Breakfast at Tiffany's >>>>>[ Sunday Morning/Lunchtime; Callum and Georgie ]<<<<<

We left the flat into morning sunlight. I instinctively reached for my shades as the light forced red-hot pokers into my eyes. We walked in silence for ten minutes or so, heading in the general direction of the Cowley Centre shopping precinct. I was limping badly having twisted my left ankle in one of my numerous falls that morning. Georgie walked at my side, relaxed, obviously enjoying the sun, holding down her pace to my painful hobble. There was amusement in her eyes as she watched me trying to keep up.

"We can slow down, if you want," she said.

"No. I'm fine. The exercise will help me loosen up."

"If you insist, Macho Man," she said, tartly, before lengthening her stride. In a few seconds, she was way ahead of me.

I tried, and failed abjectly, to catch her. My ankle was screaming at me to stop and my other aches, pains and bruises were in whole-hearted agreement. "Okay, okay! You win. Georgie, wait. Please."

She stood with her hands planted on her slim hips, waiting for me to catch up. I was panting heavily when I reached her and there was a look of regal disapproval on her face. "Satisfied now?" Georgie asked, critically. I nodded weakly. "The blood you lost last night won't be replaced naturally for a few days. And that's assuming you have a decent diet and plenty of rest. Until then, you'll be lethargic, weak and easily tired." She lowered her voice as a small knot of people walked past us. "I've been there myself, Cal. Remember?" She paused before continuing in a more kindly tone of voice. "If it's any consolation, I give you an 'A' for effort but a 'D-minus' for common sense."

Georgie's sense of humour helped me rally. We wandered around Cowley Centre, pausing occasionally to look in shop windows. At this time on a Sunday morning, there weren't many places open. Georgie ducked into a newsagent's and emerged a few minutes later with a couple of Mars bars, one of which she handed to me.

"This is supposed to be a decent diet, is it?" I asked, tongue in cheek.

"It probably beats the garbage you've been eating all week. Besides, you need that for the sugar-rush. I just need it for the morale boost," she said, grinning around a mouthful of chocolate. "It's not every morning someone nearly dies in your arms."

I realised then that Lacey and Georgie had at least one major personality-trait in common: they both knew exactly how to twist a knife! "Let's eat," she suggested and led me off to a small cafe just outside the Centre.

Georgie bought me black coffee and a full English breakfast and tucked into her own whole-grain toasted muffins and tea. Her only concession to the unhealthy life I led was to have proper butter on the muffins.

"You not a big eater?" I asked, understandably curious about the young woman who had saved my life. We were sitting at a brightly lit window table and I got my first good look at her. Last night, her naturally pale complexion had been lightened still further by make-up. Now, scrubbed of all cosmetics, Georgie's face glowed with health; I couldn't see a single imperfection on her cheeks, forehead or nose (which was dusted with a light sprinkling of freckles). The only blemish I had seen was Lacey's bite-mark and that was hidden behind the high collar of her black blouse. Her jet-black, centre-parted hair framed her face and fell loosely to her shoulders. The parting was golden-blonde at the roots; Georgie obviously dyed her hair, which I thought was a great shame.

Georgie looked back at Callum and recognised him as a kindred spirit, battered and exhausted, caught up in the whirlwind that was Lacey. She took a deep breath before answering. Before she could stop herself, her story poured out.

"I used to be, when I was a kid. I got to my teens and started doing all sorts of stupid stuff. Binge eating and forced vomitting, mainly. I played around with drugs, drink, solvents. Having a 'holier-than-thou' nurse for a mother, and an older brother that Mum's world revolved around, didn't help much, either. I was an unhappy girl.

"When I was seventeen, I met Matt. He literally pulled me out of the gutter one night. It was on Cornmarket Street, I think, but I was so far out of my skull it could have been Oxford Street for all I knew. He turned me around, gave me the respect I so desperately needed from someone else and encourged me to have some respect in myself. It's because of him that I passed my A-levels and got myself into Brooke's. Psychology degree, second year now." She finished proudly.

"And that's why you haven't left him, even after the state he got himself into last night? Even though Lacey can't stand the sight of him."

Georgie nodded, sadly. "Matt's a few years older than me but in many ways he's still a little boy at heart. And like all little boys, he can be absolutely endearing or totally infuriating. He was the latter last night. But I still love him, for all that. And nothing Lacey can say will change that." She sighed, closed her eyes and shook her head slowly, trying to clear last night's arguments from her memory. "More coffee?" Without waiting for an answer, Georgie went to the counter for more drinks.

Georgie drummed her nails nervously on the countertop as she waited to be served. She was rapidly debating how much more to tell Callum. After paying for the drinks, Georgie dropped herself back in the deep end.

"About six months ago, I had a pregnancy scare. I was frantic. I thought of all the toxins that I'd been pushing into my body over the years, nicotine, speed, E, booze, cholesterol, and how it could all still be in there somehow, poisoning my baby. Overnight, I quit smoking, drinking and the occasional joint I indulged in. I cut out fried food completely and abstained from red meat. Matt thought I was having a psychotic episode. I know he doesn't really want kids so I couldn't tell him how late my period was. But I desperately wanted that baby. When my period finally came, I sat in the bathroom and cried my eyes out for over an hour. Some good came of it, though. I'm clean, detoxed, healthier and more mentally sharp than I've ever been."

Baring her soul like that couldn't have been easy for Georgie, I realised. The question of quid pro quo came up. How much should I tell her about myself? After a long silence, I decided to restore the balance. I told her about the roller-coaster ride my life had been, a succession dizzying highs and soul-destroying lows: failing at my first-choice career; dropping out of University on the edge of a nervous breakdown; a desperate lurch into a new degree and new career-path; the attendent screw-ups, missed opportunities and sackings along the way. The biggest failure of my life: the break up of my engagement to a woman I worshipped.

Georgie listened to all my bullshit, occasionally nodding or wincing in sympathy. I reckoned the psychologist in her was taking mental notes and her feminine intuition was making a list of the Do's and Don'ts of my life. After all, she might have a son one day and she could use me as an example of how not to live his life!

"How are you feeling now? You've regained a bit of colour. Though I don't think Octarine is really you, somehow." She giggled. I picked up the Pratchett-ism. In his Discworld novels Octarine is the eighth colour of the rainbow, the colour of magic, and is described as a greasy, greenish-purple colour. I couldn't look that bad, could I?

"I'm getting there," I said, as reassuringly as I could manage. "You?" I was referring to the fight we'd had earlier. I lowered my voice: "I'm sorry for pushing you around like that."

Georgie nodded slowly. "I shouldn't have slapped you," she conceded.

There was a long, drawn out silence between the two of us before I summoned the courage to ask something that had been worrying me for a while: "What has she done to me, Georgie? Us, in fact. You're as protective of her as a mother with her child and I couldn't find it in me to harm her even though she nearly killed me. What has she done to us? How?" Horrid memories of Vampire: The Masquerade were surfacing, certain powers that vampires possessed that could bend the wills of humans, enslaving them. Georgie was a psychologist, maybe she could make sense of it.

"I don't know the answer to either question, Cal. I think parapsychology, or occultism, or plain old-fashioned insanity might provide an answer. I can speculate for you, though.

"She has the most amazing ability to empathise with people. She just tunes in to their way of thinking, latches onto their speech patterns, falls into their rhythms when they move, knows how they're feeling even before they've admitted it to themselves. It's almost hypnotic, what she does. Subconsciously, most people feel comfortable when she's near them. They don't see her as a threat."

My skin was beginning to crawl as Georgie continued.

"I was watching her with you in the pub last night and it bore out everything I've just said. You're miserable and rather lonely, Cal. Even I can see that. Lacey played up to that and told you everything you wanted to hear. Then she used you. I'm sorry to be so blunt, Callum. You're too nice a guy to be treated so shabbily." She stared down into her teacup, swirling the contents.

"But that's Lacey for you," I said bitterly. Georgie refused to meet my eyes just then but she looked up sharply when I went on: "She did the same thing to you, didn't she? A different line of attack, I'll bet, but the overall result was the same."

The Gothette nodded slowly before replying: "You'd be surprised at how similar her methods were with me but you're right about the result." The look on my face must have betrayed my thoughts. "And you can keep your sordid ideas to yourself!" Georgie hissed.

Taken aback by Georgie's anger, I was quiet for a while. She seemed pensive, far away, but extremely tense. "Can I ask a question?" I said quietly, trying not to provoke an outburst of violence. Her glare softened and she nodded tiredly. "Why don't you hate her? It's quite plain she hates the man you love. You would have killed me if I'd laid a hand on her. More to the point, why can't I hate her?"

Georgie considered this for a moment. "Here we get into the realm of parapsychology, which isn't really my field, although I did go through an occult phase when I was in my teens, so I'm not completely closed to the possibilities. I think she can implant some sort of post-hypnotic suggestion, something basic like we're friends, you could never hurt me, could you? And we can't act against that suggestion because it's buried so deeply within our subconscious. The mental block goes beyond merely physically hurting her. It extends to causing her emotional pain, like disagreeing with her suggestions, as well. Also, it causes us to want to protect her, which is why I attacked you earlier. My language must have been terrible. I'm sorry if I hurt you."

"But I was never in a position to be hypnotised by her," I said, rather naively.

"Don't be so dense, Cal, it doesn't suit you. How many times last night did her voice drop to a whisper? How many times did you lose yourself in her eyes? How many times did you snap back to reality to find her kissing you? How many times, Callum, did you find yourself thinking about your ex-fiancee, only to have Lacey's kisses blow all those thoughts away?"

"I don't remember," I said in a hoarse whisper. "I put it down to being drunk."

Georgie nodded sadly. It was all too familiar. Callum was as ensnared by the vampire as surely as Georgie herself. Cal was silent for a while and Georgie used the opportunity to buy more drinks. She needed to pee but couldn't leave Callum in his dangerously fragile state. Sitting back at their table, her slim legs tightly crossed, Georgie guided Callum's hands to the new cup of coffee. He looked up with a grateful expression.

"I have to tell you something you may not want to hear," Georgie said quietly. "I'm not sure if it's a good idea, either."

Cal raised his cup. "Go on," he said.

Georgie took a deep breath: "Lacey really likes you." Georgie rushed on before Callum's look of incredulity became something more dangerous. "Last night, one of the reasons we were gone so long in the Ladies was that she couldn't stop talking about you. She thinks you're wonderful. I've never seen her so intensely happy! She said you were generous, smart, witty. Even sexy, which I found rather hard to believe."

Thanks, I thought. The world went quiet again. I fidgeted while Georgie furrowed her smooth brow in concentration. I held my breath. This was all so confusing: a girl I'd known less than 24 hours, apparently besotted with me, almost killed me after one of the most passionate nights of my life.

Georgie went on, "All of which makes me wonder why she hurt you so badly last night."

"Maybe she didn't mean to. You said yourself I'm a virtual wreck. Perhaps I wasn't as strong as she thought I was?"

"I've considered that. I'm in better shape than you'll ever be, Cal, but the night Lacey and I got together, she didn't do me nearly as much harm. It still took me a day or two to recover but, even the morning after, I wasn't in as bad a way as you are now. I think that was deliberate on her part." Georgie dropped her voice to a whisper and I had to strain to hear her next words. "She's used me that way more than once. You know how good it feels. The second time, you'll fear it because you know what's happening. The third time, you'll volunteer for it." Georgie swallowed hard before continuing; this was obviously extremely difficult for her. "I'd never been addicted to anything in my life until I met Lacey. The same thing will happen to you only I fear that, for you, the addiction will prove fatal."

"How can I stop it?" I asked, in what must have been a pitifully small voice. "You've known her longer than I have. She must have tried to manipulate you, get you to dump Matt or whatever. How do you resist?"

Georgie sighed heavily, leaned back in her chair and folded her arms across her stomach. It was clear I'd touched a nerve she would have preferred me to leave well alone. "Matt's the reason I can resist her. I love him, I told you that. I think the emotional connection between us is something Lacey's hypnotism can't break. Which is why I'm doubly worried about you. You don't have an emotional connection to anyone or anything. Lacey'll wrap you around her little finger and there'll be nothing you can do to stop her." Blue eyes bored into mine. "If you want my advice, it's this: run away, as far and as fast as you can. When you're feeling better, you'll understand what I'm talking about."

Georgie and I split up outside the cafe. I needed to get across town, get cleaned up and get to the game which would start in an hour or so. I'd be late, I realised, but that was no big deal: things rarely kicked off on time, anyway.

The tall Gothette hugged me as we said our goodbyes. "Take good care, Cal," she said. "Think about what I said."

"I can't just up and leave, Georgie, you know that," I insisted. "I have responsibilities, a job, friends here."

Georgie thrust her hands into the pockets of her leather coat and eyed me sullenly. "As I said, a D-minus for common sense." With that, she spun on her heel and stalked off through Cowley Centre, shaking her head at what she must have believed to be my stupidity.