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From Solitude

No Man Is An Island

No Man Is An Island
By Amanda Berendt
Copyright June 2005

    Natalie sat in her car in the parking lot outside the Coroner’s office. She had called that morning to set up a meeting with her supervisor, Dr. Hewitt, to discuss her official resignation. Everyone had been expecting it at some point after Thomas’ death, but she knew no one would have imagined what had finally made her decide to leave. She smiled to herself as she imagined the reaction to her news. So far, she had kept everything very official – only going through the proper channels and leaving out the personal information. As she opened the car door and stepped into the chill of the January afternoon, she steeled herself for the barrage of questions.
    Thirty minutes later, it began. The meeting with Dr. Hewitt had gone very smoothly. The madness began when she went downstairs to talk to her former assistant, Grace Balthazar.
    “You’re what?!?!”
    Natalie smiled at her friend’s surprise upon hearing the story. “Nick and I are getting married.”
    The black woman practically crushed Natalie in a hug. “Oh, honey, I am so happy for you. It’s just like a fairy tale.”
    “Yes it is, isn’t it?” Natalie said as she sat next to Grace in the break room. “We’ve both been through so much and now this.”
    Grace let her friend bask in the glow for a moment. “What about Rachel?” She asked, remembering the former detective’s coolness toward children.
    Natalie laughed. “Instant mutual attraction. I think, after losing his sister, Nick realized how important family could be.”
    Natalie had been telling the story that she and Nick had agreed upon. Nick had only recently found a long, lost sister – Janette. When she passed away suddenly, she had left him a newfound fortune and a new list of priorities. He had left the force and returned to his ancestral home in Belgium to find out more about his family. It was there that Natalie had astonishingly found him out of the blue.
    “I was going to bring her back with me, but Nick insisted that he wanted to take care of her. He said it would give them a chance to bond.” Natalie paused and let out a happy sigh. “When we said goodbye, she said how excited she was to get to stay with her … ‘new daddy’.”
    Grace laughed. “Somehow I can’t picture Nick as a ‘daddy’.”
    The two continued talking for another hour until Grace had to get back to work. They hugged and Grace promised to come to the wedding in the spring.
    Natalie sat in the break room alone for a while. Her thoughts drifted back and she remembered all the times she sat here with her friends and coworkers, how often she had fled here to take a break from a difficult case, and how often she had just sat here, as she was now – just thinking. Looking at the clock, she saw that the movers would be at the house in a little over an hour to pack up her and Rachel’s things for shipment. She gathered her bag and coat and left the room. As she walked down the silent hallway toward the exit, she stopped as she passed her old office. She peeked through the small glass window in the door and saw that it was empty.
    Opening the door, she stepped into the room. After being away for so many months, she had forgotten how cold it was. Moving farther into the room, her mind flashed back to when she first met Nick. She trailed her fingers along the cold steel of the autopsy table. This is where it all started. It was kind of ironic, Natalie thought as she gazed around the room, that she was standing in this room of death on the brink of starting out on her new life.
    Suddenly feeling very claustrophobic, she turned and hurried from the room. She stopped in the doorway to turn and look back at the room once more. It was all over, she thought. She was ending this chapter of her life and beginning new one – one filled with life and hope. Now all that was left was to turn off the lights and lock the door.

    The early dusk of autumn had fallen as the three individuals walked up to the manor house. The shadows from the trees concealed the person watching them. His brow furrowed as he watched the group climb the slight rise. The man had his arm around the woman, who was, in turn, holding the child’s hand. When the ‘happy family’ reached the golden light of the doorway, the figure stepped from the shadows and took of into the night.

    A light winter snow was covering the land. It had been several months since Nicholas had been reunited with Dr. Lambert. The couple had spent a quiet Christmas together with the child.
    Lacroix had listened with his heightened senses as his son asked for the good doctor’s hand in marriage. She, of course, had accepted.
    Now, the vampire stood outside the manor, listening as Nicholas put the child to bed. Dr. Lambert had left the previous evening, returning to Toronto in order to put her affairs in order.
    Lacroix watched from outside the windows as Nicholas prepared a fire in the downstairs library and settled down in a chair to read. The vampire took this opportunity to launch into the sky. He easily found an open window upstairs and let himself in. He shook he head and chuckled. Nicholas, I thought you’d be more careful.
    Silently, Lacroix moved down the hallway. He paused at one of the closed doors, hearing a heartbeat within. The rhythm was the fast cadence of a child. Opening the door, he stepped into the darkness, the only light coming from the hallway.
    He stealthily crossed the room – the perfect predator. Reaching the bed, he saw chestnut curls peeking from the quilt. Tenderly, he pulled the cover away from the child’s face. As he did, he revealed a little girl no more than five years old.
    “Lacroix.” The stern voice started him. He had been so engrossed in the child, he hadn’t paid any attention to his surroundings – hadn’t noticed the approach of a second heartbeat.
    He turned to the voice and saw Nicholas standing in the doorway. He chided himself for allowing a mortal to be able to surprise him.
    Nicholas stood to the side of the door, motioning for his former master to join him. Lacroix acquiesced and followed his son into the brightness of the hallway.
    Closing the door before speaking again, Nicholas turned to Lacroix. “Her name is Rachel, she’s Nat’s daughter.”
    Lacroix nodded as he followed Nicholas to the master bedroom, noting how the time in the sun had agreed with his son – Nicholas’ skin was now lightly bronzed and his blond hair now had golden highlights.
    Upon entering the master suite, Lacroix marveled at how much the room had changed with the simple touch of a woman’s hand. There were now fresh cut flowers on the table by the fireplace, and there was the addition of numerous photos throughout the room – mostly of the child, but a few showed Nicholas and Natalie together.
    Gesturing to the chessboard by the window, Nicholas asked. “Shall we play a game?”
    Lacroix agreed and as Nicholas set up the board, Lacroix studied the boy. There was something Nicholas’ mind. The vampire could have easily found out what was bothering him, but Lacroix left it alone. Nicholas would share in good time. They played in silence for several hours. They were in the midst of a fourth game when   Nicholas broke the silence.
    “I’ve asked Natalie to marry me.”
    Across the chessboard, Lacroix showed no sign he had heard. He continued to contemplate his next move.
    Nicholas studied his former master for some kind of reaction. When none was forthcoming, he added. “She accepted.”
    Not one to interrupt a game of chess, Lacroix silently moved his piece and toppled Nicholas’ king. “Congratulations.” He said as calmly as he would have said ‘checkmate.’
    The two men sat in silence for several moments. Nicholas was waiting for Lacroix to say something more. Briefly he wished he still had a connection to the vampire so he could sense his former master’s frame of mind. Across the table, Lacroix’s face was a mask. Even his eyes betrayed nothing of his thoughts.
    As Lacroix began replacing the pieces on the board, Nicholas spoke. “Nat and I have talked… a lot.” He paused, not sure how to continue. Best to just put it out on the table. “We… both of us, that is, feel that you should be a part of our lives.” He stopped, expecting some sort of biting response.
    Instead, he looked across the chessboard and saw Lacroix gazing at him. The ice blue eyes held something Nicholas had rarely seen, even in eight hundred years – surprise.
    Sensing a possible opening, Nicholas decided to continue. “Lacroix, I want you to know that I don’t hate you. I never have.” He pushed on, knowing that if he stopped, the words that had been waiting so long to be said, might never come out. “From the very beginning, you wanted me to be like you. I’m not and never was. All I wanted was for you to accept me for who I was. I hated what you did sometimes, but I never hated you.”
    Silence fell over the room once more as the two men met eyes over the chessboard. The silence was not made up of anger or frustration, but of a sudden understanding.
    Knowing better than to press his former master at times such as this, Nicholas was grateful to hear Rachel calling out for him from the other room. He silently excused himself and left the room.
    Minutes later, having consoled the little girl through her nightmare and convinced her to go back to sleep, Nicholas returned to the master bedroom. It was empty. Crossing to the chessboard, he saw the white knight standing alone in the center of the board. Lacroix was gone.

    Nick stood in the doorway, watching Rachel playing in the grass. She was attempting to make a crown out of wildflowers. He turned his gaze skyward and breathed in the sweet smell of early spring. He had always loved this time of year. Even as a mortal, it had been peaceful – the cold solitude of winter was over, but it was still for the business of battle.
    When Rachel had wanted to play outside, he had gladly volunteered to take her. The peace of the garden was a welcome respite from the commotion of the past few days. Their few friends had arrived earlier that week for the wedding on Sunday. He enjoyed all of the happy wishes, but he had grown used to the quiet of the countryside. Thankfully, Natalie had taken the lead in welcoming their friends.
    Myra and Jenny Schanke had come. They were the closest things Nick had to family other than Lacroix. Sarah had come with Amy and was happily standing as Natalie’s matron of honor. Finally, Grace had flown in, just as she had promised.
    Hearing footsteps behind him, Nick turned and saw Natalie coming to join him. She leaned against him and wrapped her arms around his waist.
    “You haven’t heard anything?” She asked.
    He shook his head, still watching Rachel play in the grass.
    Natalie followed Nick’s gaze and thought about how much he loved being with Rachel.
    “He really was a father to you, wasn’t he? In all of his scheming and evilness, he really did love you.” She held him tighter. “And now, when you finally open up to him and give him what he wants, he disappears.”
    Nick took a long breath, and put an arm around Natalie’s shoulder. All the time he never took his eyes off Rachel. Natalie slid around him so she stood in facing him, her arm still around still around his waist. “Nick, I love you and you love me. We both love Rachel and she loves us. That’s all that matters.”
    Nick finally met her eyes. She saw that his were glistening with tears. He put his arms around her and held her tight. “I don’t know what I would have done without you, Nat.”

    On Sunday afternoon, Nick stood alone in the study. He wore a simple black suit – nothing extravagant. Natalie was upstairs with Rachel getting ready. He stepped into the main hall and stopped at the fireplace.
    He stood there staring at the painting for several minutes. Then he kissed his fingers and touched them to the canvas. “I will miss you forever.” He said, closing his eyes and remembering.
    A voice saying his name pulled him out of his reverie. Nick turned to see Natalie standing on the stairs. She wore a simple off-white dress and a ring of flowers in her hair. Rachel stood beside her wearing a matching dress in soft pink.
    Nick held out his hand and guided Natalie to the foot of the staircase. He kissed her and caressed her cheek. “Are you sure this is what you want?” he whispered.
    Natalie smiled. “With all my heart.”
    Nick took her hand and led her out into the golden sunshine of the afternoon. Rachel took her place in front of them and together they made their way towards the small group of people standing in the shade of the trees.
    As the sun set that evening, the group had gathered in the main hall for refreshments. Amy and Jenny sat in the corner playing with Rachel. Natalie stood talking with the other women and Nick stood alone by the fireplace.
    “It was so beautiful, Natalie.” Sarah said, smiling.
    Grace agreed and added, “I can’t believe you guys finally did it.” That statement caused all three women to laugh.
    “I only wish Don could have been here.” Myra said when the laughter died down. “He always said the two of you were perfect for each other.” She motioned to Nick.    “And Nick seems like he could really use a friend here.”
    Natalie turned her attention to where Nick stood alone by the fireplace. He was using the poker to tend to the fire, although it was not in need of tending. Sensing her gaze, he turned and smiled at her. She returned the smile.
    Suddenly, his smile turned to surprise when he saw the figure in the doorway behind his new wife. Seeing Nick’s expression, Natalie turned to look over her shoulder. There, standing in the doorway was Lacroix.
    Wearing his characteristic black Armani suit, the vampire held an obviously very expensive bottle of wine in one hand and a colorfully wrapped package in the other.
    The small gathering stopped – everyone turned his or her attention to the stranger in the doorway.
    Nick quickly crossed the room to greet his former master. He happily embraced Lacroix. “You came.”
    Shrugging out of the embrace, Lacroix raised an eyebrow. “I was invited. I do apologize for missing the ceremony, but I am sure you understand.” He handed the wine to Natalie who had joined her new husband. “My congratulations to you both – may your union be long and happy.”
    By this time, Rachel had come to investigate the stranger. She looked up at Lacroix and smiled. Pointing to the colored package, she asked “Is that for me?” Nick started to apologize for her presumptuous question, but Lacroix calmly nodded and handed her the box.
    Rachel took the box and knelt on the floor. She opened the gift to reveal an exquisite doll with long black hair and a beautiful burgundy gown. The little girl squealed with delight as she hugged the doll.
    Nick put his arms around Natalie and looked at Lacroix. “And who shall we say this gift is from?”
    The vampire smiled at the couple. “Her grandfather.”