It hadnt been her idea to go to the stupid Halloween party. Gem had planned
to stay home with a Boris Karloff retrospective on cable, and a big bowl of miniature
chocolate bars to give out to trick-or-treaters. Liz had literally twisted her
arm for weeks, and even then Gem wasnt going to give in, until her best
friend had delivered the coup de grace: Kate Christensen was going to be at Toni
and Becca's house for the party, too.
That had sealed it. Gem had been carrying a torch for Kate for almost as long
as she could remember. They had attended the same high school and even been in
some of the same classes, but Gem had only worshiped from afar. Even all these
years later, she still remembered each time Kate had casually greeted her or nodded
in her direction, and she cherished the memory of the day that Kate had asked
her for some history notes.
Gem regretted having agreed to go to the party almost as soon as she impulsively
said yes, but her friend refused to let her back out. Liz made it patently clear
that she was tired of Gem coasting on her threadbare memories for over a decade.
She insisted that the Halloween party would be the perfect opportunity to see
if there could be something more than mere one-sided fantasy between the two graduates
of Hemingway High.
There wouldn't be. Gem knew that long before she had reluctantly shown up at
Liz's door earlier that evening with her costume in an old dry cleaning bag. She
was painfully aware that she was a dreamer, not a doer. As a teenager she had
wanted to be a doctor, but instead, after high school she had become a nurse's
aide. She had imagined traveling to Africa to work with Doctors Without Borders,
but had settled for working in the Mansfield Retirement Village. Once, visions
of exotic faraway places had filled her head, but she had yet to venture farther
than the borders of her home state. And as for love...well, that was the dream
most unlikely of all to come true.
Kate was not meant for one such as her. Golden Kate, who had run track so well
that she had won a full scholarship to UCLA, and would've made the '96 Olympic
team, except for a broken ankle suffered during trials. Popular Kate, who had
been the universal choice for Homecoming Queen, and who had boys and girls flocking
about her in crowds so thick that Gem couldn't have penetrated them even if she
had dared to try. Brainy Kate, who when her Olympic dreams were dashed
went on to medical school and, much to everyone's surprise, returned to
her hometown to do her residency.
It had been easier in high school, when Gem watched Kate date a succession
of similarly athletic golden boys, and she'd accepted that Kate would never be
interested in her because she wasn't gay. But Kate had brought a girlfriend back
with her from the west coast when she began her residency, and Gem's old rationalization
was no longer a good excuse. The girlfriend was an excellent justification for
Gem not pursuing her high school crush, for a short while at least, until Kate
broke up with her, and then there was the succession of women that the rising
young doctor dated. Naturally, Gem would never dream of trying to break up a couple,
and there was rarely time enough between relationships for her to even say hi
to Kate, let alone ask her out.
When she had sensibly pointed out all these things to Liz, her best friend
had merely grinned. Miracle of miracles, Kate was currently completely unattached,
and the grapevine had it that she would be going to the party solo.
Gem had seen the determined look on Liz's face, and knew that there was just
no way her friend was going to let her waffle out of making an effort this time.
She knew that if she didn't present herself at Liz's apartment at the appointed
time, her friend would come after her and drag her kicking and screaming to the
party. Weakly rationalizing that Liz would undoubtedly be giving all her attention
to Sandy, her current inamorata who was going to be waiting for her at Toni and
Becca's, she gave up her argument. Once Liz was distracted, she would quietly
slink to the nearest corner and nibble on peanuts until she could make an unobtrusive
That plan in place, she decided to make the best of the situation. If nothing
else, she could watch Kate from a distance and perhaps take home a new fantasy
or two with which to lull herself to sleep. Not that she had ever run out of fantasies.
Between the hours of eleven and midnight every night, she and Kate had sailed
the South Pacific, soared to the stars, skied the Austrian Alps, and rescued innumerable
fair maidens from countless villains. They had saved the world so many times,
that were it not for their modest natures, the UN would've erected massive monuments
to them in New York. Oh, and the lovemaking they had indulged in! Kate just couldn't
seem to get enough of Gem, and was forever seducing her to the envy of
glamorous men and women alike. Sometimes Kate would have to woo her away from
another, and sometimes their eyes would simply meet across a crowded room, but
always these two soul mates would find each other, whatever the obstacles.
Gem had never actually had a lover, but she did have a vivid imagination and
a prodigious appetite for lesbian romances. Having seen her friends endure the
roller coaster that was all too often love, she wasn't sure that she needed anything
more. Real life was just far too messy for her taste. She was even more convinced
of that after this All Hallows Eve.
It all started when Liz insisted that she wear a costume. Because it took so
long to talk Gem into going to the party, there were only a couple of days left
and very few Halloween costumes remaining in rental shops. Unable to find anything
remotely flattering, she decided to cobble together a vampire costume. Those creatures
of the night at least had a romantic aura to them, and for a brief moment, Gem
imagined looking so suave and sophisticated that she would manage to catch Kate's
admiring eye. Then reality set in.
She borrowed her older brother's wedding tux, which being of a parsimonious
nature he had acquired from a buddy at a funeral home. Gem didn't ask where
it had originated from, feeling that was information best left buried. The suit
was shiny with age, and more virescent than black, but once she stapled the trouser
legs and jacket arms up eight inches, and attached suspenders, she could at least
wear it. The cummerbund was somewhat tattered and a rather repulsive baby blue
colour, but at least the white shirt, taken from her own closet, was presentable.
Finding a cape was more difficult. She didn't have the skill to make one, nor
the time to find a seamstress who was available. Finally she settled on her mother's
old nursing cape. It was blue, not black, but at least it was red sateen on the
inside, even if it lacked the panache of a full-length cape. Her old Doc Martens,
polished for the occasion, completed the outfit, and when she gelled her short,
curly brown hair back, darkened her eyebrows, and applied powder to her face for
the pale, gaunt effect, she felt downright dashing, despite the thick glasses
without which she couldn't see beyond her own nose. That was, until she exited
the bathroom and Liz nearly keeled over laughing.
It took a good ten minutes of heartfelt apologies and assurances that she looked
fine for Liz to repair the damage to Gem's fragile ego, and the would-be vampire
still slunk into the party staring at her feet and refusing to meet anyone's eyes.
Even without looking up, she had no problem picking out Kate's location. Judging
by the volume of voices and the density of the crowd, she had no doubt that the
doctor was holding court over by the fireplace. She proved unexpectedly resolute
in resisting Liz's importunate urging to go over and say hi to Kate, until finally
her best friend threw up her hands in disgust and set out in search of Sandy.
Gem heaved a sigh of relief as she watched Liz's black witch's hat bobble away
through the crowd, and she set an immediate course for the darkest corner she
could find. She had to dodge a number of amorous couples, but she was finally
successful in claiming a relatively quiet corner for herself. Much to her delight,
she discovered that she had a good sightline to the fireplace
retinue. Or at least she would've, if she weren't so vertically impaired. Even
her boots only added a couple of inches to her scant five feet, and it was frustrating
to only catch an occasional glimpse of the tall, ash blonde pirate queen, who
had a redhead draped over her shoulders, and a chattering throng of women around
The ersatz vampire ignored the fleeting pain of seeing Kate's multitude of
worshipers. She was too much of a realist to ever picture herself as one of that
crowd. Later tonight she would concoct a bedtime story of how Kate had immediately
divested herself of all admirers as soon as Gem had entered the room, rushing
over to greet the newcomer to the dismay of every other woman in the room.
Gem hadn't decided if her bedtime story would find her playing hard to get, thereby
making her flirtatious lover pay for being so irresistible to other women, or
if she would coolly accept Kate's adulation as her due and allow herself to be
fawned over all evening. Truth be told, she would probably play out both scenarios
in her mind, and fall asleep long before she reached the denouement of either
For now, though, she had to solve the height problem. The corner that she had
staked out abutted a built-in bookcase, and she turned to survey the contents
by the atmospherically flickering light of candles that reflected from every nook
in the room. Spying a large book on the bottom shelf, Gem bent to tug it out.
It was an encyclopedia or a dictionary of some kind, but the most important thing
was that it was six or seven inches thick, and when the diminutive vampire set
it on the floor and stood on it, her view improved significantly.
She immediately spotted Toni and Becca, the hosts of the annual shindig, over
by the kitchen door, shuttling trays of hors d'oeuvres out to the hungry throng.
In the corner opposite her, Liz had found her Sandy, and was nibbling on the bared
shoulder of her Russian Countess. Here and there Gem picked out friends and acquaintances,
even through the elaborate costumes, but finally her eyes turned to the fireplace
as irresistibly as a moth to a flame.
Much to her shock, Kate was looking right back at her, eyes sparkling with
laughter and a small grin on her face. Gem just about fell off her book-perch
in shock, and she quickly looked away, sure she was mistaken about the doctor
noticing her. Pretending to be listening to a group of women next to her, she
surreptitiously glanced out of the corner of her eye, only to find that though
Kate was ostensibly listening to the redhead hanging on her shoulder, and even
answering her admirer from time to time, her gaze was still directed in Gem's
Abruptly, Gem slid off the book. Trembling, she knelt to replace the makeshift
footstool back on the shelf and remained huddled on the floor until someone almost
tripped over her. Apologizing, she stood and pressed back against the wall. This
time she was grateful that the crowd obscured her vision, as her frantic thoughts
matched her erratic breathing. It was one thing to admire Kate anonymously from
afar, but she didn't think she could stand it if Kate actually noticed her, and
worst of all, was amused by Gem's unmistakable hero worship. She didn't know what
to do: whether it would be best to slip out now, or play it cool and hang around
until Kate's attention was firmly back on her conquest de jour.
Agonized, Gem simply stood in her corner, frozen with indecision and frequently
buffeted by increasingly inebriated partygoers. She had no idea how much time
had passed, but her numbed instincts had rebounded enough that her customary flight
response was activated. Determined to leave the party posthaste, the small vampire
began to fight her way through the crowd.
Feeling like a salmon swimming upstream...in a very, very crowded stream, Gem
finally spied an opening and bolted it for it. Unfortunately that maneuver deposited
her in the kitchen rather than the front hallway, but at least the crowd was thinner
there and she could regroup for another attempt.
"Hey, Gem! I'm glad you could make it. Geez, what a madhouse, huh? You'd think
we'd have learned from last year, but then, at least the cops haven't shown up
this timeat least not yet."
Gem smiled weakly at Toni, who was extracting something that looked like cheese
puffs from the oven.
"It is a bit crowded. Um, I was just going to..."
Toni slid the hot pastries onto a tray and thrust them into Gem's hands.
"Be a dear and take these out to the living room, will ya? And if you see Becca,
tell her we need another case of mix from the basement. Thanks, G."
Bemused, Gem watched Toni grab a towel and hustle over to where a drunk had
spilled beer all over the counter, the floor, and a fellow guest.
Oh well, I've got to head out in that direction anyway. I'll just dump this
on the nearest horizontal surface and get out of here.
Shielding the tray with one arm, Gem dodged three guests, did a neat spin around
two more, and ended up in the doorway of the kitchen, the cheese puffs intact.
As she scanned the tray to ensure she hadn't lost any errant pastries during her
fancy footwork, she realized someone had moved to stand in front of her, blocking
the entrance to the living room.
She was about to excuse herself and duck around the roadblock when she realized
that it was Kate standing in front of her, one hand on her sword and a rakish
grin on her face as she regarded Gem.
"I see they pressed you into service. Funny, you don't look like hired help,
though I must say I wouldn't mind seeing you in a French maid's outfit."
Gem was speechless. Had Kate just flirted with her? She shook her head slightly,
half expecting the pirate's image to fade as surely as her nighttime fantasies
did, but no, those blue eyes were still twinkling at her.
Seemingly recognizing that Gem's power of speech had deserted her for the moment,
Kate looked over the tray and selected a pastry. "Do you mind?"
"Um, no... Please, help yourself." Gem watched in fascination as Kate juggled
the hot cheese puff before dropping it back on the tray.
"Damn! Those things are hot!" Kate sucked on her fingers, wincing.
Bad brain! Stop that right now! Gem blushed and dropped her gaze. "Sorry.
They just came out of the oven."
Kate chuckled. "My fault. I'm always getting my fingers in where they don't
belong. Nearly lost a thumb when I was assisting on an appendectomy last week."
Say something, you idiot! Something...suave, amusing... Hell, anything!
"I should probably get these out there while they're still hot." Oh yeah,
that was impressive. She'll definitely want to hang around and chat you up now.
Gem focused on her tray, wishing that Kate would just let her by, but the doctor
didn't move. Finally, unable to bear the silence, the petite vampire looked up
to see that she was being watched rather intently. She shifted restlessly, wondering
what she should say or do, but nothing came to mind.
"I saw you in Riverside last week."
Gem often saw Kate in the hospital, but was surprised that the doctor had noticed
her. "Um, yeah, I had to take Mrs. Greenside over for an appointment. She's a
resident at Mansfield, where I work."
"I know. I've seen you bring others over before. Hey, how come you never stop
to say hi? I'd even buy you a cup of coffee, if you had the time, not that I'd
blame you for ducking hospital swill."
A question about why she never dropped in at the White House couldn't have
shocked her more. Gem was literally speechless, and her expression reflected her
"What? Can't two old high school friends sit and share a cup of java?" The
tone was light, but there was an underlying challenge in Kate's words.
Guests flowed around them as they stood to the side of the doorway, and Gem
wished desperately that she could melt into the crowd and be swept away from this
woman. She felt like such a fool. None of her books and none of her fantasies
had prepared her for this actuality. She began to wonder if Kate was mocking her,
and a rising disquiet gave her the courage to speak. Meeting the doctor's gaze
squarely for the first time, she said quietly, "Friends? We barely knew each other
"And why was that?" The challenge was now unmistakable.
Gem couldn't help laughing. That was like asking why a bit player wasn't invited
to share a superstar's spotlight. Before she could answer though, a long arm snaked
over Kate's shoulder and a hand stole inside her ruffled pirate's blouse. The
small vampire dropped her eyes from the sight of a breast being fondled, missing
the unmistakable irritation that flashed on the doctor's face.
"Darling, where did you get to? I've been waiting for my drink for forever.
I could die of thirst, you know."
The redhead's words were slurred and petulant, but the air of possession was
unmistakable. With a curt nod, Gem slipped away. Skirting the edge of the room,
she found a corner of a hutch to set the tray on. Glancing back at the kitchen
doorway, she saw that Kate had turned and was now holding the redhead up, even
though her gaze had followed the vampire's hasty retreat.
When the redhead began rubbing herself suggestively against the doctor's body,
Gem decided that she'd had enough and began plowing determinedly through the crowd
to the front door and out into the night air. Closing the door behind her, she
was brought up short as she tried to walk away.
Frustrated, Gem struggled to release her short cape before it strangled her.
Finally she accepted that she was going to have to reopen the door to extricate
the stubborn piece of material.
"Damn it! So much for making a smooth exit."
Heaping curses on her best friend's head for ever having convinced her to go
to the party in the first place, Gem opened the door as quietly as she could,
only to find that the mass of people inside had flowed into the front hallway,
and she could barely open the door wide enough to retrieve her bedraggled cape.
Music, smoke, the noise of a hundred different conversations, and the complaints
of those women she had to nudge back to open the door floated over her head as
she tugged herself free of her inadvertent leash. Resisting the urge to slam the
door in frustration, she closed it quietly, adjusted her glasses, and made her
way down the long flight of stairs.
She had barely reached the sidewalk when people began spilling out onto the
veranda. Not wanting to answer any questions about why she was leaving the lively
Halloween party when it was barely midnight, Gem hastened across the street to
the cemetery that had served as a final home to many of the old port's residents
through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
A heavy rain earlier in the evening had given way to thick, humid air and a
wispy, ankle level fog, but Gem barely gave the oppressive atmosphere a thought
as she passed under the familiar stone archway. She had spent her whole life in
this town, and the Atlantic fogs that regularly rolled in over the port were as
familiar to her as her own name. Nor did the thought of crossing the cemetery
faze her, for the dilapidated tombstones and barely legible inscriptions were
old friends, too. As children, she and her siblings had played hide and seek,
tag, and Red Rover over the acres of ancient oaks, Spanish moss and granite tributes
to those long dead. Later in life, she had found peace in the quiet beauty of
the place, as she walked the stone paths, dreaming of aspirations, of possibilities,
and of love that most elusive and ephemeral of treasures. It would no more
occur to her to fear the cemetery than to fear her own backyard.
Remarkably, the graveyard had never even produced any satisfactory tales of
haunts or restless spirits. Even mischievous schoolboy tales spun on Halloweens
past to scare impressionable schoolgirls had failed to stick. The cemetery remained
a singularly quiet and uneventful place. There had not been any burials there
for more than fifty years, as the old site had long ago run out of available plots,
and an expansive new resting place had been opened up on the outskirts of the
Now, as her feet trod the familiar paths, Gem reluctantly considered the evening.
In her mind, it had been an unmitigated disaster. She had convinced herself that
Kate was making fun of her, though she had no idea what had prompted the unprecedented
and unwelcome attention. Perhaps she hadn't been as subtle as she thought. Perhaps
the doctor had noticed her fascination and decided to have a little fun with her.
Whatever the reason, Gem was simply glad to be out of there and heading home
for a hot shower and a warm bed. Lost in her reflections on the evening, the small
vampire nearly missed seeing the figure leaning against one of the oak trees watching
Startled to realize she wasn't alone, she almost bolted before noticing that
the figure was a woman who was regarding her with a smile.
"God! You scared the heck out of me!"
"I'm sorry. I certainly didn't mean to." The voice was smooth and smoky, redolent
of whiskey, cigarettes, and nights spent dancing until dawn.
Gem took a second look and gave a shaky whistle, adrenaline having overridden
her usual reticence. "Wow! Your costume is great! And do you ever carry it off
well! Damn, I wish I looked half as good."
The stranger smiled again, casually dismissing her outfit with a languid wave.
"This old thing? Well, it serves its purpose, I suppose. It is fun to dress up
now and then, isn't it?"
Shaking her head in admiration, Gem surveyed the slim, elegant figure wonderingly.
It was like the woman had just stepped out of central casting as a female Bela
Lugosi. Her high collared cloak swept almost to the ground, and flashes of scarlet
could be seen as she moved. Her tuxedo was impeccably tailored, fitting the woman
like a glove, and the snowy ruffle of her shirt was so brilliant it almost glowed.
Her shoes did glow, the polish on them mirror bright. She was a vision, and her
short, black hair, intense dark eyes, and regal carriage only added to the aura
of mystery and romance.
Noticing something, Gem approached the stranger diffidently. "If you don't
mind me asking, is that the way the cummerbund is supposed to go? I wasn't sure
if the ruffles were supposed to go up or down."
Amused, the stranger fingered the scarlet silk around her narrow waist. "I
believe the original intent of this rather useless piece of material was to have
the ruffles up. Perhaps it was to catch crumbs dropped by careless noblemen as
they dined, do you think?"
Gem considered that for a moment, then shrugged. "Why not? It's as good an
explanation as any." She glanced down at her own outfit disparagingly. "Good thing
you weren't at the same party I was; I'd have had to flee in shame." Then, remembering
the circumstances that had caused her to run away, her face fell, and she turned
back onto the path. She was surprised when the stranger fell into step beside
her, but assumed that the other woman was simply crossing the cemetery, too.
They walked in silence for a short while, before the stranger spoke. "What
is your name, if I may ask?"
"Gem St. Claire."
"Is it short for anything? Gemma perhaps?"
"No, just Gem. My mother has a jewel fetish. She even named one of my sisters,
Ruby and the other..."
"Let me guess, Pearl?"
Gem giggled. "Nope, Opal."
The stranger chuckled. Encouraged, Gem added, "And she named my brother, Cole.
She always said he was..."
"A diamond in the rough," they finished together, and their laughter rang out
through the night.
Gem felt lighter for the exchange with the stranger, and she didn't object
when the taller woman matched her pace along the path that wound through the oldest
part of the graveyard, where tombs and mausoleums loomed out of the thickening
"Do you live around here?" Gem didn't think so, but it seemed the polite thing
"I did once, but I left a long time ago. I travel a lot, rarely staying in
one place for long. But I do try and return here once a year or so."
Gem sighed. "I always wanted to travel."
The stranger shrugged. "You can grow tired of it after a time. I believe it
is in our nature to always return to a place we have called home."
"You're probably right." Wanting to avoid the uncomfortable silences that always
seemed to crop up whenever she tried to carry on small talk, Gem waved her hand
to indicate the graves on either side of the path and launched into one of her
favourite topicsthe history of her hometown. "I was always surprised that
this part of the cemetery avoided the ransacking that the Union troops inflicted
on the rest of the graveyard. Did you know that soldiers used tombstones to build
fire pits, and in some cases they just tossed old bones out and bedded down in
the crypts during the winter of 1864?" Gem had always felt indignant at the lack
of respect shown her ancestors, though she understood the exigencies of war.
"That was a very cold winter." The stranger's voice was melancholy, and Gem
wondered why. "Many of those soldiers never survived to see the spring; some paid
for their disrespect with their lives."
That was rather an odd way to look at it, since Gem was sure that starvation
and hypothermia were mostly responsible for the Union deaths, but she didn't argue
with the stranger. Shyly, she said, "I never got your name."
The stranger looked down at her, her dark eyes amused again. "But certainly
not as inventive as your mother's choices." She came to an abrupt halt, took a
few steps off the pathway, and lightly jumped up to sit on an ornate old mausoleum,
inviting Gem to join her by patting the marble beside her. Surprised, but somewhat
bedazzled by the glamourous Cleo, the small vampire scrambled up beside her, aided
by a strong, helpful hand.
"So what brings you out walking after midnight, Gem?"
It was only later that it would strike Gem how odd it was for two strangers
to be sitting on a tomb in the middle of a cemetery carrying on a casual conversation.
It would also startle her, in retrospect, that she would be so atypically open
about her orientation and her emotions. Now, however, for reasons she would never
be able to pinpoint, she responded to the sympathetic warmth of her companion's
voice and spilled the whole story of the abortive party. When she wrapped up her
woeful tale by recounting her ignominious flight, Cleo just nodded gravely.
"Why do you assume this Kate was making sport of you?"
"You're kidding, right?" Gem looked down bitterly at her costume, clearly seeing
Cleo tilted her head questioningly. "Is she so shallow then, your Kate, that
she would mistake the clothes for the woman?"
"She's not 'my' Kate." Gem made the correction quickly.
"Hmm, then whose Kate is she?"
Gem couldn't prevent the bitterness that coloured her response. "Depends which
bimbo she takes home tonight, though my money's on the redhead."
"I believe you mistake affairs of the libido for affairs of the heart, my young
friend. Just because your Kate seeks to temporarily slake her lust with whomever
is available, does not mean that she gives her heart so readily."
"Don't call her 'my' Kate! She's not my Kate. She'll never BE my Kate!"
Cleo laid a soothing hand on Gem's thigh and instantly she subsided, ashamed
of her outburst.
"May I tell you a story, Gem?"
"Many years ago and not too far from here, a woman lived with her wealthy husband
and three young children. She didn't love her husband, for it had been an arranged
"An arranged marriage? Exactly how many years ago are we talking about?"
Cleo chuckled. "Tell me, as a child, did you seek to pinpoint precisely what
year Hansel and Gretel entered the forest, too?"
Abashed, Gem shook her head. "Sorry. Go ahead. You were saying?"
"As I was saying, the woman did not love her husband, but she did adore her
children, and she was moderately contented with her life. She was aware that her
husband took mistresses, but it was the fashion of the time, and she did not protest.
However, one day someone new entered her life, and a most unexpected thing happened..."
"She fell in love!"
"My dear Gem," Cleo pronounced in mock exasperation, "are you always this impatient?"
Gem drew her thumb and forefinger across her lips, turned an imaginary key,
and tossed it over her shoulder, drawing a laugh from her companion.
"Ah, but you are right. She fell in love. She didn't want to, and she certainly
hadn't sought out a lover, but she was helpless against the power of her heart.
Still, she had been strictly raised, and was bound by the rigid conventions of
duty and honour, so she did nothing."
"Nothing?" Having settled in for a wildly romantic story, Gem now frowned in
Cleo smiled sadly. "Nothing. She only admired her beloved silently, never daring
to speak her heart or make her love known. Until one day, her husband, who had
remained totally oblivious, unexpectedly decided he was bored with his wife and
sought to install one of his mistresses in her place. His first wife, having become
an...inconvenience, was disposed of."
"Divorce, huh? That sucks. I hope she took him for all he was worth, and left
nothing for the little floozy taking her place."
"Divorce? Yes, I suppose it was, in a sense. Anyway, the first wife was cast
out and lost all: her children, her home, and the one person she truly loved."
"Wait a minute? He cheated on her, and he got to keep the kids? Boy,
did she have a lousy lawyer!"
"There were no lawyers involved, Gem, only the precepts of an unequal society.
But do not fret. She kept watch over her children from afar, protected and cherished
them all their lives. They mourned her and honoured her, and carried her line
"Mourned her? Didn't she have visitation rights at least?"
"She was not in a position to see them regularly, and they were given to understand
that their mother had passed on. Their father hoped that thus they would come
to accept their stepmother."
"No way! He got away with that?"
Cleo gave a low laugh, and it sent shivers up Gem's spine. "Not really, no.
The children despised and resented their new stepmother, and made her life miserable.
And as each gained their majority, their mother came to them and told them the
whole story. Once all were of an age and able to care for themselves, their father
finally paid for his sins."
"Good! But, back up a minute. What happened to the one the woman fell in love
with? Did she ever confess her feelings or do anything about them? After all,
once her husband dumped her, she must've been free to declare her love."
"She was...indisposed for too long, and when she finally returned, it was too
late. Her beloved had been claimed by another, so she withdrew, never having spoken
The women sat silently, the normal sounds of the night deadened by the thickening
"I guess I know what you're trying to tell me."
"Tell you, Gem? I merely sought to pass a pleasant interval with a new friend
by relating a small tale. I would never presume to offer you advice." The amused
half smile belied Cleo's dismissal as she gazed off into the fog.
"Yeah, right. Seriously, though, I do understand what you mean, but the circumstances
are way different."
Gem jumped down from the marble monument and stood directly in front of the
stranger, pushing her glasses back up her nose. Glancing down, she noticed that
the staples in her right pant leg had come out and a wad of bedraggled material
was bunched around her ankle. Snorting in disgust, she pointed at it. "That's
"Because your pants don't fit?"
The question was mild, but Gem was irritated by Cleo's apparent obliviousness.
"Jesus, look at me! Kate can have any woman she wants. She's not going to looking
at a myopic, blue-collar runt like me. Hell, I can't even carry off this ridiculous
She looked enviously at the gorgeous stranger, who was regarding her with an
oddly affectionate smile. "If I looked like you..."
"If you looked like me?"
"Yeah, I mean if I looked like I just stepped off of a Vogue cover...well,
the Halloween edition, anyway...I could maybe march right up to Kate and ask her
Cleo slipped gracefully off the crypt and leaned back against it, hands thrust
in her pockets and one ankle crossed casually over the other. She was the picture
of insouciant elegance, and Gem shook her head in despair.
"I'm not sure I think much of this Kate if she is as shallow as you say."
"Hey! I didnt say she was shallow!"
"You tell me that she will bed some woman tonight based solely on how her conquest
looks. You tell me that she would never consider you because you are not graced
with a similar beauty. This bespeaks a shallow soul to me. I don't believe she
is worthy of the thought and devotion you bestow on her. Surely there is another
who could claim your heart if you would but allow it."
"Now wait a minute! You're getting the wrong idea about Kate. She's not like
that at all. She's warm and friendly and funny and smart..."
"Then you do her an injustice by not allowing her the opportunity to know who
you really are."
Gem opened her mouth to protest, then shut it abruptly. She was sure there
must be some flaw in Cleo's logic, but for the life of her, she couldn't put her
finger on it.
The other woman pressed her advantage. "Surely if your Kate is as admirable
as you claim, she would neither mock you nor reject you."
"If you never give her a chance, if you never speak your heart, you will never
know what might have been."
Gem hung her head and muttered, "But what if she laughs at me?"
A cool hand reached out and cupped her chin. Gently forced to meet Cleo's eyes,
Gem was struck by the urgency in their dark depths. "Believe me when I tell you,
my young friend, laughter and finality are profoundly better than never knowing
what might have been. If she does indeed reject you, then you have no further
excuse to waste your life dreaming about her. Promise me you will take the chance.
Tonight! Do not waste another moment."
Hypnotized, Gem just stood staring into Cleo's eyes, until suddenly the stranger's
head snapped up and she seemed to listen intently as she peered back down the
path. Then with a smile, she stepped back.
"Tell me, Gem. What costume did your Kate wear tonight?"
Still somewhat dazed by the odd exchange, Gem fumbled for an answer. "Uh, she
was wearing a pirate outfit, I think. Yeah, that's right. She even had a sword."
"Then I believe your Kate seeks you out. Go to her, Gem."
Stunned, Gem spun around, then, shocked to see Kate striding determinedly out
of the mist, she took a few halting steps back towards the path. As the pirate
drew closer, the small vampire cast a nervous glance over her shoulder, seeking
reassurance from her counselor, only to see that Cleo had disappeared as quietly
as she had first appeared.
Disappointed, but reasoning that the sage stranger simply wanted to give her
privacy, Gem waited diffidently for Kate. She had no idea why Kate had pursued
her, if indeed that's what she was doing, nor did she know if she would be able
to summon the nerve to take Cleo's advice, but she sensed the next few moments
would be life-altering and she could barely breathe.
"Where the hell did you get to, Gem? I looked all over for the house, for God's
Gem blinked in surprise at the angry woman in front of her, but before she
could say anything, Kate continued.
"You left without answering my question. I think it's way past time that you
owe me an answer."
"Um, question?" Gem searched her mind frantically, but whatever words they
had spoken in Toni and Becca's kitchen had been wiped from her mind by the memory
of the redhead's hand fondling Kate's breast.
Kate's voice softened, but there was still a steely edge to it. "Uh huh. Why
aren't we friends? Why do you keep avoiding me? Why have you been avoiding me
since high school?"
Gem could almost hear Cleo's voice urging her to speak, and for the first time
in her life, she threw shyness and caution to the winds. "I think it would be
obvious: we don't live in the same world. You sure as hell didn't need any more
friends in school, and from the look of things tonight, you're not exactly suffering
from a lack of company now."
Her words were sharper than she had intended, and she saw Kate flinch. Immediately
remorseful, she sought to soften their impact. "Aw, look, I like you. A lot. I
think you're a really good person. But women like you don't hang with women like
me. That's just the way of the world."
"Says who!" Kate shot back. "And what the hell do you mean by 'women like me'
and 'women like you?' We're both just women, period, end of sentence."
Gem stared at Kate incredulously. "You can't be serious. Did you notice
who was hanging all over you back there?"
The pirate queen sucked in an exasperated breath. "Candice. She isn't exactly
the subtle sort, especially when she's had a few, and she'd definitely had more
than a few. I was trying to... Look, do you know why I went to that party tonight?
Why I traded four weekend shifts just to get tonight off?"
"Because it's the biggest event of the year on the lesbian social calendar?"
"God! Are you really that dense! No, you idiot. I went to that party because
Liz promised me that you'd be there too."
Liz? What the...? Oh man, I'm going to kill her! Even as Gem fumed inwardly,
a part of her brain began to process what Kate was saying. "You...you went to
"I went because no matter how often I 'accidentally' run into you in the corridors
at Riverside, you never stop to talk. You're driving me crazy! What does it take?
Do you want me to chisel it in granite?" Kate looked around. "Guess I'm in the
right place for that anyway." Then she turned back expectantly. "Well?"
She came to see me? Gem was having a great deal of difficulty believing
she had heard Kate correctly, so she asked cautiously, "Um, well what?"
Shaking her head in disbelief, Kate simply took one step forward, wrapped her
hands in the lapels of the old tux, and pulled Gem into a kiss.
The small vampire had nothing to compare it with, but she was sure that as
first kisses went, this one was over the top. Heart-stopping, earth-shattering,
knee-buckling... Gem was embarrassed when she realized that the moan she heard
came from her own lips, but then she heard the raspiness of Kate's breathing and
knew that she wasn't the only one affected.
She could have sworn that she heard the sound of delighted laughter echoing
dimly in the fog, but then everything else was forgotten as she wrapped her arms
around Kate and pulled the willing pirate tight against her body.
Cleo watched the amorous couple as they stumbled off, barely able to stop kissing
long enough to take a few steps. Amused, she noted that Gem appeared to be a quick
study, and she wondered idly if they would even make it out of the cemetery before
Kate's half-buttoned shirt slipped off her shoulders.
"We don't mind, do we? They're welcome to share the night with us."
The soft remark was addressed to the marble mausoleum as she stepped forward
out of the darkness she had discreetly melted into on Kate's arrival.
As she trailed her fingers lightly over the engraving that had become almost
indistinct with time, her thoughts returned to a different century a time
when her husband's niece had first come to live with them.
"Veronice." Cleo breathed the name, remembering her first sight of the young
woman as she descended from the carriage, a brave smile barely concealing her
fears at being sent to live with an uncle she hardly knew. She was to help the
mistress of the house care for the young children, and William, Joshua and Abigail
had quickly fallen in love with their sweet natured cousin.
As did Cleo. For two glorious years she reveled in the other woman's company,
never crossing the boundaries of propriety, but rejoicing in their ever increasing
intimacy and affection. She would never forget the night that Veronice herself
took the first step, saying goodnight to her uncle's wife with a decidedly unchaste
Stunned, she watched the laughing young woman disappear into her own bedroom,
and would have followed her except for Henry's voice impatiently summoning her.
Cleo always wondered where that first kiss might have led, but she was never given
the chance to find out. Within two days, Henry began the process of installing
his concubine as mistress of Shelton Manor, by having his wife abducted and her
servant killed as they returned from a social call one evening.
Cleo unconsciously rubbed her throat, still feeling the leather that had tightened
around her neck as she was dragged deep into the forest that terrifying night
so long ago. She had fought desperately for her life, but was overpowered by the
two men she recognized as being in Henry's employ. They abandoned her apparently
lifeless body in a deep ravine, thus unknowingly granting her immortality.
For she had been found. A night creature had come upon her, and seeing the
last flicker of life within her, had taken her for his own. He had borne her away
and, helpless to resist, she had gone. When he finally tired of her, she returned,
unalterably changed, but unable to resist the need to see her children
Things had changed in her absence. Henry had waited for all of four weeks before
having her declared dead, leaving him free to marry the new mistress of the manor.
Veronice had been married off to a wealthy and titled visitor, who had taken her
back to England with him. And her grieving children...they were the only reason
that Cleo did not immediately take her revenge on her faithless husband. But the
very night that the youngest, Abigail, made a good marriage and left the family
home, she went to her spouse and exacted retribution for what he had done to her.
William and his family became custodians of Shelton Manor. It was he and his
brother, Joshua, who had arranged the grandiose marble shrine to their mother's
memory, despite the fact that there was no body to entomb. And it was they, by
that time well aware of what had truly transpired, who ensured that their father
was buried in unconsecrated ground on the outskirts of the estate. It always amused
Cleo that Henry's final resting place was now under a poultry packing plant.
Her children's many descendants had multiplied and scattered to the four corners
of the earth in the years since, though some could still be found living in the
old port city. Gem, for instance, had never been in any danger from her. It was
always a delight to encounter a descendent, and that young woman reminded Cleo
acutely of her middle child. Joshua too had been diminutive, near-sighted, and
painfully shy, but with the sweetest nature a mother could've asked for. Of all
her descendents, his line was the most cherished.
And of Veronice... Well, it wasn't until the age of the Internet that Cleo
was finally able to learn her fate. The young woman with the laughing green eyes
had died of a fever on the voyage to England, and had been swiftly replaced once
her highborn husband reached land, becoming a mere footnote in his illustrious
Cleo straightened, and chastised herself. "You become maudlin in your old age.
Time moves on, as must you." She patted the marble gently, then stretched lazily.
The vampire had fed early in the night, on a particularly repulsive bully who
had been waylaying children for their candy and UNICEF dollars. The night was
long, though, and she could move freely amongst the revelers, perhaps feeding
again, or perhaps not. Though never absent, the urge had dimmed in recent decades,
and she wondered if a time might come when she could just...stop.
For now, though, she would continue the night's lark. Cleo enjoyed donning
the traditional, albeit theatric costume on Halloween. There was little enough
joy in unending life, and once a year she allowed herself this small pleasure.
But it was time to leave again. Wherever she wandered in the next twelve-month,
she would return on this night, to this place. And as she turned to leave, she
cast one final glance at the faded engravings. There were many names listed
it had been a large and esteemed family but it had all begun with one name...
"I know, Mommy, I know! It was Lady Cleodine Abigail St. Claire. Born November
22, 1793, and died October 31, 1821."
The small boy glared at his older sister. "Let Mommy tell it, Cleo!"
Gem smiled at her young children. From the time she had learned to talk, Cleo
was never able to resist yelling out her namesake ancestor's identity. It annoyed
her little brother to no end, but it had become part of the annual family ritual.
"Okay, kids, Mama is waiting to take you out trick-or-treating. One last trip
to the bathroom, and you can go."
The children jumped to their feet and ran from the room, the excitement of
the night fairly making them vibrate.
"You know I always love the way you tell that story."
Gem glanced up at the tall blonde sitting on the arm of the couch next to her.
"Well, I do give them the expurgated version. They don't need to know everything
about the night their mothers finally got together."
The women smiled in shared memory of their first night so long ago.
"Do you think she'll come by tonight?"
Gem nodded. "Doesn't she always?"
"I think she just likes to take credit for her matchmaking prowess."
"I think she just needs to know that love and family endure."
Kate leaned over, wrapping her arms tightly around her partner. Gem responded
by snuggling closer, but further intimacies had to be put on hold as Cleo and
Josh ran back into the room. The women parted with a kiss, as the tiny wizard
and the slightly bigger fairy princess clamoured to start collecting their booty.
The doorbell rang and a holler could be heard at the front door, signaling
the arrival of more exuberant trick-or-treaters. As Gem passed out the candy,
she winked at Kate, who led their two children out into the night to begin their
own rounds. She got a wide grin in response, and knew that they would have their
own celebration later, long after the candy had been sorted and two overly excited
children were tucked into their beds.
And as her partner disappeared down the street, calling out to Cleo and Josh
to slow down, Gem noticed a shadow near the trees by the corner of the garage.
Pushing the door wider, she called softly, "Come in. We've been expecting you..."
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