“The Edward System,” Part IV

It’s looking like this will be a six-parter. I ended up splitting the fourth part into two parts due to a time-lapse that happens after the end of this chunk. If you haven’t read them already, catch up on parts one, two and three.

The Edward System

IV

Packing the next morning takes Trent all of three minutes. It’s gotten to where he usually doesn’t bother taking his clothes out of the suitcase until the day he wears them, and other than his toothbrush (vampires don’t have to worry about tooth decay, but halitosis is an ever-present threat) and shampoo, there’s not much to grab that isn’t already either in his suitcase or on his person. Trent runs the suitcase and his laptop down to the Maverick, then returns to the motel room for one last once-over just in case he’s forgotten anything and to leave the key on the bedstand like the manager requested when he checked in.

Leaving town without making a kill is a new experience, one that makes Trent unusually introspective. Fresh human blood in his system always gives him an amazing burst of energy that lasts for days, not to mention he’s usually hopped up on adrenaline from the kill, so in a sense he’s never moved on in a sober state of mind before. He’s also lacking the quiet paranoia that’s always accompanied his previous departures, that creeping fear that someone will realize the latest girl’s missing and who she was with and start adding the equation up before Trent can get beyond the local heat’s jurisdiction. Moving on without a dead girl in his wake is just plain dull by comparison. At the same time, it provides him a clarity of mind in the face of his departure that he’s never experienced before. Greater self-awareness as a side-effect of failure—Murray would appreciate that. He was always the philosophical type.

Trent’s fingers are on the doorknob, ready to open the door and leave Union Falls unscathed, when someone knocks on the door from outside. Could it be roomkeeping? Trent pulls his hand back from the knob and looks through the peephole. His throat tightens. It’s Noelle.

Could it be he thought he was going to get skunked only to have the fish jump into the boat after he’s reeled in his pole? Trent shakes his head. No; he doesn’t dare eat her in the motel room. If Noelle has found him here at the motel, someone else might know he was staying here too. Besides, murdering her here would draw a link between the two separate identities he’s assumed in every town he’s visited, and the last thing Trent wants is for “Trent the transfer student” to be associated with “the anonymous, cash-paying drifter with the Maverick.”  That would make it too damn easy for the law to track the places he’s been before, and once they did that they’d see the pattern.

And that’s all secondary to the main concern on Trent’s mind. How did she know to find him here? Trent swallows, though that does nothing for the sudden fullness in his throat, and he opens the door.

Noelle immediately lowers her eyes when the door opens, like a parishioner aware of her sins who has hesitantly come to atone for them. Her foot traces an arc on the pavement. Then she looks up at him, and her eyes mist as she gushes. “Oh, Trent, I had to see you. Can I come in?”

She doesn’t wait for permission before brushing past him and into the motel room. There’s something about the way Noelle looks around the room, especially the way her gaze pauses when it passes over where his suitcase had been sitting all week until ten minutes ago, that makes Trent realize this isn’t the first time she’s been in his room, and it dawns on him that it wasn’t housekeeping who moved his oily shirt on Thursday. How long was she here? Did she go through his laptop? Shit, was his wallet sitting out on the bedstand while he was down eating the pigeon? How much does she know?

Instead of asking her those questions or letting on that he knows he should, he says, “How did you find me?”

“Of course you’d ask that.” Noelle’s laugh is forced, but she sits on the bed and makes herself at home all the same. “I, um, kinda followed you on the way home Tuesday.” At least she has the good grace to blush when she admits it. “Oh, Trent, let’s not talk about that. We have to talk about Dominique.”

Trent closes the door and locks it as surreptitiously as he can. “What about him? Does he know you’re here?”

“You should see your face when I say his name.” She stands and lays a hand against Trent’s cheek. “You don’t have to be jealous of Dominique. There’s no reason for you to fight him over me. Don’t you understand that you’re the one I love, Trent? Only you.”

If Trent wasn’t sure before, he’s absolutely certain now: this chick is psycho in ways not even the DSM could describe. Is she trying to manufacture a love triangle, trying to make Dominique the Jacob to Trent’s Edward just to provide her life with some semblance of passion and excitement? Trent almost feels sorry for Dominique.

What is there to say to all that? Trent decides it’s best to say nothing at all. He turns from Noelle and reaches for the doorknob, even manages to open the door a crack, but the girl grabs his arm and digs her chewed-short nails into Trent’s chilly skin before he can step outside. “You don’t have to run from me, Trent. It’s okay. I know your secret, and I still love you.”

Trent peels Noelle’s grip from his arm. “Secret?”

“You’re cold to the touch. You don’t have a Facebook. You don’t know who My Chemical Romance is and you listen to the oldies station. And,” she says as she lays her fingers on Trent’s wrist, “you don’t have a pulse.”

“I have a goddamn pulse.” Trent pulls his arm away from her. “You just don’t know how to find one.”

“I was a candystriper. I know how to find a stupid pulse.” Noelle shakes her head as if to ward off the phantom change of topic. “Trent. Trent, I know what you’re doing. You’re scared. You think you can’t afford to love anyone because of your curse. But I know you’re a vampire, Trent, and I love you.”

“What?” Now Trent’s the one to grab her by the wrist, and she gasps in what sounds more like erotic satisfaction than surprise or pain.

“I love you, Trent. I want you to make me a fellow creature of the darkness so I can share your eternal torment. We’ll be together as lovers until the sun explodes and swallows the earth, just the two of us, walking the night and spending the days in each other’s arms.” She cranes her neck and throws back her hair so the splotchy skin of her throat is exposed, vulnerable. Trent feels his mouth watering despite his better judgment. “Drink me, my love! Transform me, so our love can transcend time. Please, Trent.” Her voice, so melodramatic and self-assured, falters at the end.

So here’s his choice: either leave the crazy bitch alive, in which case she probably tells anyone who will listen about her vampire ex-boyfriend who was staying at the motel, or drink the stupid bitch dry and dump her body in the dumpster. Given those options, does he have any reason not to eat her? He could try getting her into the car afterward, he supposes, maybe wrap her in a sheet and stick her in the trunk, dump her body on the road, though he hates doing that because it tells the authorities what direction he went after he left town. Even if he goes that route, he doesn’t dare move her body until it’s dark outside; while the motel has plenty of vacancies, it’s not completely devoid of prying eyes. Trent realizes he’s already thinking about Noelle as a body to be dealt with, which means he’s made up his mind. Fine.

The girl gasps when his teeth break her skin, and her fingers curl and uncurl a few times as her nervous system catches fire of a kind Noelle’s never considered. After a few gulps, Trent throws his head back with a satisfied sigh. She’s delicious, and from the taste of it, a diet soda drinker. Noelle’s eyes are open, and though the light of life remains behind her pupils, she stares unblinking at a blank spot on the wall, mouth hanging agape. There’s no way to tell if she can see him smiling at her. Trent goes back to her throat to drain the rest of her lifeblood while it’s fresh, mind cleared of what came before and what will come after, all worries temporarily banished while her hot, sticky plasma is sliding down his esophagus.

“Noelle? Was he here?”

What’s left of the girl drops from Trent’s arms as he spins on his heel to face the door, but it’s too late. Dominique knocks on the door and in doing so pushes it open far enough that he can see Noelle’s body crumpled on the carpet behind Trent, and though the senior comes up short for an instant when he notices the blood dribbling down Trent’s chin, he doesn’t hesitate for long. Dominique lowers his shoulder and charges at Trent like a football player in one of those old Goofy shorts; Trent steps aside and tries to trip Dominique, but somehow he ends up being pulled off-balance himself instead, and Trent stumbles out the open door and falls onto his ass on the asphalt outside.

Dominique makes to follow Trent outside, then apparently thinks better of that idea and slams the door shut instead. Trent scrambles to his feet and rushes the door, but it’s too late; Dominique has locked it from inside, and the key’s lying on the bedstand. The boy’s muffled voice is pleading with Noelle to live from the other side of the door, and after a moment Trent can hear Dominique’s side of what sounds like a 911 call.

The Maverick hits thirty on the way out of the parking lot, and Trent almost hits a Greyhound bus pulling onto the highway. Probably twenty miles pass by, most of which Trent won’t remember driving later, before he lets himself look in the rear view mirror for the first time, and he can’t bring himself to turn on the radio for fear that he’ll miss the distant warning of sirens beneath the cacophony of AM rock music.

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