Grandfather came up to my room to have breakfast with us the next morning. Justin stuffed himself on crepes with fruit and scrambled eggs with cheese while we talked. My adoptive parents had helped secure an apartment for me near the University and it would be waiting for us once we made the drive. I had a few more shifts to work at the electronics store, and some more boxes to pack, but really most of the work left to do was help Cadence and Rainbow finish packing up their store and wait for their last day of business.
Grandfather would have liked to help us move, but since the daylight was so dangerous to him, there wasn’t much he could do. If we were still moving in after sunset, he could help us, and he was going to bring by a few things to make the apartment suit my style,. otherwise, he would be there when we had a small housewarming party, really just the fancy dinner at the apartment. My adoptive parents were going to meet us in Sacramento, and help bring in some furniture they had gotten secondhand that they thought I would like. It was a great feeling, having so much family who wanted to help.
Justin’s mom had wanted to help in some way too, but she really couldn’t leave town because of work, and really, she done so much for him already. so we settled on her helping get together all of Justin’s records and other important documents so that he’d have them with him when we moved. His dad was another matter. Mr. Corbyn wanted to come by and see the place once it was set up, and he was pretty sure his boss would give him the time off. Of course, we couldn’t tell Justin that my grandfather was Mr. Rosenthal, but that didn’t matter, there was really no reason for him to know that.
Grandfather let Justin keep some of the fancy clothes he been given at the castle. they would get more together for him while we were away, so that he would have plenty to wear on his next visit. Even though it wasn’t all black and dark colors, the concept with the fancy shirt and the dark vest was really growing on him.
Once We Were ready, grandfather open the shadows, allowing us to get from my Chambers in his castle to the guest house I was renting. it was still early morning on earth, very dark outside. It would have been completely reasonable for me to simply go back to sleep, but we really weren’t tired, we slept quite well at the castle. I only had a half shift at work that day, since the shop was rarely busy the day after a major holiday, and all David really wanted to do was finish up some repairs and take appointments.
It was much the same for Justin, just a few hours of work, mostly promoting the sale that was going on in order to reduce how much merchandise they were moving, and a little more packing. I told Justin that if he wanted to not work that day, I wouldn’t think badly of him for calling out. on top of that, if he wanted me to, I’d stay home with him. but he insisted that he was feeling great. besides, he didn’t want to call any attention to the idea that anything strange that happened the night before.
Justin’s mother called later in the morning, and was glad to hear that he was feeling better. She offered to bring over some leftovers from the 4th of July barbecue, but we declined, saying that we would go easy on our stomachs that day. We spent the rest of the morning in the early part of the afternoon reading and just relaxing, and then later on went to work, and then after that went out for spaghetti dinner.
Justin’s mother didn’t usually call him more than once in a day, what with her being busy working and not wanting to annoy him, but she did call again that evening. that time, she sounded a lot more worried.
“Have you seen the news?” she asked in a rushed tone. She was on speakerphone, so I could hear her, too.
“No,” Justin told her.
Ms. Anderson sighed. “I know, you don’t normally watch the news; I just had to ask.”
“Is something going on?” Justin asked. His mom didn’t normally watch the news either, but if it was on where she was working, she would listen in. Or if other people were talking about current events, she didn’t mind keeping herself informed. It’s just that she didn’t really go out of her way to get the news. and if she was bringing it up with Justin, it was probably something big.
“Some boys went missing last night,” she said. “You know how teenagers can be sometimes, fooling around, especially on holidays. But they’re– Justin, I think they’re the ones from your high school.”
“There’s a lot of boys at high school, Mom. What do you mean? You know I didn’t have friends there.”
“No, honey, I know, but they you had– well, not enemies, but those bullies. They showed their pictures on television, and it looked like two of the three boys who had, you know, hurt you.”
“Oh…” Justin replied. He looked to me, not sure how to respond to that.
“I’ve seen them around town,” I admitted. “Justin’s pointed them out to me. They look like the kind of idiots who’d do any challenge they see online.”
Ms. Anderson held back a disapproving harrumph. I didn’t normally speak so openly about people I didn’t like, but they’d nearly killed her son twice– though she only knew about one of those times. Besides that, she understood that I loved him, and that I would protect him from danger. She didn’t have reason to sympathize with the boys, either– nor their parents, who had done nothing to right the wrongs their sons had done.
“You’re right about that,” she said with another sigh. “The news said the boys had texted their friend about going into the woods last night, so people have been searching out there.”
“It sounds like they walked straight into danger,” I commented.
“I can’t disagree. Anyway, I have to get going. I just wanted to make sure you two were doing okay.”
“We’re great, Mom,” Justin assured her. “Can we take you to lunch on Saturday?”
Once they wrapped up the conversation and ended the call, Justin turned and gave me a worried look that had my heart racing. “Wow… Going into the woods at night? Aren’t there wolves out there?”
So that’s what had him worried. Justin couldn’t forgive those boys for hurting him at school, especially after they’d tried hurting him at the grocery store, not to mention the fact that they scowled at him if their paths ever randomly crossed around town. He didn’t remember being attacked, but was surprised they’d done something so foolish.
I’d spoken to Grandfather, Erik, and Matthias early that morning. The alley where the attack had occurred had been cleaned up so that no trace of the bullies– biological or otherwise– would be found, but it wasn’t so clean that it would catch anyone’s attention. Grandfather and the vampires he allowed to visit Earth were used to the changing times, and they knew what details they would have to attend to. Anything that was found with those boys would be too damaged by wolves and weather to be used for clues to support any idea except that they’d been attacked by wild animals when they’d foolishly gone into the forest.
The only good things to come of that mess was that Justin was safe, and I no longer had to bear my secrets alone. I was more sure of wanting to spend my life with him than ever before. Soon, it would be just the two of us, living together in Sacramento– and we’d already have friends there– and Justin could take his time deciding what he wanted to do, and when he wanted to do it.
I understood that Justin would always need special care. I loved him exactly as he was, and I would do my best to keep him happy, but I also knew that life wasn’t perfect. If he got hurt or sick, if something made his depression worse, or even if he just needed my support with his goals, I intended to always be there for him. I didn’t know how the shadows I’d inherited would affect our future, but I couldn’t think of anyone better to explore those possibilities with.
The last couple weeks in Cody flew by. David gave me my final pay and a letter of recommendation, and my landlord gave me a letter of reference when he saw how clean I’d left the guest house. We had a good-bye party at Justin’s aunt’s house the night before we were to head out; it was bittersweet, but it was a great party nonetheless. Cadence and Rainbow stopped by as well. It wasn’t their first time meeting Ms. Anderson, and she was happy to have them their and tell them how much she appreciated her son having a job, and friends, and everything else.
We were up early on a Monday morning at the end of July. The four of us had breakfast at a diner, made sure the vehicles were loaded up with snacks and drinks, and headed down Sheridan Avenue. I looked over at Justin as we waited at the light.
“So… This is it,” I told him. “I can make a left here and take you back to Portland, and you can reconnect with Killian.”
He stared at me for a long time, his mouth gaping open. “Are you serious?”
I nodded. “I won’t even be upset; I just want you to be as happy as possible.”
Justin furrowed his brow and frowned. “Blackthorne, if you turn left…”
I started to turn the wheel, and he grabbed my wrist in an instant.
“Don’t you dare,” he said with just a hint of playfulness in his tone. “I’m yours, Blackthorne. And you’re mine. I don’t want to be with anybody else but you.”
“Are you certain? My grandfather is a vampire, you know– and who knows what other secrets I’ve been keeping. You might diver quite a lot of darkness, being with me.”
“Since when have I been afraid of the dark?” he replied, completely unmoved by me words. “I love you, Blackthorne. I love everything about you– and your vampire heritage is just plain hot.”
“Oh really?” I gave him an impish look.
He nodded. “If I kiss you, will you turn right so we can get this adventure going?”
“If you kiss me,” I told him, “we might just end up in the back seat together.”
“Save it for the hotel,” he chuckled. Then he leaned over, cupped my cheeks, and gave me a kiss.
“Let’s go,” he said as he sunk back into his seat, “before they start honking at us.”
I grinned and him and made the turn for us to get onto the highway headed south. We’d be out of Wyoming by the late afternoon. We could have driven right across the northern part of Utah and stayed at motel near the Nevada border, but with the moving truck being slower and us not wanting to push ourselves too hard, we’d stay the night in Salt Lake City. Then it would be another day of driving to get from there to Reno. We’d be in Sacramento around Thursday afternoon, and would still have plenty of time to take care of paperwork, get our keys, and start unpacking. My parents would meet us there and stay through to the end of the weekend, if not longer.
This would be the close of the hardest chapter of Justin’s life. It was the end of book one, really– as it was for me as well. We were starting a new story together, one of starlight and shadows, mysteries and magic, but always– and no matter what– the love we shared together. I know that our lives could no longer be separated, and that one day, Justin Anderson, the sad, shy goth boy from Portland, would be replaced by a man who’d found comfort in my darkness, who’d found his own way through life, no matter how tangled it was, and that man would unite with me to become Justin Thorne.