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“What do you mean?”
“I mean exactly what I said.”
I cannot believe my ears. Is—is this a break up? “How is this even possible?”
“I will declare you free and expel the blood I took from you,” says Ms Pink simply, as though it is something she says everyday, like telling me to present my bottom to her.
“T-That’s all? That’s all it takes to unclaim me?”
“This is what you want.”
I do a double take, my mind reeling from the shocking reality of Ms Pink bending to my will. Has the world gone mad? Are pigs flying now? Is it snowing in the tropics? “Why,” I ask, almost in a whisper, suddenly afraid of the answer I might get.
“Don’t ask the same question twice,” Ms Pink snaps.
“It doesn’t make any sense. You’ve never given me what I want. Why are you doing it now?”
“The man responsible for my family’s massacre is dead. So I don’t see the need to keep you by my side.”
“That’s not what you said before. You said—”
“I said you would be fair game for any vampire out there. But why would I care if you are not useful to me.”
Bitter and foul rise from my gut. “Is that all I am to you? A tool for revenge? Is that really the reason why you saved me time and time again? From vanguards, Helene, Yuri, the Feds.”
“There’s no other reason? No other feelings?” I am almost shouting by now. “Then why smile for me? Why hold my hand? Why make this dress!”
“Stop the drama. I don’t know why you are kicking up a fuss when you’ve never wanted to be my claim.”
“What will become of us if I’m no longer your claim?”
“You will be free.”
“And where will I go.”
“Back to your life. Exactly what you are wishing for.”
Did Ms Pink hear my thoughts in the bathroom this morning? “Yes, I’ll admit that I want a simpler life. I want to attend classes without getting abducted and be the student that I should be. But I’m not the same Taeyeon I was a month ago. You know how I feel about you.”
“You are mistaken.”
“I am not.”
Ms Pink holds her hand up. “You have gone through life changing events almost every single day. It would be foolish to trust the words spoken under duress.”
“I’m not under duress now.”
“Not at the moment. You may not feel that anything is wrong but I know better than to say this. You have been traumatized. You were in shock. I held you in my arms as you broke down so don’t try to convince me otherwise.”
“It was a moment of weakness.”
“Your mental state is not completely stable. The wisdom of Miras backs me up on this.”
“Miras?” That woman is my least favourite being right now. “What has Miras got to do with us?”
“Miras sensed a great deal of turmoil in your mind and heart. You may think you love me, but how much of that is created by the life-death circumstances you’ve been in? How much of that is generated by situations where I am the only one you can rely on? Would you have fallen for me if I did not force you to be my claim?”
“You are questioning the validity of my feelings formed during the past few weeks?”
Ms Pink nods. “You begin to see my point.”
“You could have just said so. Why did you have to begin with such a shocking statement?”
“Because it will be done. There is no room for negotiation. I will release you and you will cease to be my claim. You will regain your freedom. Ownership of yourself. I will give it all back to you. And we will take a break.”
“What do you mean ‘take a break’?”
“Stupid human. Your questions are redundant.”
“No, not this question.” I open my eyes wide and shoot defiance into Ms Pink’s pinks. “I want you to define ‘take a break’. Does it mean we don’t get to see each other anymore? Do we still talk on the phone? And our telepathy—” it literally hurts to say this, “—will we lose it?”
“So many questions as usual.” Ms Pink frowns but she replies, “We will not see each other for a period of time. We will not talk. We will return to our lives before we got involved and we will re-examine ourselves. As for our telepathy, it will be lost, along with the magic that binds us as soon as I expel your blood from my body.”
“And what if I do as you say. What if I go back to my apartment, go to classes, hang out with ordinary people. What if I do all that and after, say, two weeks, I find that I am still in love with you?”
“Two weeks is not long enough. Two months is what Miras prescribes.”
“Two months! No, that’s way too long.”
“Miras is an expert on minds, both the human and supernatural. She has studied all areas of the brain, the mind and even the heart in order to become who she is today. If she says two months, it will be two months.”
“But I’m still the Erika, right? Won’t I be in danger once you release me from claimhood?”
“The Federation knows of your status. They will protect you. Especially with Yuri in it.”
I narrow my eyes. “So this is why you got Yuri into the Federation.”
Ms Pink carries on as though I haven’t said a word. “The Federation, Sovereign as well as Parliament have corrupt members with many selfish agendas but many of them have been surfaced and will not dare to pull an attempt on your life. Not to mention, killing an Erika isn’t the same as killing a bait. They fear the unknown. They fear for their lives should something go awry in the process of killing you. On top of that, if anything seems amiss, Yuri will be on it. She will be able to get anything she wants out of them. She will watch your back.”
“So this beautiful blue dress.” Tears are welling up in my eyes. “This blue dress is goodbye?”
“I made it blue as a symbol of your choice. You have never liked pink but I forced you into wearing clothes from my collection. So I am giving your colour back to you. Do you understand.”
I nod, feeling inexplicably sad. I can’t reject what Ms Pink is offering me if I want a chance at having something more. But to say goodbye now . . . it has to be done. My thoughts in the bathroom this morning were along a path similar to this too. I know it is perhaps, the only way. But my heart and mind need some time to recouncil.
“Don’t release me tonight,” I say, my voice softer than a feather.
Ms Pink nods. “Not tonight.”
“Not tomorrow either.”
“As you wish.”
I return to classes the next day. After days of dealing with superpowered beings and grappling with my own, it feels surreal to be sitting among perfectly ordinary humans who have no idea just how real (and unreal) all the movies they have watched about vampires are. Maybe Ms Pink and Miras are right. I really do need a break. I need to find my place in this other world I live in. I need to belong to this ordinary world too.
Max sends me a text asking me to join him for lunch. That’s a start. Hanging out with ordinary people. We talk about graduation as we dig into our noodles and it strikes me that I’ve been neglecting this upcoming event. Graduation. Say goodbye to student life and hello to a life of work. Work that pays. I need to think about resumes and interviews pretty soon. We also talk about our graduation trip. I haven’t thought about that either. I haven’t been thinking much about anything other than Ms Pink and the rest of the world has been zipping by. Balance, it is all about balance.
The thing is, I may know that I need balance, but my heart says Ms Pink, Ms Pink and more Ms Pink. The first thought in my head when Max invited me to lunch was what Ms Pink would think of us having lunch together. Would she be unhappy? Would she feel jealous? I like it when she stakes her claim on me. I love it even more because she does it with such conviction, that she would defend her claim on me, no matter what happens. And she has done so . . . until now. Relinquishing her claim on me must be difficult for her. And I have no idea how she is going to expel my blood from her system but it sounds potentially painful too. Relinquishing her claim on me would send us back to square one, albeit, this new square one is not quite in the same place as before. Truly, I have never met anyone like Ms Pink. Tiffany. Pan Ni. A woman with many identities. A woman who plays each role to the best she can.
“Taeyeon, hello, Earth calling Kim Taeyeon . . .”
I blink, snapping out of my thoughts. Max is staring at me, his lips curved in amusement. “Sorry, I was spacing out.”
“You haven’t been yourself lately. Is it your family?”
I look down at the left over sauce in my bowl. My conversations with my parents have become shorter this past month because it is hard to keep my life with Ms Pink a secret but they have been busy with their shop too so nothing is wrong between us. Max takes me silence to be the affirmative and pats my hand. He leaves his hand on mine and squeezes it.
“You can come to me if anything is bothering you. I’m here. I’ll listen.”
“Thanks, Max.” I give him a smile. “But things are alright with my family. It’s just life, you know. Classes and people and all.”
“Yeah, I get it.” Max releases my hand after one more pat. “Just know that I’m here for you.”
I nod in reply and smile. There is nothing more I can give him than that.
Things feel more normal at home with Sunny. The familiarity of lying on the couch in my most comfortable sweats and sleep wear with Sunny brings me closer to home. We watch a TV show for entertainment and laugh at the jokes together. Eat fried chicken. Sunny drinks most of the soju by herself. I call it quits after one shot. Everything is as it is. Everything is normal. But I have not seen Ms Pink. Nor have I spoken to her all day long. I miss her. I miss her so much.
“Taeyeon,” Sunny’s eyes are wide open in concern, “you’re crying.” Her palms cup my face and squish my cheeks. This is something that I have never liked but it is alright when Sunny does it. “Taeyeon . . .”
I bury my face in the nook of Sunny’s neck and let go. My body heaves and shakes as tears stream out of my eyes. So this is what a break up feels like. It feels horrible. It feels like everything has gone wrong. Like nothing is right. Like a part of my body has gone missing. A part of my heart, lost forever. It creates a sense of emptiness. A craving for something that I cannot get. A deep, clawing, desperate feeling.
“Taeyeon, what’s wrong?”
“Ms Pink—Tiffany and I are breaking up.”
“What?” Sunny’s voice rockets into the highest of pitches. “Why?”
“She says we need to take a break. We need to check our feelings.”
“Check your feelings? What does that even mean. She’s such a bitch, dumping you after taking whatever she wants from you.”
I shake my head. “It’s not like that. She’s not dumping me. This break is for my own good too.”
Sunny rolls her eyes. “You might be new to this, but I’m not. This is a standard break up line. The second most used line after ‘It’s not you, it’s me’.”
I have no way of explaining my situation to Sunny. “Ms Pink isn’t like the average person.”
Sunny grabs my hands. “Taeyeon. To be honest, I didn’t want to dampen your happiness and I still don’t want your first relationship to go downhill but I think you deserve better. You deserve someone who will treat you right. Tiffany Pink is controlling you too much. She needs to respect you too. She can’t just do whatever she wants then leave you like this.”
“Sunny . . .”
Arms go round my shoulders and Sunny pulls me into a warm hug. She pats my back and makes cooing sounds, as though I am a baby. In a way I am. I am a newborn when it comes to relationships and to make things even more complicated, my very first ‘girlfriend’ has to be a princess vampire. Not to mention, the Erika inside of me. Talk about a steep learning curve. I curl into Sunny and hug her close. She is soft and cuddly, much better than a teddy bear or my favourite pillow. Thank goodness I still have Sunny.
“Go to bed, Taeyeon. Get some rest and you’ll feel better in the morning.”
“Okay.” I sniff as I get up from the couch. “Goodnight, Sunny.”
Sunny stands with me. “I’ll tuck you in and kiss you goodnight.”
That gets me laughing. “I’ll be fine. I’m not a baby.”
“Are you sure?” Sunny says with a bright smile.
It gives me the courage to smile too. “I’m sure. I’m a big girl now.”
Sunny pats my bottom and I feel sad all over again but I make sure to turn away quickly and walk to my bedroom before she can see me cry.
After washing up and getting ready for bed, I climb in under my sheets and snuggle up to my pillows. I turn on the bedside lamp and turn to look at the black skull candle sitting under it. My first time. Ever. Ms Pink had made me feel things I have never felt before. Things that I doubt anyone else can make me feel.
“Ms Pink . . . where are you . . .?” I sigh as I press my cheek into the pillow and curl up under the sheets.
“I am right here.”
I bolt straight up, looking around my room like a wild animal searching for a sound. “Ms Pink?”
“It is past midnight.” Ms Pink appears from the shadows like a ghost, giving me a shock. “It is time.”
“A-At midnight? Now? Can’t we wait another day?”
“The longer this is delayed, the longer it will take for the two months to be done.”
A thousand and one degrees of reluctance flash through my heart and mind but I know that this is unavoidable. This is necessary. And this is why Ms Pink is going through with it. This is her determination. But my determination is not ready. I need more time.
“Spend one more night with me? Please?”
Ms Pink frowns. “You are only making this harder.”
“It’s going to be hard, no matter what.”
“This is what happens when I give in to you. Nothing is ever going to get done,” Ms Pink grumbles as she steps out of her boots and sheds her trademark pink coat. “One night. The expulsion will be done at dawn.”
“I’ll take it.”
Ms Pink loses her blouse and slacks then climbs into bed and presses up against me. Her body curls around and her arms hold me tight. I smile when her breath hits my neck and wrap my hands over hers. This feels right. And I will prove it to her. I will.