Life and Death: Twilight Reimagined (Page 77)

“That’s amazingly pleasant, the warmth.”

A moment passed while she seemed to be arranging her thoughts.

“You know how everyone enjoys different flavors?” she began. “Some people love chocolate ice cream, others prefer strawberry?”

I nodded.

“I apologize for the food analogy—I couldn’t think of another way to explain.”

I grinned and she grinned back, but her smile was rueful.

“You see, every person has their own scent, their own essence.… If you locked an alcoholic in a room full of stale beer, she’d drink it. But she could resist, if she wished to, if she were a recovering alcoholic. Now let’s say you placed in that room a glass of hundred-year-old brandy, the rarest, finest cognac—and filled the room with its warm aroma—how do you think our alcoholic would fare then?”

We sat in silence for a minute, staring into each other’s eyes, trying to read each other’s thoughts.

She broke the silence first.

“Maybe that’s not the right comparison. Maybe it would be too easy to turn down the brandy. Perhaps I should have made our alcoholic a heroin addict instead.”

“So what you’re saying is, I’m your brand of heroin?” I teased, trying to lighten the mood.

She smiled swiftly, seeming to appreciate my effort. “Yes, you are exactly my brand of heroin.”

“Does that happen often?” I asked.

She looked across the treetops, thinking through her response.

“I spoke to my sisters about it.” She still stared into the distance. “To Jessamine, every one of you is much the same. She’s the most recent to join our family. It’s a struggle for her to abstain at all. She hasn’t had time to grow sensitive to the differences in smell, in flavor.” She glanced swiftly at me. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine. Look, don’t worry about offending me, or horrifying me, or whatever. That’s the way you think. I can understand, or I can try to at least. Just explain however it makes sense to you.”

She took a deep breath and stared past me.

“So Jessamine wasn’t sure if she’d ever come across someone who was as”—she hesitated, looking for the right word—“appealing as you are to me. Which makes me think not.” Her eyes flickered to me. “She would remember this.”

She looked away again. “El has been on the wagon longer, so to speak, and she understood what I meant. She says twice, for her, once stronger than the other.”

“And for you?”

“Never before this.”

We stared at each other again. This time I broke the silence.

“What did Eleanor do?”

It was the wrong question to ask. She cringed, and her face was suddenly tortured. I waited, but she didn’t add anything.

“Okay, so I guess that was a dumb question.”

She stared at me with eyes that pleaded for understanding. “Even the strongest of us fall off the wagon, don’t we?”

“Are you… asking for my permission?” I whispered. A shiver rolled down my spine that had nothing to do with my freezing hands.

Her eyes flew wide in shock. “No!”

“But you’re saying there’s no hope, right?”

I knew it wasn’t normal, facing death like this without any real sense of fear. It wasn’t that I was super brave, I knew that. It was just that I wouldn’t have chosen differently, even knowing it would end this way.

She looked angry again, but I didn’t think she was angry with me. “Of course there’s hope. Of course I won’t…” She left the sentence hanging. Her eyes felt like they were physically burning mine. “It’s different for us. El… these were strangers she happened across. It was a long time ago. She wasn’t as practiced, as careful as she is now. And she’s never been as good at this as I am.”

She fell silent, watching me intently as I thought it through.

“So if we’d met… oh, in a dark alley or something…”

“It took everything I had—every single year of practice and sacrifice and effort—not to jump up in the middle of that class full of children and—” She broke off, her eyes darting away from me. “When you walked past me, I could have ruined everything Carine has built for us, right then and there. If I hadn’t been denying my thirst for the last… too many years, I wouldn’t have been able to stop myself.”

She stared at me grimly, both of us remembering.

“You must have thought I was possessed.”

“I couldn’t understand why. How you could hate me, just like that…”

“To me, it was like you were some kind of demon, summoned straight from my own personal hell to ruin me. The fragrance coming off your skin… I thought it would make me deranged that first day. In that one hour, I thought of a hundred different ways to lure you from the room with me, to get you alone. And I fought them each back, thinking of my family, what I could do to them. I had to run out, to get away before I could speak the words that would make you follow.…”

She looked up then, her golden eyes scorching from under her lashes, hypnotic and deadly.

“You would have come,” she promised.

I tried to speak calmly. “No doubt about it.”

She frowned at our hands. “And then, as I tried to rearrange my schedule in a pointless attempt to avoid you, there you were—in that close, warm little room, the scent was maddening. I so very nearly took you then. There was only one other frail human there—so easily dealt with.”

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