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I haven’t been a Vampire long, but I think I’ve gotten pretty good at it.

Maybe it comes from being comfortable spending time alone.

Yesterday evening, I realized most of the coats in my closet are red — poppy red, specifically. I love the color and the way it looks on me.

There’s one notable exception: a black woolen boot-camp-issue US Navy pea coat. It was first the property of Eric Moore, and like everything else, he handed it down to his younger brother Daniel. I got it from him because he didn’t need it anymore — it hurts even thinking about that.

janisswinterroadI put it on when I saw it — it’s always been way too big for me, but you can snuggle into it. It smells like both of them.

I was an only child growing up, but Daniel and Eric lived across street from me. I treated them like brothers and they watched out for me like a sister, but I don’t think my dad’s businesses taking off was the only reason he wanted to move off our street before I started high school. Daniel and I started getting closer and he knew it, only I never saw that as a big deal.

But I think dad thought I could do better.

I never saw the Moores as “poor,” but they were. Daniel got Eric’s old clothes, but what wasn’t hand-me-down they shared. Sometimes I stayed for dinner — Mr. Moore would invite me to stay but their mom always grumbled, probably because they didn’t have enough for an extra plate.

The boys’ favorite meal was this stuff called “Treet” — kind of like Spam, I think — sliced thin and sautéed in a pan with sweet barbecue sauce. It was served with boxed macaroni and cheese — not the Kraft kind — and a side of heated apple pie filling: undressed pie. Sure, it wasn’t the most nutritious meal, but they liked it and so did I.

I didn’t think of them as poor… because I never thought less of them.

St. Clairsville, Ohio is exactly the kind of sleepy little hill town you might imagine it to be with a name like that, and not everyone there has boatloads of cash at their disposal. Since living in West Virginia and working with folks in and around Gilmer County, I have a new definition of poor.

When I began to realize just how little they had, it bothered me I had so much. I was afraid they would think I was stuck up or better than them. I valued how they thought of me and I never wanted them to keep anything from me.

Boy, was I a naive little girl, huh?

Their Uncle Par had paid for all of Daniel’s college after Eric joined the Navy. I had no idea until recently — then again, I didn’t know he was actually their great great uncle and a Vampire, either. If it hadn’t been for Mr. Haley, Daniel probably would have never left Ohio.

Yeah, I’m feeling a little nostalgic. Daniel’s in my head now — my fault for blindly killing him — an eternal reminder of what I am.

When I was ten, there were two things Santa brought on Christmas I’d asked for: a Tamagotchi — full disclosure: I killed that thing constantly — and a bicycle: a Disney Princess bike, pink and pastel purple with white tires a heart basket on the front and little stickers with all the Disney Princesses.

Eric’s bike was broken so Daniel had no bike. Yep… I let him ride mine. I remember being happy he was happy getting to ride it.

I was busy killing my digital pet sitting in the yard that afternoon when my dad came outside and saw Daniel riding that pink, purple, and white bicycle between our driveways. Dad looked sternly at me; it wasn’t like I gave it away. Daniel didn’t see him as he came back over into our driveway; he looked up and saw my dad glaring at him, not saying a word — I couldn’t speak either. Daniel stepped off the bicycle, set it down carefully, and went back home across the street.

I was mad at my dad but I was too scared to say anything.

At dinner, in the smallest voice you can imagine, I asked, “Can I keep my princess bike at Daniel’s house? He can ride it when I’m not using it.”

I had no idea what my dad was thinking, but he didn’t say anything. He just looked at my mom, got up and left the table. “Yes, Sweetie,” she said. “As long as he gives it back whenever you ask.”

I knew he would.

When one of the inner tubes blew with Daniel riding it, I told him to let me take it home so dad would think I had done it.

Where am I going with all of this?

People aren’t always what you think they are. You have to get to know them. You have to make an effort.

Seeing all this news and hate, all this fear of one another — because we don’t want to know. It’s all about us. We’re lazy, and I just —

This is dumb. No one is going to read this. Never mind…

“It doesn’t matter,” Daniel whispers in my ear as I feel his arms close around me. He’s not a ghost, but I can see him if I start daydreaming, acting independently of my thoughts. He’s a soul I’ve taken whether I meant to or not.

“You didn’t used to be this romantic,” I reply, happy to have him in the moment.

“Sure I was. I just always saved it for special occasions.”

“What’s the occasion?”

“You needed me.”

* * *

It was ten years after Dream Theater released this song, “Wait for Sleep,” that I heard it for the first time, the kind of music you latch onto, put on repeat, and cry your eyes out. I use to feel sorry for the woman in the lyrics — now I am her, but I never fall asleep.

Take your power seriously. Keep each other safe.
~ Janiss

Email janiss.connelly@cedarcrestsanctum.com
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