Chapter 07

Number eighteen did not operate this late, so Ashley had to go toSt. Andrew Squarefirst and then take another bus to the Royal Infirmary. And she had no guarantee that she would find the other SMPDM members in the pub. Well, it was worth a try anyway, she told herself.

“Ash, I haven’t seen you in ages!” Becca greeted her at the door.

“I know. I’ll try to make my visits more frequent in the future,” Ash promised her with a smile. “Do you know if SMPDM are here?”

“They are,” Becca nodded, to Ashley’s immense relief.

“Great, I need to talk to them.”

“Have you seen Colin?” Becca guessed.

“Yeah, I have.”

“What did he tell you?”

Ashley shrugged. “He just told me about the misfortunate session this afternoon. I’m here to try to change their mind about me.”

“Good luck,” Becca wished her.

Ashley thanked her and headed for the bar. Ernie was equally happy to see her, but she only stayed to say hello to him. The singerless SMPDM were sitting at a table in the corner, deep in a serious discussion, no doubt about their current situation.

“Oh, hi,” Mark’s face lit up when he saw her. “What brings you here?”

“Hi, Mark. I was wondering…” she stopped, as her eyes fixed on Alan’s face. “I was wondering if I could have a word with Alan…”

The keyboard player gave her a surprised look, as did the rest of the band, but he got up and followed her to the corridor.

“I’m sorry, have we met?” he asked her then.

“No, we haven’t. But before I tell you who I am, I want you to promise you’ll listen to me.”

“Ok,” Alan shrugged, not really comprehending the situation.

“My name’s Ashley Seymour. I didn’t really come here to talk to you in particular, but now that I’ve seen you, I need to tell you something. If you’re still willing to let me.”

“Tell me what?” Alan gave her a suspicious look. He did not trust her too much now that he knew who she was.

“Alan, your wife is pregnant, isn’t she?”

“How the hell do you know that?”

“I’m a weird sister. It’s my job.”

“A weird sister? You’re joking. I never knew there were weird sisters as well.”

“Well, there are. How else do you think I’d predict so precisely what will happen to new bands?”

“Wow.”

“Anyway, we’re not here to talk about me. You don’t feel like becoming a father, right? Tell me, what do you know about genetics?”

“Nothing much, why?”

“Because your wife is a human being, so there’s just little possibility that your baby will be a vampire. And because your current feelings are so confused that I can read them better than you, I suggest you go back home and end your wife’s suffering. You want the baby, Alan, and you don’t want to have your wife crying her eyes out.”

“I know that. I just…”

“Just go,” said Ash. “Go to her. Talk about it. And when you have the baby, I’d like to see it.”

Alan laughed helplessly. There was nothing else he could do, and nothing else he wanted to do. The thoughts about his wife’s pregnancy had haunted him since she had told him, and he could not say if he was more happy about it than scared. And Eve, she felt so miserable when she saw his reaction to the news. Her tears were unbearable. But he did not know how to solve their situation. Until this moment. It was as if all his worries were suddenly deleted from his brain.

“You’re right,” he said eventually. “Thanks for the help.”

“You’re welcome,” she smiled.

He headed for the door, but then turned round again. “Hey Ash,” he called, “would you please tell Colin I’m sorry?”

“I will,” she nodded.

She went back to the pub and to the table occupied by SMPDM.

“Where’s Alan?” they wished to know.

“He went home,” she told them. “He had some matters to settle, but I’m not exactly the right person to tell you about such things, so I suggest you ask him when you see him again. The real reason I’m here, however, is that I talked to Colin some hour ago and felt I should explain a few things to you before you kick him out of the band.”

“Before we kick him out?” Jim protested. “We thought he kicked himself out. Who are you, anyway?”

“She’s Ashley Seymour,” Harry informed him. While Mark and Jim gave him shocked looks, the girl’s lips formed a slightly embarrassed smile.

“Is this the first time you’ve been here since we met in July?” Harry asked her.

“You met?!” Mark and Jim both exclaimed.

“Actually, we have,” said Ash. “But I didn’t know you knew my name,” she turned to Harry again.

“I asked Ernie,” he explained.

“Remind me to kill him. When I’ve dealt with you lot, of course.”

“What’re you going to do, send us all home like Alan?” Jim assumed sarcastically.

“Not really. I just want to talk to you, Harry first and then yourself, if you don’t mind. Mark is safe for now, because he’s been a sweetheart.”

“Whatever,” Jim shrugged.

Ash sat down on a chair beside Harry’s and made him look her in the eyes.

“Harry Chisholm,” she whispered, “don’t tell me you want to separate Colin and me. He’s your friend, and you want him happy. One of these days you’ll realise that the interview we did was fine and perfectly harmless. But it had better be soon. I promise I’ll be a good friend to you as well if you let me. I could do something rather nasty to you, just to make you change your mind. But it wouldn’t help, so I’m asking you to be generous and give us a chance.”

“You love him, don’t you?” Harry guessed.

“There are many kinds of love,” she said, looking down at her hands to avoid his look. She felt a weird sensation that he was reading her mind more than she could read his.

“Look, Ash,” Harry began mercifully, “I’d like to believe you, but you must promise to be more careful next time, ok?”

She gave him a radiant smile. “Thanks, Harry. I knew you were a true friend.”

“Are you crazy?” Jim asked the guitar player.

“Not at all,” smiled Harry.

“And now, Jim, it’s your turn,” Ash announced, and sat next to him. “Please, forgive us,” she spoke quietly. “We were only doing what we believed was right. It doesn’t seem there will be any negative consequences for any of us, but if you wish, we won’t do anything like that again. Please, let me be your friend, and don’t punish Colin so cruelly.”

Jim stared in her eyes. At first he had been very suspicious about her, and could not understand why Harry joined her peacemaking mission, but now he saw the most honest creature he had ever encountered, and was forced to believe her.

“What are you?” he asked.

“Colin doesn’t know, yet. And now that I’ve already told Alan, I think he deserves to be the next one to know.”

“What are you to Colin?”

“I suppose I’m his soul mate.”

“Well, not totally unbelievable. You must mean a lot to him, ‘cause he looked like he’d rather leave the band than you,” Jim remarked.

“I don’t think he’d ever leave. But I hope that matter is settled now,” replied Ash.

“It is. But if you ever do another interview with Colin, let us all censor it, ok?”

“Of course,” Ash nodded. “And now if you’ll excuse me, gentlemen, I have to go.”

“Let me come with you,” Harry asked her.

“Harry, I can’t possibly ask you to accompany me. It would take at least two hours before you’d get home. There’s no direct bus this late.”

“Don’t worry about that, Ash, I’m on a late shift tomorrow,” Harry smiled.

“Ok,” she shrugged. “See you, then,” she said to the remaining members of SMPDM. “It was a pleasure to meet you.”

“I’ve never had a vampire for protection,” Ash smiled, as they were walking to the bus stop.

“Is it better or worse than a werewolf?”

“I think I’m pretty safe on my own.”

They got on the bus, and took the first empty seat they saw.

“If that Colinton spy sits on this bus as well, she (or maybe he, but I doubt it) will be very surprised to see us,” she assumed.

“Yeah, probably,” Harry smiled.

“It’s strange, seeing you again and suddenly knowing who you are,” she confessed.

“You’re telling me.”

“When did you find out I’m the Ashley that works for the Prog Society?”

“Well, that Colinton spy gave me a decent clue. Thanks to that article I knew a bit what the Prog Society Ash looks like, and I remembered you, so when Colin told us you were a… you know what,” – she burst out laughing – “I just knew you were the girl I saw in the pub last July.”

“Why do you think you’ll find Colin at my place?” she asked after a pause which she had spent trying to find something suitable to say.

“Wow, so you can read minds then?” he guessed.

“No, I can’t. I just know what people feel. Anyway, he should be there if you want to talk to him.”

He was not. The house was absolutely dark when they came there, and even Colin’s shoes were missing.

“Well, so much for talking to Colin,” said Harry. “Do you think he’ll pick up the phone if I try to call him?”

“Don’t think so.”

“Ok, I’ll try him tomorrow.”

“My regards to him if you’re successful,” she smiled. “Do you want to come in? You have half an hour before the next bus leaves fromWestgarth Ave.Or do you want me to have a look at the timetable of number 10?”

“That would be nice of you,” Harry agreed and followed her inside.

While she was looking for her laptop, Harry was left in the living room, and happened to find a piece of paper covered with Colin’s handwriting. He read it, and handed it over to Ash when she came back.

“What’s that?” she asked.

“Something Colin left here for you.”

She looked at the writing – it seemed to be a lyric.

 

“Your name has become to laughable to speak out loud

People have got used to keeping you locked within the blackest tower

Safe behind their castle walls, far away from evil crowds

 

And I have no one left to share my faith with

And I have learned to call you, like them, without words

Then wonder why you never come

I wonder why you’re always slipping out of reach

But I swear I need you more than any time before

 

These days, only empty brains are walking in the streets

Lost, and dizzy from the speed of the spinning world, they hurry home

And find refuge at the warmth of their hearth, careful not to judge

 

And I have no one left to share my faith with

And I have learned to call you, like them, without words

Then wonder why you never come

I wonder why you’re always slipping out of reach

But I swear I need you more than any time before

 

When you appear to share your light with me, my concealed friend

I will let you enter my heart gladly, and then proudly sing my song

But please come soon, because I’m being drained of strength  

 

And I have no one left to share my faith with

And I have learned to call you, like them, without words

Then wonder why you never come

I wonder why you’re always slipping out of reach

But I swear I need you more than any time before”

 

“You know,” said Harry, “I guess this would make a good title song for our new album. We could do something in between what Colin had wanted, something in between a concept and a random collection of songs.”

“You mean a collection of songs on the same topic, but not a story as such?” Ash guessed.

“Exactly. If I understand this piece of writing correctly, it’s about not being able to say ‘I love you’ anymore, just because people say it so often that its original meaning has worn away. And I guess that’s what Colin felt when he talked to us this afternoon. He wanted to tell us how much he loved you…”

“Harry!” she gasped.

“… but knew that we’d only laugh at him, since the whole idea would seem too ridiculous to be true. I mean who can really fall in love in a week or so, and be absolutely sure it’s with the right person? You just can’t, it’s not possible! And he knew it. But, against all odds, that’s what happened. I realised that the moment you convinced me to make friends with you.”

“Harry, please…”

“Calm down, child, what the two of you do about the relationship is your business. I don’t care – as long as you don’t do anything stupid, of course. Nevertheless, if you want to be my friend, you’d better have no secrets before me, ok?”

“Be my guest,” she shrugged and gestured him to sit down, put the laptop she held in her arms on the table and sat on the edge of an armchair opposite him.

“What happened to Alan?”

“Alan needed to be helped with his confused thoughts. He’s a very… cautious person, and found himself in a situation he’d always feared. I helped him sort out his thoughts about the matter.”

“You’re good at saying absolutely nothing with many words. I could tell he was troubled myself, but he wouldn’t talk about it.”

“Ok. His wife is pregnant, if you have to know.”

“Eve’s pregnant?” Harry seemed taken aback by the newly acquired information.

“It would have been better if he told you, wouldn’t it?

“That doesn’t matter,” he shook his head. “What did he do in the end?”

“I sent him home to tell Eve he’s looking forward to having the baby. Of course I had to explain to him that there was a great chance of the baby being a normal human being.”

“It’s a recessive trait, right?”

She nodded.

“So if we sum it up, you’re a sort of fortune teller, based on analysing people’s emotions that they presumably have stored somewhere deep inside them.”

He waited for her to nod.

“You’re a weird sister, aren’t you?”

Again, she nodded.

“Wasn’t too hard to guess. But do tell Colin.”

“I will.”

“He was lucky to meet you.”

“Was he?”

“Oh yeah, you’re pretty much alike. You’re just as brave, honest, passionate and insane as him.”

“Excellent. You tell him I’m insane, he wouldn’t believe me,” Ash asked him so earnestly that Harry had to laugh.

“I think we’re going to like you,” he said.

When Harry left, Ash wrote a text message to Colin, but got no reply either. She figured out he might feel a bit bitter about her leaving him waiting for her so long, and decided to solve the situation the next day. However, there was no trace of Colin anywhere when she, or SMPDM, tried to find him. The only thing they managed to find out was that he had arrived at work early on Tuesday morning, and had requested a few days off. After that they got no clue.

It made Ash quite angry, since she was supposed to finish a translation before the end of the month, and nearly missed the deadline while searching for the missing singer. It was a great relief when she finally e-mailed all the documents to her publisher and could fully concentrate on the worrying.

She met the rest of the band (except Alan, who promised to come later) again on Sunday evening.

“It’s full moon tomorrow,” she complained. “He’d better be all right.”

“You mean apart from his obvious mental sickness?” Jim remarked. “Probably will be.”

“Come on, Ash, he’s a big boy, can take care of himself,” Mark tried to cheer her up.

Harry said nothing. He had sworn he would not reveal anything of the conversation they had had on Monday night, and explaining why Ash was so worried to the rest of the band members would mean breaking the promise.

“What if he doesn’t come back?”

“Hey, you’re taking this too far,” said Jim.

“It’s my fault. I should’ve stayed with him and go talk to you later,” Ash blamed herself.

“Ash, you probably saved Alan’s baby,” Harry reminded her. “From this perspective, you did the right thing. Colin will be back, because there are things here that he can’t leave behind. You’re just harming yourself by this.”

She nodded, but her expression remained anxious. A moment later, Alan came to join them, together with a young woman he was holding by the hand.

“Hi there,” he said. “Ash, this is my wife, Eve, she wanted to meet you,” he said to the girl, who got up and shook hands with his companion.

“Alan even convinced the witches to let me in,” Eve smiled. “I’m just a normal human being. But you knew that, of course.”

“I did.”

“I can’t tell you how grateful I am to you,” Eve went on. “You helped all three of us more than we’ll ever be able to pay back.”

“Come on, I just talked to Alan, nothing more,” Ash refused the credit. “But let’s not stand here like this, do sit down.”

“Alan told me you’re a weird sister,” Eve continued, as she settled on a chair.

“I am,” Ash nodded.

“So you could tell if the baby will be all right? I mean, before and when it’s born.”

“I should be able to.”

“Could you try? Please…”

Ash laughed at Eve’s eagerness. But when she looked in her eyes and searched for answers only she was able to extract, her laughter faded away.

“What’s the matter?” Eve asked, looking frightened.

“Nothing,” said Ash. “But, Eve, do you want to know what it will be?”

“Like a human being or a vampire?”

“No, like a girl or a boy.”

“Tell me,” she shrugged.

Ash took a deep breath. “Your girl will be a normal human being. Your boy will be part-vampire.”

Eve stared at her. “You mean we’re having… twins?” she said.

“Exactly. But don’t worry about the boy, he’ll be fine. He’ll grow out of it. He’ll need minor doses of blood in his childhood, but less and less as he’s getting older.”

“Thank Heavens!” Eve breathed out happily, and hurried to update her husband, who meanwhile got engrossed in the conversation with the other band members and did not hear what she and Ash were talking about.

Ash actually remembered the “thank heavens” a few days later. The evening before that she had taken the luxury of reading a book before going to sleep. It helped her in that she did not have to spend another half an hour lying in bed, thinking of Colin again. Instead, she just fell asleep, and would have gladly slept until morning. But that was not going to happen.

Afterthree o’clock, a sudden wave of brightness invaded her dreams. She opened her eyes to see the light in her bedroom was switched on – and to see Colin standing in the doorway.

A second later she was out of bed and threw herself in his arms.

“Thank God,” she whispered, at which point she remembered Eve’s words. “Where were you? We were so worried about you!”

Colin could not bring himself to speak. It was a long story, and he did not know where to start. He chose to ignore her questions for another minute or two, just enjoying the sensation of her closeness.

“Colin,” she addressed him reproachfully then, releasing herself, “talk to me.”

He sighed and sat down on her bed. “I’m sorry,” he spoke eventually. “I just had to disappear for a while, clear my mind and decide what to do.”

“We’d have told you what to do if you didn’t vanish like that.”

“We?”

“I’ve made friends with the rest of your band if you don’t mind.”

“They hated you!” Colin protested.

“Things change,” she shrugged. “By the way, Alan says he’s sorry, and Harry would like to talk to you about your new album.”

“This can’t be happening,” Colin shook his head.

“That’s what I thought when I couldn’t find you these past few days,” she remarked.

“But… how did you do that?” he asked, intentionally mishearing the sentence.

“I went there, apologised for the interview, told them the feedback we’re getting so far is perfectly positive, and asked them to let me be their friend. It took a bit of convincing, but we managed. Now, will you tell me where you were, or do you want me to throw you out into the cold?”

“Ok. I went home, toSilesia,” he confessed.

“What?”

“I knew I had to go somewhere, and remembered the name of the town you’d told me when I showed you my photographs, so I thought it might be as good as any other place,” he explained. “I just packed a bag, left my mobile at home and got on a plane toPrague.”

“When did you come back?”

“Tonight.”

“So you went through another transformation in the Czech lands?”

“I did, yes,” he nodded. “It was fine.”

“You’re totally crazy,” she concluded.

“Oh, there’s one more thing I should tell you,” he recalled. “I happened to meet a woman called Anna on the plane, turned out to be one of my favourite writers. She recognised me, and told me her daughter has done an interview with me recently. Obviously, she’s quite proud of you, Ash.”

“I’ll kill her,” Ash promised her mother in a matter-of-fact tone. “I actually talked to her a few days ago. She never told me a word about this.”

“Of course she didn’t. I asked her not to.”

“Yeah, that’s just so much like her. She’d always rather do something for strangers than her own daughter.”

He laughed. “By the way, you didn’t tell me your parents were divorced.”

“Oh, that,” she waved her hand, and sat down beside him. “That’s difficult to explain. I sguess it was more convenient for them to divorce.”

“This world is an insane place. More convenient to divorce…”

“I know. I don’t think I’d ever be able to do that.”

He took advantage of her sitting next to him, and reached out to hold her again. Ash did not protest. Whatever proved that he was back was good enough.

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