She always woke with the sweet, choking smell of chlorine filling her mouth. Funny, that, because the pool hadn’t even been where it had ended, but it was what lingered every time.
She couldn’t remember, anymore, when she had started cycling, what she had been doing the last day of linear time. It was after she’d killed the band the first time, she knew. Many days after, she thought. Had there been entire months there, swallowed whole by her aimlessness? She thought she remembered a wood-paneled room and the smell of old cigarettes, but where that had been, how long she had been surviving there, she could no longer recall.
All Needy knew was that now she woke, every new cycle, standing in the woods and the chill night air, watching the van drive away again, watching Jennifer disappear.
The first several times, she tried to keep an accounting, record in her mind the choices she’d made and how the story had changed. She couldn’t do that anymore, could no longer remember how many times she had done this. How many times she had watched Jennifer die. How many times she had tried to save her.
And every time it began again, every time she looked down at her clean-again hands, she winced to see them without blood. It felt abnormal, wrong, now. This was not the way of things, pretending to be fresh-faced and innocent. The way of things was grime under her fingernails and rivulets running down her wrists.
The first time, after the shock and confusion had worn off and she’d realized that she was, in fact, back in the old woods, back in her old human body, she’d wept. Wept for the chance to do it all over again. Wept as she was running after the van, feet pounding on the hard ground, lungs bursting. She’d forgotten what it was like to be vulnerable, she discovered. Somewhere between prison and revenge, Jennifer’s gifts had become sunk into her skin.
She couldn’t reach the van. She never could.
All she could ever reach was Jennifer, crawling and then walking away from the ground where they’d offered her.
That first time, Needy had resolved to figure it out. Promised Jennifer that she would discover how to make the hunger go away. “Sure, Needy,” Jennifer had said with a roll of her eyes, and it was almost like having her back.
So Needy read as fast as she could, scoured the library and the internet for whatever she could find. But she couldn’t find it fast enough, and eventually Jennifer was looking at her with blood on her mouth, saying, “I found a way to make the hunger go away.”
But she hadn’t, of course. The hunger never went away.
Needy knew that because she’d let Jennifer turn her, really turn her, one of the cycles. Not just mark her skin with her teeth, but an exchange of blood.
Jennifer had laughed when Needy suggested it, “I didn’t see any vampires in the woods, Needs, have you been watching the CW again?” but she did it, and staggered back when a shockwave rippled over Needy, leaving her dry heaving and breathless.
Needy had urged her to run away, then, to take to the road and live for nothing but each other. And it worked, for a little while. Feeding on animals and the rare human they thought no one would miss. Jennifer – and Needy, now – didn’t sleep much, didn’t need to, but sometimes Needy would look over at a Jennifer with her eyes briefly closed and sigh over the ending she thought she’d never have to live through again.
But Jennifer’s hunger grew, and now that Needy had taken her blood she felt it, too. A gnawing hunger, pressing outward through your skin and threatening to engulf you. Making it impossible to think of anything else.
“You don’t even feel half of it,” Jennifer snapped, after Needy had said no for the last time to snatching a stranger from the nearest town. “You’re just my shadow, and you can’t know how it really feels.”
And that was how it unraveled, and Needy found herself at the end once again.
Earlier on, she’d tried to avoid the school, and Chip, and her parents, as much as she could, not wanting to have to remember how she’d been before. But as the cycles wore on, she grew too tired to care, and she started to find that they didn’t seem to notice. She felt sure they would see that her face was made of rubber, that her smile was more like a grimace, that her words were spoken with no thought behind them. But they didn’t.
Another time, she’d resolved that Jennifer wouldn’t have to find anyone, because she would. The way Jennifer did things was too messy, too easy to spiral out of control. Needy met Jennifer in the woods, and she told her that she would find the people who deserved most to be a succubus’ meal, and she would bring them to Jennifer.
And that worked, for a bit. Jennifer was restless, but she humored Needy for a little while, and Needy fooled herself into thinking it could work. I can do this, she thought, luring yet another victim off the beaten trail. I can manage this for her, and it’ll keep her lying low, and the world never runs out of scumbags who deserve to be bitten.
But the hunger came, as it always did, and Jennifer’s restlessness turned to anger. And it turned out that keeping her controlled only made the hunger grow worse, for when Needy tracked her down after she’d left their home, half the town was dead.
There were many cycles that Jennifer got the best of her, but only once where she gave in and stopped fighting, let Jennifer eat her with no resistance.
Take my heart, it’s yours anyway, she’d thought in her last moments, Jennifer’s fingernails digging into the soft skin under her ribs.
There was only one cycle that she never let herself repeat. The lowest moment, the one she most wished she could take back.
She’d met Jennifer in the woods, again, fresh-cursed and scrubbing the dirt from her face.
“Needy?” Jennifer had said, blinking at her. “What are you doing out here?”
“Looking for an answer,” Needy said. Behind her back, the rock cut into her hand. “Looking for you.”
Jennifer stood, shook her hair out. She was pale, trembly; Needy knew from past cycles that she would be weak until she fed for the first time.
“But I’m not lost,” Jennifer said.
Needy shook her head and swung the rock.
Sometimes, upon awaking, where she just stood and screamed in the woods, the streaking orange and red of the van’s taillights burning behind her eyes.
Why couldn’t she go back to before they took her? Why was she cursed to always arrive moments too late, when the end had already been set in motion?
After she awoke into the last cycle, she turned away from the disappearing van. Walked further into the woods. Lay down on the damp earth and let her hair spread out on the ground.
Needy looked at the stars. She hadn’t realized how long it had been since she’d seen them. All these cycles, all this time standing in the dark, and she’d forgotten about the stars.
Needy cried, and then, for the first time in a very long time, she slept.
She woke up when dawn streaked the sky, dew having misted over her face and clotted in her eyelids. She sat up, coughing.
She found Jennifer behind the school, standing over a boy’s body. She turned to Needy, teeth dripping, and Needy’s heart clenched, like it always did.
“Hello, Needy,” Jennifer said. “Come to lecture me? Feed me? Lock me away?”
Needy staggered back. “You…remember?”
Jennifer popped her jaw, casually, and said, “no, not exactly. It’s like a dream, and it’s sharper when I’ve just eaten. What do you want, Needy?”
“I want to help you,” Needy said. “That’s all I keep trying to do. But they won’t let me. I can’t stop it happening.”
Jennifer narrowed her eyes. “They? You’re the one who killed me.” When she saw Needy’s face fall, she laughed, cruelly, as only Jennifer could. “Wow, I guessed right! Go away, Needy. Stop trying to make me your housewife, or whatever.”
“I just want you to be free,” Needy snapped.
“Well, I just want you to stop managing me,” Jennifer shot back, almost shouting now. “This is who I am now, your Jennifer is dead, and I just want you to stop being ashamed of me!”
Needy, burning all over, could think of nothing to say to that. She took a breath. And another.
“I feel so old,” Jennifer said, quieter. “I love you, and I know you’ll say you love me, but I feel a thousand years old, and I need you to accept that this is where we are now.”
Needy nodded, slowly. I’m not lost, she remembered the other Jennifer saying. “Okay,” she whispered. Her voice caught and she tried again. “Okay. I’ll stop trying to save you, I’ll stop wishing we could go back.”
“Thank you,” Jennifer said.
“But-” and here Needy’s words started tripping over themselves, “I need you to believe me when I say I love you. You never seemed to think that you were worthy of that, but you are, and I do.”
Jennifer’s face wrinkled, and for a moment, Needy thought she was going to cry. But then she smiled, face bright and teeth shining. “So, how do we get out of this cycle of yours?” she asked.
It had taken Needy so many times to realize what caused the cycle to reset, but once she noticed the pattern, it had become obvious. “I think,” she said, looking at the ground, “it resets when I lose all hope, when I feel despair.”
“Despair? Jeez, Needy, you’re so heavy on the melodrama,” Jennifer said. But she tangled her fingers in Needy’s hair and gave her a kiss on the cheek, and murmured, “I think we can avoid that.”
Needy woke up, and there was no chlorine. Only the smell of old cigarettes.
She opened her eyes. The hotel room was ugly and run down and had wood-paneled walls.
Needy stretched and rolled over.
“Ouch,” said Jennifer. “Watch where your bony little fingers go. That was my tit.”