PART II – THE NEW DIET
It had been weeks since the attack on their home and the three vampires were stuck in a rut. Gabriel and Ezra had both lost their jobs. Feeling too vulnerable in her own home, Lillian now spent most of her time at Ben’s.
All over the world there were more and more stories about vampires being exposed. A group in Florida had even taken it upon themselves to gun down a couple of vampires living in their apartment block. They weren’t charged with murder because, apparently, it wasn’t murder if the victim’s heart wasn’t beating to begin with. This sparked outrage across the country. In the USA, vampires were protesting for Equal Rights while, in the UK, vampires were protesting for the curfew to end and for businesses to stay open late so they could go back to living their normal lives. And all over Europe, there was an obvious divide between lovers and haters.
After the news of Gabriel, Ezra and Lillian being vampires had travelled around their entire village, Maeve had refused to let Becca see Gabriel in fear for both their lives. She had managed to contain Becca for just over a week before they had fought and Becca had stormed out of the house in anger, heading straight to Gabriel. She’d worn her hood up and entered through the backdoor, like that was going to fool the neighbours. At first, Gabriel had also tried to keep her away for her own protection. Not protection from him, but from everyone else. But when Becca had showed up on his back doorstep, eyes full of so many questions, he had given in almost instantly.
Now they sat on the sofa together, her head resting on his chest, watching a police drama. She had remarked how stupid she felt after realising she had never noticed his lack of heartbeat. Becca had fully accepted him. Hell, she was even afraid for him. If only the rest of the village was as understanding as she was.
They spent most evenings cuddled up together now. Ezra was up in his room, trying to stay out of the way. And if he wasn’t hiding up there, he was in the city gathering intel and bringing back worryingly few bottles of blood.
Gabriel couldn’t help but feel like his whole world had suddenly shrunk down to the size of a pea. He hadn’t left the house since the attack so the only way he found out information from the outside world was through Ezra or the News – and it was hard to know what to believe.
A knock on the front door had Gabriel jerking up to attention and almost making Becca topple to the floor. She managed to right herself and looked to Gabriel in confusion. By the time he got to the hallway, Ezra was at the top of the stairs. He raced down them and beat Gabriel to the door. Both vampires looked to each other. Gabriel pushed Becca back into the living room as Ezra opened the door.
Two uniformed police officers stood several paces back, their feet barely off the pavement. Their car was parked across the road. Gabriel spotted another a few doors down, this one with another two officers in the front.
The man sized them both up.
“Ezra Garcia? Gabriel Matsouka?” he asked.
The two of them remained silent. Gabriel’s mind began to head down a dark road. This is it. This is when we get taken. It’s over. We’re done.
“Is Lillian Reynolds home?” asked the female police officer.
“No,” Ezra said, pulling the door closed so it was pressed against his side. “What do you want?”
“Where is Mrs Reynolds?” she asked.
“How about, why are you at our home?”
Gabriel looked to Ezra. Something had changed in him the night of the attack. There was a wildness about him. Like he was a caged bear, just waiting for someone to dare to poke him. Waiting for a reason to snap. Asking for a reason to snap.
“Mr Garcia, we have reason to believe that the three of you in this residence have been lying about your identities,” said the male officer.
Ezra ran his tongue over his teeth. “That right?”
Gabriel could feel the tension from Ezra’s body. He felt like he was standing beside a spring coiled too tight.
“Is it true what your neighbours say about you? Have you been impersonating humans?” continued the male officer.
Ezra smirked. “Impersonating humans? What are you getting at?”
The two officers shifted their stances, clearly uncomfortable. The female officer gripped her bullet proof vest and squared her shoulders, as her partner’s jaw worked and eyes shifted.
“You’re vampires,” said the female officer and her partner noticeably cringed.
Ezra jabbed Gabriel in the side and they both burst out laughing, like they had rehearsed this whole scene.
The male officer scowled and crossed his arms over his chest. The woman reached for something on her belt and then there was a blinding flash of light. Gabriel’s cheek and neck burned like he’d just been doused with acid. He hissed, stumbling back into the hallway. He felt Ezra doing the same but he couldn’t see through the pain and the bright light. He grabbed at his cheek, smelling and tasting his own burning flesh.
The light blinked out and Gabriel found Ezra by the stairs, holding onto the bannister for support. His throat and chin were red and angry and blistered. Blood painted the neck of his t-shirt. The female officer was still on their path, now a few steps closer, a torch raised in her grip.
“UV light.” She smirked. “I heard that it burns vampires.”
By her side, her partner looked horrified. He was at the pavement, his head snapping between the house and his backup.
Gabriel’s jaw clenched and he fought back a wince when he felt his skin tear. The back of his hand was also an angry red. “What do you want from us? We’re not hurting anyone.”
She reached into her back trouser pocket and the two of them both braced for another attack. But this time, she pulled out a brown folder folded in half. “Well, we’re here to make sure of that.”
Ezra stalked up to her, his chest rising and falling in anger. The officer held the torch up higher in warning and Ezra paused at the threshold of the door, his top lip twitching like he was ready to show her his fangs. She held out the folder in her other hand and he snatched it off her.
“What’s this?” he asked.
“A new law states that all vampires must follow the new government mandated diet,” she reeled off like she had practiced it in the mirror a hundred times.
“What?” Gabriel came up behind Ezra as he opened the folder to reveal a bound document inside.
“To protect the human population, from now on, vampires are ordered to follow the new guidelines.”
“Animal blood?” said Ezra, skim-reading.
“Yes.” She gestured to the folder, still keeping the UV torch held ready. “Inside is information about which butchers are supplying. There are also coupons inside. The three of you have a monthly allowance. You will exchange the coupons for the animal blood. Each month you will receive your new allowance in the post.”
“Allowance?” Gabriel echoed. “Like rations?”
She smiled at him politely but it didn’t wash away the distain in her eyes. “Stick to the diet and there will be no problems.”
“And if we don’t?” Ezra’s eyes flickered up from the document.
“The three of you have been registered as vampires. You are now in our system, along with thousands of others. If we find that you are not adhering to the new law, you will be punished in a way that we see fit.”
By the haunting look in Ezra’s eyes, Gabriel could tell he could read between the lines. Gabriel gulped. Mess up, and we’re dead.
“Where do we find Miss Reynolds?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” said Ezra, staring her down. He waved the folder between them. “But I’ll make sure she gets her coupons.”
The officer smiled, so tight it crinkled her whole face. “Great. Thank you for being so understanding, Mr Garcia. Mr Matsouka.” She nodded to Gabriel.
“Doesn’t seem like we have a choice in the matter,” Gabriel replied.
“It’s called a law for a reason.” The smug look she sent his way had Gabriel’s fangs pressing against his gums.
“Have a pleasant night, gentleman,” she tossed over her shoulder. She met her partner at the pavement. The two vampires watched as they crossed the road to their car.
Becca jumped from the sofa when Gabriel returned to the living room, followed closely by Ezra. She ran to him and went to touch his cheek. Her fingers hovered over the swelling redness there. He could already feel that the burn was partially healed.
“What happened?” she gasped. “I was about to come out but then I heard you cry out and I panicked. I’m so sorry.”
Gabriel waved her away and gestured her to sit back down. “No, no, it’s fine. It’s best you stayed away.”
She tucked her dress under her knees as she sat, keeping her hands under her legs as she gazed up at him. Ezra sank onto the opposite sofa and opened the folder on his lap. His cheek and neck were also starting to heal. It now just looked like a patch of sunburn.
“I heard everything,” Becca said. “About making you drink animal blood. Is that right? Would that work?”
Ezra expelled a heavy sigh and shook his head, scanning the pages. “I have no idea. I mean, I guess vampires have drank animal blood before in desperate times but it’s usually a last resort sort of thing. But living on it?” He shook his head again.
“And we can’t stock up on blood from Dalia?” asked Gabriel.
“I’ve been grabbing what I can but her supply is almost out.”
Gabriel frowned. “Guess we are all gonna have to use Ben.”
Ezra shook his head more vigorously and pulled his phone from his jeans pocket. “Not a chance. Lillian’s stopping feeding from him, too. I’m getting her over here.”
Gabriel watched him typing. Ezra could just command her to come using their sire bond but he’d said long ago that he didn’t like her feeling like she was his pet.
“If she gets caught with Ben and the police start asking questions, we’re fucked,” Ezra said.
“What about me?”
They both looked to Becca.
She shuffled uncomfortably, still sitting on her hands. Her eyebrow quirked up helplessly. “If they see me with you guys, will they think you’re feeding from me?”
Ezra closed the folder and wagged a finger between them. “Just to clarify, you’re not, right?”
“No, no. Not at all. I’d never do that,” rushed Gabriel.
Ezra sent him a withered look. “No, you’ll just feed off her senile grandad instead.”
Gabriel’s jaw clenched and he sent Ezra a warning glare. Shut the fuck up.
He turned to Becca. She was now hugging herself and looking at the wallpaper, clearly uncomfortable.
“Anyway, it probably is best you stop coming here. At least until the police are confident that we’re not a danger to anyone,” said Ezra after a stiff silence.
“Says the guy who threatened to kill everyone,” said Gabriel under his breath, rolling his eyes to Becca.
Ezra sent him a dry look. “I was antagonised.”
Gabriel sank down onto the sofa beside Becca. She slid her hand into his on his lap like it was muscle memory.
“I know. But from now on, I feel like no matter what we do they’re gonna paint us as the bad guys. Even if we’re just protecting our property. They want a reason get rid of us,” said Gabriel. Becca’s sudden squeeze of his hand made his dead heart lurch.
Ezra was back to the folder. He nodded. “I think you’re right.”
The front door banged open and Lillian stomped into the living room, pushing off her hood. Her eyes darted to Gabriel and Becca, then she found Ezra half hidden behind the open door.
“So, what’s the big emergency you needed me home for?” she asked, her voice casual. Then her brows pinched when she noticed the very official looking file open on her Maker’s lap. Ezra slid further up the sofa and patted the pace beside him.
His jaw was tight and helplessness shone in his eyes as he looked up at her, “I think you’ll wanna sit down for this.”