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The Colour Of Kisses


Acclaim:2nd prize in the SWG Romantic Story Competition (2005)


The Colour Of Kisses

"I haven't touched any for six months now."

Jacob's gaze swung away from the mini-skirted witches and unravelling mummies of Bar Rita's Halloween Ball and faced the woman who had sat opposite him.

"What?" he said as Frankenstein's monster lurched past him.

"Blood," said the woman. "I haven't touched any blood for six months." There was a pause, then the woman smiled and extended a hand to Jacob. "I'm Elizabeth."

He took the offered hand and shook it cautiously. The woman laughed. "No, you're meant to kiss the hand of a lady."

Jacob shrugged. "I've seen rather a lot of vampires this evening."

"But I must be the first one to have seen you, otherwise you wouldn't be sitting alone."

The music changed track to a bass-heavy pop beat, masking the vocals with distortion from the speakers. Jacob looked at the woman curiously, then extended his hand to her. "I'm Jacob." He took her hand again and kissed the back of it.

"You learn fast anyway," Elizabeth said, laughing. "You're not a big fan of Halloween then?" she said.

"Does it show?"

"Well, you're the only one not dressed as a monster."

Jacob glanced up and down Elizabeth. She had dark hair, but where the vampire costumes had white make up, she was merely pale skin. She stood out because of it. She had a white dress that met her hair at her shoulders and looked unremarkable.

"You aren't exactly in vampire costume yourself."

Elizabeth laughed again, her eyes shining. "If you were a vampire would you wear black, or white to keep the sun off?"

Jacob laughed this time.

A woman came out of the crowd at startling speed and rushed over to Jacob. A witch's hat balanced precariously on her head as she struggled to hold a cigarette, glass and plastic broomstick at the same time.

"Darling!" said the new woman, proceeding to throw her arms around Jacob's neck. "I didn't expect to see you here!" She eyed Elizabeth suspiciously. "Darling, you have company."

"Ah. Girlfriend?" said Elizabeth, looking at Jacob.

"Ex-girlfriend," said the woman, extending hand and broomstick towards Elizabeth, "but don't you worry, dear, I'm not territorial." She withdrew her hand before Elizabeth could shake it and instead threw her arms around Jacob's neck again. "Isn't that right, sweetheart?" She kissed him on the cheek.

"You left me, remember," said Jacob, pushing her away and wiping lipstick off his face.

"Of course, sweetie. I'll take myself back to Clarence now." She stepped aside, stumbling slightly, and pointed to a bored looking man at the bar. Sylvia leaned towards Jacob conspiratorially and said, "He's not much of a talker, but you should see him in a Versace suit!"

"That's great, Sylvia, just great."

Sylvia wobbled for a moment and leant on the table. "Well, I'd best be getting back. You two darlings have a wicked time of it. Don't do anything I wouldn't do!" She tapped Jacob on the head with her broomstick and staggered back into the crowd.

Jacob glanced at Elizabeth then looked away. "Sorry..."

Elizabeth shrugged. "Let me guess - she's a real witch, right?"

"Something like that, yeah." They both laughed.

They watched the crowds go by a moment, then Elizabeth said, "Listen, do you want to go somewhere quieter?"

A few minutes later they made their way to the quayside. They walked slowly, him with his jacket pulled about him, her still with just her dress. The ground was damp from earlier rain and shone with reflected streetlights. The air echoed with the distant nightlife.

A couple of girls in heavy eyeliner stumbled past with a man dressed as a skeleton. He nodded at Jacob and Elizabeth as he pulled a skull mask over his face.

"It's horribly tacky isn't it?" said Jacob, "Halloween I mean."

"It's all good fun. Here," Elizabeth stopped and stuck an elbow out to one side. "Take it," she said.


"Take my arm, silly. Walk with me properly."

Jacob dutifully looped his arm through hers and they walked on. The spire of St. Nicholas' Church looked down at them as they passed, as it in turn was looked down upon on by the nearby tower blocks.

"It's a strange place for a beautiful church such as this," said Elizabeth.

"It's a strange place for such a beautiful lady as you," said Jacob.

Elizabeth smiled coyly.

They stopped and Jacob slowly pushed her hair aside. She gazed up at him as his hand brushed against her neck and the thin gold chain that hung there.

"What's this?" he said, following the chain down with his hands. His fingers rested briefly against a small vial before she brushed his hand away, covering the vial with her fingers so only the gold seal at the top was visible.

"It reminds me who I am and how far I've come," she said.

"It's very red."

"It's the colour of kisses," she said smiling. "Let me show you." She reached behind his neck and pulled his lips to hers. He softly put his arms about her in reply and they melted into an embrace.

Eventually Elizabeth pulled back, still holding the embrace, moist lips smiling. She pressed a hand gently against Jacob's chest. "Take me home with you," she whispered.

Jacob opened the door to the apartment and flicked on lights as he entered. A warm glow seemed to fill the space. He gestured around the room as he stepped through.

"Make yourself at home," he said.

Elizabeth looked about in wonder. "It's beautiful. Far better than my home."

Jacob shrugged apologetically and bustled into the kitchen. "Can I get you a drink?" he called back.

"Wine," said Elizabeth.

"I've only got red."

"Red's good."

Jacob laughed. "Is it always red with you?" He opened a bottle and picked up two wineglasses, deftly carrying them across the kitchen. "I'm sorry the glasses aren't up to much, I can't find any good quality crystal that..." His voice tailed off as he entered the lounge and saw that it was empty.

He looked around and saw the bedroom door was open, with Elizabeth sitting on the corner of the bed, running her hands across the sheets. She looked up as he entered.

"I thought it would save time if we started in here."

Jacob raised an eyebrow and offered a glass to her. She caught his gaze while he filled the glass and then sipped at the wine slowly. She stopped him short as he tried to fill his own glass. "We only need one."

He smiled, putting the glass and bottle on a table and taking the wineglass from her. "Here's to your beauty," he said.

She gave a small smile, backing away from him and kicking off her shoes, then reaching down and pulling her dress up over her head. With the dress removed, she was naked. She dropped the limp garment on the bed and stepped slowly back over to him, her amusement matching his astonishment. She reached out and took the wineglass back.

"You're incredible," Jacob breathed in the barest sound. He watched her raise the glass to her lips, again keeping eye contact as she drained the wine swiftly.

"Oops," she said. "None left for you." She walked to the table and put the glass down, only to take up the bottle instead. His eyes watched the smooth curve of her back as she filled the glass and then turned to face him, leaning back against the table as she did so. She raised the bottle to her lips, drinking slowly and letting the wine run out of her mouth and down her breasts.

"Oops again," she whispered, putting the bottle down. "How do I clean this up?"

Jacob walked to her, leant down to her face and kissed her lips. She made no move to hold him this time, but closed her eyes. He kissed her again and again, his lips moving now across her neck and onto her breasts, tracing the rivulets of red wine where they fell down her body. She shivered.

"I want you," he said.

She opened her eyes and looked straight at him.

"I'm yours."

The first light of dawn filtered into the bedroom as they lay side by side under the sheets, her back to him, his body and arms wrapped about her.

"You're amazing," he whispered.

She squeezed his hand in response.

He pulled her closer, his hand again brushing the glass vial around her neck. "Do you ever take this off?"



There was a moment's silence, then she turned to him. "Do you remember when I said I hadn't touched any blood for six months?"

"I thought you were joking."

Elizabeth shook her head. "You see these notches?" She held the vial up on the end of its chain and in the dim light he just made out that the red colouring sloshed about inside the glass. He watched as she gestured at crude marks scratched into the gold seal on the vial, counting along them. "The first seven are days. The next three are weeks. The next five are months. Six months in all since I gave it up."

Jacob pulled back a moment. "What? You're serious?"

"Very." The intensity in her eyes scared him momentarily and he tried to pull back. She rested a hand on his shoulder. "It's okay."

"This is a weird game," said Jacob, "but Halloween's over now."

"This is no game."

"So you're, what? A..."

She pressed a finger to his lips. "Yes. I live... I have lived off blood." She looked away. "Forever off blood. But you forget. You forget everything. People, places, things. After a while there isn't anything else. It takes will to stop. So much you can't imagine."

"But it's not possible."

"It is, Jacob. Six months ago I could have proved it to you. You could have watched me fly around the room. You could cut me and watch me heal. But six months without blood now, I wouldn't so much as bounce."

"But why the necklace? Why me? I don't understand."

"It's for passion, Jacob. For passion, and love, and kisses, and thinking and feeling and remembering, and everything that makes life incredible. Every mark on the vial is another step for passion. It was an effort to get this far, but it gets easier every day. I want life back - not the waking amnesia. I've seen you around and I want life back with you."

"I..." began Jacob, but again she pressed his mouth into silence.

"Rest on it," she said. "It's a lot to realise in one go."

She pressed herself against him again, drawing his reluctant arm around her waist. "Sleep," she said, pressing her cheek to his chest.

Jacob said nothing, but watched the gathering light of morning slowly seep in.

Jacob awoke to morning light, surprised that he had slept, and surprised that she was gone. As he slowly padded his way into the bathroom, he was also surprised to find himself missing her embrace.

Eventually he made his way into the lounge and cast the curtains open. A note was waiting for him on the coffee table, written in smoothly curving letters:


Sorry for my absence. I wasn't expecting to be out so late. Meet me eight o'clock at Le Chateau Perdu restaurant? I'll be there.


He folded the note carefully and put it in his pocket, resolving to think no more about it as he left the apartment. But even as he stepped outside, he could see Elizabeth in his mind. She was crazy, he was sure. But every time he tried to turn his mind to other tasks, he saw her face again. Did it matter if she was mad? She had passion and sensuality, he knew. That felt honest enough. Was he really so blessed in the world that he shouldn't accept passion if it arrived alongside some peculiarities?

He spent the rest of the day in a dream, fighting to focus on his tasks but always drawn back to Elizabeth, until finally eight o'clock came around and he found himself walking into Le Chateau Perdu. Elizabeth waved at him from a table.

"I thought you weren't coming," she said.

Jacob sat opposite her. "So did I."

They sat in awkward silence, studying separate menus, until Elizabeth finally slid around into a chair beside him. She took his hand and squeezed it gently, running a finger down the menu and translating the French titles of the dishes. Jacob felt himself melt at her touch again, seeing the glass vial swing at her neck but not caring any more.

The meal was good. He noted at the back of his mind that she ordered the smallest dish on the menu, and even then didn't eat much of it, but he pushed the thought aside and settled into the evening. They talked about life and laughed and joked - like normal people, he thought quickly - until as the evening wore on it became clear they were outstaying their welcome in the restaurant.

"Shall we go back to my place?" he said, cautiously.

Elizabeth shook her head. "We should see mine. It's only fair."

He paid the bill and let her lead him out into the cold night air. The sky was clear, with a brilliant full moon. He pulled his jacket tighter around him as best he could as Elizabeth pulled him onward by his hand. She looked back, saw his expression and laughed. "I don't feel the cold very much."

She led the way back to the waterfront, past active industry to decrepit warehouse. The door was falling from its hinges as she ushered Jacob through. Inside was dark, and Jacob had to follow her lead across the black room to the stairs. Moonlight filtered in through dusty windows, barely picking out the steps.

"Do you really live here?" said Jacob as they reached the top. He felt her shrug.

"I visit."

She took him over to a window where moonlight poured in. A bottle of red wine and two glasses were waiting on the window sill, and Jacob realised as they approached that the window had been pushed through, leaving an incredible view of the moon high above, and its twin reflected in the water below.

"Amazing isn't it?" said Elizabeth. She finally let go of his hand and stood at the window, gazing up at the sky.

"I never guessed you could get this clear a view."

"It's the highest building on the waterfront. You can't get a view like this anywhere else." She turned to the wine bottle and carefully pushed the cork through with her thumb. She smiled apologetically. "I forgot the corkscrew."

He grinned and took the bottle from her, drinking from it. He held it back to her, but moved it away as she reached for it. She laughed then took his wrist and manoeuvred the bottle to her face, spilling wine as she did so.

"I'm a mess now," she said, brushing wine off her dress.

"Too bad."

They looked into each other's eyes a moment. Elizabeth shook her hair back, exposing her neck. "You know, no-one will disturb us here. There's nothing but you, me and the moonlight."

"What, no clothes?"

"Well, that depends." She turned away in mock shyness until he pressed against her, one hand tracing up her body and sliding her dress off her shoulders. She pressed his hand to her skin and moved it down her body as the dress slowly fell to the floor.

"Oops," he said, tracing the moonlight across her body.

It became easier after that, and their relationship became closer. She moved in with him, bringing very little with her, but making few demands as she did so. He went about his life, working by day. By unspoken agreement he never asked what she did in the day, and she in turn gave him freedom to live his life when she wasn't there.

Eventually the days extended as winter gave way to spring and the first suggestions of summer. They saw less of each other as the nights became shorter, but still met passionately when the light faded.

On one evening, when they rested in each other's arms, Jacob said suddenly, "I may not see much of you tomorrow. There's a family do. It starts in the afternoon but might run quite late. Of course, most of the older generation are only going to be there in the day."

"Including your parents?"

"Yes." Jacob paused. "It's a pity you can't meet them."

Elizabeth fidgeted a moment, tracing her fingers across his hand until she reached a decision. "I'll come," she said.

"Seriously?" Jacob sat upright. "But you never come out with me when it's light." A look of alarm crossed his face. "I thought..."

Elizabeth shrugged. "I'll come," she said, patting his hand, "I'll come."

When Jacob awoke the next day he found Elizabeth sitting in the lounge waiting for him. She had a white dress down to her ankles and long white gloves. She twirled a parasol over her shoulder as he entered. "What do you think?"

"You look like the perfect lady."

She leaned next to his ear and whispered, "We know better."

They made love casually, relaxing into it for too long and then leaving the house in a rush. The party was outdoors at the country retreat of the one of Jacob's cousins, and Jacob apologised for the conspicuous consumption of some of his family as they made their way round to the garden. Elizabeth didn't say anything but instead glanced nervously at the thin layer of clouds covering the sun. She noticed his look and mouthed back, "I'll be fine."

Jacob introduced Elizabeth to the family then left her to mingle on her own. She settled with a group of mothers, aunts and grand mothers, making small talk about the children playing and accepting compliments about the parasol.


Elizabeth turned to see a woman arriving and waving at Jacob, then marching him across to him. It was Sylvia. The pair kissed cheeks under Elizabeth's gaze and then started talking animatedly.

"What's she doing here?" said Elizabeth and the group of women turned as one to see.

"Oh, that's Sylvia. She's Robert's brother's daughter," said the woman Elizabeth now recognised as Jacob's second aunt. "She practically grew up with Jacob."

The women turned away and resumed their conversation, except for Elizabeth. She watched Sylvia take one of Jacob's hands in both of hers and he gripped back.

As the afternoon wore on it became hotter and brighter as the clouds gave way to the relentless beam of the sun. Elizabeth barely noticed the conversation that came her way, mumbling only the barest of replies until finally someone said, "Are you alright dear?"

Elizabeth put on the best smile she could, swaying slightly as she did so. "Yes, fine. Just... so hot."

Another woman pointed at her arm. "You do seem to have rather caught the sun."

Elizabeth turned to look where the woman pointed, in the inch gap between the gloves and her dress. The skin was a bright red.

"Oh," said Elizabeth, and suddenly felt a hand take hers. She looked up to find Jacob's aunt leading her away.

"Maybe you should get out of the sun for a while, dear."

"I'm fine. I... Okay."

Elizabeth was soon seated in the kitchen with a cold cloth held against her arm. She looked out into the garden, catching sight of Jacob's aunt heading to where Jacob was sitting close to Sylvia. Soon Jacob came into the kitchen.

"What's happened?" he said.

"Nothing, I just... I'm... so hot..."

Elizabeth swayed a little in her seat, flinching when Jacob put a hand on her shoulder to steady her.

"Why weren't you here for me?" whispered Elizabeth.

"I'm here now."

"You were with Sylvia."

"I can't just turn my back on her. She's a friend of the family."

"You used... to date her." Elizabeth closed her eyes tightly. "You've been with her all afternoon."

Jacob looked away. "You don't seem so good at the moment. I think we should get you home."

"I'm... fine... Just... hot," whispered Elizabeth, but let herself be helped out of the chair anyway. "Aren't you... going to say... goodbye to her?"

"What? No. Let's just get you home."

The journey back was tense and silent, until Jacob opened the door to the apartment. Elizabeth pushed away from him, her parasol falling to the ground. "I needed you there for me," she said, quickly threading her way through to the bathroom.

"I was there," said Jacob, as the bathroom door locked in front of him.

The sound of the shower was the only reply.

"What am I supposed to do, Elizabeth? I can't very well ignore her." He picked up the parasol and threw it on the sofa. "For what it's worth, we're planning a summer holiday for some of the family. We thought it would be nice to get away somewhere hot." He paused, then added, "She seems to be able to cope with the heat."

The shower stopped abruptly and he heard Elizabeth climb out. The lock on the bathroom door rattled and she opened the door slowly. "Look at me," he heard her say.

"I..." he began, then stopped. His face turned pale. "Dear god."

Elizabeth was leaning on the door. Jacob looked at her properly for the first time since they had left, and was horrified. The left side of her body was covered with bright red blotches, all along her arm and leg, and some on her ribcage and breast. She brushed her wet hair aside, and he now saw that the side of her face was also coming up the same. "I needed you," she said and turned slowly. She walked back to the bathroom mirror, allowing Jacob to see the same red patterns across her back and shoulders.

He rushed into the bathroom behind her, gingerly placing a hand on her but making her flinch. "Oh god. I'm so sorry. I didn't realise. I thought, I mean..." His voice tailed off.

She studied the patterning on her face in the mirror, then looked at him. "No, it's okay, you had no reason to know. Even I was caught out. I'm still sensitive to light. I thought I would be okay by now, but I'm not. Twelve months on, and still not enough." She choked a laugh. "It'll fade fast. You were right though. I won't be coming on any summer holidays for a while."

"Elizabeth, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean that. I was being unkind."

She placed a finger on his lips before he could continue. "I know."

Jacob gestured up and down her. "But what is this? What happened?"

"You know why. It's the light. It seems white cotton isn't enough to block it all out though." She turned and gingerly made her way out of the bathroom. "I need to sit down."

They sat in awkward silence for a while, she perched on the edge of a chair and making as little contact with it as possible. After a while she asked him to clean up her clothes that were still in the bottom of the shower where she had taken them off. He nodded and went into the bathroom. When he came back out she was gone.

She didn't return for two days, and Jacob was starting to wonder if she had left for good until he came home to find her dress on the floor of the lounge. He went to it immediately and picked it up, looking about for her.

"Hello?" he called.

"I'm in here," he heard the reply from the bathroom.

The bathroom door was ajar so he pushed it open. "Thank god! I was worried about you. I thought you'd left." His words trailed off as he saw what she'd done.

Sand covered the tiles of the bathroom floor, ending by an up-ended bag next to the bath. Elizabeth was lying on her side on the sand, reading a book, wearing only a black bikini, sunglasses and the necklace. She looked up as Jacob entered and peered over the top of her glasses.

"Hey," she said. "I thought, as I can't go with you to the beach, I might as well bring the beach in here. Hope you don't mind."

Jacob knelt down in the sand and looked at her. "You're incredible."

She made a non-committal gesture with her head. "Well, the old skin's recovering pretty well, wouldn't you say?" She ran a hand up her leg and along her body. The skin was barely pink. "I burn fast, I recover fast."

"You look great."

She smiled and closed the book, resting the shades on top of it.

"You'd best enjoy it while you can, because you won't see me in a bikini very often. Now," she pushed the book aside, "We have lots of making up to do, and you would not believe the places this sand gets into."

"Maybe I should check for you?"

"Maybe you should." She took his hand and rolled backwards with him. He gingerly stroked her body. "Kiss me first," she said.

Jacob paused, and something flashed briefly across his face. Then he knelt to her and gently kissed the pink flesh.

She shivered involuntarily.

She had gone again by the next morning, but Jacob expected that. He found a note from her in the lounge, carefully penned on just one line:

My Darling, I love you and always will. See you later.

He smiled and folded it, then left it on the table. The sun had behind clouds again, but he went out cheerfully.

Further down the street, Elizabeth was watching from a bench. A summer hat covered her head and a jumper and trousers covered the rest of her body. She waited for Jacob to get away from the apartment then started following him, making sure she kept her distance. She divided her attention between Jacob and the sky, watching for him to see her and the clouds to thin. But he never looked back and the clouds never moved.

She almost lost him as he made his way through the shopping precinct, but realised he was heading towards Leonard Bridge - an old structure in black iron that asserted itself over the river, joining the two halves of the city far back from the waterfront. She stopped at the edge, watching Jacob carry on to the middle.

Sylvia was there waiting for him.

Elizabeth watched as they embraced and then kissed, their lips meeting briefly. They smiled and laughed together, and held hands.

Elizabeth watched a moment more to be certain, feeling her face growing hot despite the hat keeping back the sun, and then turned and left.

When Jacob returned home that evening it was already dark. He found another note waiting for him, written on the back of the previous note. It said only:

Meet me on Leonard Bridge.

Sure enough, Elizabeth was waiting for him on the bridge.

He walked up to her slowly, stopping a short distance away. She was wearing the same white dress she had worn when they met. She didn't look around.

Jacob looked away a moment, then turned back. "Elizabeth, I..."

She waved a hand to silence him. "I saw you kiss her."

"I don't know what to say."

"There's nothing you can say." They stood in silence a moment, then she continued, "Why, Jacob? Just tell me why."

"You're incredible Elizabeth. But you live in the darkness. I want to live with someone in the light."

Her head snapped round quickly and he could see that she had been crying. "But I might be able to one day. It's been over a year now since I gave up..." She clutched the vial around her neck reflexively. "I might be better one day."

"You might. But I don't want 'might'. I want to know. How long do we have to live in the shadows to find out? I've seen what the sun does to you."

Elizabeth looked away sharply, her hair falling across her face. She paused. "Did you still love her when we met?"

"Yes. No. It's difficult. I've seen what I miss in her."

"Going out on sunny days."

"Not just that."

Elizabeth cried silently, and tears fell onto the railings of the bridge.

"Go," she said, reaching behind her neck with one hand. The glass vial slid down into her other hand.

"What are you doing?"

"I'm giving you my blessing. I'm letting you leave me with a clean conscience. Not because I forgive, but because I love you. Now go." She paused, then turned on him quickly, shouting, "Just go!"

He turned and started walking, then stopped. He turned back. "I wanted it to work between us. I really did."

"It doesn't matter now." She unscrewed the top of the vial and let the chain go. The gold seal glinted as it spun away from the bridge. She raised the vial in a toast. "Here's to forgetting everyone and everything. I give you my love, dear Jacob. Now pretend I was never here." She raised the vial to her lips and drank the liquid inside. She shuddered. "Maybe I'll even fly tonight."

"Elizabeth. I'm sorry. Don't do this."

"Hush now, Jacob. Just turn around and walk away. Do it for both of us. Live another life. Love another life."

Tears welled at his own eyes but he turned and started walking. Elizabeth called after him, "Just keep walking Jacob. It'll be over soon." She climbed over the railing. "Never look back, Jacob. Never look back."

Tears burned trails down his cheeks, as behind him, dress fluttering in the breeze, Elizabeth pushed back from the railing and fell.

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