Die for Her
Page 3

 Amy Plum

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“Don’t look,” says Vincent.
“What do you mean, don’t look? The more you look the more you’ll see how I’m totally right and . . .”
“No, don’t look behind us,” he says.
So of course I do. And there she is: Not-Quite-As-Sad Girl, sitting there spaced out in front of one of Pablo’s abstracts. I can’t believe it.
No, actually, I can. “What an incredible coincidence, Ambrose,” I murmur, “that at the same moment you propose a lesson in Cubism, Vincent’s obsession is sitting right here in the Picasso Museum. Nice one.”
I hear Ambrose chuckle, and know he set the whole thing up. “This is not being helpful, Ambrose,” I growl. “It’s being hurtful.”
Vincent doesn’t seem to think so, he replies.
I turn to Vincent. “Don’t go talk to her. I’m warning you. This is the last thing you need. You’re too into her to make it a one-night stand, and having a mortal girlfriend is the worst thing that you could do. Just pretend you didn’t see her, and let’s walk. Look, she’s looking down. She won’t even see you.”
Vincent just stands there like he’s hypnotized or something.
“I am leaving in five seconds, Vince, and you are coming with me. Four. Three. Two. You’re on your own, dude.” I book it out of there. I don’t want to stay to watch this train wreck happen.
I feel Ambrose’s presence nearby, keeping up with me. “Just a warning,” I tell him. “I’ll get you back for this next time you ask me to come with you volant to the racetrack. It’ll be the biggest losing streak of your life, man.”
Vincent could use a little distraction, Ambrose says. He hasn’t gone out with a girl for years.
“I think you will agree that there’s a difference between a girl and that girl. As in Vincent’s so obsessed with her already that he’s going to fall. Hard. And then we have Charles Mach Two on our hands. Resentful for what he is, and making all the rest of us suffer for it with his raging attitude.”
But Geneviève . . . Ambrose begins.
“Geneviève was already married to a human when she died and animated. That’s a totally different case. Speaking of, are you still pining away for her, waiting for Philippe to die?”
Hey, I like Philippe, Ambrose rebuts. He’s good to Geneviève.
“But you still want him to die.”
It’s not that I want him to die this very instant. It’s just that he’s got to pass away sometime soon. The guy is ancient. I just need to be ready when it happens.
“That’s twisted,” I say. A security guard watches me cautiously as I “talk to myself” while exiting the museum. Probably thinks I’m some kind of nutcase, come to splash paint all over Pablo’s canvases. Not that it wouldn’t be an improvement for some of them.
I SCRAPE THE OILS ONTO MY PALETTE: A MIX OF Zinc Buff and Montserrat Orange for her slightly tanned skin, Vandyke Brown for her long, thick hair, Venetian Red for her succulent lips, and Perylene Black for eyes like oceans.
Valérie lies on my antique green couch, wearing nothing but what she was born in. I stand ten feet away, near the window of my studio, letting the natural light illuminate my canvas.
I’m painting Valérie as a reclining nude, Modigliani-style. I miss the guy, even though he was obnoxious. Always drunk or high and picking fights. Doing outrageous things so that no one would notice the fact that he was dying of tuberculosis and avoid him like . . . well, like the plague.
There was that time we were at a bar near the Bateau-Lavoire, and he did a striptease in front of a table of “ladies of a certain age.” Ripped off every last stitch of his clothing. Almost gave the biddies a heart attack. “Serves them right for hanging out in Montmartre,” he told the policeman who showed up. Those were wild days, and he was the wildest of us all. But give him a brush and he painted like no one has or ever will. Touched by angels. Breathed on by God. And inspired by the devil.
I use one sweeping stroke to define the upper curve of Valérie’s body, from shoulder to foot. She’s reading a paperback, clearly bored. I only need her to look up at the end of the composition, when I paint in her face, so I allow her this off-time. “Okay, let’s take a break,” I say, and she stands, her soft, curvy body as exquisite as the Venus de Milo, as fresh as a ripe peach.
I will never tire of looking at women. Appreciating their beauty. Reveling in each girl’s individual charm. There’s nothing more beautiful on earth. And even more tantalizing are the ones you can’t touch, like Valérie: I never mix business with pleasure. And not just because of security. (Lovers aren’t allowed into our permanent residences.) No, it was a hard-earned lesson after a few catastrophic encounters. All you need is for one model to see another painted in a suggestive pose, and voilà—you’ve got a catfight in the middle of your painting exhibition.
Valérie scoops up a robe and drapes it lazily around her before picking her book back up and lying on her stomach to read. I walk back to the bathroom to wash out my brushes, and hear the front door open and close and Valérie talking to someone. It’s Vincent. Good—I’ve been trying to reach him all afternoon.
I step out of the dark bathroom into the sun-drenched studio to see Sad Girl—Kate—standing in front of the window, backlit by the warm sun of the summer afternoon. She looks like a saint from a medieval painting: pure, beautiful, glorious, crowned with rays of golden light.
But she is not a saint. She’s a hundred percent human, and totally falls into the “lover” category. She shouldn’t be here with Vincent. I manage to tear my eyes from her to see Vincent standing by her side, looking like his head’s about to explode.
“Kate, this is Jules. Jules, Kate,” he spits out as fast as his mouth will move. “Listen, Jules, Kate and I were walking around the Village Saint-Paul and I saw someone there,” he says, raising his eyebrows. I can tell from his tone that someone is not just anyone and that a numa must be mere blocks away.
“Outside,” I order, frowning at Kate as I usher Vincent out to the staircase and close the door behind us. Before I can say anything, Vincent launches into the story. Lucien and one of his guards were sitting at a café with some unlucky human—a businessman, from the looks of him. And from the pitiful look on his face, the numa had probably ruined him financially and were going to blackmail him or something.
“And you just left him there?” I ask.
“I had to,” Vincent responds. “It’s not like I can fight two numa alone and in public. I can’t do anything without backup.” He’s upset. There was his archenemy working his evil ways with an unsuspecting human, and Vincent was powerless to intervene.
“I’m with you now,” I reassure him, “and Ambrose can be our third.”
Vince pulls out his phone and speed-dials Gaspard, telling him to send Ambrose to my studio. “He’s on his way,” he confirms.
“Good. Now you can tell me . . . why the hell did you bring her with you?” I cross my arms to control myself; I’m so tempted to throttle him.
“I’m not on duty twenty-four seven. She’s with me because we’re on a date.”
“That is exactly why she should not be here.”
“JB only said we couldn’t bring people home,” Vincent says. “I don’t see why she can’t come here.”
“Dude. Anywhere we have a permanent address is off-limits for . . . ‘dates.’ Or whatever. You know the rules.”
“Valérie’s here,” Vincent protests.
“I don’t date Valérie, or else she wouldn’t be here. In any case, your date is over!”
He scowls like he wants to punch me in the face. And then he sighs and his shoulders slump. He knows I’m right. He takes Kate down to the courtyard and says his good-byes. She looks disappointed, but that’s not my problem. Once she leaves, Vincent runs back up the stairs.
“Ambrose is here. He saw Lucien and Nicolas,” he says. “They’re making their way in this direction. But more importantly, Ambrose foresaw the human who’s with them throwing himself in front of a Métro train in about three minutes’ time. We have to go now!”
“Session’s over, Valérie,” I say. I pick up my coat and throw her the keys. “Could you lock up behind you? Just drop the keys in my mailbox when you leave.”
“But I’ve only been here a half hour,” she says, sitting up. She looks uncertain.
“Don’t worry. I’ll pay you for the whole three hours,” I say. She nods, satisfied, and begins getting dressed as I follow Vincent. We walk quickly toward the Saint-Paul Métro station.
You’ve got exactly a minute and a half, Ambrose says as we jog down the stairs.
“Who’s up this time?” I ask Vincent.
“Well, it was Ambrose’s turn to die, but he saved that kid two days ago,” Vincent replies.
“What’s it been for you—a year?” I ask.
Vincent nods.
“My last was March. So you can take it,” I offer.
No one’s going to take it if you don’t get your butts down there stat, says Ambrose as we emerge out of the hallway into the platform area.
“There he is—the guy who was with Lucien,” Vincent says, and points to a man in a suit who is blatantly crying.
That’s our jumper, verifies Ambrose.
The man places his briefcase on the platform and lowers himself down onto the tracks. “Now!” I say, and Vincent gets ready to run. But before he can, we hear a girl screaming behind us. Someone else has noticed the man on the tracks. I’m stunned to see that it’s Kate. She’s pointing to the guy and freaking out. Vincent looks at me. I know what he’s thinking. “Let’s go,” I say.
Vincent runs for Kate, and I jump down onto the tracks. The man is sobbing, holding his head in his hands as the rush of wind announcing an oncoming train blows me back a step. The train rounds a corner and bears down on him as I run between the tracks to get to him. He’s half a platform away: I’m not sure I can reach him in time.
The train appears, and to me it is like a dragon, solid, shining, and enormous: the yellow headlights its eyes and the wailing horn its battle shriek. It’s like St. George versus the dragon, I think, but this time the dragon wins.
The man lets out a terrified bleat, and with no time to spare, I push him to the other side of the tracks—to safety. And in my final second, I turn to see Vincent trying to shield Kate so she won’t see me die. The train is upon me, sparks flying, brakes screeching as the driver tries to avoid the inevitable.
No time to dive out of its trajectory. This is the way of my kind, I think. Death is a welcome mistress, but damn, is she brutal.
I brace myself for the split second of wrenching pain that I will experience as the impact takes my life. Vincent’s eyes meet mine. I touch my fingers to my forehead in salute to my kinsman, and then I die.
WHEN MY MIND AWAKES, THE HOUSE IS QUIET. I sweep through the floors, see who’s around, and stop when I see Vincent alone in his room. He’s stretched out on the floor throwing chunks of bread into the fire and watching them spark. An untouched tray of food sits in front of him. He must have skipped dinner, if Jeanne brought him room service.
What’s up? I ask, knowing the answer has something to do with her.
“Jules. You’re back. That Métro crash looked pretty painful. I hope you get extra bonus points for it.” His voice is mournful. I know he’s glad to “see” me, but something’s definitely wrong.
I stay silent and finally he says, “Kate says she never wants to see me again.” He crushes a piece of bread into a tiny ball before jettisoning it into the flames. “She thought something was wrong with me since I didn’t seem upset about you dying.”
A completely normal reaction, seeing she is human and we are immortal, I reply.
“But Jules,” he says, rolling over onto his back and staring at the ceiling. “She’s different from anyone else I’ve ever met. I haven’t felt this for a girl since Hél—”
Whoa, whoa, whoa, I say, cutting him off. You have officially entered the danger zone. You should be thanking your lucky stars that Kate dumped you. What if she had fallen for you, and you had to reject her? That would be rough, man. Rule number one with the babes is don’t ever hurt them. Make them think it’s they who broke up with you. And in your case, that has actually happened. Saves you from having to be an a**hole later on.
“But what if there was a way,” he begins, ripping crumbs off the mangled baguette in his hand.
There is no way, I say. Okay, there are rare examples you hear about from time to time at a convocation. A handful of stories from way back when. But man, who would want that? They grow old while you stay young? It’s not natural.
“We’re not natural,” Vincent says in a dead voice.
I ignore him and continue. Plus Jean-Baptiste has forbidden it for the French kindred. You’re only his second: Until you take his place, he’s the boss.
Vincent doesn’t say anything after that, but I know I haven’t changed his mind. For the next couple of weeks he skulks around, a ball of nerves, watching Kate from afar. Never going close enough for her to catch sight of him, and being careful around the rest of us to look like he’s not stalking her. But I can tell he’s just dying to see her face. And when he catches sight of her at the café or walking home from the Métro station, he looks all tranquil. Like he’s only okay if he knows she’s safe. It’s freaking me out. I have a feeling it’s going to end badly, but there’s nothing more I can say. And in any case, my mind is on other things.