The phone rang and slowly I turned to face the incessant noise. I pulled myself out of the bed to find CJ sitting near me smiling; his handsome face a welcomed surprise.
“What are you doing in here?” I asked with a smile.
“Cool!” he replied.
I picked the phone up from the table and listened as I reached for CJ.
…“Zo were you still in bed…?”
“I was until you called. What’s up, Vincent?”
…“Do you know what time it is…?”
I glanced over at the clock. “8:16.” And suddenly I remembered how the week had started. For the last three months I’d been working with an art production company and had to find care for Christopher. Today he was going to start his first ventures into the real world with other babies. He and Vanessa were heading into the same daycare to prepare them for school.
…“I’m outside…,” he said with a laugh. “Just hurry before you make everyone late…”
I hung up the phone and quickly prepared CJ a bottle before getting dressed and rushing down to the car.
He was standing at the foot of the driveway.
“Glad you could make it,” Vincent smiled as I slid into the passenger seat.
“Haha, very funny. Ok so I’m not used to this obviously. I haven’t worked in forever!”
“No, I haven’t worked in forever. You’re just slacking.”
He drove us towards Kiddie Kare as the conversation changed to the same subject we’d discussed the last four months. “All I’m saying, Zo is with you not accepting anything from Drake, having a little extra cushion from a loving friend wouldn’t hurt.”
“Vincent I appreciate everything you’ve done for Chris and me, but I don’t want your money. You’ve given us a place to stay and that’s much more than you needed to do. I want to try having a ‘normal’ life. Something I don’t really know much about since becoming a witch, but for CJ’s sake, I’m going to try my damndest.”
We stopped outside the colorful building and Vincent pulled into one of the empty spots near the door. He grabbed Vanessa and I unstrapped Chris and we took them inside the school.
“You must be Mr. and Mrs. Steele,” the woman said walking from behind the counter as we entered.
“Not quite,” Vincent smiled. “My last name is Levesque and this bundle of red-haired joy is Vanessa. She’s Mrs. Steele.”
“And this is Christopher,” I said squeezing him tighter. He giggled as I nearly crushed the life out of him. I blew on his belly and he pulled my face away and kissed me.
“We’re waiting on you in classroom B,” she said pointing the direction down the hall.
“Thank you.” We made our way down to the class and I stopped outside the door. “Ok Chris, who’s the man of the house?”
“Me!” Chris smiled pointing to himself.
“Remember what we discussed?”
“No magic at cool.”
He looked over at Vanessa. “No biting.”
“You get that Ness?” Vincent asked.
She shook her head enthusiastically.
“Are you going to be Daddy’s Angel and be on your best behavior too?”
“Ah course Daddy,” she smiled.
He blew kisses into her cheek and she giggled.
The teachers’ aide came to grab the two from the door and I watched a little longer as CJ and Vanessa immediately headed to the activities table with the other children.
Vincent and I exited the building and I froze near the door. “You’re here aren’t you?” I asked.
“Not you, Vincent.”
“You know I used to do this every day for 23 years with you, and not once did you ever know I was near. I’m either losing my touch or you’re just used to the idea of me being close,” Drake said stepping out from behind the rose bushes near the door.
“Vincent.” They acknowledged each other.
“I’ll be at the car,” Vincent said excusing himself.
I turned to face him. “What are you doing here?”
“It’s Christopher’s first day of school Zoe! Did you really expect me to miss that?”
I started towards the car and he jumped in front of me.
“How’ve you been?”
“Fine, thank you.”
“Zoe? Baby please. When are we going to end this? I want you to come home. I miss you,” he said stepping closer.
“Can you really say you haven’t missed me too?” his hand rubbed my cheek.
I closed my eyes feeling his touch on my face. I did miss him, more than words could say. But there was no way I’d feel safe returning back to the house knowing he was still with Karver.
I pulled away from him. “Chris and I are fine. I have him and he has me and it’s been nice not having to look over our shoulders for monsters of every size, shape and color coming for him.”
“Do you need anything?”
“No, we don’t need anything from you.”
“Zoe stop that! Ok, fine, I know I fucked up. I get that. But Chris is my son. I love him, I love you and I want to be there for the both of you!”
“Then stop making deals with monsters that are trying to kill us! Look, I have to go, Drake, I don’t have time to argue with you I’m going to be late for work.”
“And that’s what I don’t get! Why are you working? You’re still on the accounts! Even though we’re not together right now, I can still provide for my family.”
“Again, we don’t need anything from you, Drake. We can make it fine on our own.”
I jumped into the car and Vincent drove me to Inkstainz, Inc., Prints and Publishing Company.
“Ok Zo, play nice with the humans and don’t use any magic,” he laughed.
“Would you like for me to slap you now or later Vincent?”
“Oh tempting, but I think I’ll pass altogether,” he smiled. “Have fun in there, Zo. Call me and I’ll be back when you get off.”
“Thanks again Vincent. I’ll have my own transportation soon and you won’t have to worry about this.”
“I love this, Zo, so take your time on your own wheels!”
I closed the door and he drove off as I headed inside the building.
The little blonde kid had been annoying Christopher since he took a seat on the floor next to Vanessa. She seemed fine with the child that wanted to share all of his toys with her, but CJ was not pleased.
He handed Vanessa a little yellow car and she smiled. Chris snatched the toy and threw it across the room. “Chris? It’s not nice to throw things,” Mrs. Grant said grabbing the toy and returning it to Vanessa. “Play nice or you’re getting a time out.”
For naptime, he moved his pillow closer to her and played peek-a-boo as the others tried to sleep. CJ was not impressed; in fact he was mad and pouting. Vanessa didn’t want to play with him all day because of the blonde kid. He did everything he could think of to get her attention, but she was more into watching the idiot kid and his fat hands cover his eyes.
Then during lunch, the little blonde was back. He broke his snack cake in half and gave a piece to Vanessa. She turned her nose up at it and threw it to the ground. Her actions confused him and he pulled her hair and made her cry.
Chris was happy, it was finally what he was waiting for, a reason to show the kid who he was messing with. When no one was looking, CJ waved his hands and knocked the child’s bottle over, sending his lunch into his lap and making him wet his pants.
“Aww Billy,” Mrs. Grant said rushing over to help him up.
Billy, CJ thought taking note of the name. Billy just became public enemy number one, messing with his Vanessa was a no-no and he declared war; a war CJ knew he’d win.
“Zoe! I was wondering if you forgot about us,” Giovanni Luciano yelled across the room. He was the owner and operator for “Inks. Inc.” as he affectionately called it. The room burst into laughter and I walked over to join him at the plotting table.
“Sorry about that, my son started his first day at…,”
“It’s fine, you don’t owe me an explanation,” he smiled tenderly. “I wanted to show you something.”
He walked me down the hall to another room mostly filled with paint supplies and through a door just on the other side of the storage closet.
My mouth dropped as I walked in. The room was filled with painting supplies, an easel, palette, empty canvases and a window with a view.
There was a table near the back wall with paints of every color, brushes of every size, coal and pencils; enough supplies to keep a starving artist well fed for months.
“How is this hiding behind that room?”
“Because I figured it wouldn’t really have a use. The majority of the people on my staff are either blueprint designers or marketing and advertising executives. You’re actually the first real artist I’ve hired.”
“‘Real artist’? Yeah right. Wouldn’t that mean I’ve actually been recognized for my talent?”
“But you have, by me. I really love your work, Zoe. This is why I’m expanding your work area.” He said extending his arms.
“This is for me?”
“Not only that, I have requests for you from several galleries in town, they want to showcase a few new artists and well, I may have told them about a hidden gem I had working for me.”
“Gio! I don’t know what to say!”
“Well you can try: ‘Thank you, Gio, you’re the best ever!’ or something to that effect.”
I laughed. “Of course I’m absolutely grateful! Giovanni, you ARE the best,” I smiled.
“I’ll leave the list for you on expectations for each gallery and you can get to work right away. I’m excited to see what you do.”
“Wait, what about my other projects?”
“Are you kidding? Zoe, you were wasting away on billboard art. I can put someone else on it; you get to work on what you really do. If you need anything, my office is always open.”
His eyes stayed locked on mine a little before he exited the room.
I turned towards the palette and easel near the window. It overlooked the back of the lot, and I could clearly see sections of downtown from the second floor room.
I tossed my bag to the corner of the room and pulled the easel nearer the window. I then grabbed the edge of the table to reorganize a few things in and around me for a perfect setup. Giovanni was back in the room with the list and rushed over to help.
“I got that for you,” he smiled. He moved the table adjacent to the easel and window and I began placing the paints in numbered and colored order.
“This is what the three locations are expecting.”
I read over the list, “Sunday Afternoon Replica, landscape and still-life.”
“Make me proud.” His words floated out the door behind him.
I started working on the first on the list, the paint seemed to splash mindlessly around the canvas, not really taking shape and I quickly scrapped it. I pulled out a fresh canvas and tried again.
Hours later, the subject of the painting soon took form and I felt alive as the brush worked its magic over the cloth; reminding me of the reasons I’d ventured to Bridgeport so long ago.
Giovanni joined me and looked over my shoulder. “That’s really good, Zoe!”
“It’s far from done though.”
He looked around. “There isn’t a clock in here and I apologize for that, I’ll get one tomorrow. But for now, it’s all the time I intend on paying you for.”
I laughed. “So you’re telling me no overtime and kicking me out?”
“In as polite a way I can!” He had a great smile and made the work environment plenty enjoyable. The relaxed atmosphere promoted free flow thinking and inspired everyone to work their best. I believed it to be his way of encouraging creativity and it worked.
I placed the easel near the wall before walking over to the sink to wash the excess paint from my hands; if I could.
I grabbed my bag and headed for the exit. Gio turned the lights off behind me and I noticed everyone else had already left for the evening.
“Have dinner with me,” Giovanni said walking out with me.
I turned to face him and he flashed a set of perfect teeth.
“I can’t, Gio,” I said noticing immediately the disappointment in his eyes.
“Why not? I have no hopes, no expectations; I just want to feed you.”
“I appreciate the offer, really I do, Giovanni, but I’m…”
“Married!” Drake said walking up behind us.
“Drake? What are you doing here?”
“What I do best, protecting you from jerks like this!”
“He’s my boss Drake, please, just get out of here.
“Fine, let’s go,” he said grabbing my hand. I quickly jerked my arm away.
“YOU can leave now, Drake. I’m waiting for my ride.”
“I can take you home,” Gio said. “Zoe?” he motioned for me to lead the way to his car.
Drake grabbed his shoulder and spun him to face him. “Stay the fuck away from my wife!”
Gio took my hand in his and walked with me anyway.
Drake pushed him away, Gio tripped and Drake immediately pounced on him. It wasn’t long before he had him gurgling on his own blood.
“Drake stop it! Get off of him!” I yelled pulling at him.
He pushed me away and I fell on my ankle. The pain was dull but still very present.
Drake stood over him and kicked him a few times in his ribs. I heard Gio yelp in pain as Drake’s boots found their mark over and over again.
I quickly tossed Drake towards the other side of the lot with magic. I rushed over to Giovanni. His nose was bloodied, his eye was darkened and his lip was busted.
I gasped and helped him up. “Gio!”
“What the hell is his problem?”
I turned to find him heading back towards us and tossed him quickly before hurrying Gio to his car. He hopped into the driver’s seat and motioned for me to join him.
I got into the passenger seat and he drove off in the direction of the hospital. After he was all patched up, he rolled off the table and looked at me. “So I know it’s probably none of my business, but why did you marry that guy?”
“Giovanni, I’m very sorry about what happened. I can’t begin to tell you how much I regret his actions. He isn’t like that.”
“He isn’t? Well he convinced me! He seemed right at home knocking me around, Zoe. Has he ever hit you?”
“Me? No. He’d never do that.”
“Are you sure?”
“Of course, he is a very loving man; lately though, I don’t know.” I looked at my feet as Gio put his shirt back on.
He walked closer as he buttoned up to the last three again. “Have dinner with me.”
“You owe me,” he smiled. “Come on, nothing fancy, just two friends, co-workers, colleagues enjoying one another’s company over a nice linguine.”
I bit my lip and nodded. “I have to make arrangements for my son first.”
“Great! Let’s get out of here. I have a standing table at Donatello’s.”
“Donatello’s? That’s not casual, Gio.”
“It can be you don’t have to change or anything. The table is private, so no worries. Besides I’m Italian! It’s the only place in this city that makes a decent white sauce!”
He led me back down to his car and drove over to the restaurant. I dialed Vincent and asked him to sit with Chris until I could pick him up. He seemed apprehensive at first but agreed.
“How long have you and he been separated?” he asked once we were seated.
“What makes you think we’re separated?”
“Just an idea I got from his behavior.”
I avoided his gaze, looking at the art around the room.
“If you don’t want to talk about it, we can change the subject Zoe.”
“No, it’s fine. It’s been four months. He and I just had different ideas on how to raise our son. I refused to allow him to treat him as anything other than a child. I didn’t want him to grow up too fast and feared for his safety.”
“Well it sounds like you were justified. How long have you been married?”
“A little over two years,” I sighed.
Gio covered my hand with his. “I’m sorry, Zoe. Let’s talk about something else. You; How long have you been painting?”
“Since I was a kid. It’s something I’ve always loved to do.”
“It was the reason I moved here. I wanted to pursue a career in the field.”
“Well you’re really good! I’m surprised you haven’t reached superstar level yet,” he smiled. His thumb rubbed across the back of my hand as he spoke.
Zoe, if he touches you again, I’m going to kill him and I’m not kidding. I heard Drake’s voice in my head.
“Can you excuse me for a minute?” I stood from the table and walked outside.
“Drake? I know you’re here. Come out!”
He sauntered up behind me. “What is this? Are you trying to hurt me Zoe? Do I really deserve this?”
“This has nothing to do with you, Drake!”
“How can you say that? I’m your husband and you’re out on a date with some…asshole! This has EVERYTHING to do with me!”
“I’m not on a date! And you had no right to hit him like you did!”
“I had every right! The guy rubs me the wrong way, Zoe. He knows you’re married and yet he is still hounding you. I don’t like him. And I can’t put my finger on it but I can sense he’s up to no good.”
“He’s my boss, Drake. We’re only friends. And I am perfectly capable of handling myself!”
I turned towards the door and he pressed me up against the wall. “Wait, don’t go. Please, just talk with me. I’m sorry I flipped out; I’ve been dying without you Zoe. Every day is a new hell to face alone.”
Having his body so close to mine was killing me. His hands rubbed gently on my sides and his face was mere inches from mine. His lips lightly touched my mouth as he spoke. “Tell me you don’t miss me.”
“That doesn’t matter! There is still the issue with Karver.”
“There is no danger there, Zoe. I promise you.”
“Even still Drake, you continue to trust these people; you make deals with them before talking to me about them and that alone causes issues. I won’t expose Chris to that place again, ever. Not even a little through you!”
“Baby I won’t let that happen, just come home. Please?”
“I don’t know. I still need some time.”
He sighed and looked at his feet momentarily. “Chris misses me, I watch him sometimes. I can see the sadness in his eyes.”
“We both miss you Drake.”
“Yeah?” he smiled. “I knew it.”
He continued pressing me into the wall. His arm wrapped tight around my back. He kissed my forehead tenderly and trailed his lips down my cheek. He nudged my head back with his mouth to bring my lips up to meet his. His tongue flicked around mine and caused me to moan as his hands tightened on my waist.
I let myself enjoy his touch. I wrapped my arms around his neck and he rubbed his hand up my thigh and wrapped my leg around his back.
He pushed me deeper into the corner of the building and his mouth fell to my neck. His tongue licked down my chest as his hand roughly groped at my breasts. “I love you Zoe.”
I ran my hands through his hair and pulled his face back to mine. I bit into his lip and licked at the blood now trickling from his mouth. He hungrily sucked on my tongue as his hands worked up my shirt.
I rubbed my hands down his back and pulled his shirt off over his head and he immediately resumed his position into me. His erection pressed against my thigh and I begged him forward, wrapping my other leg around his waist and inching him closer to me.
I unbuttoned his jeans and he moaned in my ear. I rubbed my hand along the outside of his pants, caressing his hardness through the denim. “Tell me you want me,” he whispered against my neck as his mouth tenderly sucked the exposed flesh. “I do, I want you Drake.”
He pulled back and lowered his pants just enough to release the pressure before moving back towards me. He looked up at me and his eyes flashed red, freezing me in place. “Wait! Stop…please.” I said pushing away from him. “I can’t do this, I’m sorry. Please, just give me the space I need.”
“Zoe wait! The fire, the thing with my eyes…I can’t help that…it’s who I am now!”
“And that’s who we’re running from!”
I straightened my clothes and wiped his blood from my face before walking back inside.
“There you are! I was about to send a search team for you,” Giovanni smiled.
“Sorry about that, I had to call and check on my son.”
“You’re not hungry are you?”
I shook my head no. “I’m more worried about Chris right now.”
“Alright, I’ll take you home, but you owe me a dinner!”
He dropped me off outside of the house and I quickly entered and found Vincent asleep in the living room as Vanessa and CJ played at his feet.
“Wow, you guys toppled the standing giant!”
I stood over him and he jumped as he came to.
“Hey Zo. How was your date?” he asked with a hint of bitterness.
“It wasn’t a date! Man I tell ya…you and Drake are like peas in a pod! Giovanni is my boss and I felt bad after what Drake did to him, so I agreed to dinner.”
“What did he do?”
“Bashed his head into the cement! Drake has really lost it and his behavior is only increasing in rage it seems.”
“But that didn’t stop you from kissing him.”
He pointed to his nose. “His scent and blood is all over you. Zo, if you’re going to give him another chance then call him and work it out. Otherwise, you’re just fucking with his emotions and that’s not fair to anyone involved.”
“Are we still talking about Drake?”
He pursed his lips and stood to stretch.
He pulled me into his arms and caressed my face, brushing hair into place and behind my ear. “You know I love you. And if there was a chance you and I could be together…”
I nodded understanding his train of thought. “I have to figure things out, Vincent.”
“I know.” He kissed my cheek and grabbed Vanessa. “We’ll see you in the morning. Don’t be late!” he smiled as he exited the door.
Drake walked into the bedroom and dropped his weight on the mattress. The springs groaned under his body as he adjusted to face the side his wife would occupy.
“She’s not coming back any time soon, if ever, Vampire.”
He looked up slightly and glared at her before returning to his thoughts. “Evelyn, what are you doing in here?”
“I came to give you what you’ve desired.”
She crawled into the bed next to him.
He quickly grabbed her and pulled her to her feet. “Don’t!” his hands rubbed into her wrists roughly and she grinned.
“You know I enjoy it when you manhandle me like that!” Evelyn sneered.
He quickly released her from his grip and pushed away from her.
“You want to play that game again? You know I’ll get what I want before I leave. Like always, your hard-on sweetens the air,” she said rubbing her knee into his crotch. “I know you want what I’m offering.”
He turned from her and felt her hands rub his back. “It’s not happening, Evelyn. Get out of here before I make you regret ever stepping foot in the door.”
“Mmm that’s what I came for, Drake!”
She stepped in front of him and caressed his chest. “I can make you happy, Drake. You and I can be very good together. I can show you tricks you’ve never even imagined!”
“Don’t you miss my lips on you?” she asked slowly teasing him with the ball of her hand before unleashing the pressure building behind his zipper.
He looked at her, his eyes glaring; large pools of fire set on her as her hand caressed his stiffness. She dropped to her knees in front of him as thoughts of Zoe invaded his mind.