someone who treats me like a friend or even maybe a sister, but I’ve had my ‘eyes’ opened to more than I ever wanted by family already. I’m trying to deal and not repeat the mistakes I made in New York.”
“I’ll be your sister then Jesse. We’ll deal with the mistakes together, but you need to trust me completely. You already know what I am, and by letting you keep that knowledge and trusting you with it, I am taking a terrible chance. You know of the Renfields, but we have to avoid the Van Helsings. But,” with a smile, “I think you won’t let me down.”
Jesse smiled back. “Thanks.”
“A few things you should know. First, never discuss or admit what I am or what we do or talk about unless I give you leave to do so. I won’t discuss what you tell in private to anyone either. I think advertising our abilities is dangerous, and as you will learn there are many who will want to take advantage of you or persecute you for what you can do. There is, however, a wider community in this town who do know who I am. With them, you can acknowledge me, but please don’t ever discuss what we do even with them. It’s all part of a larger thing my kind, the Kindred, call the Masquerade.”
“Got it,” Jesse said with a nod. “And don’t worry. I haven’t given away anything to anyone yet, aside from the fact you are an artist and I am trying to sell your paintings.”
“Good enough. Officially, I am the niece of Dr. John Beckett. My name is Gillian Ann-Marie Morgan, just out of college and staying here near my uncle. No one calls me Gillian though,” explained Ann-Marie. “James Ironclaw is my boyfriend. You saw him a week ago. And my closet friend in town is Lyla, whom you’ll meet soon enough. That is all fairly common knowledge, so you won’t need to deny any of that.”
“No problem. So… you really have a boyfriend?” she asked.
“He is…unique, but amazingly fun. We get along famously. That’s all I can really say as he is a very private man. Are you disappointed?” asked Ann-Marie.
Jesse thought about that while looking at Ann-Marie. “Um. Actually I’m glad for you.” She smiled.
“Thank you. You are quite beautiful yourself, there are likely several young ladies in this town who would love you date you, but what we share must come first. You see, there is something I can give you that is far sweeter than sex, and more passionate than any lover’s embrace.” She paused, looking deeply into Jesse’s eyes, “Will you trust me, will you show no fear?”
Too late. Jesse was already looking scared — rather like a doe caught in the headlights of an oncoming car. She didn’t need heightened senses to know that, judging by her color, Jesse’s heart was racing. “No,” she said, “please…”
“I’m not going to hurt you Jesse. You know what I am, what I do. I wish to share that with you. Why are you scared?” Ann-Marie backed off a bit, looked a bit disappointed but calm, but kept a hold of Jesse’s hand reassuringly.
Jesse was quiet for a moment before she spoke again. “I don’t want to get hooked on something I can’t walk away from.”
“You won’t,” she smiled, “this is a part of what I am, and as my friend I want to share it with you. We call it the Kiss, and it will be something between us. I need you to willingly trust me on this. It will feel good, but you can always let go. You won’t be a slave I promise you.” Ann-Marie looked at her with complete sincerity. “Others have shared this with me and had no ill effects. It is not the taste of your blood that is dangerous, only the taste of mine. If you like, I can explain things to you.
You’ll know someday anyway, so why not now?”
Relief swept over Jesse and reflected clearly in her face. That was one thing Ann-Marie could see about Jesse; she was a straight-forward person who rarely tried to hide what she was feeling. “Yes, please. If you don’t mind. Kisses sound fine with me,” she said a little coyly. “So long as your boyfriend won’t get mad.” She was already imagining what kind of kissing Ann-Marie referred to, though she was again likely to be missing the mark.
Ann-Marie softly explained, knowing Jesse didn’t understand, “It’s “The Kiss”, not, “a kiss” and no he won’t be jealous of this, he knows of it, and understands what I am and what I need.” She moved closer to Jesse, her hand caressing Jesse’s face. “Trust me,” she whispers as she begins kissing her neck.
Jesse kept still for a moment, then tilted her head back to give Ann-Marie better access.
Encouraged, Ann-Marie bit…
Jesse sighed as the first wave of ecstasy passed through her body, starting at the point of the bite on her neck and expanding in a warm, tingling sensation that engulfed and drowned her senses. A new wave passed through her in time with each beat of Jesse’s heart while Ann-Marie continued to drink her life away.
Ann-Marie had wanted her to know, to understand. Now she did. After a brief moment she let go, licking the wound and healing it. She held her young friend close and kissed her on the forehead, “There Jesse, that wasn’t so bad was it?” she said soft friendliness.
“It was… wonderful,” sighed Jesse. “It didn’t even hurt. Did you really even drink my blood?”
“Yes I did.” said Ann-Marie with a smile, “Not much though, just enough so you understood what I said was true. I may again, should you be willing, but not for a couple of days at least. You’ll need to recover a bit.”
Now that Ann-Marie mentioned it, she did feel sleepy. Her eyes drooped with weariness.
“Come, you should go to bed. We can talk about art and the unknown tomorrow,” Ann-Marie said, hold out her hand to the weary Jesse. “You’ve taken your first steps into a larger world.”
Jesse took the hand and stood up carefully.
With sisterly care Ann-Marie guided Jesse to her (Jesse’s) bedroom. “Take a rest and I’ll see you later this evening or tomorrow night. Goodnight Jesse.”
Jesse fell rapidly asleep wondering vaguely where Ann-Marie would sleep.