Prague wasn’t at all what I imagined. I thought it would be a lot like Segovia, for some reason. It was more like a slightly modern German city. To my amazement, people celebrated Christmas almost all month long in December, starting promptly with Saint Nicholas Day on the sixth. That’s when we met our neighbors.
Pam and I had rented another apartment, this time for the whole month of December, inside Prague. As I’d been while in Segovia and Barcelona, I was excited and apprehensive in equal measure, plus then some. The language was very different than Spanish or English, and even their alphabet was not the same. But that small worry dissipated as I started falling in love with the city.
I had already learned that the culture in Spain was different than in the United States. Of course, that’s a given. I hadn’t been prepared to find a similar way of thinking throughout all of Europe, though. People stared openly, and not in a malicious way like they would in the States. In the United States, if somebody is staring at you, there can only be two explanations: either they want you sexually, or there’s something wrong with you. I’d been the recipient of those stares more times than I cared to count, along with the accompanying thoughts.
In Segovia I hadn’t had the chance to encounter the new phenomenon, but in Barcelona and Prague, I did. People stared, and it was always – and I mean ALWAYS – with an open and healthy curiosity. Every time I dipped into the thoughts of the person staring they were thinking of either my beautiful hair, my strange shade of eye color, how pretty my clothes were, was I American? Did I need help carrying the groceries? I’d gotten that one a few times, usually from men, and most of the time they followed through on that thought and asked me if I needed help.
That’s how I first met my neighbor. It was the fifth of December and I was laden with goodies I’d found. He was coming in the building at the same time as me. First he asked me in Czech if he could help me carry my bags, and I had to rely on my sixth sense to understand him. I answered him in English, though, not knowing enough Czech and not wanting to be impolite… and since I was about to drop one of the bags, I didn’t hesitate and accepted.
“Yes, please, thank you!” I said quickly as he grabbed the bag that was about to fall.
“You are American,” he said in English. His accent sounded almost British. His eyes lit up as he ascertained my heritage. Evidently he was excited to have an American neighbor.
“Yes, I’m Sookie,” I said, but unable to offer him my hand to shake I simply nodded like a vampire.
“I’m Milos. It is very nice to meet you,” he said, nodding back now that his hands were full too. He was very tall, almost as tall as Eric, but lanky. His dark brown hair and eyes contrasted with his very light skin. He was dressed warmly, just like everybody else, in a spotless black wool coat. However, he was wearing a garishly bright scarf that was way too long. Somehow he pulled it off well. He saw me eyeing it as we walked inside. “The scarf, my wife Lida gave to me last Christmas.” Milos rolled his eyes but with a smile, which told me how much he loved his wife that he was willing to put on that scarf even a year later.
“I like it very much,” I said, because I did.
“You must be very lonely here. Tomorrow is Saint Nicholas. Come and have dinner with us. We would love to practice our English,” he said as we reached my door. I was still on full-on protect mode with Pam sleeping in her bedroom inside her coffin. The only security she had was me, so I didn’t want to let anybody come inside. I also wasn’t sure if I should accept a dinner date with the neighbors and leave Pam alone.
“I have to talk to my friend. She’s alone in Prague too and I wouldn’t want to think she’d be all by herself,” I said, turning down the invitation in the nicest way possible, and also not letting him know the exact whereabouts of my friend.
“She must come too…”
“You don’t understand,” I interrupted. Might as well tell him all. If he was going to bolt or think I was nuts, now was the time. “She’s a vampire,” I said in a low voice.
He didn’t miss a beat. “Tell her to come. I will bring my vampire friend and they can talk over some True Blood.” In the Czech Republic, True Blood was marketed by its English name.
I sputtered for a moment. I knew that certain European nations were more tolerant than others, and the Czech Republic was on par with France and Sweden, I just hadn’t met anyone so open about it before.
“That will be great. I’m sure she’d love to come too. We’ll be there!” was my final answer.
Indeed, we had a wonderful dinner the next night. Lida was as light as Milos was dark, and she had the same easy manner as he did. She loved to dress in vibrant colors, her excuse being that winters were too long and dreary to wear “black coat, black boots, black pants, everything black and not a hint of color!” She had ticked each item off with her fingers and then threw her hands up in the air in exasperation, as if it was winter’s fault that clothing choices even came in nothing but black.
Pam actually made friends with Milos’ vampire friend, a guy by the name of Dusan. He had been turned in the past fifty years or so, and had lived in the Czech Republic long before it was a republic.
Our nights became much more interesting as December dragged on. It was cold and wet, snowing more than I’d ever seen in my little corner of Louisiana. But our neighbors were warm and welcoming, and the company was always pleasant. I tried my hand at cooking dinner several nights and they enjoyed my American take on their food.
On Christmas Eve we were to go have dinner at their place. Milos, Pam, Dusan and I trimmed the tree while Lida cooked. Milos, Dusan and Lida would begin singing Christmas songs, or so I deduced, at odd intervals. Dinner was fried carp with potato salad, warm rolls, fixings, and fresh cookies for dessert. I had expected a ham or a turkey, me being a silly American, although I didn’t voice my expectations. Nevertheless I enjoyed the cooking almost as much as the traditions.
“Everybody go in the bedroom and wait. When the bell rings you come on out and see what the Baby Jesus left you,” Lida said, shooing us away and into her and Milos’ bedroom.
Milos explained. “We don’t have kids, and it’s tough to do this with only the two of us, so Lida is beyond happy that you are here tonight so she can do this properly.”
Dusan chuckled and patted Milos’ shoulder. Pam and I looked at each other and shrugged, although I was getting the gist of it. “Is the Baby Jesus like Santa Claus?” I asked in a whisper, feeling completely out of my league.
“Yes! Just like that,” Milos said excited.
We heard the bell ring and made our way to the living room and to the tree. Now there were four gifts under it, plus one that Milos surreptitiously sneaked in while Lida was turned away. It was more than my little heart could handle. I opened my gift and cried at their generosity. My small parcel contained a beautiful scarf made of many beautiful pastel colors.
These people barely knew me and Pam, yet had welcomed us with open arms and friendship, showing us nothing but a sincere desire to have us in their lives. Believe me, I had checked countless times, invading their thoughts time and time again to make sure they meant us no harm. They never had.
Coming back to our apartment that night was bittersweet. We’d had fun with our Czech neighbors and their open camaraderie. With our gifts tucked into our sides, our thoughts full of so much else, both Pam and I were taken by surprise when we rounded the corner of the stairs and found a tall figure leaning against our door.
Someone punched the air out of me and I couldn’t move. I saw Pam run like a streak of lightning and hurl herself at… Eric. My mind refused to make it a reality. Surely I was seeing things. This couldn’t be real. My wishes never came true, except for that one exceptional wish I’d made to save his life. Yet there was no other explanation for the way Pam was completely delighted to have landed within the arms of a tall stranger, unless that stranger was her maker.
“Sookie?” I heard his deep voice call to me, echoing inside the hall. I got chills that had nothing to do with the cold air around me. I felt hot tears streaking down my cheeks and a sudden need to do what Pam had just done. But my feet refused to budge and my knees turned to Jell-O.
“Eric,” I called to him in despair because I couldn’t get my body any closer to him.
Thankfully he was quick on the uptake and came to get me, instead. He picked me up easily, letting me bury my nose against his scarf. His scent, that sweet, dry, distinctly “him” smell, finally hit me at the same time that I sobbed like a little girl. I was aware that he was kissing me wherever he could reach, but I couldn’t move anymore.
At some point he moved us from the cold hall to our warm apartment, and more specifically to my room. He sat down on my bed, still holding me tight and letting me get his scarf wet with all manner of things. In a moment of lucidity, I thought about all the times he’d seen me cry after I’d made my wish on the cluviel dor. Before the cluviel dor? I could count the number of times I’d let myself cry in front of him in one hand. Now? There were too many to count. And he didn’t run away. Not once.
I focused on getting a hold of my senses. What was I doing wasting precious time by having a crying fit? No! I had him here, in my arms, and I didn’t know for how long. Better to make the most of it.
Looking up I met his eyes. He looked sad, as sad as me. Well, no more! I pulled on his neck and claimed his lips. My hunger for him was like an old friend, and my body reacted, knowing exactly what to do. Eric read my mind and helped. His rapid movements produced a flurry of discarded clothes while our frenzy only increased.
I landed not too subtly on the bed, with Eric landing right above me. Our lips had yet to come unglued as he reached between us, testing me and making me moan into his mouth. His fingers were quickly replaced by his length. He plunged inside me, fast and with purpose, and I wanted more. I wrapped my arm around his shoulder while my free hand became tangled in his hair.
The first stirrings of my impending orgasm came fast, almost at the same time that I managed to let go of his lips to offer my neck. Eric growled low, licked the spot he was going to claim, then bit, and groaned loudly at the same time that he sent me into oblivion.
When I came back into myself I discovered that Eric wasn’t done, or else he wanted more. He was moving inside me slowly, kissing my neck, his kisses traveling to my face. I opened my eyes, not wanting to spend another moment without looking at him.
Eric murmured beautiful nothings in his language, too fast and too low for me to understand. He never let go of my gaze, his hands caressing my face, my hair, my neck, my bare shoulders. I wrapped my arms and legs around him, feeling him do the same in an attempt to fuse our bodies together.
“I missed you so much,” I said in my own language, feeling a tear roll down my cheek again.
He kissed the tear away. “Don’t cry, my Sookie. I’m here now. Everything is going to be okay. I love you. You’re my dearest. You’re my darling.” But even as he said those words he let a dark tear escape. I’d only seen him cry once, when he was remembering my pain.
All I wanted, all I needed, was there. It was Eric. He had come thousands of miles to be with me. His devotion, his love, that feeling he shared because of our combined blood inside me, it was bright and untainted by the distance that had separated us. I’d never imagined needing someone like this. It was scary and exhilarating, and exactly right. My soul knew it, and I cherished my Eric.
We made love over and over, taking advantage of the long winter night. At no time did it occur to me to ask why he was there and if we were going back home with him. Other than having him in my bed and being able to kiss him and make love to him for the first time in a month and a half, I wasn’t concerned about anything else. It was nearly eight in the morning when he retrieved a coffin from under my tall bed and kissed me goodnight. Now I knew why Dusan enjoyed living in this latitude… Winter days were very short and most times dreary. Winter nights were long and cold, but everyone made the most of them.
I fell asleep easily, knowing my love was just a few steps away and safe. Just by having him there I knew everything was going to be better.