Here it comes: the chapter you´ve been waiting for – Lizzie and the Count have their first (of many?) dates.
Enjoy the story – either by reading it or by listening to it which I can recommend very much since Phil the Voice has outdone himself again! He´s just brilliant with the dialogue, you will laugh your head off! 😉
(The reading had to be split in two parts to make it easier to upload on youtube.)
Saturday, 10 p.m. – Café de la Lune
As it was an early summer evening, the sun had just dipped down half an hour ago and the streets of the City were still warm from the heat of the day.
Count Harecula, who was always impeccably dressed, had barely made it in time for his date as he had chosen his outfit for the evening with even greater care than usual. Actually he preferred to call it a rendezvous because the French term sounded so much more sophisticated than the English.
His velvety new vest shone in the deepest emerald green, the expensive material reflecting countless candles and fairy-lights that had been lit all around the inner yard of the Café de la Lune. He had chosen this particular venue for no other reason than that he had passed it many times during his nightly hunting trips in the City and had always marveled at how busy and popular the place seemed to be no matter the hour.
Also he rather liked its name.
He was sitting at a beautifully crafted wrought-iron table, his fingers playing nervously with one of the menu cards while he was repeating over and over again in his head the little speech he had prepared for this occasion.
When one of the pretty waitresses came over to ask him if he would like anything to drink, he had to stop himself from biting her head off (which in his case can easily be understood literally). Due to her well-working surviving instincts kicking in, the waitress turned quickly on her heels and made sure to ask one of her colleagues to swap tables with her – in exchange for a favor she probably wouldn’t be called upon given the circumstances, she thought rather smugly.
Meanwhile Lizzie had appeared and stood looking for the Count in the doorway that led from the café to the yard.
When Count Harecula caught her sight, he stood up abruptly, thus creating an extremely unpleasant sound as the wrought-iron chair scraped noisily over the intricate mosaic depicting some sort of mythical scene starring a ridiculously good-looking naked man who was holding an apple in his hand and standing in front of three more or less clad women who seemed to eye the apple rather eagerly.
(This was of course the story of Paris, the son of the Trojan king Priamos, who was ordered by Zeus to choose which of the three goddesses – Hera, Athena or Aphrodite – was the most beautiful by giving her a golden apple (Zeus being far too clever to make this choice himself and thus risking being thrown out of the marital bed by Hera – although it was a place he scarcely visited anyway.) This was quite a challenge for the young man who had been raised a shepherd, and found himself unable to choose whereupon the goddesses conveniently stripped down naked for him – actually this didn’t help much either. What did help was bribery though – each of the goddesses promised the young man something in return for appointing her. Aphrodite hit the jackpot by offering him the most beautiful woman on earth – quite inappropriately forgetting that said woman – Helena – was already married to the greek king Menelaos which didn´t stop either Paris or Helena to fall madly in love with each other, fleeing to Troy and thus giving everybody a good reason to begin a war. It is unclear why the proprietress of the café had chosen this particular scene as decoration but her name – Aphrodite – might be a bit of a give-away.)
„Ah! My dear Miss Lizzie! How lovely to see you!“ Count Harecula exclaimed. „Will you have a seat?“ he asked and hurried around the table to proffer her the other chair just like Igor always did for him.
„Well, thank you, Harecula. And please, just call me Lizzie“, she said smiling as she sat down.
„Of course! Of course! How very forgetful of me!“ a flustered Count Harecula admitted.
„Not at all“, Lizzie said reassuringly. „Just as long you don´t call me Miss Rabbit“, here Lizzie winked at him. Count Harecula noticed that he began to get used to this voluntary facial twitch.
„And thank you so much for your lovely invitation and those gorgeous flowers you sent me, they were such a wonderful surprise“, Lizzie added.
„Oh, it was nothing“, he said, waving his hand like he wanted to get rid off a particularly annoying insect. Noticing her raised eye-brow he hurried to add, „The bouquet, I mean! Not the invitation… although, it´s not nothing, obviously, it´s a bouquet, isn´t it? That can´t be nothing. What I mean is… that it was no trouble… no, that doesn’t sound right either… eh…“ he stammered helplessly.
„I mean, I am very glad you liked the flowers“, he added, carefully pronouncing every single world and trying to get his head around what it was that he actually wanted to say – and failing.
Lizzie, who had a very hard time suppressing an unladylike giggling fit, coughed slightly into a silken handkerchief she´d quickly taken out of her handbag.
„Oh, do you want something to drink?“, Count Harecula quite happily interrupted himself.
„Yes, a coffee would be nice“, Lizzie answered, still smiling behind her handkerchief and adding a little extra cough for good measure.
„You!“ Count Harecula shouted at one of the waitresses whose misfortune it was to stand near their table.
„Bring us two coffees.“ And after a small second. „Please.“
Normally the waitress would have ask their preferences – with or without milk/soy milk/almond milk/coconut milk, vanilla, caramel or coconut blossom sugar (just to name a few of the many varieties that were served at this establishment) – but she decided that in this case it would be alright to just bring them their coffee and a little jug with creamer and some sugar cubes, quite old-fashioned really, and not at all how she would drink her coffee but there you have it.
To fill the awkward silence that ensued while they were waiting for their coffee, Count Harecula complimented Lizzie on her dress.
„Oh! You like it?“ she said. „Actually I made it myself.“
„You made it yourself?!“ Count Harecula blurted out in obvious disbelieve. He was quite happy then that the coffee hadn´t arrived just yet, or he would surely have swallowed it the wrong way and sprayed it all over Lizzie´s gorgeous purple dress.
„Yes, I did,“ Lizzie admitted with a tiny proud smile. „I´ve developed a knack for it a couple of years ago, when I had more time at my hands than I wanted and it has developed into something of a passion for me.“
Not only was she the most beautiful, lovely and intelligent being he had ever met, no, she even knew how to create wonderful clothes, Count Harecula thought. What if…
„And do you make them only for yourself,“ he asked, „or also for other people?“
„So far, only for myself, I´m afraid,“ here she gave a little nervous laugh, „I´m not quite sure how I would sell them, you see. Given that anyone would be interested to buy them in the first place.“
„Oh! I´m sure there are many people who would only be too delighted to purchase something you´ve created. There must be something we can do about it. I will ask Igor, he will think of something,“ the Count said, quite pleased with the solution – and secretly hoping for a couple of new vests.
„Who´s Igor?“ Lizzie asked.
„He´s my butler.“
„You have a butler?“
„Well, yes, of course. I am a Count, as you know, and it is protocol to have one.“
„I see. And you live in castle, I assume“, Lizzie said, obviously wanting to make a bit of fun of him.
„How do you know?“ Count Harecula asked suspiciously. It was more than important to him, that nobody knew his whereabouts as he had made many enemies over the centuries and among them one or two vampire slayers who had sworn to kill him should they ever find him.
„I didn’t, I was just joking,“ Lizzie quickly reassured him.
„Oh. Right. So, you don´t know where I´m living?“ he asked, just to make sure.
„No, I don´t.“
At this moment the unlucky waitress returned, placing a silver tray laden with their coffee on their table.
„Please let me know, if you want something else,“ she said, trying for a smile and not quite managing it.
Lizzie thanked her and began putting creamer and sugar into her coffee. Count Harecula took his and wondered if he should apologize for something though he wasn’t quite sure for what.
„Do you want some sugar in yours too?“ Lizzie asked him. „It just seemed that you aren´t very used to coffee. It even looked liked you´ve never had any before the meeting the other night, and it does take the sting out of it.“
„Well, it was indeed my first cup of the stuff. I normally prefer… other liquids,“ he added quite lamely.
„I know,“ Lizzie replied very quietly, „and I just wish you wouldn’t.“
„Well,“ Count Harecula cleared his throat and then continued, „It seems that´s the whole point of those bloody meetings,“ Count Harecula replied testily. „Trying to learn how to abstain from drinking…,“ he had a bit of a trouble saying the word, after all they were in public, „blood.“
Lizzie gave a humorless laugh. „Very well spotted, Harecula. I must say, you always surprise.“
Count Harecula was slightly put off by this tone. He wasn’t used to being mocked, least of all by someone who seemed to be so nice and lovely overall. He wasn’t quite sure how to react. Lizzie saved him from the trouble to find a witty remark by simply marching on.
„I´m sorry, that wasn´t very nice of me,“ she said, and Count Harecula wholeheartedly, but silently, agreed with that.
„And you´re right, that´s the whole point of our get-togethers and… well, I couldn´t help noticing that you didn´t really seem to be too keen on the whole idea.“
Coupt Harecula cleared his throat. „Well, I have to admit that it doesn´t make much sense to me to even consider giving up something that´s only natural,“ he said.
„Yes, I suspected as much.“ Lizzie sighed. „It´s just… well, that I like you,“ Lizzie said.
Count Harecula struggled to keep a calm expression – and failed yet again.
„I said, I like you.“
„Yyy…yyou like me?“
Lizzie gave a tiny smile. „Yes, I do.“ And after quite a long pause, „Do you want to say something in return?“
„Yes. Yes! Of course! I mean, I… er… I … like… you… too?“ he asked.
„Oh,“ she said, „So you´re not sure?“
„What? No! I mean, yes! I am sure! I am sure of that!“
„Well, that´s good to know.“
„Yes, I think it is. You see,“ she continued, and a frown appeared on her forehead, „the thing is… I think it´s best if I don´t see you anymore until—“
„But you just said that you like me!“ Count Harecula interrupted her.
„Yes, I know I did. Would you please let me finish my sentence?“
Count Harecula could have sunken through the ground. „Sorry,“ he mumbled. „Please go on.“
„Right. So… I don´t think it´s a good idea if we meet in the future until you´ve changed your mind about trying to become abstinent,“ (here Count Harecula gave an involuntary wince) „because I am very serious about it. And I think it would make everything even more difficult as it already is, if I were dating someone who isn´t, you see?“ she said, her eyebrows raised questioningly high.
„You mean, you also drink blood?“ Count Harecula asked incredulously. „It´s just that the sign had the „Blood“ in brackets, you know, and I thought it might be something else,“ (To be honest, this was a far stretch from the truth since Count Harecula hadn´t really thought about anything at all during or after the meeting apart from how lovely His Lady was).
„Which means,“ his voice considerably gained volume und certainity,“ that it would make perfect sense, if we would be seeing each other!“
„No, Harecula, no. It wouldn´t. Don´t you see, I really don´t want to be that person anymore. I honestly don´t want to. It´s been enough that I have been forced to live like that in the first place and …“, Lizzie quickly put her hand over her mouth.
„What? What do you mean, you´ve been …forced to?“
Lizzie gave a deep sigh. „I… well, I was turned against my will… quite some time ago. I…, well, I was in love with someone who was… like you. He drank blood, I mean, and… well, he always said, that he had it under control, so I let him… drink a bit from me,“ Lizzie blushed a little as she said that. „And it was fine, really, until he… until he couldn’t stop himself and… drank too much.“
Although Count Harecula so far had only ever tasted the blood of little bunnies and didn´t therefore quite grasp the complexities that were mingled in Lizzie´s account, he definitely knew how it felt like to loose control. He didn´t like to admit it, least of all to himself, but he had always felt quite bad for taking the life of his victims. Well, not enough to stop doing it, obviously, but it was a weight on his conscience anyway.
„He… he killed you?“ he asked.
Lizzie averted her eyes from him. „Almost… I wouldn´t have survived it, if he hadn´t turned me.“
The silence that settled between them was made even heavier by the low murmur and occasional laughter that surrounded them from the occupants of the other tables. Count Harecula didn´t know what to say. He began pouring a bag of sugar into his coffee, and then another, and then another, stirring it with a spoon, for once not caring, if he made the china clink in the process.
After a while that felt for both of them like an eternity, he said, „I would never do that to you, you know. I would – I could – never harm you,“ keeping his gaze fixed on his spoon that still stirred round and round in his coffee.
„I know you wouldn´t want to, Harecula, I really do. And it wouldn´t make a difference even if you failed because it already happened and I am now who I am.“ Lizzie took a sip from her coffee that had become cold by then.
„But that´s not quite what I was getting at. You know, that man who turned me… he couldn´t forgive himself for what he had done to me, and…“ now tears were welling up in her eyes, „ he… he killed himself a few months later.“
Count Harecula was shocked. And … a bit curious.
„What did he do?“ he whispered.
Lizzie sniffled into her handkerchief. „He… he went into the sun.“
„And that´s why I want to help Edmund, you see,“ she rushed on, trying to push her own grief beside, „he´s so in love with his beautiful Stella and he fears he might not have himself under control and could do the same thing to her that happened to me. He´s desperate and I am determined to give him any help I can. That´s why I volunteered to be his sponsor. I saw you didn´t like it, but really, what difference would it have made if I´d decided against it? You don´t really want to be freed of your addiction, and it would have been just a farce and a pretext in order to be together, and we both know it.“
Count Harecula opened his mouth – and closed it. After a while, he tried again.
„So… you don´t want to see me anymore because you want to be together with … Edmund?“
„Nooo!“ Lizzie almost howled with desperation. „I want to see you, but I just can´t. Not until you´re serious about not sucking any blood anymore. I… I´m afraid I would relapse if I were to spent more time with you, and that´s just not the way I want to live my life. Why does this all have to be so complicated?“ the last bit she said more to herself than to him, and she buried her head in her hands.
Count Harecula wasn´t sure that he had understood everything she´d just told him, but he was worried that he would make it worse when he would ask her to explain more clearly.
So he drank his coffee in one gulp – which had become so cold it tasted foul in his mouth – and made actions to stand up.
„Well… then, Miss Lizzie, I think it would be best, if I were to leave you now. I have clearly upset you, and that is something I didn´t intend to. I will respect your request not to see me anymore and I wish you all the best for your future life.“ He couldn´t quite look her in the eyes as he said that. „I..ahem, I bid you Good Night.“
With that he took a deep bow before her and left the Café to disappear into the night.
To Be Continued…