Hello, Internet! Anne Barwell drops by for today’s installment of Flash Fiction Friday. She’s here with a little prequel treat from Opus, the spin-off to the Sleepless City series. Meet Simon and Ben, perfect together, that is until Ben’s mother Abby puts the pressure on Simon to meet the family. Things are a little more than complicated just to make the trip to New Zealand when there’s something supernatural afoot.
by Anne Barwell
“When you write an essay about the war, at least get the right war,” Simon Hawthorne muttered.
He glared at the offending essay, and reached for the teapot to pour himself another cup. With each batch of students, there was always at least one or two who stretched his patience to the limit. History was not that difficult a subject, and it wasn’t as though he was teaching about some obscure border skirmish. WWI was supposed to have been the war to end all wars.
He shuddered, shoving away his memories of it. Most of the time they didn’t bother him, but Christmas brought memories of everyone he’d lost since he had been turned into a vampire nearly a hundred years ago.
It didn’t help his mood that his partner, Ben, was working late and they’d had to reschedule their plans.
The opening bars of Danse Macabre began playing on the stereo. He’d forgotten it was the next CD on the stack. Simon stalked over and changed the CD to something a little more uplifting. He couldn’t help but smile as a much more modern tune, Dancing in the Moonlight, took its place. He’d forgotten Ben had left the CD on the stereo after they’d danced to it the night before. Simon closed his eyes, remembering the feel of Ben in his arms and the way they’d moved together with only a few candles to illuminate the room.
His telephone rang and he answered it, not quite hiding the annoyance in his voice. This had better not be the Supernatural Council wanting help with yet another problem someone else could handle. “Simon Hawthorne speaking. How can I help you?”
“Good evening, Simon. It’s Abby Leyton. I hope I’m not disturbing anything.”
Simon checked the caller ID on his telephone, wondering why Ben’s mother would be phoning this late at night, then realised it would be much earlier in the day for her. Why would she call his telephone? She usually rang Ben directly. “Hello, Mrs. Leyton,” he said cautiously. “I’m sorry, but Ben’s working late tonight. I can get him to telephone you when he gets home if you’d like me to.”
“I know Ben’s working late. I rang to talk to you, Simon.”
“You did? Umm, I mean, it’s lovely to hear from you. How can I help?” Simon hoped he hadn’t sounded too impolite. That last thing he wanted was to upset Ben’s mother.
Abby chuckled. “I know this is probably a little unexpected but I thought it was time we had a decent conversation without my son around to act as a go-between.”
“We’ve spoken directly before,” Simon reminded her, “but yes I agree it is a good idea.”
No, it really wasn’t, but he wasn’t about to tell her that. Was this Ben’s idea? Simon sighed. Surely Ben realised how awkward this was?
“I rang Ben about something earlier, and he told me he was working late,” Abby said, answering the unspoken question. “Can I be direct and get to the point?”
“Of course. I would expect nothing less.” Simon had noticed very quickly that Abby was like her son in that they were both very direct. He liked the quality in Ben, but wasn’t so sure about it being a good thing in this situation.
“Ben talks about you a lot, and I can tell he’s very much in love with you.”
Abby’s voice was warm, which was a good sign.
“I’m very much in love with him too,” Simon said waiting for the other shoe to drop.
“That’s why I’m concerned about something,” Abby continued. “Ben takes photos of everything he loves, and yet he doesn’t send us many photos of you. Why is that, do you think?”
“We sent a picture home with Ange when she came to visit.”
“Yes, and it was lovely to see you and your friends, and I loved the picture of you and Ben your friend Declan gave him. You and Ben look good together.”
“Thank you.” Simon hadn’t known Ben had sent a copy of that to his mother, but it wasn’t surprising. Ben had had a variation of this conversation with her before. “I’m a little camera shy.”
He wasn’t about to tell her he was a vampire and couldn’t be photographed. Luckily, Declan’s portraits were photographic quality and could be passed off as a snapshot. Most people couldn’t tell the difference.
“Hmm, so I’ve heard. We are going to meet you soon, aren’t we? I know Flint is on the other side of the world, but you’re more than welcome to come visit us in New Zealand. Our home would be your home while you’re here.” Abby paused for breath, but it was obvious she hadn’t finished yet. “Ben talks as though he wants to spend the rest of his life with you. I know not everyone gets married these days, and we’re fine with that, but it’s made me realise how little we really know about you.”
Simon took a deep breath, trying to remember what they’d told Ben’s family. “What would you like to know?”
“Don’t worry, Simon. I’m not about to have the future mother-in-law conversation with you.”
It seemed a strange thing to say, as Simon could have sworn they were having one now.
“I love Ben, and I’d protect him with everything I am,” Simon said. “I’m not about to break his heart, and I want to spend the rest of his…our lives together too.” He kicked himself for the slip, and hoped she hadn’t noticed. Being human, Ben’s lifespan was far less than Simon’s, although with their soul bond, that might not be an issue in the end.
“I can hear that you do in your voice.” Abby sounded apologetic. “I guess that was what I wanted to hear, but I would like to get to know you better, especially as you’re going to be a part of our family. Ben’s a good judge of character, but he often thinks with his heart, and it’s difficult when we’re so far away. Having Ange spend some time in Flint with you both was great, but perhaps we could arrange to meet in person sometime?”
“Of course.” Simon didn’t know what else to say. He wasn’t fond of long trips, and it had been decades since he’d been out of the country. Still, better that than Ben’s parents visiting Flint and getting caught up in their world, the way his friend Ange had. “We’ll see if we can arrange to come visit you.”
“Brilliant!” Abby sounded relieved, but also excited. “You must talk to Ben about it, and when we can expect you.”
“It might be a while,” Simon warned her. “I have teaching commitments, and….” He’d also have to arrange for someone to take care of any supernatural business while they were away.
God. What he had just agreed to? How was he going to stay in their home without them finding out he was a vampire?
“Quite a while,” he amended hurriedly. He heard Ben’s key in the front door. “Ben’s home. I need to go. It’s been lovely talking to you. We’ll keep in touch, Mrs. Leyton.”
“Abby, please. After all, you’re part of the family now. It’s been great talking to you too. See you soon, Simon. ’Bye.”
“Everything okay?” Ben kissed Simon lightly after he walked into the room. He took the telephone from Simon and placed it on the table. “What happened?”
“Your mother rang me.”
“Oh. Crap.” Ben sat down next to Simon. “The convo was that good, was it? Should I be worried, or relieved that you two have finally talked, instead of you handing me the phone when things get awkward? Mum didn’t give you that much of the third degree, did she?”
“No. That part went quite well, I thought. She didn’t ask any of the questions I thought she would.”
“That’s good then, right?”
“She wants us to visit with them, and she wants to meet me.”
“Yeah, I thought she might. She’s been going on about it for a while now.” Ben linked his fingers through Simon’s. “We can’t put her off forever, you know.”
“We can’t?” Simon ignored the way Ben rolled his eyes. “Why not?”
“Because I want you guys to meet. They’ll be fine with it. I promise.”
“If you say so,” Simon said.
“You won’t be alone this time, Simon. You’re my family now too.” Ben pulled Simon into an embrace. “We’ll do this together, and when you’re ready.”
“I love you, Ben.” Simon had meant it when he’d told Abby he’d protect her son with everything he was. He’d have to find a way to ensure they never found out about him being a vampire. He’d already had one family turn their backs on him. He couldn’t do it again, nor would he let Ben go through that experience.
“I love you too.”