Content Warnings: None
In a hospital bed shortly after giving birth, a mother’s cold arms coil around her baby. She rocks her baby and whispers, ‘This is your making, little Dana; you’ll be a dear and sit tight, won’t you?’ before passing her to the arms of the doctor.
The doctor carries little Dana to a separate, sterile room and lays her down onto an examination table. A second doctor, little Dana’s father, comes around with a scalpel and a knife. He pats the small tuft of hair on top of little Dana’s head and whispers, ‘This is your making, little Dana. Don’t fret over your missing heart; it will someday come find you,’ before pressing his blade to her chest and cutting it open.
The doctors dig out her heart. To maintain the ruse of humanity, little Dana’s father puts it on ice and prepares her heart to be gifted away. In the meantime, the first doctor smiles at her and whispers, ‘Congratulations, little Dana; you’re a real vampire now.’
At a measly eleven-and-a-half, Dana asks her father about the gaping hole in her chest. From his position on the pale-blue hemp couch, he folds his book closed, peers over his round glasses at her, and says, ‘Isn’t it interesting?’
Dana frowns, and he laughs. ‘Your heart is out there in the world, waiting for you. It’s found the body of someone else – the owner of your heart, your soulmate. Beyond diet and teeth and moonlight, we are vampires because of our separated hearts. We exist to love. When you meet your heart, you will find the romance of your dreams and will build a life to be proud of.’
He tells her that a vampire’s heart follows fate to land in the body of their perfect match. Individuals are then drawn together by virtue of the heart wanting to return home to the vampire’s empty chest. The heart bond is the world’s way of showing care.
Dana silently digests his words. Though she can’t quite wrap her head around the idea, her father’s never led her wrong before. Her heart will bring her a best friend? She wouldn’t mind that.
Her father wags a finger at her. ‘When you meet your heart, little Dana, don’t forget my words. Don’t forget to turn him. Stick with what you know.’
‘What you know’ being, of course, other vampires.
Now an adult and in the middle of a Valentine’s day coffee rush before her shift starts, Dana feels a tugging from the gaping hole in her chest. It’s an itch, a warning sign; her heart is nearby.
Very carefully, she accepts her drink and thanks the bartender before leaving as discreetly as possible. Making contact with her heart would surely cause a scene, and then she’d be late to her shift, and then she’d get fired, and then she’d be the laughingstock of not only her family but also any vampire she ever met. Word gets around quickly; she works at her father’s cousin’s mother-in-law’s company – a branch of a major HVAC enterprise – wherein ninety percent of the employees are also vampires.
So. Dana tries to leave.
Unfortunately for her, the heart bond goes both ways. Unfortunately for her, her heart is proactive.
Just as the cafe door rings closed behind her, her heart pushes it back open and stumbles after her, calling, ‘Hey, there! Miss!’
She turns – she has to, doesn’t she? – and meets her heart’s eyes. The gaping hole in her chest quavers, and her blood thrums with uneasy fear.
Dana has been dreading this confrontation ever since she learnt about the romantic nature of a vampire’s heart bond. It will change her life, she’s told, but she never understood how. Asking is never useful either; she’s only ever received blank looks of confusion and tepid explanations. One former babysitter told her it was something to be felt. What is it that she’s to feel?
One hand clenches into a fist. Her skin cracks from the effort. If she showed her true colours right here, right now, would her heart still want to belong to her? If she pulled him apart – skin from muscle from ligament from bone – or if she sank her teeth into his veins and turned him in broad daylight – left him to die – would her heart still want to stay with her? Would they stay loyal?
Only a fool would stay, certainly. Good, thinks Dana.
Her heart comes to a stop in front of her, out of breath. She readjusts her floppy hat and tilts her head, faking innocence. He straightens and smiles. If her heart belonged to her, Dana thinks, it would have skipped a beat. That’s what’s supposed to happen, isn’t it? She has read the books. As it is, she does not own her heart and feels nothing for him.
‘Hey,’ says her heart – says Bailey, whose name she instinctively knows. ‘Hey, uh, this is going to sound weird, but when I saw you back in the shop, I felt something. I really felt something. And you’re really pretty, so. Can I give you my number?’
Dana wonders, for a fleeting second, what would happen if she lied to his face and told him she does not own a phone.
In the end, she agrees; he scribbles his number down on the side of her hot coffee cup. He wishes her a good day and leaves as quickly as he came. Dana, thankfully, is not late to her shift.
Later that evening, her father shows up on her doorstep. They reconvene every once in a while – now that she has moved out and her mother frolics about doing business overseas – to eat and chat. Her father brings news of various childhood caretakers whose names Dana was never actually told. In return, she updates him on her current affairs.
This night, back in her little suburb, goes a little differently. Dana opens the door to her townhome unit and welcomes her father in. Instead of stepping inside, as he normally does, he takes one look at her and proclaims, ‘Little Dana! You met your heart, didn’t you? I can smell it; you did, you did.’
Dana grimaces at his exuberance and ushers him inside, muttering a hasty, ‘Yes, yes.’ Habit has him taking a seat around the dining table while she opens a pack of frozen blood into a pot of water to boil.
As they wait, she rests, standing behind the opposite side of the table. Her father is staring at her expectantly. ‘How was it?’
‘What?’ Dana drums her fingers along the top rail of the chair in front of her.
‘Meeting your heart,’ he says. ‘Did you turn him?’
She rolls her shoulders back. ‘I did not.’
‘How come?’ His concern rubs Dana the wrong way, makes her wonder if not turning her heart was a mistake. It’s not as though she wants to be alone. It’s not as though she wants to disappoint her father. But she cannot imagine herself in a romantic relationship; it would be awkward, uncomfortable, dishonest to herself. ‘Did you not speak to him?’
‘Only briefly. I was going to be late for work. There was nothing I could have done.’
‘Late for work!’ her father exclaims, throwing his hands up. He is grinning. ‘Little Dana, you met your heart! Everyone would have understood if you showed up late. I always say you overthink the little things. Do you not want it – your good future, your life together, your family?’
‘Besides that, we were in the middle of the street. I couldn’t have told him about—me. We’re all about discretion, are we not? We can’t have them coming after our corner of Stoney Creek.’ Dana ignores his last question. She’s become quite adept at that, though she wonders if she will continue. Her father is not one to relent.
He hums and leans back into his plastic chair, folding his arms across his chest. ‘Yes, I suppose that is true. So?’
‘So?’ she echoes, not following.
‘Did you get his’—her father makes a grabby gesture with one hand—‘information? Will you contact him again; will you see him again?’
‘Why does this matter so much?’ Dana asks. She’d have laughed at her father’s words – who says ‘information’ anymore? – if the conversation was any more pleasant. ‘You seem to be more invested in this than I am, and it’s my heart.’
‘I know,’ he says, frowning. ‘Is something wrong, Dana? Is there something you need to tell me?’
She knows it is serious when he forgoes the nickname, and she purses her lips. Selfishly, she wants to say something – to proclaim that her boundless future ought to be with her family and not kissing her heart under the moonlight while raising a horde of vampire children or whatever else romance appears to consist of.
In the end, she sighs and says, ‘No, I was just curious. I did get his number. Don’t worry.’
Her father beams. For a moment, despite the broiling in her stomach and the ache in her gums, it’s worth it. For a moment, she feels relief. ‘Good, good. You won’t regret it. Just don’t forget…’
He trails off, raising his eyebrows for Dana to respond. She dips her head in acquiescence. ‘I’ll talk to him about being turned.’
The pot, having been forgotten, rattles. She takes that as her excuse to leave.
As expected, her heart – Bailey – asks her on a date. The heart-yearning appears to have hit him harder than it did her, which is strange. She was under the impression that it would be fair, their mutual gravity equal in magnitude but opposite in direction, rather than whatever imbalanced mess it is now.
He holds her hand as they traverse the busy streets of downtown Toronto. His palm is sweaty against hers, which she finds faintly unnerving.
Along the way, he chatters amicably about his life. She is content to listen. He is a graduate student working part-time to help fund his education and does not actually mind customer service because of the people he can meet (wink, wink). Someday, he intends to leave Toronto for a quieter town. Best of all, he does not comment on the copious amounts of sunblock Dana is wearing.
When he takes her to an aquarium – ‘It’s a must-see,’ he told her after learning that she had never been before – he does not let go of her hand like she expected.
She could initiate the disengagement. Dana thinks of her father’s hopes – expectations, to be precise – and does not. He was right when he said vampires were all she knew; their kind’s secrecy creates mutual isolation. If her father wishes her some particular company, she will give it a try, even though she believes her reservations are justified.
In a feeble attempt to connect with peers her age, she spent one year in public – human – middle school. During that time, she was invited to a sleepover and was befuddled by what she found. Girls spent the night chatting away about boys-they-liked and boys-who-liked-them. Without having anyone to name for the former, Dana was continuously pressed for an answer. There had to be someone. The truth about her heart could have been an easy excuse then, or at the very least a consolation. But it only brought on an unwelcome realisation and more confusion: this must be what her father meant by building love. The world contains a pervasive insistence on romance. It is something distinctly other.
Now she wonders if her heart – Bailey – is meant to be a fortuitous second chance. Her father wants her to love him, wants him to be turned, wants her to spend her future with him. If she told him the truth about being a vampire and his heart and their connection, would he cry or scream or run away? She wouldn’t mind that. It would be an easy solution.
When they finish their aquarium date – which went well; Dana bought him a turtle keychain and herself a pair of octopus earrings – and he leads the way to lunch, a small restaurant with outdoor seating, Dana makes her decision.
She could, technically, eat human food. Drinks taken in moderation typically have no effect. Indigestion for solids kicks in after a couple hours’ delay. Her father knows a vampire who periodically gorges himself on high-end cuisine, just for the taste, before calling himself an ambulance to her father’s hospital. Dana does not feel like doing that herself. Besides, she’d be saving her heart – Bailey – some money.
He orders. She requests the waiter return for her.
In the time that follows, Dana clears her throat and says, ‘You are my heart. You are my soulmate.’ A mild flush spreads across the tips of his ears. She adds, ‘I am a vampire.’
She speaks of the meaning behind being a vampire; she speaks of their community and culture; she speaks of their heart bond and what it means for him. He does not move for a long moment after she finishes.
At last, her patience grows thin. ‘Think on that,’ she says, rising. Even though she can hope that he is repulsed by the truth, she knows, deep in her blood, that he will not be. She said it herself: he is her heart. He is her soulmate.
Albeit after a week of silence, they do continue to hang out. If not for the weight of their bond, she would enjoy Bailey’s presence; he brings a bubble of surety and positivity wherever he goes, and they get along well enough. She would dare say they are becoming friends.
They always meet in Toronto. She does not invite him home. The commute is fine, bearable, and she always schedules their get-togethers on the days she’s already there for work. Having him in her own space – her sanctuary – would imply something other than what is real.
He’s not a vampire yet, anyway.
That perhaps means less when she has already revealed the secret. With her confession, Bailey possesses knowledge that could threaten her community’s existence. Growing up, her mother would read Dana bedtime stories about the nineteenth-century hunts and ensure that she understood the history behind their close community. That is, she supposes, one reason why her father insists she turn Bailey; after being welcomed into the fold, exposing the truth would hurt him the same as everyone else.
At this point, she’s just putting it off. She did not ask him earlier, when she could have, because she was still hoping for rejection.
It is obvious what she should be. She’d seen the longing glances between her parents when she was little, before her mother left to travel the world. She’s seen their affectionate pats and caresses during souvenir visits. She’s heard the things they tell each other – be it over the phone or on video call or live – when having a bad day, meant to cheer and console. Her former babysitters, too, modelled perfect loving; there has never been a single vampire, not after meeting who their heart has brought them.
In the words of her father: ‘Little Dana, dear, we are vampires; we have no need for anything beyond blood and water to keep our bodies swell. Our heart is a gift we give, one that returns tenfold. We do not need a heart to love, but we do it anyway.’
Dana just doesn’t understand – not the what, not the why, not the how, not any of it.
But without a clear explanation, she cannot be the problem. No, the problem must lie elsewhere. It lies in her father and community and the humans who all subscribe to a way of life that still eludes her. It lies in the heart bond. If only the world did not try to matchmake her; if only humans, too, did not have romantic love.
Even so, even knowing it is not her fault, she cannot lose her community’s high regard. She cannot disappoint her father.
When Dana’s father drops by to visit a month later, he sits her down around the low coffee table in her living room and begins by talking about her mother’s whereabouts. Dana takes this conversation in stride and asks when her mother will visit next.
‘Oh!’ His face lights up. He shuffles through his pockets – he’s recently taken to wearing these long, brown coats with eight or nine pockets – and produces a small velvet box. He passes it to Dana and gestures for her to open it. Inside lies a garish ring, the shank thick and black.
‘Put it on,’ her father says. Dana slips it on her middle finger and tilts her hand up to admire it. ‘This is a gift from your mother; she bought it off the shores of France two months ago, though it only arrived yesterday. Do you like it?’
‘Yes.’ Dana slips it off and places it back in the case, which she sets on the table. The ring feels too precious to wear, but it is reassuring to know her mother is thinking of them, the way Dana and her father do her. ‘I’ll take care of it.’
‘I know you will,’ her father says. He lays a hand on her shoulder. Dana takes a deep breath. She knows what is coming and is immediately proven right when her father continues: ‘Your heart. Have you turned him?’
‘I thought we were talking about Mom.’
‘Ah. Yes, of course.’ He pauses and licks his lips, clearly searching for words. ‘Did I ever tell you how we met? Your mother was a vampire long before I – she never told me whether she was born or turned, but I digress – and I found myself in possession of her heart. Much like you and your heart, hm? Though we officially met in my forties, she turned me not long after. I will never regret that decision. But I know you’ve told your heart the truth about us. What is holding you back from your love? There is nothing to be afraid of; it’s a promise, a bond, a treasure.’
Dana exhales. Her shoulders slump. He is correct, to a degree. There is nothing explicitly to fear. Bailey will not expose her community; he’s already shown her that much. Instead – she’s afraid of alienating herself. She’s afraid of committing herself to an eternity of discomfort. She’s afraid of making a mistake. Most of all, she thinks, she is simply tired of these sorts of conversations. She says, ‘But you—Mom’s not often home.’
He shakes his head and smiles. ‘Your mother is doing good work, and I love her.’
Dana realises, then, that she doesn’t know much about her mother as a person – she doesn’t know her mother’s thoughts, feelings, and opinions on her father and their heart bond.
‘You’re not worried?’ She doesn’t know what she’s saying. What is there for her father to be worried about? ‘It’s fine, the distance?’
‘Of course,’ he says. ‘We have eternity.’
‘But,’ she says, scrambling for something to hold on to. Something to justify her feelings, her disorientation, her selfishness. ‘You know, I thought—I thought you wanted me to turn Bailey so we wouldn’t have to worry about the truth getting out. And it won’t. So I—That’s it, for me.’
‘The truth? No, little Dana, that’s not it. It is—it is about your future, spending it with your heart. It is about your happiness. It is about our capacity for love. Our need for it. Among all the differences between our kinds, that is the one thing we will always share. Come now, haven’t I always told you it was important?’
‘You have,’ she says slowly. He just never explains the why; why is it important that she fall in love with the owner of her heart?
‘Then what is the issue? I am listening. You can tell me anything, you know this.’
She swallows; her throat is dry, and the action pricks. Her stomach is queasy. She is a stranger in her body. Despite her father’s promises, she cannot bring herself to trust his words. That realisation brings with it the ache of betrayal.
But because she doesn’t like lying to him, she says, ‘I trust in the heart bond, but I’ve just never… I’ve never felt the need or want to turn him.’ And because that is too honest, she adds, ‘I’m happy with what I have now. What I had before I met him. You said I’d be happy with Bailey, with my heart, but I don’t need that.’
‘Little Dana,’ her father says, so softly it makes her hurt. She wonders if Bailey feels it too. ‘It’s not about need. You have met your heart. You can have your heart. You can have your love. You can have your future, the one you deserve, the one that will make you the happiest.’
Dana turns her gaze towards the ring on the table. Her fingers twitch in her lap. He’s missing the mark entirely, but it would be too exhausting to argue.
When she doesn’t reply, her father says, ‘I only want the best for you. I want you to find happiness and love and for you not to be lonely. I want you to be taken care of.’
‘I know,’ she says, and then because it is her father, she promises, ‘I’ll ask him.’
Dana invites Bailey – her heart – back to Stoney Creek. She offers to buy him a snack at a small bakery, which he graciously accepts, and then takes him on a quiet walk around her neighbourhood.
When conversation first lulls and Dana gathers the courage, she tells him about how she does not – cannot – love him romantically. His eyes flare wide, and he stops in the middle of the sidewalk. It’s not like he’s verbalised his love for her, but Dana feels the need to be upfront about it all. Even if it’s accompanied by a sort of nervous agitation, it’s easier telling him this than her father. Her heart means less to her.
After a long moment, he meets her eyes with set shoulders. ‘What is this, then?’
‘It’s a request,’ Dana says. She explains: she won’t love him like that, but she doesn’t mind if he does; he is still her soulmate, and she wants to know if he wouldn’t mind being turned. She speaks quickly, desperate to get the words out and over with.
‘A request,’ he repeats, still sounding confused. ‘Alright, I’ll bite. Why do you want to turn me?’
Dana thinks of her father’s words, remembers her mother. If the heart bond is a guarantee of commitment, must it be romantic? She was never privy to the reason behind her mother leaving, if indeed there was one. In desperation, Dana imagines intentional distance, a cover for emotional fondness. She could imitate that. Partial honesty will become her exit. ‘For forever. For the future. For our friendship. I enjoy your company, I did not lie about that.’
‘Romantic,’ he laughs. She shrugs, off-kilter. Realising they’ve been standing in the middle of the sidewalk for some time now, she resumes their walk with a one-handed gesture.
‘Is that a no?’ she asks.
‘No,’ he says, quickly, and startles despite himself. He’s looking at her as they walk side by side. He’s not holding her hand like he normally does. He repeats, slower, ‘No, it’s not. Living forever, right? Sounds like fun.’
Dana lets out a breath. Should she feel more excited about the prospect? There is no appropriate room for guilt. ‘Alright. Thank you. Let’s go, then.’
‘To the hospital. I’ll turn you, and then your heart will be removed.’ Expecting a question, she reminds him, ‘This is your making as a vampire. The world will bring your heart to your soulmate.’
‘You,’ he says, laughing. Dana forces a smile. ‘I get it. And your father works at the hospital?’
‘Yes. You can meet him, I guess.’
Because of the dense vampire population in Stoney Creek, the hospital doors are always open. Dana strides in, greets the receptionist – a vampire a couple years younger than Dana herself – and requests a heart surgeon and her father once he’s free. With a knowing glance towards Bailey – her heart – the receptionist reserves a room out of the way for them.
There, Dana turns him. She wipes down the junction between his neck and his shoulder with some of the cheap sanitising wipes she keeps in her pocket. After drying the area with a paper towel, she puts her mouth to his skin and digs in.
When she pulls away and wipes the blood smear off her mouth with the back of her hand, she sees her heart running his tongue along his newly-sharpened teeth. There’s a knock at the door. ‘Come in,’ Dana says, turning.
A doctor enters – one of her father’s close friends, apparently the one that assisted her mother when giving birth to Dana – saying that he’ll perform the heart surgery.
‘Don’t worry. I’ll be waiting here,’ she reassures her heart. The doctor leads him out the door.
Her father arrives with a grin and open arms not long after. He gives her a hug and, pulling away, exclaims, ‘Little Dana! I came as quickly as I could once I heard the news.’
Despite herself, Dana smiles. ‘It’s good to see you, too.’
He squeezes her shoulders. ‘How are you feeling?’
‘Normal. A little jittery, maybe.’ It’s true; her hands tremble at her sides with pent-up adrenaline from the decision. But despite her body’s agitation, her mind is a resigned calm. Her father is content, and her heart is understanding.
Her father laughs and steps away. ‘Jittery! You can say you’re happy. I’m so proud of you. I was really worried, you know, that you wouldn’t do it. That after everything with your heart, something was wrong, and you would not go for it.’
‘Well,’ Dana says, ‘I did.’
‘Ha! Yes, you did. I’m glad. When will I meet him? I’ve been waiting, you know, but I didn’t want to push you while you two were still sorting things out.’
She snorts. He’s been pushing her plenty, even though it doesn’t seem to have registered. But that’s fine. She’s made her compromises. ‘Soon. I’m sure the two of you will get along great.’
‘Of course,’ her father says. ‘This is your heart, after all.’
Dana nods. Her life can return to what it was before. Perhaps it was cowardice that brought her to this middle ground, but she will not allow herself regret. She built her coffin; in the years that come, she will acquaint herself with lying in it.
S.L.W. is a biracial eighteen year old writer from Ontario, Canada. Her work has been previously published in Southchild Lit and Ice Lolly Review. You can find her on Twitter @slwwrites.