Walking After Midnight



Lois Cloarec Hart


For my beloved Pumpkin Master.

With thanks to my wonderful beta readers: Day, Betty and Carol.

It hadn’t been her idea to go to the stupid Halloween party. Gem had planned to stay home with a Boris Karloff retrospective on cable, and a big bowl of miniature chocolate bars to give out to trick-or-treaters. Liz had literally twisted her arm for weeks, and even then Gem wasn’t going to give in, until her best friend had delivered the coup de grace: Kate Christensen was going to be at Toni and Becca's house for the party, too.

That had sealed it. Gem had been carrying a torch for Kate for almost as long as she could remember. They had attended the same high school and even been in some of the same classes, but Gem had only worshiped from afar. Even all these years later, she still remembered each time Kate had casually greeted her or nodded in her direction, and she cherished the memory of the day that Kate had asked her for some history notes.

Gem regretted having agreed to go to the party almost as soon as she impulsively said yes, but her friend refused to let her back out. Liz made it patently clear that she was tired of Gem coasting on her threadbare memories for over a decade. She insisted that the Halloween party would be the perfect opportunity to see if there could be something more than mere one-sided fantasy between the two graduates of Hemingway High.

There wouldn't be. Gem knew that long before she had reluctantly shown up at Liz's door earlier that evening with her costume in an old dry cleaning bag. She was painfully aware that she was a dreamer, not a doer. As a teenager she had wanted to be a doctor, but instead, after high school she had become a nurse's aide. She had imagined traveling to Africa to work with Doctors Without Borders, but had settled for working in the Mansfield Retirement Village. Once, visions of exotic faraway places had filled her head, but she had yet to venture farther than the borders of her home state. And as for love...well, that was the dream most unlikely of all to come true.

Kate was not meant for one such as her. Golden Kate, who had run track so well that she had won a full scholarship to UCLA, and would've made the '96 Olympic team, except for a broken ankle suffered during trials. Popular Kate, who had been the universal choice for Homecoming Queen, and who had boys and girls flocking about her in crowds so thick that Gem couldn't have penetrated them even if she had dared to try. Brainy Kate, who – when her Olympic dreams were dashed – went on to medical school and, much to everyone's surprise, returned to her hometown to do her residency.

It had been easier in high school, when Gem watched Kate date a succession of similarly athletic golden boys, and she'd accepted that Kate would never be interested in her because she wasn't gay. But Kate had brought a girlfriend back with her from the west coast when she began her residency, and Gem's old rationalization was no longer a good excuse. The girlfriend was an excellent justification for Gem not pursuing her high school crush, for a short while at least, until Kate broke up with her, and then there was the succession of women that the rising young doctor dated. Naturally, Gem would never dream of trying to break up a couple, and there was rarely time enough between relationships for her to even say hi to Kate, let alone ask her out.

When she had sensibly pointed out all these things to Liz, her best friend had merely grinned. Miracle of miracles, Kate was currently completely unattached, and the grapevine had it that she would be going to the party solo.

Gem had seen the determined look on Liz's face, and knew that there was just no way her friend was going to let her waffle out of making an effort this time. She knew that if she didn't present herself at Liz's apartment at the appointed time, her friend would come after her and drag her kicking and screaming to the party. Weakly rationalizing that Liz would undoubtedly be giving all her attention to Sandy, her current inamorata who was going to be waiting for her at Toni and Becca's, she gave up her argument. Once Liz was distracted, she would quietly slink to the nearest corner and nibble on peanuts until she could make an unobtrusive exit.

That plan in place, she decided to make the best of the situation. If nothing else, she could watch Kate from a distance and perhaps take home a new fantasy or two with which to lull herself to sleep. Not that she had ever run out of fantasies. Between the hours of eleven and midnight every night, she and Kate had sailed the South Pacific, soared to the stars, skied the Austrian Alps, and rescued innumerable fair maidens from countless villains. They had saved the world so many times, that were it not for their modest natures, the UN would've erected massive monuments to them in New York. Oh, and the lovemaking they had indulged in! Kate just couldn't seem to get enough of Gem, and was forever seducing her – to the envy of glamorous men and women alike. Sometimes Kate would have to woo her away from another, and sometimes their eyes would simply meet across a crowded room, but always these two soul mates would find each other, whatever the obstacles.

Gem had never actually had a lover, but she did have a vivid imagination and a prodigious appetite for lesbian romances. Having seen her friends endure the roller coaster that was all too often love, she wasn't sure that she needed anything more. Real life was just far too messy for her taste. She was even more convinced of that after this All Hallows Eve.

It all started when Liz insisted that she wear a costume. Because it took so long to talk Gem into going to the party, there were only a couple of days left and very few Halloween costumes remaining in rental shops. Unable to find anything remotely flattering, she decided to cobble together a vampire costume. Those creatures of the night at least had a romantic aura to them, and for a brief moment, Gem imagined looking so suave and sophisticated that she would manage to catch Kate's admiring eye. Then reality set in.

She borrowed her older brother's wedding tux, which – being of a parsimonious nature – he had acquired from a buddy at a funeral home. Gem didn't ask where it had originated from, feeling that was information best left buried. The suit was shiny with age, and more virescent than black, but once she stapled the trouser legs and jacket arms up eight inches, and attached suspenders, she could at least wear it. The cummerbund was somewhat tattered and a rather repulsive baby blue colour, but at least the white shirt, taken from her own closet, was presentable. Finding a cape was more difficult. She didn't have the skill to make one, nor the time to find a seamstress who was available. Finally she settled on her mother's old nursing cape. It was blue, not black, but at least it was red sateen on the inside, even if it lacked the panache of a full-length cape. Her old Doc Martens, polished for the occasion, completed the outfit, and when she gelled her short, curly brown hair back, darkened her eyebrows, and applied powder to her face for the pale, gaunt effect, she felt downright dashing, despite the thick glasses without which she couldn't see beyond her own nose. That was, until she exited the bathroom and Liz nearly keeled over laughing.

It took a good ten minutes of heartfelt apologies and assurances that she looked fine for Liz to repair the damage to Gem's fragile ego, and the would-be vampire still slunk into the party staring at her feet and refusing to meet anyone's eyes. Even without looking up, she had no problem picking out Kate's location. Judging by the volume of voices and the density of the crowd, she had no doubt that the doctor was holding court over by the fireplace. She proved unexpectedly resolute in resisting Liz's importunate urging to go over and say hi to Kate, until finally her best friend threw up her hands in disgust and set out in search of Sandy.

Gem heaved a sigh of relief as she watched Liz's black witch's hat bobble away through the crowd, and she set an immediate course for the darkest corner she could find. She had to dodge a number of amorous couples, but she was finally successful in claiming a relatively quiet corner for herself. Much to her delight, she discovered that she had a good sightline to the fireplace…and Kate's retinue. Or at least she would've, if she weren't so vertically impaired. Even her boots only added a couple of inches to her scant five feet, and it was frustrating to only catch an occasional glimpse of the tall, ash blonde pirate queen, who had a redhead draped over her shoulders, and a chattering throng of women around her.

The ersatz vampire ignored the fleeting pain of seeing Kate's multitude of worshipers. She was too much of a realist to ever picture herself as one of that crowd. Later tonight she would concoct a bedtime story of how Kate had immediately divested herself of all admirers as soon as Gem had entered the room, rushing over to greet the newcomer – to the dismay of every other woman in the room. Gem hadn't decided if her bedtime story would find her playing hard to get, thereby making her flirtatious lover pay for being so irresistible to other women, or if she would coolly accept Kate's adulation as her due and allow herself to be fawned over all evening. Truth be told, she would probably play out both scenarios in her mind, and fall asleep long before she reached the denouement of either version.

For now, though, she had to solve the height problem. The corner that she had staked out abutted a built-in bookcase, and she turned to survey the contents by the atmospherically flickering light of candles that reflected from every nook in the room. Spying a large book on the bottom shelf, Gem bent to tug it out. It was an encyclopedia or a dictionary of some kind, but the most important thing was that it was six or seven inches thick, and when the diminutive vampire set it on the floor and stood on it, her view improved significantly.

She immediately spotted Toni and Becca, the hosts of the annual shindig, over by the kitchen door, shuttling trays of hors d'oeuvres out to the hungry throng. In the corner opposite her, Liz had found her Sandy, and was nibbling on the bared shoulder of her Russian Countess. Here and there Gem picked out friends and acquaintances, even through the elaborate costumes, but finally her eyes turned to the fireplace as irresistibly as a moth to a flame.

Much to her shock, Kate was looking right back at her, eyes sparkling with laughter and a small grin on her face. Gem just about fell off her book-perch in shock, and she quickly looked away, sure she was mistaken about the doctor noticing her. Pretending to be listening to a group of women next to her, she surreptitiously glanced out of the corner of her eye, only to find that though Kate was ostensibly listening to the redhead hanging on her shoulder, and even answering her admirer from time to time, her gaze was still directed in Gem's direction.

Abruptly, Gem slid off the book. Trembling, she knelt to replace the makeshift footstool back on the shelf and remained huddled on the floor until someone almost tripped over her. Apologizing, she stood and pressed back against the wall. This time she was grateful that the crowd obscured her vision, as her frantic thoughts matched her erratic breathing. It was one thing to admire Kate anonymously from afar, but she didn't think she could stand it if Kate actually noticed her, and worst of all, was amused by Gem's unmistakable hero worship. She didn't know what to do: whether it would be best to slip out now, or play it cool and hang around until Kate's attention was firmly back on her conquest de jour.

Agonized, Gem simply stood in her corner, frozen with indecision and frequently buffeted by increasingly inebriated partygoers. She had no idea how much time had passed, but her numbed instincts had rebounded enough that her customary flight response was activated. Determined to leave the party posthaste, the small vampire began to fight her way through the crowd.

Feeling like a salmon swimming upstream...in a very, very crowded stream, Gem finally spied an opening and bolted it for it. Unfortunately that maneuver deposited her in the kitchen rather than the front hallway, but at least the crowd was thinner there and she could regroup for another attempt.

"Hey, Gem! I'm glad you could make it. Geez, what a madhouse, huh? You'd think we'd have learned from last year, but then, at least the cops haven't shown up this time–at least not yet."

Gem smiled weakly at Toni, who was extracting something that looked like cheese puffs from the oven.

"It is a bit crowded. Um, I was just going to..."

Toni slid the hot pastries onto a tray and thrust them into Gem's hands.

"Be a dear and take these out to the living room, will ya? And if you see Becca, tell her we need another case of mix from the basement. Thanks, G."

Bemused, Gem watched Toni grab a towel and hustle over to where a drunk had spilled beer all over the counter, the floor, and a fellow guest.

Oh well, I've got to head out in that direction anyway. I'll just dump this on the nearest horizontal surface and get out of here.

Shielding the tray with one arm, Gem dodged three guests, did a neat spin around two more, and ended up in the doorway of the kitchen, the cheese puffs intact. As she scanned the tray to ensure she hadn't lost any errant pastries during her fancy footwork, she realized someone had moved to stand in front of her, blocking the entrance to the living room.

She was about to excuse herself and duck around the roadblock when she realized that it was Kate standing in front of her, one hand on her sword and a rakish grin on her face as she regarded Gem.

"I see they pressed you into service. Funny, you don't look like hired help, though I must say I wouldn't mind seeing you in a French maid's outfit."

Gem was speechless. Had Kate just flirted with her? She shook her head slightly, half expecting the pirate's image to fade as surely as her nighttime fantasies did, but no, those blue eyes were still twinkling at her.

Seemingly recognizing that Gem's power of speech had deserted her for the moment, Kate looked over the tray and selected a pastry. "Do you mind?"

"Um, no... Please, help yourself." Gem watched in fascination as Kate juggled the hot cheese puff before dropping it back on the tray.

"Damn! Those things are hot!" Kate sucked on her fingers, wincing.

Bad brain! Stop that right now! Gem blushed and dropped her gaze. "Sorry. They just came out of the oven."

Kate chuckled. "My fault. I'm always getting my fingers in where they don't belong. Nearly lost a thumb when I was assisting on an appendectomy last week."

Say something, you idiot! Something...suave, amusing... Hell, anything! "I should probably get these out there while they're still hot." Oh yeah, that was impressive. She'll definitely want to hang around and chat you up now.

Gem focused on her tray, wishing that Kate would just let her by, but the doctor didn't move. Finally, unable to bear the silence, the petite vampire looked up to see that she was being watched rather intently. She shifted restlessly, wondering what she should say or do, but nothing came to mind.

"I saw you in Riverside last week."

Gem often saw Kate in the hospital, but was surprised that the doctor had noticed her. "Um, yeah, I had to take Mrs. Greenside over for an appointment. She's a resident at Mansfield, where I work."

"I know. I've seen you bring others over before. Hey, how come you never stop to say hi? I'd even buy you a cup of coffee, if you had the time, not that I'd blame you for ducking hospital swill."

A question about why she never dropped in at the White House couldn't have shocked her more. Gem was literally speechless, and her expression reflected her surprise.

"What? Can't two old high school friends sit and share a cup of java?" The tone was light, but there was an underlying challenge in Kate's words.

Guests flowed around them as they stood to the side of the doorway, and Gem wished desperately that she could melt into the crowd and be swept away from this woman. She felt like such a fool. None of her books and none of her fantasies had prepared her for this actuality. She began to wonder if Kate was mocking her, and a rising disquiet gave her the courage to speak. Meeting the doctor's gaze squarely for the first time, she said quietly, "Friends? We barely knew each other in school."

"And why was that?" The challenge was now unmistakable.

Gem couldn't help laughing. That was like asking why a bit player wasn't invited to share a superstar's spotlight. Before she could answer though, a long arm snaked over Kate's shoulder and a hand stole inside her ruffled pirate's blouse. The small vampire dropped her eyes from the sight of a breast being fondled, missing the unmistakable irritation that flashed on the doctor's face.

"Darling, where did you get to? I've been waiting for my drink for forever. I could die of thirst, you know."

The redhead's words were slurred and petulant, but the air of possession was unmistakable. With a curt nod, Gem slipped away. Skirting the edge of the room, she found a corner of a hutch to set the tray on. Glancing back at the kitchen doorway, she saw that Kate had turned and was now holding the redhead up, even though her gaze had followed the vampire's hasty retreat.

When the redhead began rubbing herself suggestively against the doctor's body, Gem decided that she'd had enough and began plowing determinedly through the crowd to the front door and out into the night air. Closing the door behind her, she was brought up short as she tried to walk away.


Frustrated, Gem struggled to release her short cape before it strangled her. Finally she accepted that she was going to have to reopen the door to extricate the stubborn piece of material.

"Damn it! So much for making a smooth exit."

Heaping curses on her best friend's head for ever having convinced her to go to the party in the first place, Gem opened the door as quietly as she could, only to find that the mass of people inside had flowed into the front hallway, and she could barely open the door wide enough to retrieve her bedraggled cape.

Music, smoke, the noise of a hundred different conversations, and the complaints of those women she had to nudge back to open the door floated over her head as she tugged herself free of her inadvertent leash. Resisting the urge to slam the door in frustration, she closed it quietly, adjusted her glasses, and made her way down the long flight of stairs.

She had barely reached the sidewalk when people began spilling out onto the veranda. Not wanting to answer any questions about why she was leaving the lively Halloween party when it was barely midnight, Gem hastened across the street to the cemetery that had served as a final home to many of the old port's residents through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

A heavy rain earlier in the evening had given way to thick, humid air and a wispy, ankle level fog, but Gem barely gave the oppressive atmosphere a thought as she passed under the familiar stone archway. She had spent her whole life in this town, and the Atlantic fogs that regularly rolled in over the port were as familiar to her as her own name. Nor did the thought of crossing the cemetery faze her, for the dilapidated tombstones and barely legible inscriptions were old friends, too. As children, she and her siblings had played hide and seek, tag, and Red Rover over the acres of ancient oaks, Spanish moss and granite tributes to those long dead. Later in life, she had found peace in the quiet beauty of the place, as she walked the stone paths, dreaming of aspirations, of possibilities, and of love – that most elusive and ephemeral of treasures. It would no more occur to her to fear the cemetery than to fear her own backyard.

Remarkably, the graveyard had never even produced any satisfactory tales of haunts or restless spirits. Even mischievous schoolboy tales spun on Halloweens past to scare impressionable schoolgirls had failed to stick. The cemetery remained a singularly quiet and uneventful place. There had not been any burials there for more than fifty years, as the old site had long ago run out of available plots, and an expansive new resting place had been opened up on the outskirts of the city.

Now, as her feet trod the familiar paths, Gem reluctantly considered the evening. In her mind, it had been an unmitigated disaster. She had convinced herself that Kate was making fun of her, though she had no idea what had prompted the unprecedented and unwelcome attention. Perhaps she hadn't been as subtle as she thought. Perhaps the doctor had noticed her fascination and decided to have a little fun with her.

Whatever the reason, Gem was simply glad to be out of there and heading home for a hot shower and a warm bed. Lost in her reflections on the evening, the small vampire nearly missed seeing the figure leaning against one of the oak trees watching her.

Startled to realize she wasn't alone, she almost bolted before noticing that the figure was a woman who was regarding her with a smile.

"God! You scared the heck out of me!"

"I'm sorry. I certainly didn't mean to." The voice was smooth and smoky, redolent of whiskey, cigarettes, and nights spent dancing until dawn.

Gem took a second look and gave a shaky whistle, adrenaline having overridden her usual reticence. "Wow! Your costume is great! And do you ever carry it off well! Damn, I wish I looked half as good."

The stranger smiled again, casually dismissing her outfit with a languid wave. "This old thing? Well, it serves its purpose, I suppose. It is fun to dress up now and then, isn't it?"

Shaking her head in admiration, Gem surveyed the slim, elegant figure wonderingly. It was like the woman had just stepped out of central casting as a female Bela Lugosi. Her high collared cloak swept almost to the ground, and flashes of scarlet could be seen as she moved. Her tuxedo was impeccably tailored, fitting the woman like a glove, and the snowy ruffle of her shirt was so brilliant it almost glowed. Her shoes did glow, the polish on them mirror bright. She was a vision, and her short, black hair, intense dark eyes, and regal carriage only added to the aura of mystery and romance.

Noticing something, Gem approached the stranger diffidently. "If you don't mind me asking, is that the way the cummerbund is supposed to go? I wasn't sure if the ruffles were supposed to go up or down."

Amused, the stranger fingered the scarlet silk around her narrow waist. "I believe the original intent of this rather useless piece of material was to have the ruffles up. Perhaps it was to catch crumbs dropped by careless noblemen as they dined, do you think?"

Gem considered that for a moment, then shrugged. "Why not? It's as good an explanation as any." She glanced down at her own outfit disparagingly. "Good thing you weren't at the same party I was; I'd have had to flee in shame." Then, remembering the circumstances that had caused her to run away, her face fell, and she turned back onto the path. She was surprised when the stranger fell into step beside her, but assumed that the other woman was simply crossing the cemetery, too.

They walked in silence for a short while, before the stranger spoke. "What is your name, if I may ask?"

"Gem St. Claire."

"Is it short for anything? Gemma perhaps?"

"No, just Gem. My mother has a jewel fetish. She even named one of my sisters, Ruby and the other..."

"Let me guess, Pearl?"

Gem giggled. "Nope, Opal."

The stranger chuckled. Encouraged, Gem added, "And she named my brother, Cole. She always said he was..."

"A diamond in the rough," they finished together, and their laughter rang out through the night.

Gem felt lighter for the exchange with the stranger, and she didn't object when the taller woman matched her pace along the path that wound through the oldest part of the graveyard, where tombs and mausoleums loomed out of the thickening mist.

"Do you live around here?" Gem didn't think so, but it seemed the polite thing to ask.

"I did once, but I left a long time ago. I travel a lot, rarely staying in one place for long. But I do try and return here once a year or so."

Gem sighed. "I always wanted to travel."

The stranger shrugged. "You can grow tired of it after a time. I believe it is in our nature to always return to a place we have called home."

"You're probably right." Wanting to avoid the uncomfortable silences that always seemed to crop up whenever she tried to carry on small talk, Gem waved her hand to indicate the graves on either side of the path and launched into one of her favourite topics–the history of her hometown. "I was always surprised that this part of the cemetery avoided the ransacking that the Union troops inflicted on the rest of the graveyard. Did you know that soldiers used tombstones to build fire pits, and in some cases they just tossed old bones out and bedded down in the crypts during the winter of 1864?" Gem had always felt indignant at the lack of respect shown her ancestors, though she understood the exigencies of war.

"That was a very cold winter." The stranger's voice was melancholy, and Gem wondered why. "Many of those soldiers never survived to see the spring; some paid for their disrespect with their lives."

That was rather an odd way to look at it, since Gem was sure that starvation and hypothermia were mostly responsible for the Union deaths, but she didn't argue with the stranger. Shyly, she said, "I never got your name."


"That's pretty."

The stranger looked down at her, her dark eyes amused again. "But certainly not as inventive as your mother's choices." She came to an abrupt halt, took a few steps off the pathway, and lightly jumped up to sit on an ornate old mausoleum, inviting Gem to join her by patting the marble beside her. Surprised, but somewhat bedazzled by the glamourous Cleo, the small vampire scrambled up beside her, aided by a strong, helpful hand.

"So what brings you out walking after midnight, Gem?"

It was only later that it would strike Gem how odd it was for two strangers to be sitting on a tomb in the middle of a cemetery carrying on a casual conversation. It would also startle her, in retrospect, that she would be so atypically open about her orientation and her emotions. Now, however, for reasons she would never be able to pinpoint, she responded to the sympathetic warmth of her companion's voice and spilled the whole story of the abortive party. When she wrapped up her woeful tale by recounting her ignominious flight, Cleo just nodded gravely.

"Why do you assume this Kate was making sport of you?"

"You're kidding, right?" Gem looked down bitterly at her costume, clearly seeing its cheesiness.

Cleo tilted her head questioningly. "Is she so shallow then, your Kate, that she would mistake the clothes for the woman?"

"She's not 'my' Kate." Gem made the correction quickly.

"Hmm, then whose Kate is she?"

Gem couldn't prevent the bitterness that coloured her response. "Depends which bimbo she takes home tonight, though my money's on the redhead."

"I believe you mistake affairs of the libido for affairs of the heart, my young friend. Just because your Kate seeks to temporarily slake her lust with whomever is available, does not mean that she gives her heart so readily."

"Don't call her 'my' Kate! She's not my Kate. She'll never BE my Kate!"

Cleo laid a soothing hand on Gem's thigh and instantly she subsided, ashamed of her outburst.

"May I tell you a story, Gem?"

"Mmm hmm."

"Many years ago and not too far from here, a woman lived with her wealthy husband and three young children. She didn't love her husband, for it had been an arranged marriage..."

"An arranged marriage? Exactly how many years ago are we talking about?"

Cleo chuckled. "Tell me, as a child, did you seek to pinpoint precisely what year Hansel and Gretel entered the forest, too?"

Abashed, Gem shook her head. "Sorry. Go ahead. You were saying?"

"As I was saying, the woman did not love her husband, but she did adore her children, and she was moderately contented with her life. She was aware that her husband took mistresses, but it was the fashion of the time, and she did not protest. However, one day someone new entered her life, and a most unexpected thing happened..."

"She fell in love!"

"My dear Gem," Cleo pronounced in mock exasperation, "are you always this impatient?"

Gem drew her thumb and forefinger across her lips, turned an imaginary key, and tossed it over her shoulder, drawing a laugh from her companion.

"Ah, but you are right. She fell in love. She didn't want to, and she certainly hadn't sought out a lover, but she was helpless against the power of her heart. Still, she had been strictly raised, and was bound by the rigid conventions of duty and honour, so she did nothing."

"Nothing?" Having settled in for a wildly romantic story, Gem now frowned in disappointment.

Cleo smiled sadly. "Nothing. She only admired her beloved silently, never daring to speak her heart or make her love known. Until one day, her husband, who had remained totally oblivious, unexpectedly decided he was bored with his wife and sought to install one of his mistresses in her place. His first wife, having become an...inconvenience, was disposed of."

"Divorce, huh? That sucks. I hope she took him for all he was worth, and left nothing for the little floozy taking her place."

"Divorce? Yes, I suppose it was, in a sense. Anyway, the first wife was cast out and lost all: her children, her home, and the one person she truly loved."

"Wait a minute? He cheated on her, and he got to keep the kids? Boy, did she have a lousy lawyer!"

"There were no lawyers involved, Gem, only the precepts of an unequal society. But do not fret. She kept watch over her children from afar, protected and cherished them all their lives. They mourned her and honoured her, and carried her line forward."

"Mourned her? Didn't she have visitation rights at least?"

"She was not in a position to see them regularly, and they were given to understand that their mother had passed on. Their father hoped that thus they would come to accept their stepmother."

"No way! He got away with that?"

Cleo gave a low laugh, and it sent shivers up Gem's spine. "Not really, no. The children despised and resented their new stepmother, and made her life miserable. And as each gained their majority, their mother came to them and told them the whole story. Once all were of an age and able to care for themselves, their father finally paid for his sins."

"Good! But, back up a minute. What happened to the one the woman fell in love with? Did she ever confess her feelings or do anything about them? After all, once her husband dumped her, she must've been free to declare her love."

"She was...indisposed for too long, and when she finally returned, it was too late. Her beloved had been claimed by another, so she withdrew, never having spoken her heart."


The women sat silently, the normal sounds of the night deadened by the thickening fog.

"I guess I know what you're trying to tell me."

"Tell you, Gem? I merely sought to pass a pleasant interval with a new friend by relating a small tale. I would never presume to offer you advice." The amused half smile belied Cleo's dismissal as she gazed off into the fog.

"Yeah, right. Seriously, though, I do understand what you mean, but the circumstances are way different."


Gem jumped down from the marble monument and stood directly in front of the stranger, pushing her glasses back up her nose. Glancing down, she noticed that the staples in her right pant leg had come out and a wad of bedraggled material was bunched around her ankle. Snorting in disgust, she pointed at it. "That's why!"

"Because your pants don't fit?"

The question was mild, but Gem was irritated by Cleo's apparent obliviousness. "Jesus, look at me! Kate can have any woman she wants. She's not going to looking at a myopic, blue-collar runt like me. Hell, I can't even carry off this ridiculous costume!"

She looked enviously at the gorgeous stranger, who was regarding her with an oddly affectionate smile. "If I looked like you..."

"If you looked like me?"

"Yeah, I mean if I looked like I just stepped off of a Vogue cover...well, the Halloween edition, anyway...I could maybe march right up to Kate and ask her out."

Cleo slipped gracefully off the crypt and leaned back against it, hands thrust in her pockets and one ankle crossed casually over the other. She was the picture of insouciant elegance, and Gem shook her head in despair.

"I'm not sure I think much of this Kate if she is as shallow as you say."

"Hey! I didn’t say she was shallow!"

"You tell me that she will bed some woman tonight based solely on how her conquest looks. You tell me that she would never consider you because you are not graced with a similar beauty. This bespeaks a shallow soul to me. I don't believe she is worthy of the thought and devotion you bestow on her. Surely there is another who could claim your heart if you would but allow it."

"Now wait a minute! You're getting the wrong idea about Kate. She's not like that at all. She's warm and friendly and funny and smart..."

"Then you do her an injustice by not allowing her the opportunity to know who you really are."

Gem opened her mouth to protest, then shut it abruptly. She was sure there must be some flaw in Cleo's logic, but for the life of her, she couldn't put her finger on it.

The other woman pressed her advantage. "Surely if your Kate is as admirable as you claim, she would neither mock you nor reject you."


"If you never give her a chance, if you never speak your heart, you will never know what might have been."

Gem hung her head and muttered, "But what if she laughs at me?"

A cool hand reached out and cupped her chin. Gently forced to meet Cleo's eyes, Gem was struck by the urgency in their dark depths. "Believe me when I tell you, my young friend, laughter and finality are profoundly better than never knowing what might have been. If she does indeed reject you, then you have no further excuse to waste your life dreaming about her. Promise me you will take the chance. Tonight! Do not waste another moment."

Hypnotized, Gem just stood staring into Cleo's eyes, until suddenly the stranger's head snapped up and she seemed to listen intently as she peered back down the path. Then with a smile, she stepped back.

"Tell me, Gem. What costume did your Kate wear tonight?"

Still somewhat dazed by the odd exchange, Gem fumbled for an answer. "Uh, she was wearing a pirate outfit, I think. Yeah, that's right. She even had a sword."

"Then I believe your Kate seeks you out. Go to her, Gem."

Stunned, Gem spun around, then, shocked to see Kate striding determinedly out of the mist, she took a few halting steps back towards the path. As the pirate drew closer, the small vampire cast a nervous glance over her shoulder, seeking reassurance from her counselor, only to see that Cleo had disappeared as quietly as she had first appeared.

Disappointed, but reasoning that the sage stranger simply wanted to give her privacy, Gem waited diffidently for Kate. She had no idea why Kate had pursued her, if indeed that's what she was doing, nor did she know if she would be able to summon the nerve to take Cleo's advice, but she sensed the next few moments would be life-altering and she could barely breathe.

"Where the hell did you get to, Gem? I looked all over for the house, for God's sake!"

Gem blinked in surprise at the angry woman in front of her, but before she could say anything, Kate continued.

"You left without answering my question. I think it's way past time that you owe me an answer."

"Um, question?" Gem searched her mind frantically, but whatever words they had spoken in Toni and Becca's kitchen had been wiped from her mind by the memory of the redhead's hand fondling Kate's breast.

Kate's voice softened, but there was still a steely edge to it. "Uh huh. Why aren't we friends? Why do you keep avoiding me? Why have you been avoiding me since high school?"

Gem could almost hear Cleo's voice urging her to speak, and for the first time in her life, she threw shyness and caution to the winds. "I think it would be obvious: we don't live in the same world. You sure as hell didn't need any more friends in school, and from the look of things tonight, you're not exactly suffering from a lack of company now."

Her words were sharper than she had intended, and she saw Kate flinch. Immediately remorseful, she sought to soften their impact. "Aw, look, I like you. A lot. I think you're a really good person. But women like you don't hang with women like me. That's just the way of the world."

"Says who!" Kate shot back. "And what the hell do you mean by 'women like me' and 'women like you?' We're both just women, period, end of sentence."

Gem stared at Kate incredulously. "You can't be serious. Did you notice who was hanging all over you back there?"

The pirate queen sucked in an exasperated breath. "Candice. She isn't exactly the subtle sort, especially when she's had a few, and she'd definitely had more than a few. I was trying to... Look, do you know why I went to that party tonight? Why I traded four weekend shifts just to get tonight off?"

"Because it's the biggest event of the year on the lesbian social calendar?"

"God! Are you really that dense! No, you idiot. I went to that party because Liz promised me that you'd be there too."

Liz? What the...? Oh man, I'm going to kill her! Even as Gem fumed inwardly, a part of her brain began to process what Kate was saying. "You...you went to see me?"

"I went because no matter how often I 'accidentally' run into you in the corridors at Riverside, you never stop to talk. You're driving me crazy! What does it take? Do you want me to chisel it in granite?" Kate looked around. "Guess I'm in the right place for that anyway." Then she turned back expectantly. "Well?"

She came to see me? Gem was having a great deal of difficulty believing she had heard Kate correctly, so she asked cautiously, "Um, well what?"

Shaking her head in disbelief, Kate simply took one step forward, wrapped her hands in the lapels of the old tux, and pulled Gem into a kiss.

The small vampire had nothing to compare it with, but she was sure that as first kisses went, this one was over the top. Heart-stopping, earth-shattering, knee-buckling... Gem was embarrassed when she realized that the moan she heard came from her own lips, but then she heard the raspiness of Kate's breathing and knew that she wasn't the only one affected.

She could have sworn that she heard the sound of delighted laughter echoing dimly in the fog, but then everything else was forgotten as she wrapped her arms around Kate and pulled the willing pirate tight against her body.


Cleo watched the amorous couple as they stumbled off, barely able to stop kissing long enough to take a few steps. Amused, she noted that Gem appeared to be a quick study, and she wondered idly if they would even make it out of the cemetery before Kate's half-buttoned shirt slipped off her shoulders.

"We don't mind, do we? They're welcome to share the night with us."

The soft remark was addressed to the marble mausoleum as she stepped forward out of the darkness she had discreetly melted into on Kate's arrival.

As she trailed her fingers lightly over the engraving that had become almost indistinct with time, her thoughts returned to a different century – a time when her husband's niece had first come to live with them.

"Veronice." Cleo breathed the name, remembering her first sight of the young woman as she descended from the carriage, a brave smile barely concealing her fears at being sent to live with an uncle she hardly knew. She was to help the mistress of the house care for the young children, and William, Joshua and Abigail had quickly fallen in love with their sweet natured cousin.

As did Cleo. For two glorious years she reveled in the other woman's company, never crossing the boundaries of propriety, but rejoicing in their ever increasing intimacy and affection. She would never forget the night that Veronice herself took the first step, saying goodnight to her uncle's wife with a decidedly unchaste kiss.

Stunned, she watched the laughing young woman disappear into her own bedroom, and would have followed her except for Henry's voice impatiently summoning her. Cleo always wondered where that first kiss might have led, but she was never given the chance to find out. Within two days, Henry began the process of installing his concubine as mistress of Shelton Manor, by having his wife abducted and her servant killed as they returned from a social call one evening.

Cleo unconsciously rubbed her throat, still feeling the leather that had tightened around her neck as she was dragged deep into the forest that terrifying night so long ago. She had fought desperately for her life, but was overpowered by the two men she recognized as being in Henry's employ. They abandoned her apparently lifeless body in a deep ravine, thus unknowingly granting her immortality.

For she had been found. A night creature had come upon her, and seeing the last flicker of life within her, had taken her for his own. He had borne her away and, helpless to resist, she had gone. When he finally tired of her, she returned, unalterably changed, but unable to resist the need to see her children…and Veronice.

Things had changed in her absence. Henry had waited for all of four weeks before having her declared dead, leaving him free to marry the new mistress of the manor. Veronice had been married off to a wealthy and titled visitor, who had taken her back to England with him. And her grieving children...they were the only reason that Cleo did not immediately take her revenge on her faithless husband. But the very night that the youngest, Abigail, made a good marriage and left the family home, she went to her spouse and exacted retribution for what he had done to her.

William and his family became custodians of Shelton Manor. It was he and his brother, Joshua, who had arranged the grandiose marble shrine to their mother's memory, despite the fact that there was no body to entomb. And it was they, by that time well aware of what had truly transpired, who ensured that their father was buried in unconsecrated ground on the outskirts of the estate. It always amused Cleo that Henry's final resting place was now under a poultry packing plant.

Her children's many descendants had multiplied and scattered to the four corners of the earth in the years since, though some could still be found living in the old port city. Gem, for instance, had never been in any danger from her. It was always a delight to encounter a descendent, and that young woman reminded Cleo acutely of her middle child. Joshua too had been diminutive, near-sighted, and painfully shy, but with the sweetest nature a mother could've asked for. Of all her descendents, his line was the most cherished.

And of Veronice... Well, it wasn't until the age of the Internet that Cleo was finally able to learn her fate. The young woman with the laughing green eyes had died of a fever on the voyage to England, and had been swiftly replaced once her highborn husband reached land, becoming a mere footnote in his illustrious family history.

Cleo straightened, and chastised herself. "You become maudlin in your old age. Time moves on, as must you." She patted the marble gently, then stretched lazily. The vampire had fed early in the night, on a particularly repulsive bully who had been waylaying children for their candy and UNICEF dollars. The night was long, though, and she could move freely amongst the revelers, perhaps feeding again, or perhaps not. Though never absent, the urge had dimmed in recent decades, and she wondered if a time might come when she could just...stop.

For now, though, she would continue the night's lark. Cleo enjoyed donning the traditional, albeit theatric costume on Halloween. There was little enough joy in unending life, and once a year she allowed herself this small pleasure. But it was time to leave again. Wherever she wandered in the next twelve-month, she would return on this night, to this place. And as she turned to leave, she cast one final glance at the faded engravings. There were many names listed – it had been a large and esteemed family – but it had all begun with one name...


"I know, Mommy, I know! It was Lady Cleodine Abigail St. Claire. Born November 22, 1793, and died October 31, 1821."

The small boy glared at his older sister. "Let Mommy tell it, Cleo!"

Gem smiled at her young children. From the time she had learned to talk, Cleo was never able to resist yelling out her namesake ancestor's identity. It annoyed her little brother to no end, but it had become part of the annual family ritual.

"Okay, kids, Mama is waiting to take you out trick-or-treating. One last trip to the bathroom, and you can go."

The children jumped to their feet and ran from the room, the excitement of the night fairly making them vibrate.

"You know I always love the way you tell that story."

Gem glanced up at the tall blonde sitting on the arm of the couch next to her.

"Well, I do give them the expurgated version. They don't need to know everything about the night their mothers finally got together."

The women smiled in shared memory of their first night so long ago.

"Do you think she'll come by tonight?"

Gem nodded. "Doesn't she always?"

"I think she just likes to take credit for her matchmaking prowess."

"I think she just needs to know that love and family endure."

Kate leaned over, wrapping her arms tightly around her partner. Gem responded by snuggling closer, but further intimacies had to be put on hold as Cleo and Josh ran back into the room. The women parted with a kiss, as the tiny wizard and the slightly bigger fairy princess clamoured to start collecting their booty.

The doorbell rang and a holler could be heard at the front door, signaling the arrival of more exuberant trick-or-treaters. As Gem passed out the candy, she winked at Kate, who led their two children out into the night to begin their own rounds. She got a wide grin in response, and knew that they would have their own celebration later, long after the candy had been sorted and two overly excited children were tucked into their beds.

And as her partner disappeared down the street, calling out to Cleo and Josh to slow down, Gem noticed a shadow near the trees by the corner of the garage. Pushing the door wider, she called softly, "Come in. We've been expecting you..."




The End

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