No words could describe the atmosphere of the French Quarter during the day. After walking around a little, soaking up the masses of people, admiring the architecture and even visiting a museum, she found a nice little restaurant off Jackson Square and had dinner. While the streets were relatively clean, some places smelled like vomit and piss – luckily for her, she was used to strange smells.
Even at daytime, it was an experience. There were street performers, good jazz music and mostly everyone walked around with a smile on their face, which made it easier for Bella to relax a little. She was anxious to be on the streets, alone, but she had survived for 5 years without a chaperone, why would she still need one now after 2 years of living in safety?
She knew that behind most smiles there was a potential of danger, but why would her danger levels be any higher than any other girl by herself in New Orleans? It wasn’t as if Cold Ones would swoop down from the buildings and find her, she’d been lost for two years, there was no doubt that they had given up or at least given up on actively searching for her.
Bella figured she’d be safe for a good day or two without the protection of Myriam and Débauche, before she had to start moving on or return home. She needed a breather, settle her mind again and start anew. Maybe find a self-help book in a bookstore and start eliminating the thought of her having a future with Klaus out of her head.
Maybe she should have told him how she felt about him, that she wanted more, but she’d been too chicken about it and he had been trying to let her down easily. Maybe she had been a little mean to him when she told him that the next time he wanted to fuck her that he’d have to pay for it, but she was hurt. She genuinely believed that he felt the same about her, or maybe at least a little interested, but he didn’t. It was a simple school girl crush and she was 25 for fuck’s sake. She’d have to have a lid on her crushes like that. Or at least a filter and see past the rose colored world.
On top of that, why would a guy like him like a girl like her? She was messed up. She loved doing what she did to earn money as that was the easiest way to get it – she wasn’t quite in need for it at Débauche, but what if she wasn’t going to return? What if this freedom felt too good and she’d need money? Shaking her head, she took a sip of her beer. Two years in safety had made her weak.
She was going to live and that meant taking chances, even if that meant ending up dead. She could chance it and send her mother a postcard, but it had been seven years since her mother told her to run and never to look back. Knowing her mother, she wouldn’t be living in the same house anyway.
Bella knew that without Myriam and Klaus’ protection that she was going to end up dead soon. She was going to enjoy her last days on Earth and have fun. Surrendering voluntarily wasn’t an option and she was certainly not going to do it. She was going to die with her head held high.
Or chicken out and return to Débauche.
After dinner, she wandered around the streets a bit longer, and when night fell, she could see the crowd change. They were a bit rougher around the edges, stalking potential victims and Bella didn’t like it much. She decided to visit a bar for liquid courage and Rousseau’s was the first one she found.
Taking a seat at the bar, she checked all exits and found only one, which was the entrance. Switching seats, she made sure she had an eye on the door at all times and ordered a drink. “Are you okay? You look a little frazzled,” the blonde bartender said as she put Bella’s drink down in front of her.
“I have some big decisions to make,” Bella said with a shrug and took a sip of her beer before gesturing around the bar. “I love the interior of this place. It looks like it took quite a beating.”
“Oh, bars tend to,” the woman laughed. “It’s my job to make it look rustic enough without it falling apart.” She extended her hand to Bella. “I’m Cami.”
Bella blinked at that. There was no way that she walked into the bar of Klaus’ friend, was there? Surely, in a town like New Orleans there would be more girls called Camille or Cami. And manage a bar. And be blonde and gorgeous. Would Klaus have told Cami about her? Not taking any chances, Bella decided to introduce herself with the name she usually went with while on the run. Shaking Cami’s hand, she smiled. “Isa, nice to meet you.”
“The pleasure is all mine, Isa,” Cami smiled kindly at her. “So, what big decisions? Anything an outsider can help you with?”
“It’s something I have to work through myself, but thanks,” Bella replied, taking another sip of her beer and then sighed. If this was Klaus’ Cami, then maybe she’d be able to give her some insight. “There are several issues, really. One having had an immature crush on someone who’s been my friend for a few years that I have to get over because he doesn’t feel the same way.”
“Oh, boy trouble, those suck. What’s he like?”
“He’s amazing. He’s generous, kind, warm… But I realized that I let my own happiness depend on how many times I’m seeing him and he hadn’t shown his face for two months so yeah…”
“Why wait for him to come to you? Never thought about going to him instead?”
She smiled at that. “That’s against the rules. I’m part of his life that he likes to keep hidden from his friends and family because he tends to live a high risk life.”
“Oh, a bad boy?” Cami smiled widely as she leaned on the counter. “Interesting.”
“He’s not a bad boy. He’s just not afraid to make decisions everyone else is afraid of making and tends to alienate everyone around him with his actions, but deep down, he’s not a bad boy. Hot tempered, maybe.”
“I know a guy like that. I’ve been trying to get him to empathise more, at least to feel a little remorse about his latest actions that hurt a lot of people in his family, but I feel close to having him do that but there’s something that he’s hiding, and unless I know what that is, I don’t think I can be much of help to him. He does like to talk.”
“I’m pretty sure that having someone to talk to is a big help for your guy,” Bella said as she took another sip of her beer. “Anyway, mine is such a catch, but he doesn’t share the same feelings. I’ve had heartbreak before, but this is worse. And on top of that, he’s best buddies with the woman I’ve been staying with for the last two years.”
“But seeing as I’m probably not going to be alive for much longer, maybe I should just grin and bear it, you know. Have him on my mind when I leave this earth. Poetic,” Bella mused as she downed the rest of her beer.
Cami’s smile turned into a frown. “You’re sick?”
“Terminal,” Bella nodded.
“Does he know that?”
“They all do, which is why I was staying with his friend.”
“Well that sucks.”
“Eh,” Bella shrugged. “It’s okay. I’ve made my peace with it. I mean, I could have died two years ago and then all of this wouldn’t have happened and everyone would have been better off.”
“Oh, don’t say that, I’m sure you’re fun to be around.”
“And you’re just saying that because I’m terminal and a paying customer,” Bella grinned and put some money on the bar. “Tequila please, and have a drink yourself.”
“Ha!” Cami pushed the note back and poured the shots. “On the house.”
“Oh, thanks but not necessary, I can pay-”
“Nope, not having it. So, now that you’ve made up your mind, somewhat, maybe you can help me with my guy trouble,” Cami grinned. “How can I make him open him up more?”
“You’re a bartender, surely you have your ways,” Bella said, gesturing to her drink. “Get him drunk.”
“Oh, I wish,” Cami laughed. “My guy has a high tolerance for alcohol.”
“Oh, I know what’s that like!” Bella grinned. “Whenever he came to visit me, he’d down at least half a bottle of good bourbon and those bottles aren’t cheap.”
Cami blinked at that before refilling the shot glasses. “Huh.”
“Is he a uhm… creature of the night, perhaps?”
“By creature you mean… what, exactly?” Bella narrowed her eyes on Cami. Fuck, this was Klaus’ Camille. She had to be really careful now, Cami wasn’t supposed to find out about her.
“Gigolo,” Cami nodded with a playful smile on her lips.
“Oh, definitely,” Bella raised her glass as if she was toasting and downed it. “I’ve met all sorts of gigolo’s and I must say, he’s been the best of them all.”
“Me? No! Oh, please no. Granted, there are some perks to being a gigolo but no. I’m an entertainer and very much alive.”
“Well that’s good, did you ever nearly got killed by one?”
Bella winced at the memory of James, even Jasper lunging at her when she had a paper cut. “Yep, you?”
“Yeah, about two months ago I was in the middle of a gigolo family feud,” Camille said bitterly. “My – client – was pretending to be insane and killed his brother’s lover right in front of him to please his aunt and then nearly killed me but kept me alive because I had to tell his brother that it was a ruse. Believe me, it’s not fun to be in the middle of it all. His chaos, however, probably saved them all. As I was the only one who trusted him, his actions were met with a lot of resistance and anger.” she then sighed. “His actions caused his entire family to resent him, especially his brother, and he, stubborn pig that he is, refuses to apologize because in his eyes, there’s nothing to apologize for.”
Bella slowly nodded. Cami was in the middle of Klaus’ family, Bella was not. Was Bella jealous? Maybe a little, but getting hurt wasn’t what she’d sign up for. “Does it happen a lot?”
“Well, in the beginning of our friendship, my guy liked to erase my memory a lot as he didn’t completely trust me, getting those memories back hurt like a bitch.”
The rules were that their lives wouldn’t mix, even Myriam wasn’t allowed to be at the compound. She knew that it was for her own protection, but maybe Klaus lied to her so she wouldn’t become another Cami. So that she wouldn’t have to put up with more vampire shit. But he should have asked her, because for him, Bella would have put up with it. Because he wasn’t Edward even if he acted like him when he told her that he didn’t think it would be wise to want for more. “Oh, damn,” Bella sighed as she downed a fresh shot of Tequila. “My gigolo wanted to protect me from all the gigolo crap going on in his life.”
“Which is probably for the best, trust me. This whole gigolo shit is getting old, but I’m stuck with it now,” Cami replied. “But, since you’re terminal and all… maybe you should go and have a chat with him.”
“Nah,” she sighed again. “It’s probably for the best. This way there won’t be any hard feelings.”
“Oh no,” Cami shook her head. “You should talk to him. What’s his name? I’m sure that I know one who knows him. We’ll call him and you and him can have a talk.”
Feeling panic rise inside of her, she shook her head and put money on the bar. She then grabbed her coat and bag. “No, I’m sorry. Thanks, Cami. Good luck with your gigolo, but I have to go.” Bella then rushed out of Rousseau’s and disappeared into the night.
“I told you, Myriam,” Klaus said into the phone as he walked down the street. “You’re worrying too much, she’ll return home eventually.”
“And what if she doesn’t?”
“Then I’ll do everything in my power to return her to you,” he said, still amused by the story that Myriam told him about Bella’s escape. She should have bolted that window shut if she was so afraid of Bella leaving on her own. He thought it was ballsy and risky, but he couldn’t help but feel proud of the girl. “She’ll have two days of freedom and then she’ll realize she needs to return if she wants to feel safe. You know as well as I do that she values her life.”
“I’m not so sure anymore after you broke her heart.”
“Don’t blame me!” He hissed into the phone before disconnecting the call and opened the door to Rousseau’s for a chat with Camille. Bella’s scent greeted him instantly. It was fresh, probably an hour or so old, and it seemed like she had spent quite some time in the bar. Confused for a second, he headed straight for his therapist.
“Ah! There he is, my gigolo!” Cami greeted him with a big smile on her face.
Caught off guard and his concern momentarily forgotten, he didn’t know what to say in return. “Your what?”
She waved her hand and shrugged. “A safe word when talking about people like you. You looked kinda intense while walking in here, thought I’d diffuse the situation a little.”
“Right,” he said, still a little confused. He stopped at the chair where Bella’s scent was the strongest. Of all the bars in New Orleans, she just had to find Cami’s. Maybe he could convince Bella to go back to Myriam’s for her own safety. As much as he applauded her new sense of independence, he still worried about her safety – even if the threats came from the non-vampire community. “Where is she?”
“You know who I’m talking about, Camille!” He shot at her and pointed at the empty stool in front of him. “Bella.”
“Uhm…” she cocked her head. “I don’t know any Bella.”
“Don’t mess with me, Camille. Bella’s a fragile young woman and she needs to-”
“Klaus, you have no idea how many people come to my bar on a night like this! You have to be more specific.”
“She was sat right here,” he said, slamming his hand on the bar. “This chair.”
“Oh! Isa! Yeah, she left about half an hour ago after I mentioned we should call her- wait,” Cami started and then stopped as she watched Klaus’ face. “You know her?”
Isa. She was using her old alias again, this was bad, this was trouble. Taking a deep breath, ignoring her scent because it drove him mad with worry, he sat down and gratefully took the bourbon Cami had poured him. “What did you two chat about?”
“Oh, that’s bartender-client privilege, Klaus. You know her. From where? How come I’ve never heard of her?”
“Fine,” she said, throwing her hands up in defense. “The usual when a girl walks in by herself. Boy trouble. She had a big decision to make and she made it. I doubt she’ll be returning to the friend she was staying with for the last two years, she looked like she was going to enjoy her last days on this Earth.”
“She’s terminal, Klaus.”
“Terminal? Really?” He said annoyed. “That’s what she said to you?” Oh, this was not good and it was his fault, wasn’t it? Was it, though? Maybe the event with that popstar had done more damage than he and Myriam originally thought and gave her a nudge. Which was also probably why she asked him about his intentions with her.
“She said she wouldn’t be alive anymore in a couple of days.”
“That’s probably because when I find her, I’ll force feed her my blood and kill her so that she comes back as a vampire and I’ll spend the rest of my life breaking her neck over and over again!”
Cami huffed. “Please. You can’t do that.”
“Klaus, didn’t you tell me that you can’t cure terminal diseases with your blood?”
“She’s not terminal, she’s suicidal. That’s something else entirely and I’m disappointed in you, Camille, for not recognizing that. What kind of a therapist are you?”
She was surprised by his outburst and his obvious interest in the mental health of her new patron. “Who is she? Why haven’t you mentioned her before?”
“She’s not of your concern.”
“The hell she is, you come barging in here demanding where she is! You made it my concern! Are you her boy-vampire problem? Did you break her heart? Klaus, I didn’t even know you were seeing someone!”
He let out a low growl in warning and downed his bourbon. “You don’t know the entire story and I will not go into it with you. That part of my life is not your concern,” he said as he got up from the chair. “Now, please excuse me while I go and try to follow her trail and bring her back home. Kicking and screaming if I have to.”
Cami watched Klaus walk out of her bar and turned to grab her notepad. He was going to talk to her about this and she was going to write down every single detail that she could remember about Isa’s story so she could confront him with it at their next session. Had she finally found out the thing that he had been hiding from her? The secret that could help him with his humanity?
Bella had refused to go back to Débauche and instead hid in a not too smelly alley as she counted her money to see what she had left and if she could afford to spend the night in a bed and breakfast or hotel. But it was late, so she was probably going to have the spend the entire night out.
It was about 3 am, she had walked all over the French Quarter, just in case, to diffuse her scent. The Cold Ones could be tracking her by now and she made sure that she double backed as often as possible and made them go in circles if they had caught a whiff of her.
Granted, her scent probably changed over the years as she matured, but it was better to be safe than sorry. She still had a few more days left of freedom and she was going to enjoy herself.
Just as she was leaving the alley, she watched as someone pushed a guy against a wall, softly talking to him before pulling a knife out of his pocket. She was not going to watch some guy get mugged or murdered in front of her, no way! “Hey!” she called out as she picked up a piece of wood and started to hit the assailant with. “Leave him alone!”
“He’s a friend, don’t worry about it,” the man replied with an English accent as he looked into her eyes. “Now, be a good girl and toddle off. Forget you saw my face.”
“The hell I will,” she growled as she aimed for the vampire’s heart but missed as he took the wood and threw it far away. “You will not kill that guy!”
“I can’t compel you, that’s interesting. Are you a witch?”
“No, I’m a human and you can’t compel me, that’s right. You’re going to release that man from his compulsion and I won’t tell on you.” The vampire knocked the air out of her lungs as he pushed her against the wall and put his hand on her chest to stop her from leaving. “Let me go!” She tried to knee him in the groin, but her attempt caused the vampire to laugh.
“Alright, little one,” he said amused. “I’ll release him, on the condition that you’re going to have a drink with me. Seeing as there’s no bar open, it’ll have to be at my new penthouse.”
“I’m not going anywhere with you.”
“Then I will kill that man,” he shrugged and released her before turning his attention back to his victim.
Bella let out a cry of frustration. “Fine! Fucking vampires! I can’t escape you, can I? At least tell me your fucking name if you’re taking me home!”
“Oh, my apologies,” the vampire said as he mockingly bowed. “I can be so rude at times. The name is Lucien. Lucien Castle.”