Wish Fulfillment (109 words)
"I met a girl, Mom," Max said aloud. "She's amazing. I mean, she's a little strange, but she's awesome. She's so...alive. More than anyone else I've ever met." He looked around the house that had been empty since his mother died. "I wish you could meet her, Mom. I know you'd love her." He paused, remembering Sally's expression when he told her she could work for him under the table. "I know it's early and I have to get to know her and a million things could go wrong, but...I think she could make me happy, Mom. I really do." He smiled. "I hope you'd be happy for me."
Alien (152 words)
For once, his clothing was where he'd left. Or where he remembered leaving it. Or at least he wasn't so lost that he couldn't find it. He had just finished dressing when Nora came into sight. Josh finished buttoning his shirt, and took a deep breath, wondering how to bring it up.
"Um, so, last night, was it just me or..."
Nora broke into a relieved smile. "Oh, thank god. You saw it too!"
"There were lights right? And, and..."
"And a flying saucer?" she said.
"Yeah. I mean, maybe not so much a sauce as--" he cut himself. "Yeah, a flying sauce. And aliens! My god, Nora, there were literal little grey men. In the woods!"
"I know!" she said. "And then those black cars came..."
"I know! The government knew they were coming! They were like, meeting." Josh shook his head. "Just when you thought life couldn't get any weirder."
Stranded (137 words)
Aidan stumbled out of the water, coughing, and grimaced at his wet clothing. He took a few steps up the beach, shielding his eyes against the glare of the sun, and looked around. Soft white sand stretched blindingly in all directions, broken by a dark line of trees in the distance. He glanced over his shoulder at the figure behind him.
"Bishop? Where the hell are we?"
Bishop laughed. "Missing the thrill of combat already, Aidan?"
"No." Aidan glanced up. "but I'm missing the shade. This isn't exactly what I thought you meant when you suggested a grand tour of the Pacific, this isn't exactly what I had in mind."
Bishop clapped him on the shoulder. "Come on. It can only get better from here." He grinned. "Maybe we'll meet some gullible islanders! Tasty and useful!"
Baby (173 words)
"Do you think we could?" Nora asked softly. "I mean, I know it didn't work last time, but last time--"
"You weren't a werewolf," Josh finished. He rubbed gentle circles along her back. "I don't know. Maybe it would work. But Nora, is it fair? I mean, if we did have a child, that child would..."
"That child would be a werewolf." She turned in the bed to face him. "I know. And I wonder the same thing. To bring someone into this life when they didn't ask for it..."
"None of us asked for it," Josh said. "Not you. Not me. Not Ray. None of us."
"I know," Nora said. "But you know, I think about Connor and Brynn...maybe it's not so bad if you're born to it. If you don't know anything else."
Josh shook his head. "You know it isn't right. It's not fair, Nora. I know it's not fair to us, but...we can't do that to a child."
"I know," she said, settling back into the bed. "I know."
Bar Fight (102 words)
Josh was cradling his hand as they left the bar. “You don’t understand!” he said, glancing back at the crowd piling out the door. “I don’t get into bar fights. I’m not that guy. I’m the guy who ducks under a table and calls 911!”
Aidan glanced over at him. “You did pretty well for someone who doesn’t get into bar fights. Although next time,” he nodded toward Josh’s rapidly blackening-eye, “you might want to remember to duck.”
“You, on the other hand, look immaculate. How do you come out of a fight without even messing up your hair?”
Aidan shrugged. “Practice.”
Hero (143 words)
Kat looked down the length of the alley and tried to stop shaking. Beside her, her father was speaking into his cellphone, giving their location to the 911 operator. Trying to explain what had happened. She could sense the skepticism radiating from the other end of the line. She could barely believe it herself.
Eight moaning, groaning figures lay sprawled in still heaps on the glass-strewn pavement. She saw one of them twitch, hand reaching toward a nearby knife. She opened her mouth to call a warning, but then Aidan’s foot moved, hard and precise, and the figure cried out and went limp.
“Stay down,” he said flatly, kicking the knife toward the wall. He moved from figure to still figure, crouching beside each to pat it down. His movements were quick, economical...professional, Kat realized, and shivered again, wondering where he’d learned it.
Open Mic Night (102 words)
Kat grinned widely as she saw the sign. "Open mic night!" She turned to Nora as they navigated toward an empty table. "You are so doing this."
Nora shook her head with a look of exaggerated horror. "I have so not had enough alcohol to get on that stage."
"Oh, come on," Kat said, pulling out a rickety chair. "I've heard you sing. You don't need to be drunk to be on stage."
"Oh, I think I do," Nora said.
Kat shrugged and flagged down a server. "Well, in that case, I guess you'd better get started. I'm buying the first round."
Teamwork (154 words)
Josh looked around with exaggerated care before speaking. "We've got a problem," he said quietly. "Taylor traded his Friday shift with Aidan so he could go to his kid's soccer game."
"Wait," Sally said. "You mean Aidan's going to be home now on Friday? But we were supposed to set up then!"
"I know," Josh said. "We need a distraction. Someone has to keep him busy--and out of the house--until Kat gets off work." He gave Sally a meaningful look.
Sally sighed. "Oh, come on. Why me?"
"Because you're the one who can barely hang a streamer?"
"Oh, come on, I can do more than that!" she objected.
"Yeah? You're going to make the cake?"
"Aidan doesn't even eat cake."
"It's a surprise birthday part," Josh said. "With regular humans there. There's going to be cake."
"Where am I supposed to take him?"
"Wherever you want," Josh said. "Just keep him away from here."
Cake (215 words)
"So what kind of cake does Aidan like?" Kat asked.
"Uh...I don't know if Aidan's exactly a cake person," Josh said cautiously. "I think the only time I've seen him eat it was at Nora and my wedding. Why?"
"It's his birthday next week, right?" Kat said. "I was thinking I should, you know, bake him a cake. But I could make him something else instead. Pie? Ice cream? Eclairs? What does he like?"
"I'm sure he'll eat whatever you make him," Josh said. "It's a nice thought. Really."
"Yeah, but I'd kind of like him to enjoy his birthday dessert," Kat said. She frowned. "How old is he going to be, anyway?"
Josh swallowed hard. "Would it sound weird if I said you should ask him?"
Kat gave him an odd look, so apparently the answer was yes. "I did. He kind of evaded the question. He can't be that old, can he?"
Josh looked around for a distraction. None seemed forthcoming. "Yeah, I mean, he's probably not even thirty yet." If you tacked on an extra zero.
"So he's your best friend, but you don't know his age?"
Josh shrugged. "Never really came up," he lied. He made a mental note to check with Aidan about what age he was claiming to be.
Mistaken Identity (200 words)
"Sally! Sally Malik!"
Sally began walking faster, looking for a nice, convenient alley she could duck down. Or maybe a crowded store with a back door. Footsteps sounded behind her, a light jog that soon overtook her.
"You're Sally Malik, aren't you?" said a voice right behind her.
With a sinking sense of dread, Sally turned to see who she'd killed this time. She sighed in relief when she realized she didn't recognize the face in front of her. "I'm sorry, do I know you?" she asked.
"No, I'm a friend of Bridget's," said the man. "You're Sally Malik, right? Her best friend? She said you were dead!"
"Sorry, I have no idea who you're talking about," Sally lied. "My name's Nora. Nora Waite." She kicked herself as she said it. What kind of woman gave out her last name to a stranger?
"Really? 'Cause you look just like the pictures Bridget has in her apartment."
"Sorry, never heard of a Bridget," Sally said brightly. "Or a Sally. Look, I'm sorry, I have to go."
The guy let her go, but she felt his eyes following her down the street.
"I've really got to get out of Boston," she muttered.
One (218 words)
"So, I, uh, got you something," Josh said. He held out the drugstore gift bag awkwardly, red tissue paper peeking over the edge, and felt like a fool. Who the hell bought Christmas gifts for two-hundred-and-fifty-plus vampires anyway? Especially ones they've only known for a couple of weeks. Did vampires even celebrate Christmas? Maybe they had some crazy solstice sun thing they did instead. Or maybe they celebrated creepy blood holidays, or... "I just said all that out loud, didn't I?" Josh said.
Aidan laughed and took the bag. "It's okay. Yes, we celebrate Christmas. Well, some of us do, anyway. But you don't, do you? I thought you were Jewish."
Josh shrugged self-consciously. "They didn't have any gift bags decorated with menorahs at the CVS."
"Well, thank you," Aidan said. "It's been a while since anyone bought me a Christmas present." He hesitated. "I didn't--"
"You got me a job," Josh said quickly. "And you saved my life. I think that makes us even. Or you know, puts you ahead."
"All right," Aidan said. "So what are you doing for Hanukkah."
"Looking for a restaurant that serves latkes, I guess," Josh said with a shrug. "The holidays haven't exactly been the foremost thought on my mind since, you know."
"Come on," Aidan said. "I know a place."
Two (128 words)
"First Christmas together," Nora said, looking at the tree she'd set up in the living room. "Okay, look, I know you don't celebrate Christmas, but..."
"It's fine," Josh said. "It's a beautiful tree."
"One year," Josh said. "Because Sally made him. I don't think Christmas trees were really a thing when he was a kid. I don't think Christmas was much of a thing, to be honest. But Sally, she was all over it. I mean, not the religious part, but the decorations and the gifts. Our first Christmas with all three of us, she made us both buy her presents and then unwrap them for her on Christmas morning."
"We'll find them," Nora said. She linked her arm through his. "We'll find both of them."
Three (128 words)
Josh took another bite of hotdog. "So this is like, your holiday," he said.
"What do you mean," Aidan asked. He was hotdog-free, of course, but he had snagged a beer from the vendor.
"Independence Day!" Josh said. "I mean, you fought in this war. You're probably the only person left alive who did." He considered. "Well, you and maybe some other vampires. We should totally be honouring you for the founding of our nation or something."
"Yeah, I can just see the interviews now," Aidan murmured. "'And just what was George Washington like?'"
Josh's eyes widened. "Did you actually meet him?"
Aidan snorted. "No! Look, I'm glad we won, but seriously? I don't need to be remembered for it. Especially not the way they commemorate things now."
Four (112 words)
Sally looked at the tree--put up by Nora and Aidan at her request--and smiled. The light, the ribbon...totally her favourite time of the year. Even better, this year, unlike her first Christmas, she'd managed to get some gifts. Okay, so she couldn't exactly shop in stores, but she could interact enough to use Aidan's laptop. And his credit card. She figured his credit was shot anyway, and it wasn't like he bothered to look at his bills. She'd had the presents gift-wrapped at the source and hidden them in her room, with plans to bring them down Christmas eve. She hugged herself gleefully. This was going to be the best Christmas ever!
Five (102 words)
"So you did the whole thing, huh?" Aidan said. "Milk and cookies for Santa, and presents on Christmas morning. Stockings and a tree and the whole works?"
"And one present on Christmas eve," Kat agreed. "Why? Didn't you?"
Aidan shook his head. "We did a couple of presents, but Christmas wasn't a big deal in my family."
"What was your favourite present?" Kat asked.
"Books, maybe," Aidan said. "Or a hunting rifle."
"I didn't know you hunted!"
"I don't," Aidan said. "But my dad did. Felt like I was grown up when I got that, you know?"
"Yeah," Kat said. "I do."
ARTIST'S CHOICE: FIVE CONFESSIONS
One (172 words)
"Anything else I should know?" Kat asked, teasing. "What other secrets do you have buried in your past? Besides the one that explains sketchy men coming to carry you away in the middle of our conversations."
"I was married," Aidan said, and waited.
"I kind of figured that."
"Why?" he asked, surprised. "Do I seem married to you?"
"No, but you talked about...you know. Being denied a family and all that. Knowing you couldn't have kids. Most people figure out they can't have kids until they try, and most people don't try until--"
"Until they're married," Aidan finished.
"Or at least thinking about it," Kat agreed. She hesitated. "Can I ask? Is that what..."
Aidan shook his head. "No. It was hard on us, but...she died. In an accident. Drowned."
"I am so sorry."
"She would have been a great mother," he said.
Two (143 words)
"I'm a werewolf," Nora said at last. "So is Josh. We're both werewolves."
Kat sat with a disbelieving look on her face. "What? What are you talking about? Nora, I've known you forever. We were roommates in college! We hung out on full moons. Remember that scavenger hunt? Or the full moon party? I think I'd know if you were a werewolf."
"I wasn't a werewolf then," Nora said. "It happened later. A couple of years ago." She swallowed. "Josh...it was an accident. He didn't mean for it to happen."
"You're saying Josh made you a werewolf."
"He didn't mean to," Nora repeated.
"And Aidan? Is he...?"
Nora shook her head. Kat looked relieved.
"Aidan's something else entirely," Nora said.
Three (132 words)
"My first serious boyfriend was an addict," Kat said quietly. "Heroin, mostly. And alcohol. He was...god, he was so brilliant when he wasn't using. Warm and funny and bright. He was the smartest guy I knew. But it was like he had this, this need. This hole that could only be filled by drugs. Nothing else could make him whole. Not his family. Not his accomplishments. Not me. I tried so hard to save him, and..."
"You can't save someone else," Aidan said. "It's impossible. We all have to save ourselves."
"He overdosed, in the end," Kat said. "I found him one morning in his apartment."
"I'm so sorry."
"So I meant it," she said. "When I said that I've seen it all. Whatever's going on with you, you can tell me."
Four (176 words)
"Bless me father, for I have sinned," intoned Bishop. It was an old ritual. Familiar. Comfortable. Bishop took a great deal of comfort in the church, the feel of the wood and the familiar scent of the oils. The ritual of being able to speak and be heard. Be forgiven. He wasn't sure there was a god, of course, or that such a being would forgive the sins of a creature such as him, but it brought him comfort anyway. Especially at times like this. Killing Jane had been harder than he expected. Not as hard as losing Aidan would have been, of hearing that renouncement, but hard enough, and he told the priest as much. Heard the shaking in the old man's voice as he gave the required penance. Not that Bishop planned to do it. Confess to the police? Ha! But he liked the feeling of renewal he got from this, before starting his new position as the leader of Boston.
He laid the priest's body out carefully, afterward. The man deserved that much.
Five (113 words)
"I'm not sleeping with her!" Aidan said impatiently. "I wouldn't do that to Kat."
"Then who is she and why are you helping her?" Nora demanded.
Aidan sighed. "She's my great-great-great-great-great-great-grea
"Wait," Josh said. "You're saying she'd your descendent?"
"You had kids?" Nora said simultaneously. Josh would have found the expression on her face comical, except he suspected his was just as funny.
"I had a son," Aidan said. "Before..."
"But I thought," Josh began, and stopped.
"What?" Aidan said.
"I thought you, you know."
"You thought I killed my family."
"Well, you did kind of suggest it," Josh said.
Aidan shook his head. "No," he said. "I did a lot worse."
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