Weirdly Normal – Hitchhiker (Rest of the Story)

This is the rest of the story. Click here for the beginning

“I… that is… well, I came out here with my boyfriend.  I was working late, I didn’t finish in the restaurant till two in the morning.  Daryl picked me up to drive me home.  He suggested the scenic route, but I just wanted to go straight home and get to bed.  I guess I must have fallen asleep.  The next thing I knew was waking up and we were, well, somewhere around here.

“Not the main road.  On a side road with lots of trees around.  I woke up and he was… well, he was just starting to get overly familiar.  I think he was trying to wake me up as he did it, at least I hope he was, but it still creeped me out.

“I told him I just wanted to go home, but he kept trying to convince me that that wasn’t what I wanted.  That I wanted to… well, you know.

“After a couple of minutes of arguing with him, and fending him off, I’d had enough.  I managed to open the door and roll out onto the floor.  Before I knew it he jumped out and was trying to land on top of me, to force me down.  It was scary as hell.

“I managed to get out from underneath him, get to my feet while he was still on the floor, but he grabbed my foot with one hand and tried to grab my other leg too.  I managed to kick him in the elbow which made him let go for a moment.”

“Then you made a run for it?”

“Hell no!  He’d gone far too far, and he’s a fast runner.  I knew he’d catch up with me.  I grabbed the tyre iron from under the seat.  By the time I turned round he was running at me again.  I stepped to the side and smacked the back of his knee with it, made sure he wouldn’t be running anywhere for a good while.”

Was that a smile flickering on the man’s face?  Was it approval of what she had done?  It was hard to tell.

“Sounds like a smart move,” he said.  “What did you do then?”

“Well, I took a few steps back, far enough that he couldn’t see me, and watched him.  He was still in the light from the car.  He got his phone out and called one of his friends… told them what I’d done and told them to get down there, find me and… well, he used some pretty unpleasant words, but basically make me pay.  That’s when I ran.  In fact I was running then walking through the woods for about two hours before I found this road.  It was just starting to get light when I did.

“I took my phone out then but found the battery was flat. So I tried to flag down every car I’ve seen since then, but no one stopped.  So… I had to try something different with you.”

“All right, You’ve got some guts.  I’ll give you that.  I think I believe you.  Jump in the car, we’ll take you as far as the next town, drop you off at the police station if you want.  That’s as much as we’re getting involved though.  We drop you off so you can tell the police and we go on our way.”

“Deal.  She walked around, opened the passenger door and climbed in.  He got in the drivers seat, started the engine then turned to her.

“I’m Jake, by the way.  What’s your name?”

“Gemma.”

“Well, nice to meet you Gemma.  And the little guy in the back there is Stan.”

Gemma turned to say hi, but the words froze in her throat.  The term little guy was obviously meant in jest, the man in the back was huge.  So big he looked incredibly uncomfortably squeezed in despite having the entire back seat to himself.  From the expression on his face he wasn’t enjoying the drive.  Then a warm smile split his face, transforming it in an instant.

“Nice to meet you, Gemma,” said the huge man.

“You too.  Wow.  If somehow those creeps catch up with us, not that they will of course, you could handle them all single-handedly!”

“No!  I hate violence.  I really won’t be much help.”

Her stomach fell at that, but she tried to avoid letting it show on her face.  The huge man picked up on it anyway.

“Don’t you worry,” he said.  “Jake here is more than capable of seeing off anyone that might threaten you.  He might look mild mannered, but the heart of a lion beats within his chest.”

“And if I do fight I’ll get the usual lecture about violence solving nothing!” muttered Jake.

Stan just winked at Gemma and grinned.

* * *

Gemma was quite surprised to find that Jake was a careful driver, though when she thought about it it made sense.  The car clearly had huge amounts of care and attention lavished on it, which also explained why he got quite so angry when she stepped out in front of it.  How would he have reacted to a dent, or even blood stains?

She was also surprised to find her travelling companions easy to talk to.  Jake was polite and pleasant, nothing like the ball of anger she’d first met, and Stan… Stan was surprisingly gentle.  Gemma felt quite sorry for him, jammed in the back of the car, though with his size she doubted he’d even be able to get into most modern cars.

They’d been driving along, chatting happily, for ten or fifteen minutes before she realised she was actually feeling quite relaxed.  Jake had given her a warm blanket to wrap around herself, and another to sit on.  She certainly appreciated them, though she suspected Jake was aiming to protect the car’s seats as much as to help her.

She had just about relaxed fully when a deer ran onto the road, right in front of them.  Jake’s reactions were incredible, he seemed to be braking at the same moment the deer appeared.  Gemma was sure they would hit it anyway, that the car would go into a skid.

It didn’t.  She caught a glimpse of Jake’s left foot hammering on and off the brake pedal even as he steered the car around the deer.  Her appreciation of his driving abilities ratcheted up several more notches.

It also made her realise that he could have gone around her if he’d wanted, when she stepped out in front of the car.  He must have known exactly where he was going to stop, then chosen not to swerve.  Gemma wasn’t quite sure what that meant.

Once they were around the deer Jake brought the car to a stop, let out a short laugh and turned to Gemma.

“All okay?” he asked.

“Yeah… I think so.  That was amazing!”

“Oh, it was nothing.  How about you Stan?  You alright back there?”

“I’m fine,” replied Stan.  “I’m so well jammed in I didn’t even get shaken up.”

“Great.  Let’s hope that’s the last time anything jumps out in front of me tonight!”

Jake’s smile showed he was teasing.  Gemma smiled back.  She went to speak, but a massive pounding came from the back of the car before she could.  Bang bang, bang.  Pause, then three more bangs.

“What the hell was that?”  She asked.

Jake made a face.  “That would be Vincent.”

She stared at him in horror.  What the hell had she got herself into?  Who on earth was Vincent?  And what were these two doing with someone stuck in the boot of their car?  Actually, she had some ideas of what they were doing.  She’d watched more than enough TV shows with exactly that scenario.

“I… you know what… I can walk from here,” she said.  “The rain has eased off, and… I wouldn’t want to keep you from… well, whatever it is you’re doing.  Thank you though.”

She already had a hand on the door handle.  As comprehension dawned on Jake’s face she prepared to jump out, but something about his expression stopped her.

“Oh no!  No, no, no!  It’s nothing like that.  Vincent wants to be back there.”

“He wants to ride in the boot?” she asked, sceptically.

“Yeah.  It’s… well… it’s complicated.  Look, why don’t you hop out and go speak to him.”

Out, she thought to herself.  Out and go to the boot.  At that moment whoever was in the boot slammed against it several times.  Whatever was happening, the key thing in Jake’s suggestion was out.

“Okay,” she said.  “After you.”

“Of course.”

Jake opened his door and climbed out.  Gemma quickly opened her own, not wanting to give him the chance to reach her side of the car before she got out.  As she went she grabbed the large spanner she’d seen resting in the door pocket and shoved it under the blanket she still had wrapped around her.  If Jake tried something then… well, he’d find out she was no pushover.  Daryl had made that mistake and he’d be limping for a long time to come.

She walked tentatively to the back of the car, expected Jake to come round and join her… but he stayed the other side, giving her space.  Then he knocked sharply on the back of the car.

“Vincent?  Vincent I need to tell you we have…”

“For heaven’s sake, Jake.”  A cultivated voice from inside the boot interrupted him.  “This is the second time in twenty minutes you’ve thrown me around like I’m on a roller-coaster.  Do you need Stan to take over the driving?”

Jake’s eyes flashed at that.  “The hell I do!  A deer ran out in front of us.  You’d be shaken up a lot more if it wasn’t for my driving.”

“Well, if you weren’t going too fast then it wouldn’t be a problem.”

“Too fast?  The whole reason I’m going fast is because you’re stuck in the boot.  I’m trying to get you home as quickly as possible.  In case you forgot, you’re the one who insisted I drive as quickly as possible.”

“Well, what do you expect?  I’m stuck in here, lying amongst a bunch of dirty blankets while you throw the car around like a stock car!”

“You need to make your mind up, Vincent.  Smooth ride or get back quickly.  You can’t have both.”

“Well, it’s not my fault we got held up dealing with those…”

“Vincent!”  Jake snapped, cutting Vincent off.  “The first time you were thrown around there was a hitchhiker in the road.  We picked her up.  She’s listening now.”

Everything went quiet.  Despite herself, Gemma was intrigued.  This Vincent certainly didn’t sound as if he was tied up in the boot.  He didn’t sound happy about being there, but he wasn’t demanding to be let out either.  He seemed… accepting of the situation.  Kind of.  Just what was going on?

Vincent’s voice returned, speaking much more gently.  Something about the voice sent a pleasant buzz down Gemma’s spine.

“Well, I wish you had told me sooner, Jake.  I was too busy dealing with my surroundings to listen to what was going on inside the car.  Deary me, where are my manners?  I’m Vincent.  May I know your name?”

“It’s Gemma.  Are you really travelling in the boot because you want to?”

“I think the word want is a little strong.  I’m travelling in here because I need to.  I have a severe sunlight allergy, a form of sunburn taken to its extreme.  If I was to be exposed to the sun on a clear day I would suffer extreme sunburn.  Even on such a dull, dreary day there’s the risk the sun might come out unexpectedly for a few minutes.  I can’t take that chance, so I have the joy of travelling in the boot.”

“But… If you knew you were going to travel in the boot, why not make yourself more comfortable?  Why not take clean blankets?  And maybe a pillow?”

“I wasn’t planning to travel in the boot.  We went to a party an acquaintance of ours was throwing and planned to travel both directions in darkness.  We had to take a detour on the way back due to… well, due to running into some unpleasant folks I wouldn’t wish to ever meet again on the way there.  Even then, we would have been home well before the daylight if this heap of junk I’m riding in hadn’t got a flat tyre.  Well, two flat tyres.”

“A heap of junk?” shouted Jake.  “If it’s such a heap of junk why don’t you get out of the trunk and walk?”

“I’m just telling it as I see it, and right now I see it from the trunk of the car stuck amidst dirty blankets.  Anyway, with two punctures we had to wait for a repair man, who took his own sweet time coming.  Over three hours in fact.

“By the time we were moving again we were only half an hour away from dawn, still several hours away from home.  Climbing into the boot, getting my very expensive suit soiled by whatever dirt is in here, was still a much better option than staying in the passenger seat and getting burnt to a crisp.  So that, my dear, is why I’m in the boot.

“I guess that makes sense,” said Gemma.  “I’m sorry you were thrown around the first time.  The second time too, I guess, if Jake hadn’t stopped for me you’d have been well past here before the deer ran out.”

“Oh, my dear, it’s no trouble at all.  I’m more than happy that we stopped to help such a courteous young lady.”

Once again Vincent’s voice sent a warm shiver down Gemma’s spine.  She couldn’t even explain why, it was a powerful sensation completely outside of her control.

“I’m glad we got that sorted,” said Jake.  “The rain is starting up again, and we aren’t all lucky enough to be stuck in the boot.  Can we get going again?”

“Of course.  Lovely to meet you Gemma.  If it’s not too bright when we drop you off maybe we’ll get a chance to say hello properly.”

“I’d like that.”

“Right,” said Jake.  “Can I take it you’re happy you’re not travelling with a bunch of maniacs who’ve tied someone up in the boot?”

She smiled sheepishly.  “Yeah.  I’m sorry about that.”

“No problem at all.  To be honest I kind of forgot about Vincent in the fuss when we picked you up.  I should have thought to mention him, and introduce him, before we started.  It’s no wonder you jumped to the wrong conclusion.  Anyway, let’s get going.”

They both moved back to their doors and got back in the car.  The rain was already starting to come down heavily so Gemma was glad to get back in the warm.  Her clothes were still damp under the blanket and she’d started to shiver standing outside even before the rain returned.

She managed to keep the spanner concealed and slip it back into the door while Jake was concentrating on starting the car and setting off again.  Soon she was relaxing again, enjoying the warmth of the car and Jake’s conversation, interspersed with the occasional good-natured comment from Stan in the back.

* * *

Half an hour later the rain was coming down much more heavily.  It was so fierce that Jake had put the fog lights on and was driving much slower than before.  With such little visibility he had little choice.  The conversation had drifted off into a comfortable silence as more and more of Jake’s concentration was focused on the road ahead.  Gemma was happy with that.  After the night she’d had she was just glad to finally be warming up.

She felt safe, too.  She knew she should be more cautious, yet she trusted Jake and Stan.  Vincent as well.  It was as if they were so off the wall, so out of place, that they were no danger.  Slowly she started to doze off, reaching a state where she was partly aware of her surroundings but was comfortable in a warm, trance-like state.

* * *

The weather continued to get worse, until finally the car was travelling at little more than ten miles an hour.  The slow speed helped reinforce Gemma’s waking doze.  Even when Jake started grumbling under his breath it didn’t disturb her.

Then something cut through her doze, a strange phrase that Jake used.  She could have sworn he’d said “Need the eyesight of a bloody vampire in this.”  It was such a strange comment that it snagged her attention, caused her to be a little more awake than she had been.

They drove on in silence for a few more minutes, barely covering any distance.  Jakes muttering becoming increasingly bad tempered, but he didn’t make any more strange comments.

Finally he reached over to Gemma’s side of the car, flipped open the glove compartment and pulled out a plastic bottle full of green liquid that sparkled strangely.

“What’s that?” Gemma asked.

He jumped slightly, as if he hadn’t been aware she was still awake.

“Oh… Just an energy drink,” he said.  “My own special recipe.  I need something to keep me sharp.  This driving is a nightmare.”

He went to take the top of the bottle off, but was stopped by a voice from behind them.

“Jake, is that a good idea?” asked Stan.

“I need something, Stan.  I’m absolutely wiped.  I’m starting to have trouble focusing on where the road even is.”

“You know that’s not a good idea Jake.  You know how… testy you can get when you drink one of those.  You don’t want Gemma to see you like that, do you?  And is it really going to help your driving?”

“Fine!”

Jake slammed the bottle back into the glove compartment, though he shut the glove compartment a lot more carefully.  Apparently his bad mood didn’t run to risking damage to his precious car.

“Look at that sign,” said Stan.  “There’s a café ahead.  Why don’t we stop here and take a break?  You can have a coffee.”

“Yeah, okay.  I can’t drive any further in this anyway.”

Jake carefully pulled off the road and into the car park of the café.  He turned off the engine and the three of them sat there, rain still hammering at the roof of the car.

“If it rained any harder it would damage the paint work,” grumbled Jake.

Gemma peered out at the rain.  She had just about dried out, was feeling comfy and warm.  The thought of running through the rain didn’t tempt her.

“I don’t suppose you have coats or anything?”  She asked.

“Yeah, I’ve got some in the back in the boot that we can… ah.  No, we can’t.  Not with Victor lazing in the back there.”

“I heard that!” came Victor’s voice from the boot.

He was shouting to be heard over the rain.  Gemma wondered just how sharp his hearing must have been to hear Jake’s comment.

“I’ve got my coat here,” said Stan.  “You could probably both shelter under it and stay perfectly dry.”

“And while you’re all off enjoying yourselves, I just get to stay in here do I?” shouted Vincent.

Jake looked out at the dark day around them.  “You know, this cloud cover is so heavy and the rain is so thick there’s no daylight getting through.  Well, no more than at twilight, anyway.  If you move quickly you’ll be fine coming with us.”

There was a long pause before Vincent answered, his voice much less certain.  “Are you sure, Jake?”

“Vincent, you can trust me!  You know I wouldn’t risk you getting hurt.  We can pop the trunk then you can have a quick look.  See what you think.”

“I have to admit it would be nice to get out of here for a while.  All right, let’s give it a try.”

“Right, Stan… you’re first.  Once you’re out we’ll join you.  I know how long it takes you to untangle yourself!”

Gemma was fascinated as she watched Stan slowly unfold himself from the car.  She’d realised he was big, but only now did she truly appreciate just how big he was.  He was somewhere over seven feet at least, but it wasn’t just his height.  His body was huge, packed with muscle from what she could see.  Jake wasn’t kidding about him having to extricate himself from the car either.  If Stan wasn’t exceptionally careful he’d end up scraping or damaging Jakes precious car.

Only once Stan was standing next to her door did Gemma realise he hadn’t been suggesting she and Jake take his coat and shelter under it.  As she climbed out of the car he spread out the massive coat so she could shelter under it with him, like a child under their parent’s coat.  She leaned in close to stay covered.

When Stan put an arm around her shoulder she froze, her experiences with Daryl the night before colouring her thoughts.  But Stan did no more than ensure his coat was wrapped around her.  In fact, after the initial worry it was comforting, like being a child again walking with her dad.  The rain continued to hammer down, but she could hardly even feel it through the coat’s thick padding, and she was completely dry.

They went to the other side of the car and collected Jake, who sheltered on the other side of Stan, then they went to the boot.

“Right Vincent,” said Jake.  “I’m going to open the boot now.  Just a crack to begin with, you can see it’s like out here.”

He did as he’d promised, then stood waiting.  Nothing happened for around thirty seconds, then a pale hand appeared through the crack and pushed the boot upwards, allowing Gemma to get her first view of Vincent.

The first thing she noticed was just how pale he was.  No wonder he had to worry about burning in the sun, his skin had no colour at all.  Not exactly albino, more… Well, it was hard to say.  Despite the dark day he had a pair of thick smoked sunglasses on, glasses that completely hid his eyes.

What really got her attention was his smile.  His smile and the grace with which he climbed out of the boot.  Exiting gracefully, especially having been in the boot as long as he had, should have been impossible, yet his every move was exquisitely judged.

He had a coat of his own pulled tight around him, one which looked to be expensively tailored and was very well cut.  Gemma got glimpses of a suit underneath, the sort that would set her back a month’s wages at least.

“And you must be the delightful Gemma,” said Vincent, taking her hand, raising it to his lips and kissing it.  She felt herself flushing at the compliment and barely managed to mumble a nice to meet you.  In the meantime Jake grabbed another coat out of the boot and pulled it on, then offered another to Gemma.

She smiled up at Stan shyly.  “Stan, is it okay if I stay in your coat?  I just feel…”

She was going to say safer, but changed it to warmer at the last moment.

Stan smiled softly, and she suspected he knew which word she had nearly said.

“Of course,” he said.

Jake closed the boot and locked the car, then the four of them made their way toward the café.  Gemma supposed they would make an unusual sight but there wasn’t anyone around to see them and with the hammering rain she doubted anyone in the restaurant could see anything through the windows.  When they reached the entrance and she was able to slip out from under Stan’s coat she was actually quite disappointed.

* * *

The café was empty except for a dark-haired woman in her sixties who bustled over to serve them.  In between comments about how terrible the weather was and how quiet a day it had been she quickly took their orders for hot drinks and had them sitting down in a corner booth.

Once again the night without sleep caught up with Gemma.  She sat in a half doze as she sipped at her coffee and the three friends sat in comfortable silence.  When they had finished the drinks they ordered a second round, and some food to go with it.  No one was keen to head back out into the horrible weather.

The food perked her up a bit, and by the time she finished eating the rain was easing off.  The clouds were still dark but at least now they would be able to drive at something more than a snail’s pace.

Vincent insisted on paying for the drinks and food, which Gemma accepted after a brief objection.  Somehow arguing with Vincent was extremely difficult once she met his eyes.

Stan opened his coat again for Gemma to shelter under, then they headed back out to the car.  To Gemma’s surprise Vincent headed for the back of the car again.

“Aren’t you travelling with us?” she asked.

Vincent smiled and shook his head.  “No, it’s too risky.  It would only take a break in the clouds, a bright beam of sunshine, and… well, I would be burnt to a crisp.”

“It’s really that bad?”

“Yes.  It’s a real nuisance, I can tell you.  I’m stuck with these sunglasses as well.  Sensitivity to bright light is another fun part of the condition.”

“I just feel bad about you being stuck back there.”

“Well, it’s not so bad, and I’m kind of resigned to it.”

With that Vincent climbed gracefully into the boot, and Jake carefully shut it.  Stan saw Gemma into the front passenger seat then once again squeezed his huge frame into the back of the car.  Jake had already climbed into the driver’s seat and got the engine running.

As she climbed in Gemma’s hand brushed against one of her pockets and she felt the outline of a mobile phone.  She’d completely forgotten it was there.  Pulling it out it seemed unaffected by the soaking she’d received earlier, but its battery was completely flat.

“I wish this had some charge,” she said.  “I don’t know what Daryl is up to, and it would be nice to call my parents and let them know I’m okay.  They must be worried sick about me.”

“Well you can charge it,” said Jake.

She started at him in surprise.  “You’ve got a charger?  Isn’t that a bit… modern for this car?”

Jake chuckled, reached over to a section of the wooden dashboard and flicked it down to reveal a hidden compartment.  Within were several charging ports and connectors for every type of electrical device she could think of.

“Well,” he said.  “I may love the car in all its original beauty, but not being able to charge my phone?  That would be taking things too far!”

She chuckled as she plugged her phone in.  It lit up to show it was charging but she’d need to give it a few minutes before she could use it to make a call.  In the meantime Jake set off, able to move much far faster now he could actually see where he was going.

* * *

After a few minutes Gemma’s phone had enough power to start up.  When it did it showed over a hundred messages and dozens of missed calls.  Her stomach went through the floor as she found every single call and message was from Daryl.

The first few were aggressive, threatening.  Those had been sent just after she left him.  Then there were a few wheedling messages, asking her to please call him back.

Then they started to deteriorate again, slipping into all sorts of unpleasant words, threatening what he would do when he got hold of her.  The last few made her cry out.

“What’s wrong?” asked Jake.

She stared at the phone for a few moments before she was able to speak.

“My boyfriend… my parents.  He’s got some of his friends outside my parents’ house, and if I don’t meet him there they’re going to start smashing the place up.  He says they’re going to hurt my parents.  That he’s got a score to settle with me.  He says he can hardly walk and… and he wants me to feel the pain he’s in.  What should I do?  Should I call the police?”

“Well with the evidence of the texts they should certainly take you seriously,” said Stan.

“Maybe,” said Jake.  “But if he’s making those sort of threats he might go through with them another time, when you aren’t prepared.  The police might not be the best solution.”

“Jake… what you got in mind?” asked Stan suspiciously.

“I was thinking maybe we should take Gemma home.  One sight of you should give anyone second thoughts about starting any trouble, and I could have a word with her boyfriend.  I’m sure I could be persuasive.”

“I’m not sure your kind of persuasive is going to solve this.  But… Vincent is very good at negotiations.  He does it for a living, after all.”

“You really think a lawyer is going to be able sort this out?”

“I definitely think Vincent is more likely to achieve a permanent solution.  Your solutions tend to be… temporary.  And violent.  In the long run they often lead to more trouble.”

Jake scowled at that then spoke to Gemma.

“Well Gemma?  Would you like us to help out?”

“I… I’d like to say yes but you’ve all done so much for me already.  I can’t ask for more.”

“Don’t be silly.  What sort of people would we be if we rescued the damsel in distress and abandoned her halfway through her journey?”

“Well… if isn’t too much trouble I would really appreciate it.  I have to warn you, though, that Daryl works out a lot.  His friends do too, and I’m sure some take drugs as well.  It’s a recipe for violence.”

“That’s okay, I was going to let you go after them with the spanner you grabbed earlier.”

Gemma froze for a moment, trying to think of something, anything to say.  Jake had done nothing but help her and now she knew he’d seen her grab the spanner.  What must he think of her?

Then he turned to face her, grinned, winked and turned back to the road.

“To be honest,” he said.  “Part of the reason I’m coming is to stop you using the spanner.  I’m quite attached to it.  It’s far too good to waste on the likes of your boyfriend.  We’ll stop and buy a cheap one if you’d like.  I’ll even give it a polish for you.  We can name it if you’d like.  How does the Spanner of Doom sound?”

That was too much for Gemma.  She burst out laughing at the ridiculous thought.  The laughter went on for some time, especially as each time she started to recover Jake mimed swinging a miniature spanner.

When she finally recovered enough that Jake couldn’t set her off again with a glance or a gesture she felt much better.  She was still struggling to come to terms with the whole crazy night, everything that had happened to her, yet the two, no three, friends in the car were the easiest part to accept.  Despite their strange quirks.

* * *

The car pulled round the corner and Gemma caught sight of her parents home.  She’d already texted Daryl, to tell him she was on her way, and he’d replied with a single word… good.

Seeing what was waiting she thought she’d be sick.  Hanging around near the front drive were seven of Daryl’s friends from the gym.  They were drinking, even though it wasn’t even lunchtime yet.  She was pretty sure two of them had weapons of some sort judging by the way their coats hung.

“I guess that must be your parents’ house,” said Jake.

Gemma just nodded.  Jake slowed the car, then stopped about twenty yards away from the group.  He eyed the sky.

“Vincent should be fine,” he said.  “It’s still pretty overcast.  The rain’s let up, but it’s only a short distance to cover.  You’d be amazed how quickly he can move if he thinks the sun is coming out.”

“I heard that!” shouted Vincent’s voice from the boot.

Jake gently placed his hand on Gemma’s shoulder.  “Ready?” he asked softly.

She took a deep breath and nodded.

Jake reached down out to the glove compartment, opened it up and pulled out his energy drink.  Gemma could feel Stan tense behind them, but he didn’t say anything.  Jake opened the bottle and swigged down a good half of the contents.  He stuck the lid back on, put the drink away again then moved to open the door.

As he turned away Gemma caught sight of his eyes, and for a moment she could have sworn they were glinting with the same sparkling colour the bottle contained.

Then Jake was out, walking round and opening her door.  His eyes looked more normal now, though they were possibly a little bit… spaced out wasn’t right.  Intense.  She felt a little scared by the expression on his face.  Then he gave her a big wink and spell was broken.

As soon as she got out of the car Daryl’s friends tensed.  She could sense them weighing Jake up, dismissing him.  There were seven of them, but somehow she was starting to suspect that dismissing Jake too readily might be a mistake.

Then she saw their eyes widen as Stan got out of the car.  No matter that Stan really wasn’t someone to worry about, that he hated violence of any form, the sight of him was enough to make Daryl’s friends step back and look uncertainly at each other.

Stan moved to the car boot and opened it.  Now Daryl’s friends were really confused as Vincent climbed out, dusting down his long coat and incredibly sharp suit.  Despite his time in the boot his clothes didn’t seem to have picked up a single crease.  He walked around to Gemma, graceful as ever, and offered her his arm.

“Shall we?” he asked.  She nodded and slipped her hand through his arm.  An almost electric blast shot through her at the touch.  She stood up straighter, and moved forward in time with Vincent instead of being pulled along behind as she’d expected.  She felt good.  She felt confident.  She felt ready.

“That’s my girl,” Vincent said quietly.  “Let’s go do this.”

* * *

Daryl’s friends shuffled around as Gemma and Vincent walked past them, but they didn’t say or do anything.  Gemma opened the front door and faltered.  It led straight into the living room, and standing there was Daryl.  Well, he leaned more than he stood, clearly favouring the leg she had struck.

Her parents were nowhere to be seen, which was not a good sign.  At least Daryl was on his own, although even injured she knew he would be dangerous.

“Gemma!” he said.  “I’m so pleased to see you.  I’ve been thinking about you a lot since last night.”

“Daryl you creep!  What the hell are you doing here?  What do you think you’re doing?  If you don’t get out, right this instant, I’m going to call the police.  In fact I’m going to call them anyway and tell them everything that happened.  How you’ve threatened me.  Just in case you get any ideas about sneaking up on me some other time.”

“Oh Gemma, I’ve got a dozen witnesses that say I wasn’t anywhere near you last night.  Well, I picked you up from work of course… but the three witnesses in the car with me say you got upset for no reason and ran off, yelling something about me having cheated.  You weren’t too far from home so we decided to leave you to it.  Then when I found out you hadn’t come home last night, well, of course I got worried and came over.  Oh, and you took my phone with you so any messages from it were sent by you.”

“That’s a pack of lies!”

He shrugged.  “Maybe, but who is going to believe you over all of us?”

She moved towards him, raising her hand to give him a slap.  As she got close she saw the danger in his eyes.  She’d just done exactly what he wanted, she’d got within range and he was about to grab her.

But then Vincent was there, moving swiftly yet with perfect poise.  In the blink of an eye he was between them, his back to Daryl, and pushing her back.

“Gemma,” he said softly.  “That’s not going to help.  Please, let me handle this.  I’m sure we can come to some sort of arrangement.”

Gemma’s eyes went wide as he said that.  Not because of his words but because of the baseball bat swinging at his head.  Daryl had kept the bat hidden behind him as she approached.  She guessed it was meant for her… punishment for what she’d done to him.  She didn’t have time to cry out.  Before she could say anything the bat had crashed into the side of Vincent’s head and sent him crashing to the floor.  His glasses went flying across the room.

Gemma knew she should step back, that she should run, but she was frozen in place, unable to believe what had just happened.  This was Daryl.  Even after last night she’d never imagined he could do something like this.  And he wasn’t looking at Vincent any more.  He stared straight into her eyes as he pulled the bat back again.  He hobbled forward a few steps to be sure it could reach her, and swung it at her.

Not towards her head.  He might have killed her if he did that.  No, he was aiming for her knee, swinging the bat so it would smash her kneecap from the front.  Not just bruise the back as she had done to him.  This was going to destroy her knee.

She willed her body to move but it was already too late.  At the last moment she couldn’t help screwing her eyes shut.  The bat struck with a tremendous impact and a cracking noise.  To her surprise there was no pain.

It took her what felt like a long time to force her eyes open, to see what damage had been done.  When she did she was surprised to see that the bat had stopped two inches before it reached her knee.  But the amazing part wasn’t that it had stopped, it was what had stopped it.  Vincent’s hand.  Vincent’s hand had stopped a baseball bat in full swing… and had cracked the bat.

Now Daryl was looking at Vincent, and his expression was very different.  It was a mixture of surprise, shock, and dawning fear.  Gemma looked down and she understood why.  She also understood at least one reason why Vincent wore sunglasses.  His eyes were blazing bright red.  And not just the inner part of the eye, the iris, it was every visible part of his eyes.

Then Vincent was moving, rising from the ground like an avenging angel.  No, not an angel… like the thing angels became if they fell from grace.  Vincent’s expressionless face was terrible to behold.  He rose to his full height, considerably shorter than Daryl, yet somehow seeming to tower over him.

Daryl cowered back against the wall, pressed himself against it as if he wanted it to swallow him, all the time shaking his head in terror.

Gemma wasn’t sure what she felt herself.  She was enjoying seeing the terror on Daryl’s face, but Vincent was scaring her as well.  She was caught in place, too scared to run.

Vincent slowly bought his hand up in front of Daryl’s face, extended a finger and held it half an inch from Daryl’s nose.  Daryl’s eyes crossed trying to keep an eye on it.  It was almost comical.

“How dare you?” said Vincent, his voice low and steady but thrumming with underlying danger.  “You broke my glasses!  Do you have any idea how much they cost me?”

Daryl shook his head slightly, seemingly unable to move any more than that.

“Now they’re ruined,” said Vincent.  “That’s on top of my suit getting a hole in it, being stuck in the boot of Jake’s car for the past few hours, and now having to come in here to deal with a stupid, idiotic animal like you.  I really don’t like being angry.  It brings out the worst in me.  But right now, right at this moment, I am furious!”

At those words something strange happened to Vincent’s mouth.  It took Gemma a moment to realise what it was.  His incisors were extending… becoming the classic symbol of what she suddenly realised he must be.  A vampire.  That should have been the moment she went running in terror.  That should have been the moment her mind shut down, and survival instincts kicked in.  And yet that was the moment when things clicked into place and she actually felt slightly better.

This was still Vincent.  This was still the same man who had travelled in the boot to avoid getting burnt by the sun, and everything he had told her was the truth.  He really would be burnt to a crisp if he was exposed to daylight.

Most importantly, though, this was still the Vincent who was worried about his expensive sunglasses.  He might be angry, even furious, but she realised this was still the same man who had been so gentle when he heard what had happened to her.  For all those reasons she decided to settle back and watch the show.

Daryl, of course, didn’t have her insight.  Vincent leaned his face in closer to Daryl’s, staring into the young man’s eyes and causing him to whimper.  Something made Gemma look down, she saw a dark stain spreading down Daryl’s leg.  She’d heard of people being so frightened they wet themselves, she never thought she’d actually see it.

“Now,” said Vincent.  “The question is, what should I do with you.  You see right now I’m sure you’d promise to never visit Gemma again, to never mention what you have seen here, and to make sure your friends leave Gemma alone as well.

“But the thing is, you’ll forget the terror.  You’ll forget exactly what happened, or convince yourself it was a bad reaction to some drug or other.  At some point in the future you’re going to want to pay Gemma back for what she did to you.  Well, that’s not good enough.”

He paused a moment before continuing.

“It seems I have three choices.  You can see what I am, now.  You can see that I’m a vampire.  So the obvious option is for me to simply kill you.”

Daryl’s eyes grew even wider with fear.  He whimpered, shaking his head though unable to break eye contact.  Worry started to work its way into Gemma’s mind.  Would Vincent really do that?  And if he did, would she be next because she’d witnessed who he really was?  Or would she have to live with the knowledge forever, knowing that no one would believe her if she told the truth?

“The second option,” Vincent continued.  “Is to turn you into my thrall, part way to being a vampire though with no will of your own.  You wouldn’t live forever, but it would seem like an eternity to you.  You’d be alive, but I doubt you’d appreciate that fact.”

Vincent paused once more, letting the tension build even further, then he spoke again.

“Or there’s the third option.”

Vincent smiled widely now.  Somehow Daryl managed to look even more petrified, no doubt coming up with all sorts of horrible visions of what else Vincent might have in mind, but somehow Gemma felt a little more relaxed.  She didn’t think Vincent was actually planning on killing Daryl now.  The way he’d presented the first two options seemed designed to terrify Daryl, to build his fear.

“The third option,” Vincent said.  “Is to make you forget all this.  Forget me, of course, and what I am.  Forget the fact that you hit me and tried to hit Gemma.  And forget what she did to you last night, in fact what you’ll remember is how terribly you behaved and the fact that when she ran you chased after her and hurt yourself running into a tree.  Then you invented the story of her hitting you to try and look less like an idiot to your friends.”

Another pause before he spoke again.

“Of course, that would be letting you off much too lightly.”

Daryl had started to relax slightly, but now he tensed once again.  Gemma try to hide the smile that was threatening to spread across her face.  Whatever Vincent had planned, she had a feeling it wasn’t something she would disapprove of too strongly.  In fact, she rather suspected she was going to enjoy it.

It would be a shame if Daryl forgot what just happened to him, but she could see how that was necessary.  And if he forgot how she’d hit him that was a good thing too.  The question was, what else did Vincent have planned.

“Now, I’m not a vindictive man,” said Victor.  “I am, however, not going to let you off that lightly.  From the looks of you, and your inbred friends outside, you enjoy sport and going to the gym.  You look like you enjoy working out.  Is that right?”

The last question was directed at Gemma, Vincent turned his head towards her.  As he did, as one of his eyes moved out of Daryl’s sight, he winked at her.  She nodded in reply, sure that if she spoke she would start laughing.

Victor turned back to Daryl, staring into his eyes again.  Daryl stopped looking so terrified.  In fact, his face just became slack.  Then Vincent started to speak.  First he asked what had happened to Gemma’s parents.  To her relief Daryl admitted they’d been out when he arrived and he hadn’t seen them since.  Everything that had happened, all the trouble, had passed them by.

Then Vincent started to probe at Daryl’s recent memories.  He went on for some time, a good five minutes, going over the same ground several times to ensure he had erased all the memories completely.

Then he went further.  He planted an idea Daryl’s head.  He planted the idea that Daryl couldn’t catch to save his life.  The idea that if he tried to run at full speed he would always trip over his feet.  The idea that in the pool he’d always be nervous and would refuse to leave the shallow end.

To some people that would have been a minor inconvenience.  Gemma knew that for Daryl they would be life impacting changes.  She couldn’t think of better punishment for him.  It was harsh, very harsh, as it would stop many of Daryl’s dreams.  Then again, Daryl had had a good go at trying to kill Vincent, or at best hadn’t cared that it was a likely outcome.  And he’d tried to break her knee.  All in all Daryl was getting off quite lightly, especially considering just who it was staring him in his face.

Finally Vincent stepped away.  Daryl slumped to sit against the wall, eyes still glazed.  Vincent turned, and now Gemma found herself staring into his eyes.  The red glow was gone, replaced by a deep grey.  She realised that she knew his secret, and that most likely next step was that he was going to erase her memories of this event as well.

“When you wipe my memories,” she said.  “Could you get rid of some of the worst ones from last night as well?  I’d like an idea of what happened, but I’d rather not remember it all.  I’d quite like to remember you, Stan and Jake too, if only to remind me that there are some true gentlemen in the world.”

Vincent’s eyebrows shot up.

“What?  As if I’d do that.  It’s not the kind of thing I go around doing all the time.  In fact I positively try and avoid it.  This… this was an unfortunate necessity.  If he hadn’t broke my glasses, hadn’t had a glimpse of what I am, I would have negotiated with him.  It’s what I do.  It’s my job, and I am very good at it.  Unfortunately… well, he brought this on himself.”

“You… you trust me?  I could tell anyone!”

“Well, who would believe your story?  And besides, I like you.  I’m normally a good judge of character.  You could tell anyone… but you aren’t going to, are you?”

She smiled as she realised she wasn’t.

“Does this mean we’re friends?  That I could see you again?”

“My dear, it would be an absolute pleasure.”

“Just a minute… do the others, Jake and Stan, do they know what you are?”

“Of course!”

“I know your secret and I won’t tell anyone, so I guess that makes me just like them.”

A strange smile crossed Vincent’s face, gone the moment it appeared.

“Yes,” he said.  “Just like them.”

* * *

Daryl took a couple of minutes to come round.  When he did he stared round the room, then at Gemma and Vincent.  He shook his head, forced his way upright then quickly headed for the front door, muttering as he went.  He slammed it shut behind him as he left.

Vincent held out his arm.  “Shall we?”

Gemma smiled, nodded and took his arm.  Once again she felt the thrill of his touch, but now she had some idea of where it came from.

They walked to the front door, opened it, and went through.  As soon as they got outside Gemma knew something had happened.  Daryl was hobbling his way towards his friends where they stood in a group.  But the really eye-catching thing was one of Daryl’s friends lying on the floor.  Just a couple of feet away stood Stan, feet planted in the ground, using all of his immense strength to hold back a furious Jake.

The language coming from Jake’s mouth was toe curling, a mix of words she knew but rarely used and some she’d never heard but were clearly curses too.  To Gemma’s surprise Jake actually managed to force Stan back a step.

Stan looked over his shoulder at Daryl’s friends.

“You better come and get your friend,” he said, voice booming but not shouting.  “I can’t hold Jake back much longer, and if he gets free… well, it’s not going to be very pleasant.”

Daryl’s friends looked at each other for a few moments, then two of them plucked up enough courage to run forward, grab their friend, and drag him away.  As they did Gemma noticed the victim’s eye was already closing over, and that his leg was twisted at an unpleasant angle.

As they rushed away with their friend, collecting Daryl on the way, Jake started to calm down.  By the time Gemma and Vincent reached them Jake had calmed down a lot.

“I told them I was only here to stop Jake hurting them,” said Stan, forlornly.  “They laughed at that!  They laughed at Jake.  You know what he’s like about that, Vincent.  I wasn’t fast enough.  I couldn’t stop him reaching that boy.  I did manage to pull him off before he did too much damage, though.”

Jake stepped back from Stan, crossed his arms and, to Gemma, looked particularly sheepish.

“Thank you, Stan,” he said quietly.  “I don’t know what came over me.”

“Well I do,” said Vincent.  “You had another one of your drinks, didn’t you?”

“Well, maybe I did have half, but… hang on… where are your glasses?  What happened in there?”

“Relax,” said Gemma.  “I know that Vincent is… unusual,” said Gemma.  “I saw what he can do.  I saw that he’s a… well, that there’s a good reason he doesn’t want to get a suntan.”

Jake and Stan both relaxed a little at that, though they were clearly curious.  In that moment she knew she’d been fully accepted.  Then something struck her.  She looked at Jake, her head to one side, and then looked at the massive Stan standing beside him.  She thought about how Jake had actually shifted the man-mountain that was Stan.

“You know, I think maybe you two are a little unusual too.  Am I right?”

“My dear,” said Vincent.  “You really are amazingly observant.  I’ll tell you what, let’s head back to my place so we can talk properly.”  He glanced at the sky, then shuddered.  “And that would be the clouds clearing.  I need to get back in the boot.  Jake, Stan, can we please head straight home this time?  No diversions?”

They all laughed at that.  Vincent turned to Gemma, took her hand, bowed over and kissed it.  Then he looked up at her and winked.  “No offence, of course, you proved to be a most delightful diversion.”

“None taken,” she replied, smiling. And with that, Vincent went to the boot, Stan forced himself back onto the back seat, Jake jumped in the driving seat… and Gemma climbed into the car with her new friends.  Somehow, she had a feeling that her life was going to be a lot more interesting from now on.

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